"Word Craft" Column Offers ...


 The Wall Street Journal

I must have missed the memo.

Late last year The Wall Street Journal added a column to its weekend lineup called “Word Craft.”

Lest you find the above sentence on the understated side, consider the October  “Word Craft” contribution, “Block That Adjective!” by Alexander McCall Smith.

If you’re going to pen a column about concise writing, you’d better be … right, concise.

And it wouldn’t hurt to be amusing as well given the austere topic.

Author McCall Smith comes through on both counts:

… Concise prose knows what it wants to say, and says it. It does not embellish, except occasionally, and then for dramatic effect. It is sparing in its use of metaphor. And it is certainly careful in its use of adjectives. Look at the King James Bible, that magnificent repository of English at the height of its beauty. The language used to describe the creation of the world is so simple, so direct. “Let there be light, and there was light.” That sentence has immense power precisely because there are no adjectives. If we fiddle about with it, we lose that. “Let there be light, and there was a sort of matutinal, glowing phenomenon that slowly transfused, etc.” No, that doesn’t work.

McCall Smith-Let There Be Light

While the “voice” might have had something to do with the power of “Let there be light,” it’s still a wonderful paragraph.

Hopefully, Mr. McCall Smith will permit me that one adjective.

I think the Journal is onto something.

“Word Craft” creates a forum for a different contributor to weigh in each week on the words, style and philosophy behind communications.

Rather than serve the English snobberites, the column strives for novel-grade writing with a “let’s not take ourselves too seriously” attitude.

Other columns have included “The Lies of Science Writing” and “The Lost Art of Argument.”

Even our very own Nancy Duarte who graced our stage with her talk on storytelling last year offered up “Avoiding the Road to Powerpoint Hell” in last weekend’s paper.

With Gary Rosen, the keeper of the “Word Craft” flame, showing the way we can expect an eclectic mix of topics wrapped in the beauty of words.

Mr. McCall Smith would never have signed off on such a close.

But “Let there be words” doesn’t quite work.


  • Mike Pilarz

    Nice find, Lou. I also must have missed the memo about this column. That excerpt reminds me of Strunk and White’s legendary handbook, “The Elements of Style” which celebrates the “beauty of brevity.”

    Looking forward to seeing more of these.

    Mike Pilarz

  • Lou Hoffman

    Thanks Mike.

    “The Elements of Style” is a classic.

    I’m surprised the Murdoch marketing team didn’t give “Word Craft” some air cover.

    I came across it through Nancy Duarte’s column on Powerpoint Hell last weekend.

    Spent some time raking the Net for more information and didn’t much; hence, my own post.

  • Doug van Aman

    One of my favorites is The Careful Writer by the late Theodore Bernstein of the NYTimes. He was a master at mixing humor into entries. Highly recommend it for writers’ shelves.

  • Lou Hoffman

    I’ll pick it up.

    Definitely a topic that benefits from humor.


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