Lazy Writing (or On Second Reference, Uninspired Scribing)

So in a world where this doesn’t seem to matter anymore …

  1. If a basketball team has a very large player (such as Jusuf Nurkic on the Portland Trailblazers), on second reference sportswriters will almost invariably call him “the big fella.” This phony jocularity may have had a purpose when it was born in the swamp of sportswriting, but it is cliched and lazy now.  How lazy? In Portland, these same sportswriters have “The Bosnian Beast” at their disposal! Or on a more mundane level “Portland’s center,” “the Blazer’s 5,” “Portland’s third-year center,” “the Blazer’s increasingly efficient man in the middle,” and so forth.
  2.  In the West, we live in a place where wildfires are frequent. On second reference, nearly every news story about an individual wildfire calls it “the blaze.” The more erudite reporters sometimes use “the conflagration.” I doubt that the new AP Style Manual requires the word “blaze” for second reference to “wildfire.” “The fire,” “this fire,” the “XYZ fire” and so forth are neither trite nor lazy. (And by the way, a fire in the Oregon high desert is not a “forest fire” in that there is no forest out there, just sage brush, grass and scattered juniper trees. A fire in a forest is a forest fire or “the blaze currently burning in the XYZ forest.” )
  3. I grew up in Michigan and spent two winters in Minnesota as an adult. It snows a lot in these places. Nearly all news stories about snow in these places start with something like “A major snow storm is expected …” and invariably move on to “forecasters expect x to y inches of the white stuff.” “The white stuff” is the same phony jocularity found in “the big fella,” so all you news writers can’t just look down your noses as the sportswriters. As I write this, an unusual amount of snow is expected to fall on Portland, and I am as certain as I am that tomorrow is Saturday that Oregon Live will make reference to “the white stuff” more than once. UPDATE: Oregon Live, 2/10/19:

    Snow days: They’re all fun and games until you realize they mean more school in June.

    That may be a reality for Portland-area students who find themselves playing in the white stuff if the snow persists past this weekend, as forecast.

  4. A relatively new but growing metastatically one is “the C suite,” second reference for “the CEO’s office.” (It was J-Court where I used to work, but never mind.) This is a term I suspect is borrowed from consultant-speak, which is responsible for, among many other abominations, the wrong use of “around” as a preposition. If you let consultant-speak invade your writing, you are lazy. If you write  “The city has a problem around its homeless population,” you are actually saying that this homeless problem exists, and then there is another problem adjacent to the homeless problem or surrounding it or in its vicinity or close by.  I get it that useage changes over time, but for now, “around” is not a synonym for “with” or “about.” If it were, then you could write “The Democratic caucus went along around Pelosi”  or “He wondered around the origin of this leak.”
  5.  Also, “cascade” for “waterfall” … “snowy peak” for “mountain” … “torrent” for “flood” … “nasty bug” for “flu” … “outdoor pests” for “biting insects” … “error in judgment” for “mistake” … and so on.
  6. This is not a second reference issue, but I would be a lot happier if the phrase “on a daily basis” never appeared anywhere in the written or spoken English language again. Strunk & White’s Rule #17: Omit Needless Words. “Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. “On a daily basis” is a puffed up way of saying “every day” or “daily.” It has infected 12-step recovery, unfortunately.  “I work the steps on a daily basis” is something I hear almost every day or “on a timeline close to a daily basis. “

© Joseph Galligan 2019

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