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Noun Overuse Phenomenon Article
Posted On 11/04/2011 00:42:56 by Chahaat

Noun Overuse Phenomenon Article

Too many nouns will ruin your prose! Here's some background and analysis on this unfortunate tendency....

Have you noticed a new clunk-clunk sound in the English language? Phrases such as "patient starter package" for sample? "Drug dosage forms" for pills? "Health cause" for sickness? "Increased labor market participation rates" for more people working? This overuse of nouns is a modern trend that has pretty much escaped notice. To put the phenomenon on the intellectual map, Ive dubbed it Nounspeak. The allusion is to Newspeak, about which Orwell wrote, "Newspeak is designed not to extend but to diminish the range of thought."

The Germanic languages like to pile up nouns. The Romance languages virtually forbid it. The English lexicon, betwixt and between, has traditionally accepted nouns in pairs with no hesitation. Examples are book store, love affair, deer crossing, and state university. Three nouns in a row used to be the outer limit and is a rare find in English prose before 1950. Now we daily encounter excrescences like "growth trend pattern" and "consumer price inflation" and even, hold your hat, "U.S. Air Force aircraft fuel systems equipment mechanics course" (from a Long Island newspaper).

Nounspeak is not grammatically wrong. We?re concerned here with good style and with clarity and with avoiding problems for ourselves. Space ship is not a problem. Space ship booster rocket is the beginning of a problem. Most writers would, I trust, try to find alternate phrasing. But more and more we?re having to accept decided problems such as space ship booster rocket ignition system. I suggest it's time to back up.

Scientists love Nounspeak. Anyone hearing them joust with their mother tongue must lament the change of standards since the Royal Society took as a motto, Nulla in Verba, more than 300 years ago. Bureaucrats also love Nounspeak. Certainly the military loves Nounspeak. Would you ever guess that target naturalization requirement means "the desired dead"? Or that airplane delivery systems might mean "bombs"? Here's the National Academy of Science discussing military research, "Work has included development of empirical and rational formulae for aerosol survival, formulae for predicting human lethal dose, and quantification of disease severity." (They?re talking about germs and poisonous gases.) And most of all the "soft sciences," such as psychology, education, sociology and anthropology, love Nounspeak. A prize of some sardonic sort ought to be presented to the behaviorist quoted in Science Digest who concocted "place for goods purchase." It takes a minute to realize he's thinking about stores. The pattern is that people with little to say turn to Nounspeak for pompous packaging, while those with something unsavory to say find friendly camouflage in Nounspeak's abstractions and opacities. Who can forget "body count"?



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