Today's brief writing lesson is provided by British philosopher Bertrand Russell, who once said, "I do not offer advice to young writers, except that they should avoid worrying."
There are some simple maxims . . . which I think might be commended to writers of expository prose.
First: never use a long word if a short word will do.
Second: if you want to make a statement with a great many qualifications, put some of the qualifications in separate sentences.
Third: do not let the beginning of your sentence lead the reader to an expectation which is contradicted by the end. . . .
I suggest to young professors that their first work should be written in a jargon only to be understood by the erudite few. With that behind them, they can ever after say what they have to say in a language "understanded of the people." In these days, when our very lives are at the mercy of the professors, I cannot but think that they would deserve our gratitude if they adopted my advice.
(Bertrand Russell, "How I Write." Portraits From Memory and Other Essays. Simon & Schuster, 1956)
For more writerly advice, see Twelve Maxims for Writers.
Image: Bertrand Russell (1872-1970)
Over 400 years ago, an English curate named Henry Peacham characterized the figures of speech as "wisdom speaking eloquently." Through the play of language, he said, "the singular partes of mans mind are most aptly expressed, and the sundrie affections of his heart most effectuallie uttered."
In The Garden of Eloquence (1577, revised 1593), Peacham defined and illustrated 184 figures of speech, many of which also appear in our Tool Kit for Rhetorical Analysis. But whereas Peacham's favorite sources were Cicero and the Bible, we've plucked our examples of eloquence from more contemporary gardens. For instance . . .
- Anadiplosis is illustrated by Yoda in Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menance (1999):
Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering. I sense much fear in you.
- Anaphora (along with epiphora) by the Malibu police chief in the Coen brothers' movie The Big Lebowski (1998):
I don't like you sucking around, bothering our citizens, Lebowski. I don't like your jerk-off name. I don't like your jerk-off face. I don't like your jerk-off behavior, and I don't like you, jerk-off.
- Chiasmus by Cormac McCarthy in his novel The Road (2006):
You forget what you want to remember, and you remember what you want to forget.
- Epanalepsis by Jack Sparrow, Johnny Depp's character in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003):
The man who did the waking buys the man who was sleeping a drink; the man who was sleeping drinks it while listening to a proposition from the man who did the waking.
- Hyperbole by humorist Dave Barry in "Revenge of the Pork Person" (Dave Barry's Greatest Hits, 1988):
A man can have a belly you could house commercial aircraft in and a grand total of eight greasy strands of hair, which he grows real long and combs across the top of his head so that he looks, when viewed from above, like an egg in the grasp of a giant spider, plus this man can have B.O. to the point where he interferes with radio transmissions, and he will still be convinced that, in terms of attractiveness, he is borderline Don Johnson.
- Hypophora by Charlotte A. Cavatica in E.B. White's novel Charlotte's Web (1952):
After all, what's a life, anyway? We're born, we live a little while, we die. A spider's life can't help being something of a mess, with all this trapping and eating flies. By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle.
- Metaphor by Lenny Leonard and Carl Carlson in The Simpsons episode "Mountain of Madness" (1997):
Carl: According to the map, the cabin should be right here.
Lenny: Hey, maybe there is no cabin. Maybe it's one of them metaphorical things.
Carl: Oh yeah, yeah. Like maybe the cabin is the place inside each of us, created by our goodwill and teamwork.
Lenny: Nah, they said there would be sandwiches.
- Metonymy by Karen Green in her recent memoir, Bough Down (2013):
In a corner, a cluster of lab coats made lunch plans.
- Polyptoton by poet Robert Frost:
Love is an irresistible desire to be irresistibly desired.
- Personification by Toni Morrison in her novel Love (2003):
Pimento eyes bulged in their olive sockets. Lying on a ring of onion, a tomato slice exposed its seedy smile
- Simile by Martin Amis in his novel Lionel Asbo: State of England (2012):
Without warning, Lionel gave one of his tight little sneezes: it sounded like a bullet fired through a silencer.
- Syllepsis (or zeugma) by Canadian author Margaret Atwood in the article "Ten Rules for Writers" (The Guardian, 2010):
You most likely need a thesaurus, a rudimentary grammar book, and a grip on reality.
- Synecdoche by the late David Foster Wallace in his review article "E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction" (1993):
[T]here's something sad about the fact that David Leavitt's short stories' sole description of some characters is that their T-shirts have certain brand names on them. . . . In our post-1950s, inseparable-from-TV association pool, brand loyalty really is synecdochic of character.
- Tapinosis by movie critic Rex Reed in his review of Synecdoche, New York (2008):
Charlie Kaufman. Oy vay. I have hated every incomprehensible bucket of pretentious, idiot swill ever written by this cinematic drawbridge troll.
- And finally understatement by the Black Knight, after having both arms cut off, in Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975):
It's just a flesh wound.
Before examining some of the rarer specimens in our garden, you may want to visit the Top 20 Figures of Speech. No, there wasn't a contest, and as far as I know these 20 figures haven't won any medals at the Chelsea Flower Show. But the figures remain fresh, and (to mix metaphors) you may still hear "wisdom speaking eloquently."
More About the Figures of Speech:
- Brief Introductions to 30 Figures of Speech
- Tool Kit for Rhetorical Analysis
- Uncommon Terms for Common Rhetorical Strategies
- Monty Python's "Announcement for People Who Like Figures of Speech": The Annotated Edition
Image: John Cleese as the Black Knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail (EMI, Fox Video, and Sony Pictures, 1975)
In this edition of Language Notes, we turn our attention to coordinating conjunctions (or coordinators): short grammatical words connecting words, phrases, or clauses that are roughly equal in form and function.
Conjunctions are members of a closed word class, which means that new ones rarely make it into the language. As one of the parts of speech, says Ben Yagoda, they're "almost as murky . . . as adverbs" (When You Catch an Adjective, Kill It, 2007).
So let's see if we can shed a little light.
- What Are the Coordinating Conjunctions?
Traditional grammars list seven coordinators, represented by the acronym FANBOYS: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, and so. But that list is a bit misleading. For one thing, nor usually requires a dancing partner (neither or not). For another, the words so and yet share features with conjunctive adverbs (like therefore and however). And for (which is also a preposition) sometimes acts a lot like a subordinator.
To keep things simple, we'll focus on the Big Three (or the primary coordinating conjunctions): and, but, and or. (All three are in the top 30 of the 100 Most Commonly Used Words in English.)
- Conjunctions and Sentence Styles
Syndeton is an old rhetorical term for a sentence style that employs conjunctions. A style that uses many coordinate conjunctions is called polysyndetic:
He pulled the blue plastic tarp off of him and folded it and carried it out to the grocery cart and packed it and came back with their plates and some cornmeal cakes in a plastic bag and a plastic bottle of syrup. He spread the small tarp they used for a table on the ground and laid everything out and he took the pistol from his belt and laid it on the cloth and then he just sat watching the boy sleep.Conversely, a sentence style that omits conjunctions where we'd ordinarily expect them is called asyndetic:
(Cormac McCarthy, The Road. Knopf, 2006)
At five o'clock in December, the sun has been gone for two hours. The air is cold. The sparse streetlamps of Skansen provide a misty light. Down below, the city is just visible as smoky patches of light. Glassblowers and silversmiths are hard at work in the open-air museum. Joona walks through the Christmas market in Bollnäs Square. Fires are burning, horses are snorting, chestnuts are roasting. Children race through a stone maze, others drink hot chocolate.
(Lars Kepler, The Hypnotist. Trans. by Ann Long. Picador, 2011)
Carried to excess, either method can drive readers to distraction, so we usually try to mix the styles.
- But What About Using a Conjunction at the Beginning of a Sentence?
"During the 19th century," says linguist David Crystal, "some schoolteachers took against the practice of beginning a sentence with a word like but or and." But, he continues, there was "never any authority behind this condemnation" (The Story of English in 100 Words, 2012). In fact, beginning sentences with conjunctions has been a common practice for at least a thousand years.
In Woe Is I (1996), Patricia T. O'Conner reminds us that the most common conjunctions are and, but, and or: "And it's fine to start a sentence with one. But not too often. Or you'll overdo it." (See Is It Wrong to Begin a Sentence With "But"?)
- The Stress-Free Part of Speech
Like most function words, conjunctions are usually unstressed in speech--unless we want to emphasize a shift in thought or discourage any interruption:
But, and there's always a but, there were going to be complications.
(Colin Berry, The Deniable Agent. Mainstream, 2007)
"He cited the case of Monte Carlo as an example of the kind of thing he wants to do . . . and," Judith stressed the "and" and paused again, "he wants to start at Aylestone."
(Nicola Thorne, Pride of Place. Grafton, 1989)
Ordinarily, however, the conjunction does its job quietly and unobtrusively, content to let the stress fall on nouns and verbs.
- Punctuation With Coordinate Conjunctions
When a coordinator joins two main clauses, we usually put a comma in front of the conjunction:
Mae surprised herself with her eloquence, and the audience answered with thunderous applause.But when the main clauses are short and closely linked, either the comma or the conjunction itself may be omitted:
(Dave Eggers, The Circle. Knopf, 2013)
The nights are cold but Lily is not.When a coordinator links individual words and phrases, commas are rarely required:
(Ann-Marie MacDonald, Fall on Your Knees. Simon and Schuster, 1997)
Words weren't dull, words were things that could make your mind hum.
(Charles Bukowski, Ham on Rye. Black Sparrow, 1982)
Their remarks and responses were like a Ping-Pong game with each volley clearing the net and flying back to the opposition.But as always, punctuation is a squishy business, with stylistic decisions governed as much by habit and caprice as by the so-called rules. (See, for instance, the serial comma.)
(Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Random House, 1969)
- Paired Conjunctions
Coordinators that travel in pairs (such as both . . . and, either . . . or, neither . . . nor, and not . . . but) are called correlative conjunctions. They work as a team to emphasize the relationship between two items:
The loss we felt was not the loss of ham but the loss of pig. He had evidently become precious to me, not that he represented a distant nourishment in a hungry time, but that he had suffered in a suffering world.As White's sentences demonstrate, the items connected by correlative conjunctions are usually parallel--that is, similar in length and grammatical form.
(E.B. White, "Death of a Pig." The Atlantic Monthly, 1948)
Attentive readers will notice that we haven't discusssed subordinating conjunctions. That's because words such as because, although, if, and when will be covered in next month's edition of Language Notes.
More Language Notes:
Blackboard: a mnemonic for the coordinating conjunctions: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so.
One way to get straight to the point when you write is to use small words--not all the time, of course, but when you sense that your prose has grown dull and thick, weighed down with large words that just take up space and get in the way of what you want to say. In a pinch, small words can speed up a line and light up a thought--like this:
Some small words, more than you might think, are rich with just the right feel, just the right taste, as if made to help you say a thing the way it should be said.
Small words can be crisp, brief, terse--go to the point, like a knife. They have a charm all their own. They dance, twist, turn, sing. Like sparks in the night, they light the way for the eyes of those who read. They are the grace notes of prose. You know what they say the way you know a day is bright and fair--at first sight. And you find, as you read, that you like the way they say it. Small words are gay. And they can catch large thoughts and hold them up for all to see, like rare stones in rings of gold, or joy in the eyes of a child. Some make you feel, as well as see: the cold deep dark of night, the hot salt sting of tears. . . .
There is not much, in all truth, that small words will not say--and say quite well.
(Joseph Ecclesine, "Advice to Scientists--in Words of One Syllable." American Journal of Economics and Sociology, 1965)
As you well know, our goal should not be to fill up a page with short words or with long words. We should aim to find the best words, a mix of the long and the short.
But when your thoughts get lost in the web of words and you can't seem to find your way out, try to clear your head and clean up your prose with a few small words.
Trust me: it works.
More About Brevity and Clarity:
Sooner or later it will show up in your mailbox, printed on Santa stationery neatly folded into an origami bell: the first family newsletter of the season.
Whether you respond with a grin or a groan will depend on a number of factors--not least of which is your tolerance for exclamation points and second-hand good cheer. Is a holiday newsletter a jolly way of staying in touch with now distant friends? Or an impersonal exercise in shameless self-promotion?
Whatever your sentiments, this newsletter will certainly challenge them. It's from your brave friend Jocelyn Dunbar, writing on behalf of husband Clifford and children Kevin, Jacki, Kyle, and Khe Sahn:
Many of you, our friends and family, are probably taken aback by this, our annual holiday newsletter. You've read of our recent tragedy in the newspapers and were no doubt thinking that, what with all of their sudden legal woes and "hassles," the Dunbar clan might just stick their heads in the sand and avoid this upcoming holiday season altogether!!
You're saying, "There's no way the Dunbar family can grieve their terrible loss and carry on the traditions of the season. No family is that strong," you're thinking to yourselves.
Well, think again!!!!!!!!!!!
Except for the exclamation points and clichés, the Dunbars' holiday letter promises to be disturbingly unconventional--and so we read on. For once, a family newsletter does not disappoint. Bleak, offensive, and perversely amusing, "Season's Greetings to Our Friends and Family!!!" is anything but boring.
One of 12 short pieces in the David Sedaris collection Holidays on Ice, Jocelyn's letter manages to avoid the number one fault of such compositions: endless, mind-numbing bragging. Perhaps that's because the Dunbar family has so little left to brag about.
We share Jocelyn's surprise at finding out that during a stint in Vietnam Clifford "accidentally planted the seeds for Khe Sahn." Wearing "nothing but a pair of hot pants and a glorified sports bra," Khe Sahn arrived at the Dunbar house "speaking only the words 'Daddy,' 'Shiny,' and 'Five dollar now.'"
We hear about son Kyle, who keeps to himself, "spending many hours in his bedroom, where he burns incense, listens to music, and carves gnomes out of soap." And we learn that Jackelyn has had a baby, named Satan Speaks--one "prone to hideous rashes, a twenty-four-hour round-the-clock screamer."
If you're looking for something dark and humorous to help you feel better about your own quirky family, read David Sedaris. But if instead you'd like some advice on how to compose a family letter that friends will read and enjoy, consider our Tips for Composing a Holiday Newsletter.
More About Letter Writing
- How to Write a Letter of Complaint
- How Not to Write a Letter of Complaint
- A Sample Letter of Recommendation
- "Eight or Nine Wise Words About Letter-Writing" by Lewis Carroll
Image: Holidays on Ice, revised edition, by David Sedaris (Little, Brown and Company, 2008)
It's time for our end-of-month roundup of language-related items in the news--from the linguistically profound to the lexically ridiculous.
- A Universal Word: Huh?
Are there words that are universally understood, across all countries and cultures? A team of linguists has proposed one: "huh." . . . Read more
(Jennifer Schuessler, "The Syllable Everyone Recognizes." The New York Times, November 8, 2013)
- The Best Non-Native Speakers of English
The English-language skills of Sweden's adult population is the best in the world, among non-native English speakers, according to new rankings of 60 countries. . . . Read more
(Johan Nylander, "Sweden Tops English-Language Skills Ranking." The Swedish Wire, November 6, 2013)
- Sentence Length
How long should a sentence be? Like so many questions related to writing and speaking, "It depends." . . . Read more
(Ernie Mazzatenta, "Forsake Length and Focus on Thoughts." Times-News [North Carolina], November 22, 2013)
- The History of English in 100 Places
From a piece of farmland in Suffolk, to Vienna, via Hastings, Beijing and even the moon--it may sound like an unusual journey. But these are the places, identified in a new study, which have helped to create, shape and spread the English language around the globe--and beyond. They have all been included in a new project which aims to tell the story of the language through 100 locations. . . . Read more
(Jasper Copping, "The History of the English Language in 100 Places." The Telegraph [UK], October 27, 2013)
- Japanese Automaker Adopts English as an Official Language
Honda Motor Co. made English the official language of global meetings as the Japanese carmaker shifts decision-making power to regional units. . . . Honda's new rule applies to in-person meetings and video conferences, raising the chances top executives will use interpreters. . . . Read more
(Alan Ohnsman, "Honda Adopts English as Official Language in Global Meetings." Bloomberg.com, November 22, 2013)
- Because Has Become a Preposition
As the language writer Stan Carey delightfully sums it up: "'Because' has become a preposition, because grammar." . . . [T]he usage of "because-noun" (and of "because-adjective" and "because-gerund") is one of those distinctly of-the-Internet, by-the-Internet movements of language. . . . Read more
(Megan Garber, "English Has a New Preposition, Because Internet." The Atlantic, November 19, 2013)
- The Rise of MOOCs and the Dominance of English
The arrival of Massive Open Online Courses or MOOCs led to predictions of a great new age of democratic learning. . . . But there could be a wrinkle in this utopian plan. There is a fear that the English language could dominate MOOCs and ultimately lock out a good many millions from the benefits on offer. . . . Read more
(Scott L. Montgomery, "MOOCs and the Language Barrier: Is Open Education Not So Open After All?" The Conversation [Australia], November 1, 2013)
- The Influence of Chinese on English
Words of Chinese origin are playing a key role in driving the ongoing globalization of English, experts in both languages say. "The fact that some 300 million Chinese people are now studying or have studied English means the important impact of Chinese on the language can't be denied," said Paul J.J. Payack, president and chief analyst at Global Language Monitor. . . . Read more
(Jin Zhu, "Chinese Puts in a Good Word for the English Language." China Daily, November 2, 2013)
- Slang Banned in a British Elementary School
Youngsters at a West Midlands primary school have been told "yow cor spaek lyuke that" by teachers fed-up with their regional "slanguage." . . . Teachers at Colley Lane Primary School in Halesowen sent a "Mind Your Slanguage" guide to stunned parents last week. . . . Read more
(Martin Fricker, "West Midlands School Bans Pupils From Using 'Damaging' Regional Slang." Daily Mirror [UK], November 14, 2013)
Back Issues of Language in the News:
Today I'm wearing my prescriptivist hat, perched at a jaunty angle.
Purists may tell you that the words in the following list aren't "really" words at all, but that's misleading at best. A few of the words are simply misspellings. And the rest are frequently used in some people's everyday speech (or vernacular).
Nevertheless, according to the conventions of Standard English (or in one case, an iconic pet peeve), all 10 words should be avoided in formal writing--such as in that essay or report you're supposed to be working on now.
Alot (one word) is a misspelling of a lot (two words). "[W]e all may write alot one day," says The American Heritage Guide to Contemporary Usage (2005), but for now "keep in mind that alot is still considered an error in print." (Also see Commonly Confused Words: Allot, A Lot, and Alot.)
Huck Finn can get away with saying, "There warn't a sound anywheres," but on formal occasions drop the terminal s.
- could of
Don't confuse this nonstandard form with the contraction could've. Could of (along with should of) can and should be replaced by could have (and should have).
This alternative form of the reflexive pronoun himself is commonly heard in certain dialects, but in formal writing avoid hisself (and theirself as well--though both were regarded as good usage in Middle and Early Modern English).
The comparative form of far is farther or further. The superlative form is farthest or furthest. Nothing's gained by combining the two forms. (Also see Commonly Confused Words: Farther and Further.)
Used as a vague synonym for "you might have heard of it," this vogue word has overstayed its welcome. In the words of Dean Stern at the Yale School of Architecture, "It's ridiculous. It's an overused word. Don't use it again." (Also see Icon, Iconic, and Other Overworked Words.)
This double negative (ir- at the beginning and -less at the end) may not deserve Bryan Garner's label of "semiliterate . . . barbarism," but he's probably right that in print it "should have been stamped out long ago" (Garner's Modern American Usage, 2009). Use regardless instead.
Its is a possessive pronoun (like his or her). It's is a contraction of it is or it has. That leaves nothing for its' to do--so toss it. (Also see Commonly Confused Words: Its and It's.)
- let's us
Let's us means "let us us." To avoid the repetition, write lets ("She lets us play in her yard") or let's ("Let's play in her yard") or let us ("Let us pray"). (Also see Commonly Confused Words: Lets and Let's.)
If you have the know-how to write, you don't need to be told to avoid nohow. Instead use in no way or not at all.
More About Usage:
Here are 12 grammar, composition, and vocabulary exercises recently added to our collection of Exercises and Quizzes. To view any of these worksheets without ads, click on the printer icon near the top of each page.
- Blends: Practice in Identifying Word Parts
- The Third Big Quiz on Commonly Confused Words
- Practice in Identifying Compound Subjects
- Practice in Identifying Independent Clauses
- Practice in Turning Positive Statements Into Negative Statements
- Practice in Using the Past Forms of Regular and Irregular Verbs
- Practice in Using the Past Forms of Verbs: Hunger of Memory
- Vocabulary Quiz #1: Defining Words in Context
- Vocabulary Quiz #2: Defining Words in Context
- Evaluating a Claim Letter: Exercise in Analyzing and Evaluating a Letter of Complaint
- Evaluating Classification Plans: Practice in Planning a Classification Paragraph or Essay
- "The Sentimentalist": Evaluating a Definition Essay With Examples
Surely you're not expecting something sentimental from Mark Twain? His dark meditation on Thanksgiving, dictated to a stenographer near the end of his life, appears in volume one of the Autobiography of Mark Twain (2010).
Thanksgiving Day [is] a function which originated in New England two or three centuries ago when those people recognized that they really had something to be thankful for--annually, not oftener--if they had succeeded in exterminating their neighbors, the Indians, during the previous twelve months instead of getting exterminated by their neighbors the Indians. Thanksgiving Day became a habit, for the reason that in the course of time, as the years drifted on, it was perceived that the exterminating had ceased to be mutual and was all on the white man's side, consequently on the Lord's side, consequently it was proper to thank the Lord for it and extend the usual annual compliments.
The original reason for a Thanksgiving Day has long ago ceased to exist--the Indians have long ago been comprehensively and satisfactorily exterminated and the account closed with Heaven, with the thanks due. But, from old habit, Thanksgiving Day has remained with us, and every year the President of the United States and the Governors of all the several States and the territories set themselves the task, every November, to advertise for something to be thankful for, and then they put those thanks into a few crisp and reverent phrases, in the form of a Proclamation, and this is read from all the pulpits in the land, the national conscience is wiped clean with one swipe, and sin is resumed at the old stand.
(Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume I, edited by Harriet Elinor Smith et al. University of California Press, 2010)
The second volume of Twain's Autobiography ("the complete and authoritative edition") was published last month by University of California Press.
More by Mark Twain:
I would never admit that I suffer from adjectivitis--but sometimes my writing does. Seduced by the rhythms of modifiers marching in pairs, I spend part of my editing time tossing out adjectives--tiresome and superfluous adjectives.
Adjectivitis is a type of clutter that's been around for awhile, as demonstrated by these passages from the past hundred years.
- An Inflammation of Language
His voice was full, rich, tender, vibrating, flexible, soft, powerful, stirring, natural, cultivated, superb, phenomenal, and perfectly fresh. The critics had a severe attack of "adjectivitis."
Paul Griggs had first applied the name to that inflammation of language to which many young writers are subject when cutting their literary milk-teeth, and from which musical critics are never quite immune.
(Francis Marion Crawford, The Primadonna, 1908)
- Like Baked Beans
Myrtiline Hall Kirkpatrick defends the free use of adjectives, opposing a witty critic who considers them--as Artemus Ward considered baked beans--"a cheerful fruit when used moderately," but when reveled in without restraint, inflammatory, and apt to result in the dread disease, "adjectivitis."
(John J. Corcoran, "Omitting the Superfluous." The Writer, February 1916)
- A Law of Diminishing Returns
Because one adjective is as revealing as a lightning flash, don't think that ten will make the story ten times as good. There is a law of diminishing returns. Adjectivitis, a dread ailment, is as common among newspaper men as dipsomania--perhaps more so.
(Stanley Walker, City Editor. Frederick A. Stokes Company, 1934)
Adjectivitis is one of the most contagious diseases in Western Christendom, and there seems to be no stopping it. Perhaps inflation is to blame. As it takes more and more money to buy the same thing, so it seems to take more and more words to explain what we mean.
(Walter Stanley Mooneyham, Traveling Hopefully. Word Books, 1984)
- Dancing to the Rhythm
One indicator of voice is the overuse of modifiers. "A tall, lean blonde walked into the dark, dingy bar and sat at a small, round table." Not only do we have this pile-up of adjectives, a disorder I call adjectivitis, most are not necessary, at least not all at once. Details can be worked into the action--if any action ever gets a chance to occur. What's happening here is that the writer with adjectivitis has set a rhythm going. There are two adjectives for each noun. Tall lean, dark dingy, small round. You could almost dance to the rhythm.
(Chris Roerden, "Don't Murder Your Mystery." Authors Access: 30 Success Secrets for Authors and Publishers, ed. by Irene Watson et al. Modern History Press, 2009)
If you need help in combating* this stylistic malady, see Practice in Cutting the Clutter.
* Spelling Note: Linguist Pam Peters on Combating vs. Combatting
Contemporary dictionaries suggest that the spellings with one t are now preferred in the US, Britain and Australia, and evidence from CCAE [Corpus of Contemporary American English] and the BNC [British National Corpus] puts combated/combating ahead. But Canadians prefer to spell them with two ts, according to the Canadian Oxford (1998). The Oxford Dictionary (1989) shows that the spellings combatted/combatting were once more common, no doubt when the word's second syllable was stressed.
(Pam Peters, The Cambridge Guide to English Usage. Cambridge University Press, 2004)