The Complete Plain Words: simple versus complex

Golden rule: Simple is better than complex.

If you have an interesting message to deliver there is no need to make it sound any more complex than it actually is.

Why do so many writers prefer pudder to simplicity? Officials are far from being the only offenders. It seems to be a morbid condition contracted in early manhood. Children show no signs of it. Here, for example, is the response of a child of ten to an invitation to write an essay on a bird and a beast:

«The bird that I am going to write about is the owl. The owl cannot see at all by day and at night is as blind as a bat. I do not know much about the owl, so I will go on to the beast which I am going to choose. It is the cow. The cow is a mammal. It has six sides—right, left, an upper and below. At the back it has a tail on which hangs a brush. With this it sends the flies away so that they do not fall into the milk. The head is for the purpose of growing horns and so that the mouth can be somewhere. The horns are to butt with, and the mouth is to moo with. Under the cow hangs the milk. It is arranged for milking. When people milk, the milk comes and there is never an end to the supply. How the cow does it I have not yet realised, but it makes more and more. The cow has a fine sense of smell; one can smell it far away. This is the reason for the fresh air in the country. The man cow is called an ox. It is not a mammal. The cow does not eat much, but what it eats it eats twice, so that it gets enough. When it is hungry it moos, and when it says nothing it is because its inside is all full up with grass.»

The writer had something to say and said it as clearly as he could, and so has unconsciously achieved style. But why do we write, when we are ten, “so that the mouth can be somewhere” and perhaps when we are thirty “in order to ensure that the mouth may be appropriately positioned environmentally”? [From “The Complete Plain Words“, Sir Ernest Gowers]

For some strange reason this passage reminds me of “The Catcher in the Rye”. What an interesting remark: “if you have something to say, style is achieved unconsciously“.

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The Complete Plain Words: simple versus complex

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