Whilst I Was Reading
Whilst I was reading the other day, I noticed the annoying frequency with which the word “whilst” was suddenly being used. I don’t recall the word being used often if at all, but now, out of the blue, the word is being plopped into sentences. Why? Does anyone need to write a sentence like “The readers snickered whilst the writer railed about a word”? Why not use “while”? “While” seems perfectly appropriate for what the sentence is trying to convey and has the added benefit of sounding like a word belonging to the twenty-first century. When I hear the word “whilst,” I think of late nineteenth-century England when women wore frilly dresses and men top hats. Thou may thinkest I’m a crank, but surely I’m not the only one who has noticed the uptick in usage of “whilst.”
And I’ve noticed other language issues that bother me such as the need to punctuate exclamatory sentences with multiple exclamation points–like this!!! Do additional exclamation points make the statement more exclamatory? Is the use of multiple exclamation points LIKE USING ALL CAPS? Is the use of more than one exclamation point just another example of how common tendencies of texting and social media have crept into our everyday writing? I have a Facebook “friend” who uses two exclamation points after almost every sentence. And they (please note the intentional use of the singular “they”) include a space at the end of the sentence as a kind of build-up to the exclamatory nature of what is written. In recent posts all accompanied by the same tedious sunrise/sunset pictures, they wrote: “The morning air is brisk !!” and later, “Nice evening for a walk !!” Really?! Such usage is DRIVING ME CRAZY !!
I am not a language snob and am thrilled by the surprising ways that writers can string words into sentences that wow me, but I do have some language pet peeves. Right now at the top of my list (other than what I’ve already mentioned) is the use of unnecessary or redundant wording. First off, let me start with phrasing like “First off” and “let me start with.” Completely unnecessary. If something is first, that should be obvious, right?
Sometimes, I am bombarded by sentences so cluttered with unnecessary phrasing that I lose track of what the sentence is trying to say. It’s like watching the weather report on TV: I can listen to the forecast for seven solid minutes and still not know if I should expect rain.
It is without a doubt a very strong personal belief of mine that all too many writers use unnecessary and redundant words that mean exactly the same thing in their writing. See what I mean? What’s wrong with stating something in direct and precise language?
It is without a doubt a very strong personal belief of mine that all Too many writers use unnecessary and redundant words that mean exactly the same thing in their writing. My writing mantra is “Write tight.” Make the words count. Less is more. If more writers would scrutinize their sentences the way they do produce at the grocery, the more understandable the prose would be.
Unnecessary wording is one thing, but what about expressions that mean nothing? I asked my 16-year-old the other day if he had any homework, and he replied (and I quote), “Kind of. Sort of.” Kind of? Sort of? What does that mean? He either has homework or he doesn’t have homework, right? I would have expected the monosyllabic response of “yes” or “no,” but I got something more perplexing.
Another writing malady I see that may be the bugaboo of all bugaboos is language usage with such elevated and unnatural diction that the word “pompous” doesn’t quite describe it. It’s writing that takes “whilst” to the nth degree. A writer of language like this thinks that bigger words are better and wants to sound intelligent. Rather than write words a real person might use, the self-important writer sounds like a talking thesaurus. The viscosity of the discourse is a manifestation of what scientists theorize is fluxus oris. Huh?!
Why can’t an idea be expressed in plain English? Is it too “simple”? What is gained by having readers stumble over circuitous phrasing and unusual words? Does the writer think they are flexing their intellectual muscle with such usage? Writing in plain English is clear and concise. Plain English is free of gobbledygook. When writers use plain English, readers comprehend the idea.
And with that pronouncement let me extend, with unplumbed reverence and unbridled probity, a closing mentation: adieu.
Or perhaps I should just write
Until next week–
As Kurt Vonnegut said in “How to Write with Style”: Keep it simple, sound like yourself, and [my favorite] pity the reader.
Vonnegut’s advice is wise! Thanks for passing it along.