The Zinsser Approach

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"But I'm hopelessly in love with English because it's plain and it's strong. It has a huge vocabulary of words that have precise shades of meaning..."

I am hopelessly in love with English, that much I have to agree with, but how can it be plain and strong? Perhaps in journalism where you have to use words like "said" everytime, but in creative writing (my main focus and love) I feel there are so, so many words.

Zinsser explains that very well in the next sentence. Unlike other languages we have a ridiculous amount of words to explain just one slight variation of something like "said" and our thesaurus's are filled. We also have the flexbility to (if you're into that) create words or spin-off languages like txtspk or ebonics. We "verb" words or put two together and here comes creations like "bootylicious."

I also disagree that English is always strong. Using passive voice or soft words with minimal consonants sometimes make the language sound and flow almost as beautiful as others. If I had to describe a language that was "strong" I would think of German.

Though for Journalism, New Media, and Communications, his ending thought is good:


Short is better than long.
Simple is good.
Long Latin nouns are the enemy.
Anglo-Saxon active verbs are your best friend.
One thought per sentence.

Student Opinions

2 Comments

Good points, Aja.

Zinsser was speaking to a group that included many ESL students, who need to focus on being understood before they can strive for creative effects, so it's fitting that he chose to emphasize tips that assist with clarity. Writers who strive for different effects (tension, ambiguity, humor) will often break these rules, but the best writers will know the rules well, and will choose which ones to break in order to achieve a specific effect.

Aja Hannah said:

It is interesting that Journalism-style writing appeals to ESL students (or that he recommends them to use it) as well as regular readers of the paper. I guess this is so everyone can read despite their level of education.

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