The writer stands accused…

You know you may have been wrangling words for a living a little too long when you can’t even read The New Yorker without your attention stumbling over weaknesses in writing and outright errors. But it’s hard not to notice once you’ve developed an eye for that sort of thing.

Here are a few pet writing bugaboos, many of which offend by violating Strunk & White’s imperative to “Omit needless words.”

  • in order to — Seldom serves any purpose over the simpler “to.”
  • the fact that —  Awkward and usually a sign that the writer was too lazy to come up with a more graceful, economical construction. “His illiteracy,” for  example, rather than “the fact that he was illiterate.”
  • collided with — Oh, it makes me feel old and sad to see that this one apparently is no longer driven into the pliable skulls of young journalists. “Collided” properly describes the impact of two moving objects. If one object is stationary, you want “hit,” “smacked into” or similar. A car cannot collide with a building, telephone pole or freeway abutment, as I see all too often in outlets that supposedly employ professional editors.
  • that — Often unnecessary after “said” and equivalent verbs, unless it  follows a time element, location or other elaboration. “He said that the pirate ship was stinky.” “He said Monday that the pirate ship was stinky.”
  • award-winning — Maybe the most useless adjective in widespread contemporary use. Given the proliferation of awards, the term on its own is meaningless. And I’m an award-winning writer, so I should know.

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