Words That Stop the Reader from Reading

The first graf in a story in today’s Washington Post:

Pianist Aristo Sham, 20 and a student at Harvard, isn’t sure whether he’ll go into music or economics, but his recital Sunday at the Phillips Collection made a strong case for the former.

At this point the reader stops, goes back to “music and economics,” and figures out that the writer is suggesting that Sham stick with music. So why not write:

Pianist Aristo Sham, 20 and a student at Harvard, isn’t sure whether he’ll go into music or economics, but his recital Sunday at the Phillips Collection made a strong case for music.

The use of former, or the even more confusing former and latter, is usually a writer trying to avoid repeating words in a sentence.

Theodore Bernstein, in his book The Careful Writer, calls it a phobia:

Monologophobia and Synonymomania

A monologophobe is a writer who would rather walk naked in front of Saks Fifth Avenue than to be caught using the same word more than once in three lines. What he suffers from is synonymomania, which is a compulsion to call a spade successively a garden implement and an earth moving tool.

 

 

 

Comments

  1. Such good advice.

  2. Also, should be MAKES a strong case for music instead of “made.” Unless the case dissipated between the performance and the reviewer’s deadline.

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