“Words matter” is a buzz phrase tossed around frequently these days, and remarks yesterday by our clueless, callous, boorish and shockingly unpresidential president shined neon lights on the phrase when he referred to Haiti and African nations as “sh*thole countries.”
But I digress even before getting started. This is not a political commentary. Rather, it is an attempt to show that, while words do indeed matter, the ways in which they’re used can add to, or detract from, their value and/or understanding.
Misplaced modifiers, for example, can leave the reader scratching hiser head – which you likely are doing over the nonword “hiser.” (Bear with me: It’s my gender-neutral pronoun to avoid the plural “their” or “they” when referring to a singular antecedent of unknown gender. There are four: “hesh” for he or she; “herm” for him or her; “hiser” for his or her; and “hisers” for his or hers.)
Excuse me. Did I say something about digressing? Ah yes, misplaced modifiers. The caption for a photo of an injured Miami Dolphins player read: “Linebacker Raekwon McMillan’s rookie year ended quickly after blowing out a knee on the first play of preseason.” Interesting. The rookie year blew out a knee. Huh? Oh, wait a minute: Raekwon McMillan blew out a knee. But that’s not what that sentence said. Try this: “Linebacker Raekwon McMillan’s rookie year ended quickly after he blew out a knee … .” Now the sentence makes sense.
In the use of words, less is more – more or less; the dictum doesn’t apply in all instances. Actually, I suppose that in the case of words, the admonition should be “fewer is more.” Is that right? Fewer are more? Geez, now you got me all confused. What I’m trying to say is that redundancy of written or verbal expression is not a good thing.
To wit: A column in the Palm Beach Post suggests that it’s easy to spot “two wildly dangerous drivers on Interstate 95 in any given hour … .” It apparently didn’t occur to the writer that “any given hour” is the same as “any hour” or “a given hour.” The same logic failed a writer for the New York Times when he – I assume Dalsuke is a male name, but maybe not – when hesh penned, “On any given day, something crazy is likely to be happening at 1600 Vine St. … .”
Here’s another instance of too many words. In a promotional email, crypto-currency expert Adam Sharp – or rather, his copywriter – wrote, “And people are always skeptical about new innovations.” Okay – so what is an innovation? Webster’s New World College Dictionary defines it thusly: “something newly introduced; new method, custom, device, etc.” In other words (since that’s what we’re talking about), an innovation is something new. You don’t need to call it new, Mr. or Ms. (Mst., Msr.?) copywriter. It’s already new and doesn’t need to be told so. Sheesh!
But alas (or alad), a paucity of words also can force a reread (I didn’t stutter; that’s a noun – I think). In such an instance, more is more. I refer specifically to the failure to insert the conjunction “and” or “or” after the last item in a series, preceding the second part of a compound sentence. Whew! Did you get that? Examples are in order:
An online report said toxicology studies of activated charcoal showed: “Ingesting high dosages does not interfere with sleep, appetite, or cause any major problems.” Oy veh. That’s two sentences in one, with two verbs: “interfere” and “cause.” The items “sleep” and “appetite” must be joined by the conjunction “or” to show the first sentence, or clause, has ended: “Ingesting high dosages does not interfere with sleep OR appetite, or cause any major problems.”
Here’s a doozy. “A study in the Journal of Neurotrauma found that for military veterans who have suffered traumatic stress, depression and have thoughts of suicide, just one month of HBOT improved brain blood flow, cognition, lessened trauma symptoms, and improved their quality of life.” Wow! That’s a trifecta. No, it’s a sexfecta – or something like that (didn’t mean to get pornographic). That one sentence contains six verbs: “found,” “suffered,” “have,” “improved,” “lessened,” and “improved” again. It’s so compounded that the reader is confounded. It has more clauses than a legal document.
I won’t even bother with parsing that monstrosity, which would require an awful lot of – well, words. Suffice it to say that the same principle arising from the ashes of the activated charcoal sentence applies to the multi-verbed (I just made “verb” an adjective) Journal sentence – that is, sentences. Let’s break that conglomerated mess into two separate sentences, insert the necessary conjunctions, and do a little revising: “A study in the Journal of Neurotrauma found that for military veterans who have suffered traumatic stress and depression, and have thoughts of suicide, just one month of HBOT helped their condition. They experienced improvement in brain blood flow and cognition, lessened trauma symptoms, and improved quality of life.”
My folder has four more examples where more would be more, but I’ll save those for another day. By now your brain is probably as saturated as mine.