Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Resource: Beware the Zombie Nouns!

It's scary: zombie nouns are everywhere!

Zombie Nouns by Helen Sword in the New York Times

Helen Sword provides a fine description of nominalizations, a.k.a. zombie nouns, and how they can suck the life out of any sentence. The article is a fun read, with many examples of zombified language. For example, here is an item she cites from George Orwell's essay Politics and the English Language; it's a passage from the Biblical Book of Ecclesiastes which Orwell has rewritten in a style abounding with zombie nouns:
I returned and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.
Objective considerations of contemporary phenomena compel the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must invariably be taken into account.
 The change in style actually deprives the sentence of any real meaning!

Sword also provides a link to a web tool - The Writer's Diet Test - which can help you determine whether your writing is zombified or not. I was pleased when I tested this tool on the current class announcement. Result: I am "fit and trim" overall, although my verbs need toning, ha ha.

In the narrative writing that you do for this class, the threat of zombie nouns is admittedly not as great as in the academic writing you are doing for your other classes. So, in this class but even more so in your other classes, take heed ...

and beware the zombie nouns!!!

(Zombie Walk by Rodolpho Reis at Flickr)

Want to learn more? Here's a YouTube video for you to enjoy on the topic of the zombie nouns:

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