word-of-the-day: prolix

From http://www.cbc.ca/news/viewpoint/vp_omalley/20060717.html – which you should go read now, it’s short:

The late Peter Gzowski once held up an envelope from one of his many readers. “This has been written on a word processor,” he told me.

“How can you tell?” I asked.

“It’s prolix,” Gzowski said.

How many of you are also guilty as charged? I think many of us bloggers are similarly challenged. Personally, I’ve been fond of quoting Blaise Pascal, from Lettres provinciales, 16, Dec.14,1656:

Je n’ai fait celle-ci plus longue que parceque je n’ai pas eu le loisir de la faire plus courte.” (I have only made this letter rather long because I have not had time to make it shorter.)

But perhaps now I will quote Robertson Davies instead:

Business people are very innocent and they are impressed by bulk.

One thought on “word-of-the-day: prolix

  1. Hmm. I tend to be verbally prolix, with a tendency both to lecture and stack up subtopics and digressions until no one (least of all me) can remember what point I was originally trying to make.

    But in my writing, I tend to rewrite and re-organize and edit down heavily. I spend a lot of time thinking about the correct order for presenting the material, how best to elucidate interrelationships, how to get the important ideas into the power positions (typically the first or last element of a group). Partly this is just engineering applied to words. Partly it derives from a sense of poetry, where brevity is extremely important.

    Even when editing others, I tend to slash a lot. Much of what we say is just filler, with no semantic weight, and can be deleted with a significant gain in clarity, speed, power, and comprehensibility.

    So, I think there’s a big difference between being prolix in writing and in speaking. Maybe if I did more public speaking, they would seem closer to me.

    A related point (sometimes known as “eloquent idiots”) is about people who are really good at presenting ideas (e.g. Powerpoint wizards) but really bad at actually thinking things through and being correct. I knew a marcom guy once who spent a ton of money advertising our “complimentary” software, meaning we were giving it away free (though we weren’t), when he actually meant “complementary”, meaning it worked well with our hardware. And I’ve seen many managers who are great at yelling at people but seem unable to make even trivial technical decisions. Sometimes I think that superstitions like astrology, and large parts of most religions, fall into this category. But that’s a whole nother discussion.

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