Brevity vs. clarity

Brevity vs. Clarity

Postings in which the goal of brevity and the goal of clarity can be seen as working at cross purposes.

The original file on this topic was prepared by Kim Darnell. Entries after 6/6/18 are later additions by AMZ.

12/28/08: for/because: for/because

In his stern instruction booklet Write It Right: A Little Blacklist of Literary Faults (1909), Ambrose Bierce condemned the use of because for for, as in I knew it was night, because it was dark.” Why might he have done this?

6/27/09: Omit Needless postings: Omit Needless postings

A summary of postings from the AMZ blog, New Language Log, and Language Log Classic, related to omitting needless linguistic elements (usually words). Current through 6/21/2009.

10/23/09: Inventorying stuff: Include All Necessary: Inventorying stuff: Include All Necessary

Some notes on inventorying postings about topics in the world of grammar, usage, and style — mostly about how these inventories are assembled and the imperfections that result.

1/10/10: Year names (cont.): Year names (cont.)

An assortment of topics and comments related to readings of the year name 2010, such as a) two thousand ten, (b) two thousand and ten, and (c) twenty ten.

6/28/11: Not necessarily redundant: Not necessarily redundant

At first glance, to visually see seems redundant and pleonastic, but there’s more how we use to see than meets the eye.

10/31/11: for on the desktop: for on the desktop

For on in “a small iTunes info viewer for on the desktop” seems odd, but it is just a P (for) with a PP object (on the desktop) — an ordinary construction of English as in The cognac is for after dinner or I took the basket from under the desk.

11/5/11: Odds and ends: Odds and ends

A nice quotation from Tom Waits, a headline with the monster compound Alaska drag queen theft suspect, and the brief but still entertaining compound poultry magnate.

3/18/12: Edward I as Oliver Cromwell: Edward I as Oliver Cromwell

The challenge of understanding The castle was visited by England’s King Edward I, also known as Longshanks, the Hammer of the Scots, and Oliver Cromwell comes from the necessary detangling of how the commas are used after King Edward I.

3/28/12: where … at: where … at

On two issues: ending a sentence with a preposition (i.e., stranding rather than fronting a preposition), and the construction where … at? The first is a total red herring; the second has been the subject of considerable usage advice.

6/4/12: I say STD, you think FTD: I say STD, you think FTD

From Zits, some confusion about the difference between the abbreviations STD (sexually transmitted disease) and FTD (Florists’ Transworld Delivery).

3/6/13: Comparative ambiguities: Comparative ambiguities

When a linguist says that they love ambiguity more than most people, do they mean that they love ambiguity more than most people love ambiguity? They love ambiguity more than they love most people? Or both?

4/16/13: Initialistic ambiguity: Initialistic ambiguity

The ambiguous abbreviation CBT can be used to refer to cognitive behavioral therapy or to cock-and-ball torture, so context is extremely important!

10/16/13: Apostrophe in plural: Apostrophe in plural

Common acronyms like MBA (Master in Business Administration) are made plural by adding an ending (e.g., MBAs) and sometimes with an apostrophe plus an ending (e.g., MBA’s). Is there a One Right Way to resolve this inconsistency in written plural forms?

8/26/14: More cheese, and conversion by truncation: More cheese, and conversion by truncation

On issues related to the Adj conversion, or the use of truncation to change adjectival modifiers into nouns by truncation, with the new noun with accepted as having (roughly) the meaning of the originalphrase(e.g., scrambled eggs —> scrambled, chorizo sausage —> chorizo).

5/24/15: Briefly: Language reform: Briefly: Language reform

Sometimes efforts to make language more plain fail badly, especially when a committee is involved…

1/16/16: Penis size in the steam room: Penis size in the steam room

Compounds are notorious for their ambiguity; clarity is  the price you pay for the brevity of compounds. The compound infant-size (similarly, infant-sized) is ambiguous between ‘a size appropriate for use with/for/by an infant; very small’ and ‘the size of an infant’.

4/30/16: WTF? headline omission: WTF? headline omission

The omissions in headlines often create ambiguity.  For example, should we understand Guard posted at crossing where woman killed to mean that the woman was killed or that the woman killed someone?

8/18/17: Big-ass globalization: Big-ass globalization

Considering some similarities between the challenges of establishing an effective international trade policy and the conflict between brevity and clarity in language.

8/30/17: Reduced questions: Reduced questions

An NP reduced question serves ease of production, but it also literally provides less information than a full question, so divining a speaker’s intentions requires the hearer to use knowledge about the world and the context in which the question is uttered.

5/16/18: There oughta be a word: There oughta be a word

On having no word for” some concept, including needing — or at least wanting — a word for it,  the ambiguity of these invented verbs, the source of such ambiguities in marker-poor combinations of elements, and the motivation for such marker-poor combinations.

5/27/18: Non sequiturs meet associative thinking: Non sequiturs meet associative thinking

Zippy fights the war between randomness and organization from both sides.

6/16/18: DJ is chaired at Stanford!: DJ is chaired at Stanford

Exploring the verbing of chair in the sense (roughly) ‘to award a named professorship to’.


(End of Kim Darnell’s original file.)

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