Due To All Those Words

We’ve looked in the past at the dubious phrase due to, but a few remarks here again about its stylistic effects might be in order. What are we to think, for example, about a sentence like this: Due to my sister’s condo’s rules not allowing dogs any longer, she is presently confused about if she should move. In a word? Overwritten, and there’s something to learn from that.

It is common to believe that we’ll write more clearly if we write more, that a string of words will better explain what a few words can’t. Now although that’s true—sometimes, it’s important to remember that revising is first about deleting, because most of us have a tendency to assume a persona when we write: I’m not saying this; who I am professionally is saying this, and I have to sound like this in order to get a hearing and remain part of the group. Our persona (the word originally means a mask worn by actors on stage) believes that our natural and truthful voice—our unassuming voice—won’t sound sufficiently knowing and authoritative, and so it’s ready to amplify our own good and real thoughts into distortions the back row can hear. Those distortions are what we mean by the overwritten sentence, and their combined effect is more off-putting than riveting.

We can understand, certainly, why we reach for the mask. The world can be an uninviting, fault-finding place, and we too often feel the need, unfortunately, to find our special place among the competition. But writing well requires first that we say the truth as we see it, saying it as naturally (though not necessarily as casually) as we understand it and believe it. We may certainly have many written voices, as many as the many moods we have in the varied circumstances of the day. But a written voice is not an artificial construction, just as our moods are not personality disorders. If the tone and rhythm of our sentences change, we still remain in the main who we are—and that is the source of a well-written sentence.

We come, then, to the complaint about the phrase due to in our example above: it’s just too lofty for the context. The scene is a common one of people and condominiums and dogs, and even the rules mentioned in that everyday scene are not the rules of the courtroom as they are discussed in the more specialized language of the law. One person is just speaking openly to another, and rarely, rarely would that person begin such an easy conversation with the inflated due to. He or she would much more likely simply begin, Because my sister’s condo no longer allows dogs, and the balance of the statement would retain that naturalness: she doesn’t know now whether she should move. Or even more naturally: My sister doesn’t know now whether she should move, because her condo no longer allows dogs.

At the heart of a natural voice lies verbs. The phrase due to here leads inevitably to the verbal noun allowing, so if we simply look for the verb in the noun, we find our way to a clause (condo no longer allows). And although she is presently confused is indeed a clause, it’s a weak one because the verb is a copula, merely identifying the subject with the adjective confused; to be confused means not to know, and know is a transitive verb depicting mental action. And lastly, if we can finally shake ourselves out of the spell all those high words have created, we see that the concluding about if means nothing more than whether.

Those revisions are making no attempt to say more than the situation is really about: the common is good, the common is real, the common is enough. If we intend to write more clearly, we must try to disabuse ourselves of the idea that those who know don’t speak like us. Those who know, who really know, see the profound, the real, in the common; they see through the objects and circumstances we all find ourselves in, and their language stays close to the unmasked person they are, to the truth as they see and live it.


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  1. rultimo

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  1. I really liked the explanation here of why people so often write in the bureaucratic style. I’m reminded of an email I received recently from a local college when a cooking class I had registered for was canceled: “Your course on knife techniques was canceled due to a lack of instructor availability.”

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