By Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff
Sample sentence: To attempt any consideration of Gaudi's life, he must be placed in his time and located in his place. To accomplish this, an overstanding of how he came to be is indispensable.
These two sentences have several problems:
- Word misuse
But that's not all. This is action once-removed. We are not going to think about Gaudi's life, we're only going to try to think about it.
The sentence continues: "he must be placed in his time and located in his place." This is a passive and bloated way of saying, "we must know when and where he lived."
Sentence #2 tells us what we must do to accomplish "this." "This" what? To accomplish trying to think about Gaudi's life, or to accomplish placing him? Oh, and don't bother to look up "overstanding" in the dictionary—it's not a word. The writer meant "understanding," but wanted something that sounded bigger and less ordinary.
Ultimately, he meant to say: "To understand Gaudi's life, we must understand the context in which he lived it." And: "To understand Gaudi, we must understand the forces that shaped him."
If you're thinking that the second sentence is virtually a repeat of the first, you're right. The writer used two sentences to convey what he might have done more clearly in one. In the end, he failed to convey the idea because he was overreaching. He was trying to sound eloquent by reaching for words and phrasings he wasn't at home with.
What to do? When you write, write simply. Get down the bones of your story. Use words that come naturally to you—words you don't have to look up. Go back later with your editor hat on and maybe look for nicer, more eloquent words and phrasings. But make sure you know your tools—words—before you use them. And don't repeat yourself—say it once; say it best.
This post reminds me of the old KISS philosophy: Keep It Simple, Stupid. It's true, though. There's no reason to say more than you need to. You're just wasting good words. What are your thoughts?