On Verbosity

Olivia Baker When I initially proposed the idea of a “wordiness” article, I wasn’t alluding to word count. I wanted someone, if not me, to write about verbosity, because it’s a disease. And it’s contagious. And we all have it. Verbosity, or wordiness, is the opposite of plain language. Simply put, the act of using more words—which are often mouthfuls found in the depths of Thesaurus.com—than necessary. Instead of “although,” for instance, a verbose writer would sprinkle in a “despite the fact that.” Or instead of “instead,” a verbose writer would employ an “in lieu”. It could even apply to syntax, as William Zinseer stated in his 2006 guide, On Writing Well: “The airline pilot who announces that he is presently anticipating experiencing considerable precipitation wouldn’t think of saying it may rain.” You get the idea. What’s odd, though, is that we were never taught to be verbose. We’ve touched on it, perhaps as a vocab word or because we didn’t know what it meant when it appeared in a text. But I bet no teacher has ever compelled their students to fluff up their language enough to deem it incomprehensible. No, we became verbose; it wasn’t intrinsic. At Latin, we’re told to stand out and challenge convention, and writing is one of our explicit outlets for that. A common cause of verbosity, however, is a need to be erudite. We want to be seen as important and well-versed to the reader, and often think it’s achievable by using big, ambiguous words and jumbling them together haphazardly without even taking a second glance.  I do it frequently, and so do my peers. And that’s a problem. Verbosity shouldn’t be taught as a style that someone of us possess — it should be something we’re taught to avoid. I don’t expect monumental change in Latin’s English curriculum to mend verbose writers of their malady, but as a temporary antidote, I leave you with this: write idiomatically (sans the swear words, for some of us). Concision is key—kill those unnecessary adjectives and long words. Find beauty in new words, but don’t go crazy. Read. And lastly, never be afraid to write simply, because that’s how our language is meant to be used. Simply.]]>