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Down with sesquipedalianism!

Strunk and White's little book receives so much worship that I'm generally relieved to see a more measured appraisal. But are they really 'famously obnoxious'? I'd have thought their intolerance was little recognised outside of linguistic, editing, and academic circles.


Thank you for this. Too many editors are fond of finding synonyms that have fewer letters or are more "conversational." But in simplifying, they often compromise the subtlety of the message.

The reverse is true, of course. Writers love to find a fancy alternative that might not mean what they think it means.

Any word worth more than 10 points in Scrabble should set of a copy-editing alarm. But too often we underestimate the reader and cheapen the prose.

Country Girl in the City

Strunk & White was my university's style guide and it gave me fits. After graduation, I successfully avoided it until I started writing contracts.

I love EditorMark's 10 point Scrabble alarm.

The Word Guy

Whilst egregiously deliberate polysyllabic obfuscation is to be deprecated, the automatic prejudicial deconstruction of polysyllabic discourse is equally unacceptable. I could be wrong...


I love the snarky A to the indignant Q. So I would guess that the editors are not concerned about what Conor Dillon calls "the jumper colon"? http://www.themillions.com/2010/07/colonoscopy-it%E2%80%99s-time-to-check-your-colons.html

Carol Saller

The jumper colon! It's my new favorite thing. Thanks, Chaka---

Sandi Latimer

My journalism training taught me to write for the eighth grader. Hence my writing is simple. I rarely use a long word and definitely not a fancy word.

Bill Bennett

As an editor, I used to tell my journalists not to use words which would have readers reaching for the dictionary.

This isn't quite the same as not using long words, it is the same as not using obscure, barely understandable words.

The moment a reader has to pause, reach for the Condensed Oxford (or whatever) and flick through its pages, you've lost them.

Incidentally, a Scrabble score of 10 is too low - there are many basic Anglo-Saxon words which easily pass that test. If we go down that route, I'd say 18 would be about right.


A word's length is of less consequence than its suitability. Nor would I stress "the right word", since there are degrees of rightness. Hmm. I might have to write more about this.


'Quit' is worth 13 points. Potential synonyms 'resign' and 'desert' are worth 7 each. Scrabble is a fantastic word game, but not a good copy-editing tool!

Alison Rayner

I just finished two business diplomas and repeatedly was harped on for striving for concise business writing. I strongly believe much of the enthusiasm for short prose wasn't about keeping it short for business purposes, but to truncate the long-winded diatribes students write just to increase the length of their papers. Many pieces I edited for group members or fellow students could have been cut by 2/3 just for the sake of the reader's sanity.

Jason Zweig

As one of my first editors once told me, "I like to keep all our writing demotic, for people who don't know what the word 'demotic' means." I nodded sagely and then, as soon as I left his office, scurried to the nearest dictionary to look up "demotic."

Good English prose, as Orwell pointed out, strikes a proper balance between words derived from Anglo-Saxon (which tend to be short) and Latinate words (which tend to be polysyllabic). Is there any more electrifying passage in the English language than Shakespeare's astounding "Will all great Neptune's ocean wash this blood clean from my hand? No; this my hand will rather the multitudinous seas incarnadine, making the green one red." After the sonorous, long-distance rumble of "multitudinous" and "incarnadine," the words "making the green one red" come crashing down upon our ears like sudden waves of doom. If some hack editor had Bowdlerized the long words out, the short ones would carry no weight. Long live long words...in their proper place!

Michael Koplow

"A case in point: this one."

This is an OK sentence. According to CMOS 15 (5.97), "A verb is the most essential part of speech--the only one that can express a thought by itself, in a complete grammatical sentence (with the subject understood) {Run!} {Enjoy!} {Think!}." Since this sentence has eight words instead of one, it's cool.

Michael Koplow

Six, in point of fact. But who's counting?

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