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A Catholic that's not devout...it happens

"The loss of skilled workers will be a crippling factor in the economy of East Germany...will cripple the economy of East Germany."
--page 10--Cappon, The Associated Press Guide to Newswriting

I agree wholeheartedly for the most part with what this chapter says regarding economy of language, but a couple of the examples they used bother me, like the above quote. I would argue there actually is a difference between saying something is a crippling factor in the economy and just saying it will cripple the economy. The former indicates that the situation is more complex than just that one factor, that the loss of skilled workers is a detrimental element but can't singledhandedly cripple the economy. Now maybe this is just splitting hairs. Is it more desirable to go with the simple, direct statement even when that statement is an exaggeration? It seems that in newswriting, the emphasis is a little bit more on reporting the facts than on having a good writing style, but that's just my perception. In fiction, it's easier to be more simple and direct because you're the one making it up. But with a news story, it seems kind of unethical to make a situation sound simpler than it is just because it makes for stronger writing.
Another section that sat a little uncomfortably with me was the list of adjective-noun cliches. To me, "Catholic" doesn't always imply "devout." Yes, those two words are used together a lot, but someone can also be a "lapsed Catholic" or just a "Catholic who doesn't go to church all that often." "Picturesque village" and "sprawling reservation" are similar; villages can look rundown, and reservations can be small. True, that's not the norm, but I don't think you can just assume that readers will always assume certain things about a noun just because they're normally described with certain adjectives.
Still, for the most part I agree with cutting as many unnecessary adjectives or long-winded phrases as you can. I just think one has to be careful to not lose one's sense of the complexity of a situation for the sake of making a sentence sound better. The facts need to be delivered in as succinct and accurate a manner as possible.

Comments (1)

Angela Palumbo:

I agree with you about that. As an English major, I can sometimes get a little wordy. Not "high school wordy" where you just throw in extra words to make your paper fit that three page quota, but wordy in the sense that I tend more to the side that "killing adjectives is like clubbing baby seals." As you pointed out, there is a difference between "Catholic" and "devout." My boyfriend is a devout Catholic but I'm sure he could point out many, many Catholics who are more lax lith their faith.

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