Although elegant variation flops worst in legal writing, advisors on general writing agree with Schiess. Fowler inveighed against this "incurable vice" of "the minor novelists and the reporters." In Economical Writing, Deidre N. McCloskey defines elegant variation and discourages its use: "Simply put, elegant variation is using many words to mean one thing. For example: 'History is concerned not only with what happened but also with why events turned out the way they did.' The reader will interpret that 'what happened' and 'events [that] turned out the way they did' as two different things, when in fact they are the same thing."
Why does Mark Nichol disagree? Because he accepts the conventional analysis, that elegant variation's practitioners sacrifice clarity for a bit of "elegance"; he believes that uneuphonic repetition is the main problem elegant variation misguidedly addresses. This ignores the more basic problem of repeated concepts, untouched by elegant variation and illustrated by the revisions I reject.
Unenergized sentence: “Finding a job at 55 is much harder than finding a job in your 40s.”Mark's revision implies that landing a job, as opposed to finding one, is for younger aspirants. The real problem with the first sentence is using a single concept twice when once will do. You don't need to repeat the concept of finding/landing.
Mark's revision: “Finding a job at 55 is much harder than landing one in your 40s.”
My version: Finding a job at 55 is much harder than in your 40s.
The company is launching a new shelter magazine aimed at women in their 30s, while American Media is developing a shelter magazine for women in their 20s and 30s.
The company is launching a new shelter magazine aimed at thirty something women, while American Media is developing a home-themed title for those in their 20s and 30s.Mark gets rid of the repeated concept of "women," but in the last clause he substitutes a different term for the concept of a shelter magazine.
The company is launching a new shelter magazine aimed at thirty something women, while American Media prepares a similar offering for those in their 20s and 30s.
Mark's next correction is an egregious example of elegant variation.
Administrators requested waivers for regular students, special-education students, adult students, and students in continuation schoolsStudents, pupils, and learners are alternative names for the same repeated concept, however labeled.
Administrators requested waivers for regular students, special-education pupils, adult learners, and kids in continuation schools.
Administrators requested waivers for regular, special-education, and adult students as well as those attending continuation schools.
While noting that it's a solution to different problem, let's end with Mark's best revision, which eliminates repeated words without creating confusion.
When Brubeck chauffeured Milhaud, who didn’t drive, to the 1947 premiere, the composer drove the young musician to, as he said, ‘be true to your instincts’ and ‘sound like who you really are.Pushed replaces drove, a revision improving clarity, not just euphony, because the two instances of drove are different concepts. You should represent the same concept with a single word to avoid reiteration, but, as here, you should use different words for different concepts.
When Brubeck chauffeured Milhaud, who didn’t drive, to the 1947 premiere, the composer pushed the young musician to, as he said, ‘be true to your instincts’ and ‘sound like who you really are.'