Thursday, September 07, 2006

Useless Information the Hard Way

There are a lot of phrases that, as a copy editor, an English-speaker, a reader, and a human being, just grate on my nerves. I'll likely list a few of them in a later post, but today, I'm being weighed down by just one.
There are a number of X that Y.
The mammoth book I'm copy editing now is written by two authors who, to be nice about it, aren't good. If I had a nickel for every time these guys used the above phrase, I could buy myself a nice lunch. And a hooker.

What's wrong with this phrase, you ask? This is possibly the most verbose way to convey a piece of information so small as to be irrelevant. Take this, for example:
There are a number of different types of input devices that can be used.
  1. The subject of the sentence is "there." These expletives need to be avoided as much as possible.
  2. The sentence is in passive tense, which should also be generally avoided.
  3. Two is a number. So if there were only two types of input devices, this sentence would still be true but would be exactly the opposite of the intended meaning.
  4. Of what use is this information?
  5. Most importantly, this tiny bit of information could be conveyed more interestingly, more colorfully, and more accurately and with fewer words, like this:

Data can get into your computer in a lot of ways.

Not all input devices are the same.

There are as many different input devices as there are haircuts.

The best solution is probably to work the existence of a multiplicity of input devices into another sentence with only two or three words. It isn't that hard. [In the end, this was my solution. I deleted the whole sentence and slipped the word "myriad" in before the next nearest occurrence of "input devices."]


Omit needless words!!!

Now reread the first sentence of this post and tell me what a hypocrite I am...

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