From a book on design, a sentence about the look of a royal spouse’s “consort throne”:
It was gilded to look as if it were made of gold, the metal that is still the universal signifier of durability and status in almost every culture.One way to improve this sentence: trust the reader to know what gilded means.
A second: clear up the inconsistency of “universal” and “almost every.”
A third: find a precise alternative to durability. That word might be associated with, say, long-wearing fabrics. But gold doesn’t resist wear; it doesn’t wear.
A fourth: rethink status. Yes, status does mean “high rank,” but I’d rather see the word with a modifier, for the same reason that I’m opposed to “quality” education.
A better sentence:
It was gilded, as gold still signifies high status and abiding value in almost every culture.I’ve omitted the names of writer and book: neither should be judged by a single sentence. But many sentences in this book are in need of revision: cuts, breaks, rearrangement of parts, and plain old correction (of subject-verb disagreement, for instance). It makes sense that there is no note of thanks to an editor. W.W. Norton & Company, you’re slipping.
The moral of the story: Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested. And many more are to be borrowed from the library. Try before you buy.
[This post is no. 25 in a series, “How to improve writing,” dedicated to improving stray bits of public prose. With apologies to Francis Bacon.]
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