Wilbers: Unstack your noun stacks to animate your writing

  • Article by: STEPHEN WILBERS , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 14, 2013 - 2:00 PM

I was enjoying a caffe latte at Turtle Bread Company in south Minneapolis when I heard a familiar voice.

“Hi, Doc,” said a young man. He pulled a chair up to my table.

“Remember me?” he said. “A few weeks ago you cured me of saying until such time as and during the course of when I could say until and during. We were at a Minneapolis brew pub location. You conducted a wordiness reduction intervention procedure. Now, thanks to you, I know how to do wordiness elimination in sentences like this one:

“ ‘I deem it desirable that we gather together after our summer school class today to commence work on our homework in a collaborative fashion at our earliest possible convenience so that we might proceed to the lake expeditiously and take part in some ichthyologic recreation.’ ”

“I’m pleased to hear that,” I said, “but how would you condense that sentence?”

“I’d say, ‘Wanna do homework together after summer school today so that we can go fishing?’ ”

“Excellent. Now tell me again where we met.”

“At a Minneapolis brew pub location.”

“Hmmm. And what did we do there?”

“Adjective and adverb examination and elimination exercises.”

“I see.”

“What’s the matter, Doc?” he said in a worried tone. “Am I having a needless modifier relapse experience?”

“No, but you do seem to be suffering from a bad case of noun stacks.”

“Oh, my,” he said. “Is that serious?”

“Possibly,” I said. “We all use noun stacks, as in ‘Are you having pre-departure jitters?’ and ‘Have you ever experienced a parachute deployment malfunction?’ They’re common in technical and scientific language, where they can be handy but inexact, depending on how they’re used. As a rule, if you go beyond two or three nouns in a stack, you’re in trouble.”

“So how am I doing?”

“Well, your phrase wordiness elimination has two nouns, and a Minneapolis brew pub location has four.”


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