Elegant variation

How long does it take you to write a post?

I’m embarrassed to admit that most of my posts are written over at least two or three days. I write a bit and then run out of time or inspiration and move onto something else. When I return to my work in process, I almost always start by re-reading and editing my previous work and then continue with new writing (there are usually three or four of these iterations per post—perhaps that’s one reason I don’t post more frequently?!). As I edit, I try to be aware of wordiness (is there a more succinct word or phrase that I could use in place of what I’ve already written?) and repeated words in either the same or adjoining sentences. It takes a while, but I do eventually satisfy my self-critical, perfectionist tendencies enough that the content of the post makes it from my brain, through my fingers, and, at last, into a published piece.

Elegant variation” may turn out to be the most obscure phrase I use during this round of AlphabeThursday. It appealed to me because it deals with one of my own editing idiosyncrasies—that of trying to avoid repeating words. Henry Watson Fowler coined the phrase early in the 20th century in reference to second-rate writers (his term) who were more intent on expressing themselves “prettily” than they were on conveying their meaning clearly. One of Fowler’s examples involved a newspaper report of spectators at a boxing match. In an attempt to make his account more interesting, the writer referred to one boxer’s supporters as “fellows” while the other boxer’s proponents were called “youths.” Fowler questioned whether everyone among the second boxer’s supporters was young, at least compared to those who supported the first boxer. Another example is a sports editor who commonly substitutes the words game, match, and bout for each other when referring to various sporting events; in most cases this wouldn’t be a problem, but it is definitely not appropriate for tennis, for example, where the terms game and match have quite different meanings.

For this post, I need to explain two different aspects of my chosen phrase. When Fowler originally used the term, he was using “elegant” in the sense of “precious over-refinement,” a now outdated connotation of the word. Subsequently, another writer referred to the tendency to use sometimes awkward synonyms in order to avoid repeated words as “inelegant variation,” indicating that, in his view and perhaps a more modern interpretation of the word “elegant,” that the practice is definitely not elegant.

Will any of this new-to-me information change anything about how I prepare my posts? Probably not, though I might hesitate a fraction of a second to consider whether a synonym for my original word will be as satisfactory as the original was or if I am trying to be too “pretty” with my writing. Beyond that I’m going to disagree with Mr. Fowler because I prefer using a suitable synonym instead of having too many uses of the same word.

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Posted for Jenny Matlock’s AlphabeThursday study of the letter “E.” For Round 5 of this long-running meme, I am focusing on colloquialisms and idioms—words and phrases that are unique to a region or have meanings that aren’t necessarily discernible from the combined meanings of the individual words. I’m looking forward to investigating some of the words and phrases that, simultaneously, make English so very interesting and yet so very frustrating. I hope you will enjoy these explorations as much as I do.

21 thoughts on “Elegant variation

  1. When I 1st started blogging, I woud write and reveiw, review and write, then change everything. I was losing a lot of words and thoughts in the process and that I found I was refining what I wanted to convey into something entirely different. Now I pretty let the fhougth flow from it’s point of origin, (which is not always the head), thru my arms, down to my fingers, and onto the keyboard. Once complete I review once to add the words my fingers didn’t type the 1st time thru, and then hit the post button. My current posts may not be as well put together as my original, but I think I am conveying what I truly want to convey better.

  2. Wanda and Brenda, you’re not alone. I also edit deliberately to avoid using the same word too often or too closely together.

    I think both of you are excellent writers. But I’ve also seen this technique used to an extreme by some very bad writers. It’s very distracting to me when an author uses many synonyms just to inject pointless variety. It’s even worse when the “synonyms” don’t mean what the writer thinks they do. Sadly, I see this in a lot of self-published books. Elegant variation (in the original sense), or inelegant variation as the other writer called it, describes it perfectly.

  3. I am realy bad. I just write my post, skim edit it, and post it.

    If I’m writing a story for a contest entry, though, I write it, read it two or three days later and then read it and re-edit again after a week or so!

    It was interesting to read how everyone writes!

    Thanks for an enticing link for the letter “E”.


  4. Sometimes a post just about writes itself, and other times it will spend a long time in ‘draft’ form. I liked the phrase ‘elegant variations’, even if my take on it was different than that intended.

  5. Since I write my blog post in Word, I edit it as I write it. But I have caught my self rereading my post after I have uploaded it and often go back and make changes and corrections.

    When I read the words “Elegant Variations” I dion’t see the same description as Fowler used it ..“precious over-refinement.” I see the word Elegant as meaning simple beauty.~Ames

  6. I usually write my post first, save it in draft, and finish it when I’m ready to post on the day it supposed to go off.

    I guess we all have different work habit and it is a great thing when we find one that works out best for each individual.

  7. Sometimes it takes me a couple of days to write a post, and sometimes it only takes a couple of minutes. This week’s post is in that last catagory–saw it, wrote about it, posted it. End of story.

  8. Interesting. I typically have to write it while I’m thinking it or it doesn’t happen. A little ADD… It’s true even with my photography, of which there is more than writing on my blog. This round of Alphabe-Thursday is derived from a recent trip to Patagonia..an A-Z tour…it’s been harder for me to use photos from my archive than to shoot what I feel and experience each day…

  9. Very interesting! i write in different tones for different things. My blog writing is conversational, my magazine articles slightly less so, but I also do a good formal letter! I write it all out roughly in pencil and yes I do edit before I publish and yes I will substitute words if I feel the need. I never want my blog posts to sound overworked though, so I break a few rules. And start sentences with an “and”, for example 🙂

  10. Hello.
    I’m a prolific writer and have an inherent need to write everyday, although not all of it ends up on my blog. My wife, who doubles as my Executive Assistant does a wonderful job of editing my posts before they are published. I have found though that too much editing can sometimes take away from the original thought. Thanks for sharing.

    Emotions Of Poetry

  11. Wanda – I could have written this post – and it would have taken me several days to do so 🙂 I didn’t realize there was anyone else who specifically avoided the same word multiple times in adjoining sentences – I thought that form of “editing” was mine alone. It is nice to know that I am not a party of one in this regard. My thesaurus sits right on the table next to the computer – ever ready to provide that alternate word.

    And whether it is considered “elegant variation” or “inelegant variation” – like you, I doubt that this knowledge will change my writing style. Let’s hear it for synonyms!

  12. I confess that I do not edit enough. I do post every day, and I still have more going on that I could post about. That’s the difference between sharing the events of my life and a more literary blog. Great thought provoking question for Alphabe-Thursday.

  13. I’ve only just started blogging honestly, but when I do write a blog post, it can take me a while to write it, I want to be really satisfied with the content. Some other times I can just write the post in less than a couple of minutes. The time varies 🙂

  14. I typically write a post over the space of a week or so. I have several in my drafts and I write and rewrite. Sometimes I feel like I am “over refining” and have to say to myself “Enough, already!”

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