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THE PARTS OF SPEECH [ ? ]
MISUSED ENGLISH WORDS
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The Wrong Way of Writing: Using Abstract Words
If you had to remember one hard, immutable, unalterable, inflexible, unbending, unbreakable, ex-cathedra rule for writing, which there isn't, it should be this:
All good writers write that way, simply because people read best and easiest that way.
Vague and abstract words also carry the added danger of being misleading ... misread ... misinterpreted.
Professor Joseph Ryan, a management expert, said of bosses who write in the devious ways of abstraction:
This is just another way of saying: If you can't write in the concrete, then it's safer for everyone concerned if you don't write at all. That way, nobody will get fouled up.
Moreover, if you really understood what general and abstract words do to the reader ...
... how they are full of so much meaning, contain so many indefinite notions, numbers, ideas, quantities, categories, conditions, qualities ...
... how they can mean everything without ever really meaning any thing ...
... if you really understood this, then you'd quit using them yourself and start wishing everyone else would do the same.
Whether you know it or not, you dislike abstract words as much as the next fellow, except, of course, when you're writing them. They're just too hard for your mind to handle, to get a fix on, to understand or to put into action.
But even after a short time of this painful searching, any reader gets tired of looking for and piecing together meaning. He finds so little for so much looking, and he's never quite sure of the meaning he does get. He gets tired; he gets bored; he gets angry; he quits.
Abstract writers apparently do not realize what they do to the reader's mind: How their indefinite words spread and multiply meanings so far and wide .... how the reader's imagination has to multiply images at more frames a second than a movie camera to keep up with the ever-spreading meanings.
And when the reader is through "tracking" these abstract words, he has to sift through the multiplied meanings, sort out the myriads of mental images, and then try to match up those that seem to belong together.
Now you can see how dangerous it is if a writer gets general and abstract in an information or instruction memo the reader is supposed to understand and take action onbut can't until he sifts and sorts and matches and tries all the various combinations and possible combinations of meanings that the abstract words produced in his mind.
The high cost of abstraction comes not in getting the words written; for most abstract writers usually write easily and quickly, and therefore cheaply. The cost comes in getting those abstract words read, understood, interpreted, passed on, and translated into action.