Copywriters value clarity and concision. Short, pithy, unambiguous—that’s the way we like our verbiage. We count words and lop clauses.
On our own time, though, maybe curled up in our favorite cozy chair with a nice steamy cup of tea and the latest issue of Puffball Gazetteer, or maybe catching up on email (even though our eyes are already glazed from the day’s labors at our keyboards) with dear old friends we haven’t seen since that memorable dorm party back at the U, we’re just as likely to blather on with a lot of blah, blah, blah as anybody else on the more verbal end of the whole left brain-right brain/math types vs. word types spectrum. Without the bracing discipline exerted by the carrot (paycheck) and the stick (deadline), copywriters, like any writers, are all too prone to revert to type: wordy, wordy, wordy!
To prove the point, we asked the Content Bureau’s staff of persnickety wordsmiths, obsessive style-guide police and graphic-design control freaks to expound on their favorite works that are decidedly not short, pithy, or unambiguous.
“On the Road, of course, is the apogee of free-form bloviation,” says designer Renee LaFlamme. “And it just reduces me to tears that Kerouac typed it on a big long scroll of taped-up paper that he dumped on his publisher’s desk. Oh man, to be that sloppy and get away with it!”
“The Boy Stood on the Burning Deck, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, The Song of Hiawatha—really, the longer the better,” says writer Alan Stacy, whose own poetry hews to austere haiku formalism. “I used to make my kids recite them by memory for guests in our parlor, but one of their teachers threatened to call Child Protective Services.”
“Twelve down, 35 to go,” says editor Christine Kent of her marathon slog through Victorian novelist Anthony Trollope’s prolific output (not counting nonfiction and short form). Kent likes to “toggle over to the 19th century Russians as a palate cleanser—Tolstoy, Gorky, Dostoevsky—and I sometimes treat myself to an H. Rider Haggard side trip.”
“Sure, Gregorian chants are redundant,” says writer Keven Smith, whose avocation as a choralist contrasts starkly with his brutal efficiency as an explicator of business functions. “Redundant is the whole idea. Instead of sitting alone at a desk and excising too many instances of words like “enable” and “leverage,” I get together with a bunch of other 21st century men and drone tiny variations on medieval sacred texts. If I could walk around all day in monk robes, I’d dig that too.”
As for me, writer Alicia Springer, I favor a cinematic genre I call LOOOONG films: the Lengthy Oeuvre Of Old, Old Noted Geniuses, such as Manoel de Oliveira (born 1908), Eric Rohmer (born 1920), Alain Resnais (born 1922), Mrinal Sen (born 1923), and Jacques Rivette (born 1928), all still directing films well, well, well beyond the usual age of retirement—and not the slightest bit concerned with being short, pithy, or unambiguous. (Well, Rohmer can be short and pithy—but never unambiguous.)
Now, back to work writers, editors, and designers. And keep it clear and concise.
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