Author Topic: Getting rid of wordy beginnings for our writing  (Read 11145 times)

Joe Carillo

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Getting rid of wordy beginnings for our writing
« on: July 18, 2017, 08:13:15 PM »
Let’s now train our guns on two of the most blatant enemies of good English writing: the empty legal-sounding phrases that frequently worm themselves into the beginnings of sentences, and the similarly hollow expletives that only deflect emphasis from what’s being written about. We often welcome these deadly grammatical scourges in the mistaken hope that they will lend elegance to our prose; instead, they only waste precious space and time, to the discomfort and consternation of readers.

To begin with, let’s do ourselves a great favor by cultivating the art of eliminating wordy legalisms or pompous phrases, which do nothing but give a false sense of importance to our writing. Here’s a laundry list of 31 of the most common wordy phrases:
“as regards,”
“as to,”
“in view of,”
“the fact that,”
“due to the fact that,”
“what I believe is,”
“in my opinion,”
“the reason is,”
“along the lines of,”
“at this point in time,”
“for the purpose of,”
“cognizant of the fact that,”
“in order to,”
“in spite of the fact that,”
“despite the fact that,”
“in such a manner that,”
“in the event that,”
“with respect to,”
“on the basis of,”
“by means of,”
“on the part of,”
“relative to,”
“such that,”
“in connection with,”
“in the nature of,”
“in relation to,”
“in case of,”
“in terms of,”
“to the extent that,”
“in the course of,” and
“in acknowledgment of the fact that.”

Examined closely, these phrases turn out to be wordy equivalents of some of the coordinating and subordinating conjunctions as well as conjunctive adverbs. The phrase “in spite of the fact that” is actually the fanboy* “yet” in disguise; “in recognition of the fact that” is the subordinating conjunction “because” in lawyerly garb; and “despite the fact that” is roughly the conjunctive adverb “nevertheless” in argumentative disguise. By dumping these awkward phrases and routinely replacing them with the appropriate conjunctions, we can inject a surprising freshness and vigor to our writing.

Let’s now engage some of these roundabout phrases so we can jettison them right after with more sensible, concise equivalents. Awkward: “As regards your request, please be advised that it has been approved.” Forthright: “Your request has been approved.” Awkward: “For the purpose of paying off your loan, we recommend selling your townhouse.” Forthright: “We recommend selling your townhouse to pay off your loan.”

Awkward: “At this point in time, it is not appropriate to debate old issues.” Forthright: “It is not appropriate now to debate old issues.” Awkward: “In the course of the trip, we encountered major delays.” Forthright: “We encountered major delays during the trip.” Awkward: “In acknowledgement of the fact that you returned the defective goods, we are sending you this refund check.” Forthright: “We are sending you this refund check for the defective goods that you returned.”

Now let us deal with the expletives, those meaningless words that often terribly weaken the fiber of our sentences. These handy but shady grammatical operators allow us to manipulate sentences at the expense of their true subjects; they also de-emphasize action by forcing us to construct sentences in the passive voice. Used habitually, they make our prose sound amateurish, stilted, and flat.

Here are the expletive forms that we should consciously avoid in beginning our sentences:

(1) “There” when used with any form of “be” as the main verb. The expletive “there” moves the subject to a position after the verb, which as we know creates a weak, passive sentence. Example: “There were five airborne squadrons that engaged the enemy troops.” Shorn of the expletive: “Five airborne squadrons engaged the enemy troops.”

(2) “That” and “whether” when they introduce noun clauses. “That” does not do work within a noun clause; and when it begins a sentence, it often just creates a convoluted sentence structure. Example: “That she closed the windows last night is what Alicia said.” Shorn of the expletive: “Alicia said she closed the windows last night.” The expletive “whether” also does not do any work within a noun clause; since it carries important information, however, it can only be omitted if replaced by the simpler “if.” Example: “Whether his battalion had surrendered is something the soldier wanted to know.” Shorn of the expletive: “The soldier wanted to know if his battalion had surrendered.”

(3) “As” when used in certain transitive verb sentence patterns to connect an object and objective complement. Beginning with the expletive “as” forces the construction of a convoluted sentence. Example: As a role model is what we think of her.” Shorn of the expletive: “We think of her as a role model.”

Wordy phrases and expletives will always crop up in our early drafts, but there is really only one thing we should do to them: to better see our way to good writing, we should strike them off mercilessly and keep no prisoners.

This essay, 184th in the series, first appeared in the column “English Plain and Simple” by Jose A. Carillo in the April 15, 2003 issue of The Manila Times, © 2003 by the Manila Times Publishing Corp. All rights reserved.

*Recall that “fanboy” is the acronym for the seven basic coordinating conjunctions, using the first letters of “for,” “and,” “nor,” “but,” “or,” “yet,” and “so.”
« Last Edit: July 18, 2017, 08:35:57 PM by Joe Carillo »

Justine A.

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Re: Getting rid of wordy beginnings for our writing
« Reply #1 on: July 19, 2020, 10:22:21 AM »
Lawyers are fond of using  wordy phrases in their pleadings. I wonder why.

Joe Carillo

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Re: Getting rid of wordy beginnings for our writing
« Reply #2 on: July 21, 2020, 11:24:09 PM »
Over the years I have written quite a number of essays about the language of lawyers--“legalese” is the trade term for it. For starters, Justine, you may want to check out the following two essays:

“Dealing with questionable or downright wrong legalese”
“How onerous legalese imperils public welfare”

P.S. Here's a 2018 Forum posting about the language of lawyers that I'm sure you'd also find very instructive:

“Why are legal documents and contracts hard to understand?”
« Last Edit: July 22, 2020, 02:51:47 PM by Joe Carillo »