Can Too Many Words Spoil Communication?

“No adjectives!” cried Geoffrey, the author, “No effing adjectives?  Who says?”

“It’s company policy.” replied Colin, the executive from his publishers as he handed back the annotated manuscript.

“Well, what stupid, blinkered, unimaginative, idiotic, moronic old fool came up with that one?”

“You’ve just used six adjectives, most of which were unnecessary.  They were synonyms, or nearly.  There was no need for the expletive in your previous remark, either.  You see how wasteful you are with words?”

“So is this an efficiency drive?”

“I suppose that’s one way of looking at it.  To answer your question, the policy came down from the top.  The senior partner, Mr. Roget, has recently stated the policy unequivocally and categorically.  By the way he’s not old.  He’s only in his forties, although they say his mental age has always been greater than his chronological age.”

“You’ve just used two adjectives.  You said ‘mental’ and ‘chronological’ and they’re near-synonyms.   What about adverbs?”

“They’re banned too.  Most of them are unnecessary.”

“You use them.  You just said ‘unequivocally’ and ‘categorically’ which are also near-synonyms.  And ‘unnecessary’ is an adverb too.  You’re as bad as I am!  Anyway, repetition is often used for emphasis.  We all do it in speech.  Why not in print?  I’ll bet a lot of famous writers would never get published if your Mr. Roget had his way.  What about titles?  Do you allow adjectives and adverbs in them?”

“I don’t know.  I don’t think we encourage them.” Said Colin as he looked nervously at the list of new titles he was holding.

“I suppose you would have published the Curiosity Shop!

“If you’re going to be like that, I suppose it ought to be just the Shop.”

“Like the Girl with the Earring, or is that the Girl with the Ring?”

“Now you’re being silly and pedantic.”

“That’s good, coming from you!  What about the Sleep by Raymond Chandler, and Hardy’s Far from the Crowd?  Would you have told Louisa May Alcott to call her books Women and Men, not to be confused with the Man by H.G. Wells?  Or Dashiel Hammett to call his book the Falcon?  Don’t you see that adjectives make a difference, sometimes an important one?”

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“They’re all great writers who know when to use a word and when to leave it out.  You seem to think the more words the better!”

“Isn’t that a subjective opinion?  Some readers probably like it plain and simple, whilst others prefer a bit more colour.  If people like you and your Mr. Roget had their way in the art world, paintings would be reduced to diagrams.”

Colin looked at the cover of a book on his desk.  There was a picture of matchstick men on a minimalist background.  He said, “I can think of some modern artists who do just that, quite successfully!”

“Yes, but not everyone wants that kind of thing.  Surely we want to give the readers a choice?”

“Go through your manuscript and take out all the adjectives and adverbs that don’t add anything to the narrative or even to the descriptions.  Then I’ll see if I can persuade the firm to give it another look.”

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