Monday, August 2, 2010

How to improve writing (no. 28)

Joe Manley passed along these sentences, lifted from a bottle of E&J Brandy. He finds them “pretentious” and “vacuous” and amusing:

One of the most distinctive qualities of E&J Brandy is its remarkable character. This is accomplished by a vertical blending of brandies of different ages from the finest white oak barrels which we personally have selected. This expensive and time consuming aging process also develops the full and natural brandy flavor of E&J Brandy.
What’s wrong here?

Character would be the sum total of a thing’s qualities, not one of them.

“This is accomplished”: There’s no clear referent for this. Character cannot be accomplished.

“Vertical blending”: Meaning that the brandies are poured in from above? I can find no evidence that “vertical blending” is a term generally used in brandy-making. It seems to be used only by E&J.

“Which we personally have selected”: Silly: the brandies cannot be blended without being selected. (Here are some fries. They are made from potatoes which I personally have selected.) But it may be the barrels that have been selected. Before they were filled? Afterwards?

“This expensive and time consuming aging process”: This second this is ungainly. (A good way to improve almost any piece of writing: reconsider every sentence beginning with this.) “Time consuming aging process”: redundant and repetitious [sic], and missing a hyphen.

“Also”: Also?

“The full and natural brandy flavor of E&J Brandy”: Yes, brandy should taste like brandy. The phrasing here reminds me of the Ennet House Drug and Alcohol Recovery House in David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest.

With the pretension and awkwardness removed, the E&J label might read like so:
Blended from brandies aged in white oak barrels, E&J is a brandy of distinction. Careful selection and aging develops E&J’s full, natural flavor.
I find plainness and understatement much more convincing. But I’m not about to buy a bottle of E&J and test the truth of my sentences. I like red wine (and sometimes beer, and sometimes bourbon).

Thanks, Joe, for this label.

[This post is no. 28 in a series, “How to improve writing,” dedicated to improving stray bits of public prose.]

Related reading
All How to improve writing posts (via Pinboard)
Lemonade and lies

comments: 2

Other Elaine said...

I find it best just to open the bottle and pour some without reading the vacuous and pretentious label. Ever notice that none of the blurbs say anything like, "This is rotgut, but it's cheap, so bottoms up!"?

Michael Leddy said...

Pouring would probably make the writing begin to look better. :)