Lima Al-Azzeh

Lessons from The Dependent: The Economy of Words

In Vancouver Culture & Community on November 23, 2010 at 11:16 am

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Growing up, I attended an international school in the Middle East. “International School” referring to a school with a largely English-based curriculum offering one course in Arabic and one course in religion (incidentally the sources of my worst grades). We had one class called “Composition” where we were tasked to make up stories, sometimes based around a given title, theme or set of highly specific criteria (incidentally the source of my best grades). The idea was to get a sense, not of our imaginative abilities, and only slightly of our actual storytelling capabilities, but our command of English vocabulary and spelling. This was the one time in my life where language, in excess, was considered a good thing.

As I foray into the world of journalism, I’m faced with the problem of undoing years worth of using flowery and excessive language. The mainstay of journalism – although the best reporting does involve a fair bit of storytelling – indeed requires that the writer get to the point. Or at least, make the point abundantly clear from the get go. Words must be rationed, specific, articulate; sentences concise yet unambiguous.

In a meeting with some of my editors over at The Dependent (an up-and-coming online source of local news) we discussed a pinnacle point in Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style: omit needless words.

Even as I write this blog post I’m half editing myself as I type and thinking: how the hell am I going to do this?

Luckily I have the assistance of The Dependent’s word vigilante, Sara Tuppen. Apparently she used to proofread legal documents for “ambiguity”; how does one compete with that? Tuppen has the unique ability to reduce three sentences into a handful of extremely well-selected words that sound infinitely better than your three sentences of metaphor and pseudo-jargon (I’m sure she’d have a heyday with that last paragraph there).

Working with someone who has that level of skill and precision can be (read: is) intimidating, but extremely helpful nonetheless. I have some more learning to do with regards to the economy of words, and being the keener, people-pleasing student that I am, I hope that my next articles will bear the fruits of my labour and let’s face it, likely Tuppen’s labour too.

So I invite you to follow my progress over at The Dependent kids, and if you’re hankering after some flowery, verbose posts you’re more than welcome to come back here.

  1. Very, very cool. Thanks for drawing attention to it. I now have the site bookmarked. πŸ™‚

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