The First Amendment is under attack. Fight back with us. Visit fight.spj.org to find out how.

Member Login | Join SPJ | Benefits | Rates

> Latest News, Blogs and Events (tap to expand)


Advertisement
— ADVERTISEMENT —
Advertise with SPJ
1

News and More
Click to Expand Instantly

Journalist's Toolbox

— ADVERTISEMENT —


Stay in Touch
Twitter Storify Facebook Google Plus
RSS Pinterest Pinterest Flickr



Current Issue
Browse Archive
About Quill
Advertising Info
Back Issue Request
Reprint Permission Form
Pulliam/Kilgore Internship Info

Search Quill


Publications
SPJ Blogs
Quill
SPJ Leads
The EIJ News
Press Notes
SPJ News
Open Doors
Geneva Conventions
Annual FOI Reports

Home > Publications > Quill > Avoid 'tin-ear' prose


Current Issue | Browse Archive | About Quill | Advertising Info
Back Issues | Reprint Permission Form

Search Quill


Thursday, January 24, 2008
Avoid 'tin-ear' prose

Awkwardness in sound or sense offends the ear

Paula LaRocque

Tin ear: “The man who blew away half of a woman’s face last week was released from a mental hospital several weeks earlier ...”

He blew away half a woman’s face? What, he just huffed and he puffed and he blew her face in? Better to say what happened, clearly, rather than deal in idiom. Also, “was released” should be “had been released,” since that action precedes the sentence’s main action. Better: “The man who shot a woman in the face last week had been released from a mental hospital several weeks earlier ...”

Tin ear: “A 13-year-old girl was kidnapped BY a group OF youths and raped IN a vacant apartment IN East Hills complex ON Friday — the latest reported attack IN a series OF sexual assaults IN the neighborhood BY teenage boys since June.”

A plethora of prepositions invariably leads to awkwardness. Most sentences can support only a few prepositions — and the fewer the better: “Teenage boys kidnapped and raped a 13-year-old girl in a vacant East Hills complex apartment Friday. Police said it was the fourth such attack in that neighborhood since June.”

Tin ear: “A final deal hinges on ongoing talks … Company executives said they expect upcoming products to sell well in coming months.”

“On/ongoing” and “upcoming/coming” create unfortunate echoes. Better: “They will work out the final deal in ongoing talks … Company executives said they expect upcoming products to sell well.”

Tin ear: “It struck with the horrible timing of the big 1991 fire, flaring just as the wind was whipping through the trees under a sweltering October sun and the humidity was dipping to a frightening low.”

When stories are already dramatic, don’t milk them. Overwriting weakens rather than strengthens. This lead contains breathless, editorial adjectives (horrible, frightening) as well as a glut of “ing” words (timing, flaring, sweltering, was whipping, was dipping). Better: “The blaze began under a scorching October sun exactly as it had in 1991, flaring as winds rose and humidity dropped.”

Tin ear: “Let’s take stock of those NFL aristocrats who have got one foot out the door and one eye on the waiver wire. They have got themselves a new ...”

“Got” is an ugly word at best, and especially so when redundantly paired with “have.” Better: “Let’s take stock of those NFL aristocrats who have one foot out the door and one eye on the waiver wire. They have a new ...”

Tin ear: “Not only did she have her friend murdered, but she also had to cope with three other tragedies at the same time.”

Maybe she shouldn’t have had her friend murdered. Better: “Not only was her friend murdered, but she also had to cope with three other tragedies at the same time.”

As that example shows, some “had” structures suggest the subject caused the action: He had his car stolen. She had her leg broken. They had their house burned down.

Tin ear: “A laborer sentenced to the electric chair for the murder of a Portsmouth store manager in May 1985 had his death sentence overturned yesterday.”

He had his sentence overturned? Bully for him. Wonder why all Death Row inmates don’t do the same. Better: “A federal judge overturned the death sentence yesterday of George Wayne Thomas, convicted in ...”

Tin ear: “Dan Inoue returned from World War II with his right arm lost to a German grenade.” The phrasing “returned with his right arm lost” is more linguistic illogic, akin to “it turned up gone.” Better: “Dan Inoue lost both his right arm and his dream of becoming a surgeon in World War II.”

Tin ear: “When they returned, they looked in the box and found the necklace missing.” Same principle as above. They didn’t find the necklace, missing or gone or otherwise. What did they actually find? They found the box empty.

Tin ear: “The students elected a black homecoming queen, but when the yearbook was published, the white homecoming king was pictured, but the queen was not.”

But ... but ... but. More than one “but” in a sentence offends both ear and logic. That second “but” should be “and.”

Stay in Touch
Twitter Storify Facebook Google Plus RSS Pinterest Pinterest
Flickr LinkedIn Tout



Current Issue
Browse Archive
About Quill
Advertising Info
Back Issue Request
Reprint Permission Form
Pulliam/Kilgore Internship Info

Search Quill


Publications
SPJ Blogs
Quill
SPJ Leads
The EIJ News
Press Notes
SPJ News
Open Doors
Geneva Conventions
Annual FOI Reports

Copyright © 1996-2017 Society of Professional Journalists. All Rights Reserved.

Legal | Policies

Society of Professional Journalists
Eugene S. Pulliam National Journalism Center
3909 N. Meridian St., Suite 200
Indianapolis, IN 46208
317/927-8000 | Fax: 317/920-4789

Contact SPJ Headquarters
Employment Opportunities
Advertise with SPJ