Saturday, February 18, 2006

Poynter on Grammar

Mervin Block, "a newswriting coach" and author of "Writing Broadcast News -- Shorter, Sharper Stronger," critiques recent slips by "60 Minutes."

A couple of examples:

3) "She was big box-office, made a total of 50 movies." (April 3, 2005.)

Delete a total of. Without it, the sentence means the same, except that now it's leaner. Strunk and White tell us in their "Elements of Style": "Omit needless words. Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words ... for the same reason a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts."

5) "The Brooklyn Bridge was built in 1869. It's still one of the best-looking things on Earth." (Oct. 9, 2005.)

Work on the bridge began in 1869. It was completed in 1883. Thing is something I was taught to avoid. My teacher had a thing about it.

Block catches some poor writing, yes, but some of those quoted "mistakes" are attempts at colloquialism. I don't know if those should be put at the same level as factual errors. We should banish cliches. But we should first verify those quotes and dates.

Stuff like this makes writers hate editors. We put our own prejudices ahead of what works for the story and the basic facts it contains. I would say we don't see the forest for the trees, but I don't want to lapse into dreaded cliche.