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 When Fowler originally used the term, he was using “elegant” in the sense of “precious over-refinement,” a now outdated connotation of the word.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.