Destroying The He-Himself Syndrome: Getting Rid of Words and Phrases That Are Obvious and Bloat One’s Writing

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Let’s see, I need to write about my life. Okay, this is how I’ll start: “To me my life has been, in my honest opinion, actual joy. The life’s experiences I went through included the following: going to learning schools, having an employable job, and getting married to my wife. I have to say these have been great times so far in my life. In fact, there was not a single day where the fact of the matter was I did not grow or enjoy. I currently live in North Carolina, and I, for one, to this day, could not think, in my head, of a better place to live. I am here to tell you that I’m a happy camper!” Okay–that reads pretty cool. But to be on the safe side I’ll let my professor read it. [One day passes.] WAH! WAH! WAH! My professor told me I have a bad case of The He-Himself Syndrome, saying I included items that are obvious and just not needed! I asked how can I improve, and this is what he said: “It’s common for folks to write or speak with words simply not needed because the items are obvious. Fortunately, there are easy ways to correct this!”

It’s called The He-Himself Syndrome, writing or saying something that becomes a filler, a doughnut, fatty calories simply because it is not needed as the sentence has already indicated the item. While hundreds of examples of The He-Himself Syndrome exist, perhaps the most pervasive–seen or heard in every publication, in many conversations, in news broadcasts–is something like “he himself,” “she herself,” “the puppies themselves,” or “the tree itself.” The noun or pronoun–in the previous sentence “he,” “she,” the puppies,” “the tree”–are enough to describe the person or item. Adding “himself, “herself,” “themselves,” or “itself” serves no purpose: they do not re-enforce, they do not add more specificity, they do not add contextual information. Rather, they hang on as wasted appendages.

How did this begin? Why did someone think it necessary to include words that offer nothing more than taking up space? Research turns up nothing concrete: possibly to give a person more time to think, perhaps because the more words the more intelligent it sounds or reads, or maybe because a person is trying to hide something. But no matter the raison d’etre the impact is–take your pick–silly, boring, clumsy, and/or confusing.

What about our person in the first paragraph, writing a bit of an autobiography. Let’s help the individual by making The He-Himself Syndrome disappear: “My life has been one of joy. Life’s experiences included going to schools, having a job, and getting married. These have been great times in my life. There was not a day where I did not grow or enjoy. I live in North Carolina and could not think of a better place to live. To sum it up: I’m a happy camper!” What was 106 words has been whittled to 61, with the help of a few added words to smooth it out. 

So how to resolve The He-Himself Syndrome? There is no fault in our first writing to include examples of this. Typically, we pour out ideas, thoughts, information, insights onto paper or a blank computer screen as if an unchecked stream gushing ahead. Depending on one’s experience with and knowledge of writing there may be many, some, or but a few He-Himselfs. But now comes that crucial step resulting in lean writing, with nary a hint of The He-Himself Syndrome: editing and revising. There are some important steps to assure the process is complete.

First, we need read our writing aloud. A silent read can gloss over extra verbiage, as our mind initially put it in our tome, and thus or mind might still believe it to be okay. But an oral read catches all sorts of writing mishaps, including text that may sound awkward, stilted, unnecessary. Yet we must keep in mind we are the author of what we wrote, and thus we look at our writing subjectively. Indeed, we may catch errors with a read aloud, but not as if we are the true reader, i.e., one who did not write the item. And so we go to the next step: an outside reader.

Purdue Global has an outstanding tutoring service (find it in our Writing Center: Individuals will happily look over your writing and give expert input not only as readers but as folks who know good writing. Part of their efforts will be a check on any instances of The He-Himself Syndrome. Of course, you may also feel comfortable having someone outside of PG read your writing; in doing so, be sure the person knows good writing and is not hesitant to be honest with you. Too, it would not hurt to mention, “When you look over my written product would you also pay attention to anything I’ve included that simply does not belong there because it’s obvious?” This way you know the person will have an eye out for any dastardly and essay-destroying He-Himselfs.

The He-Himself Syndrome hurts any writing and impedes any speaking. Including words and phrases that have already been explained, illustrated, or mentioned does nothing but bog down your writing efforts. We never want our writing to sink, but rather float nicely on words that are precise, necessary, and non-repetitive. The end result? A satisfied reader–the best result!

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