Avoiding ‘the pathetic fallacy’

Do you sense there’s something wrong with the following example paragraph? The report reveals that in some areas of Australia, one in six Year 5 students can’t read or write properly — or understand simple mathematical concepts. One section states that the finding indicates that our education system isn’t equipping students to become productive members of society. Tables illustrate the statistics. The study concludes that low standards of literacy and numeracy are letting down not only young people but our whole society. Each sentence in the paragraph contains at least one example of ‘the pathetic fallacy’, which according to The Australian Concise Oxford Dictionary is attribution of human feelings and responses to inanimate things, especially in art and literature. Pathos is to do with emotion and feelings, and a fallacy is a false statement. When we read a piece of creative writing, we like to be able to visualise the actions […]

Making peace or war with our readers

In my experience, a useful mantra for any writer or copy editor to repeat is ‘It’s all about the reader.’

Another is ‘I choose to make “peace”, not “war”, with my readers: I consciously strive to make my writing pleasant, effective, alive, clear and enduring.’

Here are some suggestions for the questions and points to keep at the front of our mind when we’re working with precious words – our own or anyone else’s – and we recognise the imperative of making peace with our readers:

‘Enhance’

‘Enhance’ is a transitive verb that means ‘heighten’ or ‘intensify’ (something such as a quality, power or value) or ‘improve’ (something already of good quality). Roget’s Thesaurus includes seven synonyms for ‘enhance’: ‘augment’, ‘manifest’, ‘emphasise’, ‘exaggerate’, ‘make better’, ‘aggravate’ and ‘decorate’.

In the glossary to Don Watson’s Dictionary of Weasel Words, the entry for ‘enhanced, enhancing, enhancement’ is ‘To improve, increase, grow, streamline, beautify, strengthen, lengthen, tighten, loosen where necessary or desirable; make go faster; implement an efficiency-gain; brighten; whiten, lighten; make hairier, scarier, lairier, etc. Make more violent or serene. There is nothing that cannot be enhanced. Enhance your penis, your garden, your prospects, your retirement, breasts, lifestyle, chances, medical cover, relationships, froth (with a “froth enhancer” . . .).’

Be a comma chameleon

Are you a comma-crazy writer who sprinkles commas throughout your sentences so you hopefully seem clever? Or are you a comma-phobic writer who uses ‘minimal punctuation’ and omits the comma altogether? Or are you a ‘comma, comma, comma, comma, comma chameleon’ who can flexibly tailor your comma usage so you convey your meaning as quickly as possible?

Let’s study four problematic combinations of words: