From a letter to the editor of the Dallas Morning News about having real mustangs (the horses) be the new mascots for the Southern Methodist University football team:

… Although I generally love tradition, I have reached the conclusion that it is time to make a new tradition for SMU and its football program, which is itself making huge strides this year to break away from the doldrums that have clouded the program since the 1987 “death penalty” season.

Real Mustangs and the beauty, grace and strength of such magestic steeds enhance, not detract from, the image of the athletic program that the university, Director of Athletics Steve Orsini and Coach June Jones are trying to build…

Let’s mount this magestic steed. Why does it fail to break away from the doldrums?

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First: It’s a short letter, but still manages to feel wordy, cumbersome. Why?

Although I generally love tradition, I have reached the conclusion that it is time…

Redundancy (Two uses of the word I; two uses in this sentence of is; three uses of it.) Just too many words, too many teeny clauses; comes across as pompous somehow. Condense and simplify: I love tradition, but it’s time…

Second: The latter part of the sentence is full of mixed metaphors:

… making huge strides this year to break away from the doldrums that have clouded the program since the 1987 “death penalty” season.

Here the football team walks on water as it strides away from doldrums.

Doldrums are windy, not cloudy.

Third: The writer includes unnecessary quotation marks, which make murkier an already murky sentence. Is he worried that some readers will think the 1987 team was sentenced to death? Does he fret that if he doesn’t put a phrase like sudden death overtime into quotation marks his reader will assume a game’s loser is guillotined?

Write simply, clearly and directly. Anything – verbal or graphic – that complicates things should be tossed.

Fourth:

Real Mustangs and the beauty, grace and strength of such magestic steeds enhance, not detract from…

Nothing brings on sudden prose death like misspelling your most important words. Here, a list of attributes (beauty, grace, strength) functions to lead us to the summarizing high point of majestic… Only everything collapses into laughter when the climactic word turns out to be magestic, like magnesium… And anyway, since majestic steed is a terrible cliche, the writer should have avoided it.

Enhance, not detract from goes back to the wordiness problem. Drop not detract from. It’s pointlessly fussy.

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2 Responses to “Scathing Online Schoolmarm”

  1. RJO Says:

    Actually, the thing about the doldrums is that they aren’t windy. That’s why ships get stuck in them. They contrast with the roaring forties, the furious fifties, and the screaming sixties, which, when it comes to windiness, are truly magestic.

  2. Margaret Soltan Says:

    Well, my quick check of them had it that it’s not that they don’t have winds; they just have light fickle winds that don’t get you anywhere.

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