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Word pollution

word pollutionLack of discipline pollutes your writing. Multiply by the whole world of “content creators” and we’re all consuming brown, dirty prose.

I’ve spent time in Beijing and São Paulo. While the people were wonderful, the air was awful. A light brown miasma cast a pall on everything, making our eyes itch and making every incredible cityscape appear as if viewed through a dirty window.

No individual contributed very much to that haze, but taken together, every car, motorscooter, and furnace did. These cities prioritized growth over discipline.

That’s where we are on the Web now. Anyone can write and publish. Tools like blogs, email, and Facebook make it easy to spread things. We’re surrounded by dirty writing all day long. And like the residents of Beijing and São Paulo, we’re used to it, but it’s making us sick.

Wake up. Stop with the word pollution. Give us a breath of fresh air.

On Facebook and on this blog, I hear from people who insist on exceptions. “Sometimes the passive voice is a better choice.” “You need to write longer to explain some things.” “Not everything is absolute — we need our ‘weasel words’ to be accurate.”

When you say that, here’s what I hear: “I should be allowed to pollute sometimes.”

I’ll make you a deal. Here’s what you have to do. Anything that you write that will be seen by more than one person, you need to read over at least twice. You need to look for the bad habits that create word pollution: the jargon, the fluff, the lack of examples, and the words you wrote to warm up that don’t really belong there. Like an asthmatic, become hyper-sensitive to pollutants. Then edit them out before sending or publishing.

My side of the deal? I will allow you to include a little bit of these pollutants, but only if you think carefully about each one.

This will slow you down. But it will speed your audience up. Pretty soon, you’ll catch yourself as you’re writing this crap. And pretty soon after that, you’ll be producing clean, pure prose that’s free from effluent.

It feels good to write clean. Join us. If enough of you do this, the air that we all breathe — the Net — will be a little less brown and hazy. Give a hoot.


Photo: Josh Bernoff, Beijing, 2014.

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