Saying more than you need to say

rogersgeorge on November 16th, 2011

Redundancy and fluff are common mistakes, and I mention these errors in this humble site rather often. Here’s another good example. It’s from the fascinating book, Shock of Gray by Ted. C. Fishman. The book is about the sociology of aging. Here’s the subtitle: The aging of the world’s population and how it pits young against old, child against parent, worker against boss, company against rival, and nation against nation. Quite a mouthful. Here’s a comment about Tokyo.

Tokyo has become the one city in the world where one’s youth lasts longest, while at the same time it is a city where time passes so quickly that Tokyoites are near middle age before they know it.

I found this picture on a page titled "Tokyo with kids - things to do"

All the words in this sentence are grammatically correct. But if you reflect, you might notice some unnecessary content. I call this sort of thing the hard part of writing, because on a superficial level, the writing is¬†perfectly¬†correct. What it says isn’t quite right.

It has to do with what you mean when you use the superlative, in this case “longest.” When you compare the lengths of pieces of string, how many can be the longest? Presumably one. Which mountain is highest? Only one. The point of the superlative is to point out the one thing that is at the top of whatever heap you’re measuring. In this case it’s the city where one’s youth lasts longest, and that is Toyko. You don’t need that fifth word in the sentence, “one.” Take it out, and the sentence means exactly the same thing, and it’s a little tighter, less wordy.

You might object that my complaint here is hardly earth-shaking, and you would be right. I’ll even grant that the “one” was put in the sentence to add emotional impact to the statistic. I hope, however, you see the benefit of reflecting on your writing, and thinking about what you say. Chop out what you don’t need. Your readers will thank you.

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