Archive for Wednesday, November 24, 1999

Consider a language makeover

November 24, 1999

Forget the firewood. Junk the generator. Dump the bottled water. As the year 2000 approaches, your only worry should be: "Is my writing ready for Y2K?"

If not, here's how to prep your prose:

Begin stockpiling crisp, active verbs now. Once the millennium bug strikes, action verbs such as "whack," "leap," "catch" and "swagger" will be in short supply.

Writers caught unprepared will be forced to use weak, passive verbs, as in, "This shortage was not anticipated by me." But, by stacking vivid action verbs under your writing desk, you'll be able to boast vigorously, "I whacked Y2K!"

Lay in an ample supply of tactile, concrete nouns, such as "people" and "hands." Otherwise, come Jan. 1, only abstract, concept nouns such as "dearth," "fear" and "desperation" will be left.

So you'll be forced to use these vague, marshmallow nouns, as in, "The dearth of concrete nouns precipitated fear and desperation," instead of visual, red-meat nouns, as in, "When people couldn't get their hands on concrete nouns, they panicked."

Similarly, set aside transitions for emergency use. Because the changeover from 1999 to 2000 is, after all, a transition, transitional words and phrases, such as "similarly," "by contrast," "accordingly" and "back in the 20th century" will be in short supply. Tuck these verbal connectors into your desk drawer so they'll be handy whenever you need to link two ideas.

As soon as you possibly can, be certain to remove and delete unnecessary and useless words from all of the existing sentences that you utter and write.

Oops! Better make that, "Prune useless words now." (Remember, millennium bugs feast on such clutter, so be sure to dispose of unwanted words only in approved, Y2K-compliant receptacles.)

While you're at it, ditch any adjectives and adverbs that are redundant or cliched.
True, the 20th century was a time of "safe havens" and "stately elms," when radios blared "loudly," victors exulted "triumphantly" and lovers whispered "softly." But the no-nonsense 21st century won't abide such modifiers-by-reflex. Bury them under the "gnarled oaks" before the ground "freezes solid."

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