Locution, Locution, Locution

Fewer words take up less real estate

The Internet offers writers unlimited space and so, for many, their writing expands expansively. Readers, however, have limited attention spans. So here are a few circumlocutions, or wordy phrases, that seem particularly ascendant. (Consider this a supplement to our earlier list.) Occasional use of them may be needed for clarity, but most of the time, it’s just inattentive or bloated writing.

Price point: “Food friendly wines at a $20 price point are available.” Why not just say “Food friendly wines are available for $20”? That saves three words and sounds so much less like a press release. The Oxford English Dictionary traces this usage to the United States in 1894, but lists it as a marketing term. A search for occurrences of “price point” in just the past one month overwhelms Nexis, yet there are few times when the “price” is not right.

Fan base: The OED also traces this to the U.S., to the Washington Post, in a 1979 story about soccer: “We have a great fan base. We need to build on it.” That usage makes sense. Not so much the faddish use, as in “the team has a powerfully loyal fan base.” Just say “has powerfully loyal fans” and save “fan base” for the stand your air-cooling machine sits on.

Temporary reprieve: By definition, a “reprieve” is temporary. If something viewed as negative is postponed, whether it be a prison sentence, a new tax or a school assignment, it is a “reprieve.” If it will never happen, it is a “cancellation” or something more permanent than a “reprieve.”

Advance planning: Another embedded definition that gets teased out in verbosity. If something is “planned,” it is thought about in advance, so the “advance” is simply redundant. “Advance planning,” judging from Nexis, seems to the forte of the advance team for political candidates. (This is in the same vein as “pre-planning,” which we railed about this in 2009. Many of you haven’t listened; that use seems even greater today. Sigh.)

Unfilled vacancy Do we really have to say it? Apparently so, given the thousands of hits from websites, many of them government run. (Government, of course, being the source and champion of so much redundancy, perhaps there should be a Department of Redundancy Department.) If it’s a “vacancy,” it is “unfilled.”

Many of these expressions are the equivalent of saying “I am a female woman” or telling students, “We will be measuring your performance statistics relative to those of your peers, and assigning the outcomes within the scoring parameters” instead of saying, “We will be grading you on a curve.”

Save some bandwidth. Just cut it out.

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Merrill Perlman managed copy desks across the newsroom at The New York Times, where she worked for 25 years. Follow her on Twitter at @meperl. Tags: , , , , ,