or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Thursday, November 29, 2007


As Strunk and White famously said, "Write with nouns and verbs, not adjectives and adverbs." That's not to say you can't ever use those two latter parts of speech: writing and speech are impossible without them. It means only that overreliance on them makes for bad writing. (The second part of that advice: "The adjective hasn't been built that can pull a weak or inaccurate noun out of a tight place." If you write something drab and uninteresting, then piling on the modifiers to try to give it some sense of life is going to have the opposite effect.)

My problem with adjectives is that if they're carelessly used to modify, or intensify, something which is self-evident, they inevitably suggest (to me, at least) the "as opposed to?", because I am so contrary. This sort of thing occurs to me all the time, such as here and here, and I've already gone on about it at some length here, so I won't bore you.

The sub-head to a recent Salon.com King Kaufman piece read as follows:

Sean Taylor killing: A grief counselor talks about how teammates and fans can gain "control" after a senseless tragedy.

"Senseless tragedy". You know, as opposed to all those sensible tragedies we see unfolding around us every day.

Most any noun can take most any adjective. Sometimes they form standard two-word units, little molecules of meaning, useful to the point of becoming cliché ("almighty dollar"). Out of all of them, "senseless tragedy" might well be the worst, the most pointless. A tragedy is, almost by definition, senseless, in that we can't make any sense of it. Encumbering it with an adjective doesn't make it any worse or any more tragic than it already is.


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