Archive for March 14th, 2013

Orwell Watch #22: the ways in which we abuse our language

Thursday, March 14th, 2013
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howIndulge me a little on this one.

I was at a Stanford seminar today, and noted once again how often the phrase “the ways in which” comes up.  Is it just me, or is this simply a space-filling way to say “how”?

Try it.  Google “the ways in which” and you can witness all sorts of tormented uses of the English language.  In most cases, the idea sounds simpler and a lot more straightforward if you simply substitute “how.”

Sometimes the phrase can be killed entirely. “There are many ways in which adults can effectively support and extend speech, language and communication development in children,” reads one Google entry.  Delete “in which” and the sentence is fine, saving two words.

Here’s another: “In order to analyse the ways in which universities can take action to improve social mobility, the report breaks down the life-cycle of students into four stages …”  The use of “how” is more succinct.  And as a bonus prize, the writer can kill the first two words, “In order,” which also pad the sentence unnecessarily. That’s a net savings of five words.  That is, “In order to …”  can usually be effectively chopped to “To…”

Next, let’s tackle that other clumsy formation, “The fact that…,” which often doesn’t refer to a “fact” at all.

I’m editing interview transcripts tonight and I’m cranky.  Can you tell?