1. ExpiredAspiration

    ExpiredAspiration Member

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    Pretentious Vocabulary

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by ExpiredAspiration, Apr 10, 2017.

    I have declared the excommunication of the term "subsequently" from the church of my vocabulary. Ah, it is as if a weight has been lifted.

    Anyway, I was wondering if anyone else has ever struggled with eliminating excessive adverbs from their writing.
     
  2. Tenderiser

    Tenderiser Not a man or BayView

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    I wouldn't call adverbs, or 'subsequently' in particular, pretentious!

    I love adverbs to describe speech and I wish everybody else did. But they don't, and I can see that the arguments against them make sense, so I very rarely use them now.

    I use the Hemingway App in editing which, among other things, highlights all adverbs and suggests if you need to cut down.
     
  3. izzybot

    izzybot Transhuman Autophage Contributor

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    I'm kind of in the adverbs-aren't-evil camp; I think it's more important to just keep things mixed up. That's my main focus. It's not adverbs themselves that're the problem - you just don't want to rely overly on any one thing.

    Can't say 'subsequently' is a word I think I've overused, but it is a nice one. It's on my list of favorite words, right there between 'stymied' and 'supernumerary'. No, I don't know why I keep an alphabetized list of words I like, either.
     
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  4. Alex R. Encomienda

    Alex R. Encomienda Contributor Contributor

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    There are many words I overuse but I'm not entirely sure I would call them adverbs.. They're just things I pick up along the way.

    Beckoned, betokened, trinket, labyrinth, vermin and entity.

    And did I forget about despaired? That word seems to be showing up a lot too.
     
  5. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin The game sour like a pickle be.... Contributor

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    Depends on the verb being modified. Good verbs don't need modification and good nouns don't need adjectives. Adverbs are not inherently evil but their worshipers have made ruined them for everyone. Generally I think you're in a bit of trouble language wise if your verbs need too much help. Ditto for nouns and their adjectives to a lesser extent. Some nouns like "car" or "dog" benefit from a little help, but there aren't many verbs that are vague enough to be aided by modification. "Said" is one them, but doing those in tags is pretty horrorshow in my opinion. Sometime you can get away with "said-ly" if it's an adverb that modifies the sound of the speech and not the emotion of what is being said.

    Good for you with subsequently. "Later" is a better word. You save seven letters and two syllables on a banal word that does banal things in language.

    ETA:
     
  6. Wreybies

    Wreybies Thrice Retired Supporter Contributor

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    The Hemingway app tells me that I've a penchant for overly-complex sentences.

    Hm...

    Will have to digest and ponder that further.

    Other than that it appears that I'm all good. :bigwink:
     
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  7. minstrel

    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I've made this point before, but you carry it to extremes: Why this obsession with brevity?

    I've seen people around here say the books are too long - too much description, or narration, or something. Some go so far as to say the sentences are too long - too many words. They rephrase the sentence to say basically the same thing in fewer words, usually at the cost of vividness, character, atmosphere, or some other desirable feature of fiction.

    You are the first I can remember who actually complains that the words are too long! As if it's important to save as many letters (letters!) in a manuscript as you can. As if you want your readers to do as little reading as possible, because we all know that readers hate reading.

    Since when is shorter better? Outside of a newspaper article, that doesn't make sense. Can you explain it?
     
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  8. minstrel

    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    They want $19.99 for the Hemingway App! For only twice that, I can get Scrivener, which helps me write. Looks like the Hemingway App is designed to make me unwrite. Argh. :eek:
     
  9. Tenderiser

    Tenderiser Not a man or BayView

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    It's free to use online, and useful, unlike Scrivener ;)
     
  10. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin The game sour like a pickle be.... Contributor

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    Shorted isn't always better. "Subsequently" in a bit of a mouthful for what it conveys.

    Bill was hit by a car on his way home from work. Later he died.

    Bill was hit by a car on his way home from work. Subsequently he died.
     
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  11. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    I think that "subsequently" has a different nuance. "Later" suggests that a non-trivial time has passed. "Subsequently" only communicates order; the event that happened "subsequently" could be a fraction of a second after the event that precedes it.

    To me, that means that "subsequently" can do jobs that would not be done as well by the simpler word. It often earns its keep.

    I periodically quote something that Henry Mitchell said about garden design:

    "If wood poles will serve, don't use brick columns. If brick will do, don't use stone. If stone will do, don't use marble."

    There are countless ways to argue with this ("If the garden has any marble in it, then won't wood poles look stupid, even if they're technically sufficient for whatever they're used for?") but I still like it as a general principle. My view in writing is that you should use the simplest thing that will do the job.

    But you don't have to redefine the job in order to allow you to use the simpler thing. If it's a job that requires marble, then use the marble.
     
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  12. minstrel

    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    It tells me that I have a typical readability grade of 8 or 9 (though one sample had a grade of 3 - yay?) and that over 40% of my sentences are "hard" or "very hard" to read.

    The Hemingway app is still in elementary school.
     
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  13. Wreybies

    Wreybies Thrice Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Most of mine gave a grade of 7 or 8 but I also got a grade 3. :bigoops: Funny, given that most of my crits tend to tell me to tone back the 50 cent words. :bigmeh:

    Screen Shot 2017-04-10 at 6.27.18 PM.png
     
  14. Kingtype

    Kingtype Always writing or thinking things XD Contributor

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    Grade 5 and 4 for me.

    I can live with that.
     
  15. ExpiredAspiration

    ExpiredAspiration Member

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    Adverbs, like anything, can only retain meaning in moderation. Which is why I was referring to "excessive" usage of adverbs, if used sparingly they can be just as descriptive as their verb derivative.
     
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  16. truthbeckons

    truthbeckons Active Member

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    I think this is more associational than literal, but for me "subsequently" has shades (just shades, mind) of something more like "consequently" in it, while "later" sounds more vague and disconnected (and definitely more casual). I think because "consequently" communicates a strict order of events, we're more likely to associate it with the suggestion of a cause-and-effect relationship. So in this case "subsequently" feels like there's a clearer logical progression, while "later" could mean that the death is unrelated, although the context still implies that it is. Even if the meaning is arguably the same, the nuance in how it comes across is different enough that there's a meaningful choice between them.

    I agree, this is key, and you explain it really well.

    Effective word choice isn't necessarily brief or elaborate, it's concise and meaningful.

    There are more complex words that'll help you communicate something more complex, and there are some that won't add anything.

    I feel kind of sad when I read high schoolers' writing (or writing by adults who haven't learned better) that's all choked up in formal phrases like "in the event that", "in accordance with", "owing to the fact that", etc., that don't add meaning. You get the impression that they really want to write well, but their idea of an effective formal register is a collection of particular formal constructions rather than a guiding focus on precision and clarity, both of which are served by choosing appropriate and meaningful phrasing, not whatever's most fancy and convoluted. The results of labouring under this misconception aren't pretty.

    (I think this has got to be at least partly the fault of pretentious English teachers who'll show a preference for longer, fancier phrasing rather than clearer meaning, or who don't really explain these principles in the first place, and wait for their students to stumble blindly into good writing.)

    Anyway, there are a ton of phrases like "additionally" that mean more or less exactly the same thing as "also", and lots of people just plug those in for effect rather than describe a more precise connection between their points. But whatever you're writing, it makes all the difference just to know the meaning of your words and make sure that more complicated terms really add meaning.

    So I think we can pretty much do away with some words, and hold off on using others until we really need them. "Utilise" only mean "use" or "make use of", "numerous" just means "many" or "several", etc. (and there's nothing wrong with using those alternatives even in the formal register). If you have to dress up your writing like that to make it look more intelligent, it's a hint that your ideas are too simple and you need to find something more substantial to say in the first place.

    That said, I still struggle with compulsive verbosity. While I was writing this out, I went from "simplistic" to "simple" and "partially" to "partly", and that's just the corrections I noticed myself making. But I gotta admit, when I see other posts on casual chat forums that're stifled by their own habitual wordiness, I can't help feeling a little frustrated that I can't critique and correct them.
     
  17. animagus_kitty

    animagus_kitty Senior Member

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    I'll get to the point of the thread in a second, but first...I just want you all to know something. When I plugged in my first chapter, it told me that out of 1300 words, 26 of them were adverbs...and that I should aim for 1.
    Also, it thinks 'fly' is an adverb. And it hates the word 'maybe'. Be bold, it says. Don't hedge. :superconfused:

    Now, onto the thread's actual topic.
    I like big words and I cannot lie. That being said, there is a time and a place for obfuscation (one of my favorite words). I do struggle a little with brevity, but that's because I approach writing from a poetic background. Prior to discovering the art of poetic eloquence, I tended towards bigger words, but simpler sentences.
     
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  18. big soft moose

    big soft moose The Moderating Moose Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    subsequently implies cause and effect though which later doesn't ... in the first sentence billy could have died for any reason, in the second it was caused by his being hit by a car .... the simple words for subsequently are 'as a result' but personally I don't think they read as smoothly
     
  19. big soft moose

    big soft moose The Moderating Moose Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    on the wider point, i think it depends on what you are trying to achieve - if you want a sparse cut down hemingwayesque tone to your writing then by all means kill adverbs with fire... but not everyone wants to sound like hemingway.

    also in speech, people use adverbs routinely (and often incorrectly) so cutting them all out doesn't help your characters sound realistic
     
    Last edited: Apr 11, 2017
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  20. Tenderiser

    Tenderiser Not a man or BayView

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    [​IMG]
    :cheerleader:

    I follow the ChickenFreak school of 'use the simplest tool possible.' Apart from novels from a few masters of language, I don't enjoy hacking my way through lexical thickets in order to enjoy a story. :D
     
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  21. matwoolf

    matwoolf Banned Contributor

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    Coz yer fik. :)
     
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  22. KaTrian

    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Contributor

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    I don't like big words 'cause half the time I can't even spell them. Neither can I write complex sentences, at least not in English. :dry:

    Yet I have mixed feelings about cutting certain words out of your vocabulary.
    And this app. (Is it called Hemingway app because Hemingway's prose is like, you know, the kind of meal women order when they're having lunch with their friends; meager and sparse and just enough to fill their stomachs?)

    In all seriousness, I like rich prose and learning new words. I learned a bunch when I read I, Lucifer. I mean, it's fine if your garden is trimmed and your lawn mowed, but I don't mind venturing into a wild, flourishing jungle of a backyard either. If you're a skilled wordsmith, it's probably a style choice anyway.

    That said, I don't think I've ever used 'subsequently' in a manuscript, but if it was the kind of word a character might use, I guess I'd throw it in there.
     
  23. matwoolf

    matwoolf Banned Contributor

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    When they teach you CW - there's a chapter where they contrast 'lush' Marquez with 'arid' Orwell. Those are the outposts.

    ...but that's a different, and often confused debate to amateur scribes writing all round the houses without any sense of concision, or rhythm, or grace, or pace, or.. or ...
     
  24. Shadowfax

    Shadowfax Contributor Contributor

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    subsequently
    1. after a particular thing has happened; afterwards.


    “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.” “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.” “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that's all.”
     
  25. Tenderiser

    Tenderiser Not a man or BayView

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    It's an advisory tool, not a prescriptive one; I think this is what people are missing (same as in most discussions about writing 'rules' that also get people super defensive--and I'm not referring to you there, Kat).
     

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