Tuesday, May 13, 2008

How to improve writing (no. 20 in a series)

From a pen catalogue:

As is true for all fine Faber-Castell chirographic instruments…
The Oxford English Dictionary has no entry for chirographic. The OED does include chirography, with the most recent example of the word's use dating from 1882. If chirographic isn't obsolete, it's certainly been a long time on the shelf.

Looking at chirographic for a bit helps to bring its parts into focus: the word is made from the Greek χειρo-, from χείρ, hand (also found in chiropractor) and -γραφικός, "written or transmitted in a (specified) way." A chirographic instrument is, simply, a writing instrument.

I'm not sure how to account for chirographic. Is the word meant to appear learned, so as to impress? Or whimsical, so as to charm? Or has the writer just gone hunting in a thesaurus? Given the context — ad copy in a catalogue for pen fans, the simpler word writing is enough. It would make the writer's meaning clear and keep the focus on those fine Faber-Castell products.

This post is no. 20 in a very occasional series, "How to improve writing," dedicated to improving stray bits of published prose.

[Definition of -graphic from Merriam-Webster Online.]

All "How to improve writing" posts (via Pinboard)

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