One-Minute Book Reviews

February 15, 2007

The Best Things I Never Wrote: Quote of the Day #8 … On Pompous Writing

Filed under: Quotes of the Day,Writing — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 10:31 pm

R.L. Trask on pompous writing …

“There is a certain style of writing that never uses a plain word if a fancier word can be found. In such writing, every teacher is an educator, every doctor is a physician, every weatherman is a meteorologist, people don’t write books but author them, people don’t buy things but purchase them, people don’t use things but utilize them, people don’t eat things but consume them, people don’t talk but communicate, things are never different but always disparate, people are never poor but only underprivileged or disadvantaged, and nobody ever has a mere life or career, but only an odyssey. This kind of writing is pompous, and it is wearisome to read.”

R.L. Trask in Mind the Gaffe: A Troubleshooter’s Guide to English Style and Usage (Harper, 2006), a pithy, alphabetically arranged handbook that tells how to avoid common language pitfalls. The paragraph above appears under “Pomposity.”

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

Comment by Janice Harayda:

Trask’s book is an excellent guide for people who have a good basic command of grammar but sometimes have trouble with individual words or phrases such as “lay” and “lie,” “ensure” and “insure” or “may” and “might.” Because of the alphabetical arrangement of entries, you can dip into it at random whenever you have a few minutes. Dare I say, as I did in my recent review of Schott’s Almanac, that this is a book you may want to keep in that bathroom if not on your desk?


  1. This would be more convincing if it ended with “is tiring to read.” I really hope that “wearisome” was intentionally pompous. It would be sad if it wasn’t.

    And after all, some weathermen are not meteorologists. Some are even women. Disadvantaged is not the same thing as poor.

    I prefer Kurt Vonnegut’s version, that if you can’t explain it to a ten year old, you don’t understand it. Once you can do that, you’ve proven you don’t need the fancy words, so don’t put them back in.

    Comment by wunderwood — February 16, 2007 @ 4:31 pm | Reply

  2. Good point about “wearisome.” I don’t care for that word and don’t think I’ve used it in this blog. I also like Vonnegut’s explanation, though I’d put the age limit a little higher. I teach writing to college students, who often confuse pomposity with erudition or, worse, think it’s what the professors want. A colleague of mine, a high-level editor at a major book publishing firm, said that he used to tell authors whose writing was pretentious: “Explain this the way you would explain it to your mother.” I’ve borrowed that line many times.

    Comment by 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom — February 16, 2007 @ 4:48 pm | Reply

  3. Wunderwood. I can assure you that the word was meant sincerely, and not ironically, and I could not disagree with you more. Wearisome is a legitimate word, and without any pretension whatsoever. What I do find pretentious however, are those literary critics among us with the audacity (I’m sorry, nerve) to malign (sorry, criticize) the use of a word like wearisome.

    If you are to have your way, then what are we to do with the remaining 98% of the English language? God forbid someone would attempt to raise the bar a little by going with wearisome, rather than tired. Personally, I would have used tiresome.

    Me thinks you’ve been reading too much Strunk and White.


    Comment by heehler — March 8, 2007 @ 9:56 pm | Reply

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