Tuesday, September 25, 2012

IMPLACABILITY:  Academic writing expert Helen Sword takes to the (digital) pages of the NYT to decry the popularity of what she deems "zombie nouns":
Nouns formed from other parts of speech are called nominalizations. Academics love them; so do lawyers, bureaucrats and business writers. I call them “zombie nouns” because they cannibalize active verbs, suck the lifeblood from adjectives and substitute abstract entities for human beings:

The proliferation of nominalizations in a discursive formation may be an indication of a tendency toward pomposity and abstraction.

The sentence above contains no fewer than seven nominalizations, each formed from a verb or an adjective. Yet it fails to tell us who is doing what. When we eliminate or reanimate most of the zombie nouns (tendency becomes tend, abstraction becomes abstract) and add a human subject and some active verbs, the sentence springs back to life:  Writers who overload their sentences with nominalizations tend to sound pompous and abstract.


  1. Motion to add an amendment to the ALOTT5MA constitution that prohibits two postings in a row that mention zombies and/or vampires (even in passing).  Thank you.

  2. Melissa R.10:49 AM

    But I was hoping for a Twilight posting!  I mean, there's so much to talk about with the new movie being released soon and Robert Pattinson wants to marry Kristen Stewart!!!!

  3. Of course, they're zombie nouns, what they're wanting is brains.

    (Sorry, the pun on "lack" was just sitting there.)

  4. Gleemonex1:03 PM

    Ahh -- see, it's been awhile since my 8th-grade sentence-diagramming unit, but I was thinking we were coming in here to talk about how at my old workplace we could take ANY NOUN and turn it into a verb. Actual quotes from my bosses include but most certainly are not limited to: 

    --We're going to parking-lot that for now. 
    --Once we hear from Thor's team, we'll see how those things family together.
    --He's tasked with granularizing those learnings at a cellular level. 

    What did we do at this workplace?, you might well ask. Obviously it was corporate communications for a global apparel retailer. Durr. 

  5. Maddy2:25 PM

    I work at my school's writing center, and sometimes my job is nicely telling people that their stuffy academese doesn't hide the fact that they don't know what they're talking about.

  6. D'Arcy5:47 PM

    One that I keep hearing is "impactful", as in "I think this new teaching methodology will be very impactful" or "We want our post-traumatic event session to be impactful." What's wrong with saying have an impact? I'm pretty sure impactful is not a word. I can barely type it.

  7. I heard an athlete use it in an interview Sunday. It's one of those "I want to sound smarter than I actually am" words.