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Sunday, December 21, 2014

'Very' good advice

Mark Twain said that the two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.  For Twain, obviously, the reason was to write and he had a lot to say about how to use words, not the least being that you should write using plain, simple language, short words and brief sentences.

While he was not averse to having nice things said about his writing, he abhorred flowery adjectives in those descriptions just as he disdained using them in his own writing.  “Stick to it; don’t let fluff and flowers and verbosity creep in,” he advised. “When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don’t mean utterly, but kill most of them – then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when they are close together. They give strength when they are wide apart. An adjective habit, or a wordy, diffuse, flowery habit, once fastened upon a person, is as hard to get rid of as any other vice.”

And while he was pleased when he coined a word or phrase that others liked to use (mentioning that it came from him, of course), he also noted that the use of “a pregnant pause” also could be a great writing style.  “The right word may be effective,” he wrote, “but no word was ever as effective as a rightly timed pause.”


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