Here’s a novel resolution some of you might be interested in. I know I am. And it is:
Use fewer words.
Ha ha, said Little Miss Logorrhea, knowing this would be one of those resolutions that would fall to the wayside by noon on New Year’s Day. Still, I think it’s important to take a stand. What made me think of it was this quote from Kwame Kilpatrick in the Freep today, a reconstruction of how their own reporting reverberated in the mayor’s inner circle last year:
“I’m going to need you to step up,” Kilpatrick said.
A generation ago, he’d have said, “I need you to step up,” or “I need your help,” but the “I’m going to” is the mark of our age of blah blah. It so happens I watched “Office Space” over the weekend, and this is how the evil boss talks: “Yeah, Peter, I’m going to need you to go ahead and come in on Saturday…” All those filler words thrown in there, like packing peanuts, the mark of the passive-aggressive personality. Not: “You have to work Saturday,” but “I’m going to need you” and “go ahead” and “come in,” etc.
The other day I saw a sign in the salon where I was fighting another skirmish against the gray:
“Start the new year right! Swap out your old cosmetics and get a 20 percent discount.” When did “out” hook up with “swap,” anyway? No one just says “swap” by itself anymore, and now we have two words doing the work that used to be done by one: “Exchange.”
“Change up” — that’s another one. I first noticed it on “The Wire,” and I always assumed it was ghetto usage, until it started spreading like an ink stain: “And then he changed up, and it was all over.” Or else he changed up and swapped out, which I swear I saw somewhere living in the same sentence, but I forgot to clip it.
Everybody talks and writes these days like they’re being interviewed by Charlie Rose, and no one wants to sound stupid by not giving a full answer. And so we change up and swap out, and we’re going to need you to go ahead and come in this Saturday, mmm-kay?
Use fewer words. Cultivate that tight-lipped air of mystery.
That doesn’t mean fewer letters, however. Somehow I got on a Star-Tribune mailing list and thought I’d immediately unsubscribe, until I was sucked in by this amusing urban-trend story, about a man who shot a 15-point buck — and friends, that’s a trophy anywhere in the world — with a crossbow on the shoulder of a busy Minneapolis freeway. How often do you get to read a sentence like this?
The buck jumped back over the fence and died in a nearby parking lot.
“Bed, Bath & Beyond, I bet,” said Alan. Discussing what constitutes a “point,” however, reminded us of a story last month in the Free Press, about a teenage girl who hunts with her dad, and bagged a “three-oint buck” her first time out. We thought it was a typo, but it was repeated later in the story: a three-oint buck. Cutbacks on the copy desk, I guess, or maybe a novel way to save ink.
Today’s holiday photo wasn’t submitted as such, but I like it and I’m stealing it. Readers, our own Coozledad, taking his new toys out for a spin down on Vegetarian Farm, or whatever he calls his acreage:
I’ve said before that little makes me happier than seeing animals doing the work they were bred to do, and something about the expression on Andy and Barney’s faces as they bend to the task at hand — hauling firewood — makes me smile. Plus, I like equines in furry winter coats (until they roll in the mud, and you have to spend an hour currying it off of them).
See you in the new year, then. Safe celebrations, all.
brian stouder said on December 31, 2008 at 10:23 am
Here’s a little digression for you – apropos of nothing: On January 3, 2009, the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum has 3 events scheduled: An NBA D-League basketball game between the Fort Wayne Mad Ants and the Iowa Energy*; the Gun and Knife Show and Sale; and the Bridal Spectacular. (anyway – it struck ME as funny!)
The commercial for the gun and knife-palooza that is running on WOWO says something like ‘Come and buy a gun, while you still CAN!‘. I suppose they are trying to reap an Obama-dividend, but the juxtaposition between the Bridal Spectacular and the desperate sales pitch from the gun hawks just kills me (so to speak) (Maybe they SHOULD have said “We’re going to need you to step up to the plate and swap out your old firearm for a newer, larger, nicer one”)
*It always strikes me as a mistake to give a sports team a name which is singular, like Energy (or our old b-ball team’s name, Fury). For example, if there is an event where you can meet them, the commercial that says “Come meet the Komets and get an autograph” sounds better than “Come meet the Energy” or “Come and mingle with the Fury” – which soundlike exhortations to join a cult
Kirk said on December 31, 2008 at 10:29 am
I wonder whether “change up” was born of baseball talk, as in “He changes up off the fastball.”
Using fewer words is a good idea. A traveling editing guru I once heard pushes the notion that using words with fewer syllables is better, too, and I’m with her in most cases. Why do reporters insist on writing that someone “resides” somewhere? He lives there, damn it. Why purchase something when you can buy it?
Kirk said on December 31, 2008 at 10:35 am
Last fall, a bridal show and a comic-book convention were held in the same building here. No overlap.
I’m with you on singular sports team names, though I liked the name of the old minor-league hockey team that played here, the Columbus Chill. One of the more unfortunate team names around here was for a women’s pro basketball team, the Minks.
brian stouder said on December 31, 2008 at 10:38 am
The Minks?!! Hmmmmmmm…. !
The advertising folks know what you mean about less syllables (except for the ad folks who sell pharmaceuticals, who seem to believe that the more incomprehensible their ads sound, the better)
(and indeed – I bet the folks who named that team the Minks were heavily motivated by the lure of free-media advertising!)
Beth said on December 31, 2008 at 10:47 am
Gives a new meaning to the term “shotgun wedding.”
coozledad said on December 31, 2008 at 10:50 am
It really does take forever to comb them out. It’s like dressing an adobe wall. It’s still muddy here, so I just combed them out where they’d be in contact with the harness. They seem to be happier when they’re filthy.
They don’t know it yet, but when the weather warms up I’m going to wash them along with the carpets.
The farm is unnamed so far. I’ve got a bad track record with naming things. When I was in a band in college, I was holding out for “Judy’s Tiny Head”. We played one show under that name, to four or five people shifting uncomfortably on folding metal chairs. We have a chicken named Cynthia Cosgrove, and had a rescue cat named Pamela Rogers. A ewe named Pussy Galore, and a cluster of sheep born the same day named Hebert, Shebert, Threebert, and Fourbert.
I’m open to suggestions as to what to call the farm. Winner gets a bag of apples.
Julie Robinson said on December 31, 2008 at 10:52 am
How about holding that wedding at halftime of the bb game?
Bill said on December 31, 2008 at 10:57 am
Then there are words that which attain popularity and usage from current events. This Julia Keller piece in today’s Trib:
“A word’s sudden popularity, after all, arises like a vaporous tendril from a rusty caldron that roils and bubbles with mysterious ingredients such as news events, Google searches, snarky monologues by late-night comedians, hits on tmz.com, luck, linguists’ whimsies, eyes of newts and toes of bats, all stirred up and presided over by four salivating trolls locked in a high tower on a distant hill. We scaled that hill on your behalf, however, and peeked through the grimy window at those trolls, and here, in order of prominence, are the top words of 2008:”
Crabby said on December 31, 2008 at 10:58 am
“Serve up” always bugged me as “serve” without the “up” means the same thing; serve doesn’t require a vector.
brian stouder said on December 31, 2008 at 10:59 am
Crooked Critter Crest
Go Postal Parcel
edit: Bill, that was a GREAT article!
Pam said on December 31, 2008 at 11:22 am
This morning’s TV news reported that due to a crime of some sort, a road had been closed. But to everyone’s relief, the police had “opened it back up.”
del said on December 31, 2008 at 11:24 am
As Cooz named his sheep Hebert, Shebert, Threebert and Fourbert, his naming skills are obviously unsurpassed so I won’t try to name the farm. The band name “Judy’s Tiny Head” reminded me of a friend’s poorly named rock band — “Sensitive Clown.”
alex said on December 31, 2008 at 11:31 am
“Serve up” always bugged me as “serve” without the “up” means the same thing
Really? I’ve always understood “serve up” as an expression that means “to ridicule,” and I don’t think it would be understood that way without the “up.” As for servin’ up heapin’ helpin’s, it’s an old colloquialism. I’d bet even Charlie Rose uses it.
del said on December 31, 2008 at 11:32 am
My favorite part of Office Space is when Peter tries to get fired by being completely frank with the consultants who are interviewing employees to determine who should survive the cuts.
The follow up as to Peter starts at 1:06:
jcburns said on December 31, 2008 at 11:49 am
Omit needless fewer words. Let every word tell out. Prefer the american standard to the offbeat the clock. And, uh, please, about the same.
brian stouder said on December 31, 2008 at 12:40 pm
Here is a picture of Australians celebrating the arrival of 2009 –
which would would evoke an interesting analysis from Nance; there’s so many different things going on (the sports drink bottles[?] seem to be tethered; look at the various hand signs; I had read that women out number men in Australia, and this picture is consistent with that; who is the guy in orange looking at? etc)
Happy New Year, y’all! I’m off to Cass county
paddyo' said on December 31, 2008 at 12:41 pm
My new year’s rez is to try to get the federal bureaucrats with whom I now work (technically, I now am one, too) to speak and write in plain English and cut down on their abbreviations and acronyms.
Ha! Who am I kidding? My resolution will go down in flames . . . but hey, don’t most resolutions?
Happy New(s) Year, everybody . . . and thank you, Nancy, for consistent daily sustenance. Oops, sorry, I mean: Good, reliable reading.
Kirk said on December 31, 2008 at 12:53 pm
Speaking of lots of words, two nominations today by James J. Kilpatrick for worst sentence of the year, both from novelist Toni Bentley’s review of “Casanova” in the New York Times:
“There is a risk involved, however, even in just reading about Casanova from your armchair: You are left, inevitably, with the feeling, if you’re a man (I’m guessing here), that you are lazy beyond measure in all things and have missed out entirely on the meaning of woman, which is the meaning of life; and if you are a woman (not guessing here), well, you simply missed out on the greatest lover you will never have and thus also the meaning of life.”
“Casanova’s lovers — Donna Lucrezia, Donna Ignazia, Teresa Imer, Teresa Lanti (who posed as the castrato known as Bellino), C.C., M.M. (two M.M.’s, actually, both nuns), Esther, Hedwig and her cousin Helen, Marguerita Astrodi and her sister Rosalie, Baroness de Roll and Pauline, to name but a few — populate his story like sweet angel fairies, co-conspirators, teachers and often intellectual equals, and one senses that wit and tenderness arrived in unequal doses with the passion.”
Lex said on December 31, 2008 at 1:06 pm
[[I wonder whether “change up” was born of baseball talk, as in “He changes up off the fastball.”]]
One other possibility I heard in my youth, and for which I have no evidence, is that it started off as change-OP, meaning change of pace. (I heard that phrase a lot in my youth but it has disappeared.)
Also, [Steven Reich] I’ve always wondered why you call it a change-UP when the velocity of the pitch, relative to the fastball, is DOWN.[/Steven Reich]
[[I’ve always understood “serve up” as an expression that means “to ridicule,” and I don’t think it would be understood that way without the “up.”]]
My kids, 10 and 7, use “You got SERVED!” all the time and apparently make themselves understood quite well.
[[spend an hour currying it off of them).]]
Nance, Nance. Off OF? 🙂
Happy New Year all.
Kirk said on December 31, 2008 at 1:17 pm
And, actually, the pitch now known as a “changeup” originally was referred to as a “change of pace,” which probably was shortened by a crusty old pitching coach who was interested in using words more economically.
MichaelG said on December 31, 2008 at 2:23 pm
A Brit shifting from a lower to a higher gear in his car is said to be changing up although that’s probably not where the phrase at hand originated.
I like “basis points” as a new term used to replace tenths of a percentage point. A lot of this crapola verbiage seems to me to be intended to add mystery to what somebody does, thus making that person smarter than I.
I’ll leave Coozledad to his own naming. His will certainly be better than mine.
For athletic teams I like the Lady Beavers of Oregon State and the Banana Slugs of UC Santa Cruz.
Did somebody really say Condi Rice and Emma Peel in the same sentence a little while ago? Lord.
Happy New Year all!
MichaelG said on December 31, 2008 at 2:30 pm
Maybe we can take up a collection and send Gonzo a dollar so he can buy himself a clue:
LA Mary said on December 31, 2008 at 2:34 pm
Ugh. Emma Peel and Condi Rice? Emma doesn’t deserve that insult. I was upset when Sarah Palin was compared to Marge Gunderson from Fargo. Marge could kick her ass around the block.
Jenflex said on December 31, 2008 at 2:41 pm
Crusty Mule Farm. They really do seem to relish being a block of muddy dreadlocks.
Kirk said on December 31, 2008 at 2:52 pm
Amen re: Rice/Peel (and we’re all talking about the one, true Peel, Diana Rigg).
[[A lot of this crapola verbiage seems to me to be intended to add mystery to what somebody does, thus making that person smarter than I.]] Exactly right, of course, or to obscure what that somebody is up to. Bureaucrats seem to be guiltiest, aided by lazy reporters who don’t bother to translate all that nonsense into English, thus shirking 50 percent of their job.
I don’t follow the NFL the way I used to, but I still pay some attention. The other night, I heard two Cincinnati radio goobs who kept talking about “OTAs,” which was a new one on me. I deduced from the context that they meant unofficial practice sessions, but they never bothered to try to explain. Turns out that it stands for “organized team activities,” which sounds like the team picnic.
A Riley said on December 31, 2008 at 3:10 pm
Oh NN, nail on head. That “I’m going to need you to” cloud of passive-aggressive non-directive foggery is also part of the yuppie-mommy vocabulary and it drives me *nuts.* “Sophie, Max, I’m going to need you to come up here out of the street now, okay????” And of course the kid has no idea what mom wants.
One of the department heads where I work is one of these non-directive speakers — and also an academic. Talk about a fog machine! She was mistress of ceremonies for a required seminar at work, and one of her ice-breaker exercises was to have representatives of different departments give little thirty-second intro speeches when we’d come back from breaks, lunch, etc. Nice idea, huh? But the way she introduced it — I wish I could remember it precisely — baffled the entire large room full of educated professionals. Every single one of us sat blinking at her, and someone finally asked her to clarify what she just said. This happens all the time where I work.
Bill said on December 31, 2008 at 3:15 pm
My wife is from southern Illinois and insists on using “taking up” as in, “Go to the table now. I’m taking up.”
I get nothing but bad looks when I ask something inane, like, “What are you taking up? Acting?”
Jenflex said on December 31, 2008 at 3:47 pm
And I remember the bane of my existence in Cincinnati: “please?” as a substitute for “pardon” or “excuse me.” Not wordy, just obscure and Germanic.
joodyb said on December 31, 2008 at 5:55 pm
That ‘please’ thing is all over the buckeye state, jenflex, thanks to the spread of germans, no doubt.
those animals make me misty-eyed, cooz. i bet they smell good too. i loved the smell of the ones my granddad had.
brian stouder, that is the best leadoff comment i’ve read in some time. happy new year.
Kirk said on December 31, 2008 at 6:28 pm
Off to a nice dinner with my Mrs. and then home to more wine and TV.
Happy New Year, all you folks.
coozledad said on December 31, 2008 at 7:25 pm
Happy New Year. By all means necessary.
beb said on December 31, 2008 at 9:51 pm
Even though the Kensington Metro park is on the far side of Detroit, the family enjoys going out there, and taking a hay ride on the Farm. There’s something about going on a ride with a pair of beautiful Belgium horses.
On writing less. I remember reading somewhere someone from back when letter writing was an art, apologizing for the long letter because they didn’t have time to write more concisely. It took me a while that writing briefly and tersely, yet clearly, was an art. An art I’ve never mastered.
My wife goes nuts when people says “orientate” when they mean “orient.” She also obsessed about the mispronunciation of ‘nuclear.’ Sadly I can not tell distingush between nu-clear and nuk-u-lar.
Happy New Year!
caliban said on December 31, 2008 at 10:41 pm
I know there will be Nancy Nall contributors that will find this funny (perchance predictable), but I disagree with the general sentiment about using fewer words. Words are endlessly evocative of intelligence, stupidity, concupiscence and generosity, dismissal and acceptance, ineffability, inchoateness, denial, independence, servility, resignation and defiance, madness and sanity, elation and despair, grievance and reconciliation and accord. Any number of dualities (bad word, I know, sort of Zoroastrian, dichotomies? conflicts?) that define humans. Yin and yang, to make sense of ylang.
Obviously the problem is the lack of an editing function, or, more precisely the dysfunction that sets in when self-importance shocks and awes or baser instincts take control. Editing is obviously built in. That’s why none of you ever demanded that Gramma “Pass the fucking gravy”. (Although, if somebody didn’t actually do that, there’s an urban rumor factory that needs to be tracked down and destroyed in its nest, and if I were Obama, I’d appoint W Urban Legend Czar.)
So, we have social editors. Things you just don’t say, and if you insist, people will ignore you or punch your lights out. Or diagnose you with Tourette or Aspergers and medicate
and patronize you into wordlessness.
It’s kind of ironic (and this is probably the word people use incorrectly more often than any other) that the scolds that want to edit public garrulousity are pedantic polysyllabricators like Safire and the late great saint of actually concerned Conservative American politics, Bill Buckley (yeah, he was an ahole but he was our ahole).
Besides, most editors are prudes, incompetents and envious dicks that couldn’t write if you held an O. F. Mosburg & Sons 395 Magnum Autoloader to their pointy little heads. I could have typed ‘shotgun’ but that would have been fun, but not so much fun.
The body electric is superb, but Walt Whitman would have been bolloxed if he were deprived of The Word Electric. I had a girlfriend in high school that liked to say ‘I’m such a riot”. As obnoxious as that might sound, it was part of her charm (and her dad was a member of the Grosse Pointe Yacht Club), and despite the fact that a riot requires more than one person, she was pretty close to right. Limiting words is dangerously close to annihilating metaphor, which demise would accelerate global warming and subsume important truths.
We don’t think about it until we go to the hospital, but the body is electric. EKGs and sex and TDs with the clock run down to 00:00, and getting your bike knocked down by a pickup carrying day laborers that speak only Espanol, that’s as much electricity as a bolt of lightning through a skeleton key on a kite string. Escaping death, experiencing birth. People not adept at words become effusive and, usually, eloquent, even (and frequently especially) if what they say is banal, in situations like these.
So, I’m for everybody talking and writing and typing they fool head off (and dialect is indispensable by definition, nahmsayin?), as long as that doesn’t mean texting (a truly foul word) while driving.
Nobody should ever begin a sentence with the word ‘frankly’. What, otherwise I would have assumed you were making this shit up? ‘In all honesty…’. Lying jackass. ‘In What context, Charley?’ I’m a nitwit with no clue what you’re talking about. ‘My friends’, those Republican bastards painted me as the illegitimate father of a pickaniny but they’re buttering my bread at the moment.
There are all sorts of words and phrases that could be cut from common discourse with no collateral damage (by which we mean innocent deaths that would dwarf those of military targets except the military targets amounted to zero and you can’t divide anything by that). Blogosphere? This positively oozes self-importance and mangling English like oozing pus.
But cutting down on nouns, adjectives, verbs, conjunctions, adverbs, interjections, paranthetical asides, pronouns? That is something up with which we will not put.
NNall people. Thanks for forbearance. Literate bunch in general that would rather see verisimilitude when truth would do the trick. And I suppose that makes my point. One’s fun and freighted, the other isn’t. If somebody calls me a liar, I’d take that under advisement. If somebody calls me the founding father of my personal Ananais Club, they’ve used far too many words, but, you know, they’ve said a mouthful they’re going to have to eat. Words obfuscate and they enlighten. It’s not the number, it’s the deployment. Proffered poorly, drivel. Salaciously, seductive. Insinuating, dishonestly.
Well. A few thousand words too many. Happy New Year y’all. We live in a tourist mecca, so we stay home, but if you’re going out, consider innocent bystanders and the cops.
caliban said on December 31, 2008 at 11:04 pm
That extra ‘ta’ in orient and etc. drives me nuts. This is some form of jargon that attempts to make normal words and functions somehow self-aggrandizing, like resume lying. I’m sure there’s somebody that’s called herself a ‘facilitatator” without a clue. All of those ‘ta’s could be eschewed to make more room for words like ‘eschew’ and ‘effluvium’ and ‘preternatural’ and ‘ineffable.
People don’t appreciate the unGodly wonder of the English language. There are something like 600,000 uninflected words in English. The closest competitors are French, Spanish and Russian, but they all count varied forms of basa-boru and Burger King, the chauvinist batardes. Ought to be sent to the gulag or the guillotine, with nary a friijoole con queso taco.
CrazyCatLady said on January 1, 2009 at 1:14 am
It’s pronounced New-Klee-Er! Nuclear!!! NOT Nuke-You-Lar. It’s not spelled nucular. It Clearly nuclear. The idiot in the president’s office today can’t even say it correctly. You, my darling Beb, are better than that smirking chimp. Get it right!!!!! PS: Love you……
Gasman said on January 1, 2009 at 1:55 am
Cooze’s Ass Farm
Phat Ass Farm
Happy New Year, y’all!
Bill said on January 1, 2009 at 1:57 am
Happy New Year everyone. And, Caliban, no one will ever accuse you of using too few words.