Monday, January 3, 2011

P is for pleonasm

Pleonasm is an ideal word for a writer to form a friendship with; it sits at the traffic kiosk before the sentence and paragraph, checking the credentials of unauthorized and unnecessary words, phrases, or concepts that in too many words rather than in so many words, repeat what has already been said--adding neither nuance nor dimension to the conversation.

When you happen upon a pleonasm while reviewing your own work, your teeth grit, your shoulders give an involuntary scrunch, your self-esteem reacts as it jostled in a crowd.  You become obsessed with the need for simplicity for its own sake in your quest for sentences and paragraphs without redundancy, supererogation, or solecism.

As with so many excesses of use, pleonasms are lingering guests from your conversational use of the language, grown a bit tipsy on the house wine, not willing to depart with the other guests, even venturing toward the querulous.  Solecisms arise from the forge of enthusiasm, metaphoric ham actors who gift-wrap their lines to serve as constant reminders that they are gifts rather than mere dramatic information being passed along in a particular context.  You have opportunities to review written words for excess as well as for matters in closer relationship to context.

Readers, even you as a reader, tend to note anomaly.  When a character with steely blue eyes winks on page 14, then later, on page 80 or so, cocks her hazel eyes, we wonder if the writer has forgotten to let us know the character is using colored contact lenses.  When an alert reader catches us in such anomalous circumstance, we sigh collectively, the weight of the fickle, reader's world on our shoulders.  Readers are prepared to take us at face value if we give them a chance, but we, in our obsessive-compulsive way, wish to make sure, and so we pile it on.  Nice strategy for early drafts, but these extra details, sometimes taking on the weight of sermons, invectives, even tirades, undermine the story, the credibility of the characters, and the standing of the writer.

In a burst of cynicism, you once made the distinction between author and writer to a person who has published works and who considers himself an author.  An author, you said, is an habitual user of pleonasm.  A writer is a person who gets the job of story done without chapter notes.

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