Category Archives: bad writing

“The tone is college admissions essay.”

 

“The tone is college admissions essay. Typical sentence: ‘In an environment of maximum pressure, I learned to ignore the noise and distractions and instead to push for results that would improve lives.’ ”

“Every political cliché gets a fresh shampooing. ‘Even in a starkly divided country, there are always opportunities to build bridges,’ Kushner writes.”

— Dwight Garner, review of Breaking History: A White House Memoir, By Jared Kushner, The New York Times, August 17,. 2022

Generic writing, aka boilerplate.

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

  August 2022

TOO MANY words

 

When asked by a student once, how long should a composition be, my high school English teacher replied: as long as required to cover the subject; no more or less.

 

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The following is an essay about the invasion of Ukraine by Patrick Le Hyaric, a French journalist, politician, member of the European Parliament, and a director of the newspaper L’Humanité.

“Le monde peut basculer dans le pire d’un instant à l’autre”

By Patrick Le Hyaric

Le monde peut basculer dans le pire d’un instant à l’autre

This opinion piece is far too long. The author says far too much. Which is to say, in other words, he tries to say everything he or one can conceivably think about the subject of his essay. Whereby he ends up confusing the reader and not conveying anything clearly, really. His key points — whatever they are — get lost in a muddle.

— posted by Roger W. Smith

    March 1, 2022

how to say nothing in 1,035 words … generic writing II

 

 

‘Anxiety About Wokeness Is Intellectual Weakness’

 

This is a type of discourse — writing — often seen in pronouncements by educators (e.g. , university presidents), corporate chieftains, CEOs of nonprofits, and (of course) politicians.

With political statements and speeches, it’s obvious. With the rest, it’s more subtle.

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

    November 2021

Can writing really be this bad?

 

Theodore Dreiser, ‘Will Fascism Come to America’ – Modern Monthly

 

Theodore Dreiser

“Will Fascism Come to America?”

Modern Monthly 

September 1934

 

1,602 words

1,602 words too long

And what does this screed have to do with or say about the rise of fascism?

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

   September 2021

bloated writing

 

For he actually desires not to see a new State erected in America—one that may end capitalistic adventure as we have known it—but the present one so altered in spirit, the so-called “pioneer spirit” in industry—as to cease concerning itself so completely and selfishly and exclusively with the individual’s personal advance—to change in fact into one in which the so-called pioneering individual will see himself as a representative not only of himself but of the country and the people and the national resources of the same, an environment out of which and by the reason of the presence of which it is possible for him to become the successful individual that he does become—if and when he so does become. And that is certainly a very different interpretation of the kind of individual success we need and ought to have if we are going to have for very much longer any such so-called democratic government or nation as our American Constitution calls for. For, according to Bridges—and I quoting him exactly—”when you are anti-labor you are anti-American. For to be anti-labor you have to rob people of the right of free speech, the right to strike, to assemble, to petition and protest, and therefore, you have to be fundamentally unconstitutional and so anti-American.” And having watched the quarrels between capital and labor outside the American newspaper and editorial business for forty-eight years I can heartily agree.

— Theodore Dreiser, “The Story of Harry Bridges,” Friday,  October 11, 1940

 

white male privilege (a flawed premise)

 

‘The President is golfing and exercising White male privilege’

 

 

Re:

The president is golfing and exercising White male privilege

By Robin Givhan

The Washington Post

November 17, 2020

https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2020/11/17/president-is-golfing-exercising-white-male-privilege/

 

This story illustrates a major flaw in constructing a piece of writing: a weak premise. A piece built on no sound premise — in fact, on no real premise at all; on no valid, cogent, or original thought.

A piece that essentially reiterates, using scant evidence, a weak idea or cliché.

Many readers would — I am certain do — agree that Trump is unfit to be president, that he lives a privileged life and seems not to care about people, that it is deplorable; that he appears to spend most of his time — and has done so increasingly in the past few weeks — watching television, tweeting, and, when he leaves the White House, golfing, while for all intents and purposes ignoring the pandemic and doing nothing about it.

It is also indisputable that, until very recently, golfing was (and perhaps in the present day, still is, predominantly) a sport for rich men, most of them white (I would presume); and that until recently golf clubs and courses banned blacks. And, that most golf clubs are still private and expensive — for wealthy males (I presume it is mostly a men’s sport). And, this was undoubtedly even more the case in our past history. It was a sport for the rich, leisured class.

So what?

I see photos of men riding golf carts on the course and think, they can’t they even walk and (maybe carry their bags); and look at the caddie hanging on the back of Trump’s golf cart, and it all looks so decadent, and I don’t like Trump; and why isn’t he governing? Why doesn’t he do his job? I wouldn’t want to join his club (should I be a golfer) or visit Mar-a-Lago.

This tells me a lot about Trump (but I knew it already) and about the lifestyles of some people, but the op-ed does not in the least enlighten me. It is jerry built on the premise that this is all about white male privilege. Well, yes, Trump, is white and is assigned to that artificially constructed racial category. And, yes, he lives a life of privilege and seems heedless about many things he should care about or do something about. But this tells us nothing about white male privilege, or advances our understating of it; and, anyway, white male privilege is a code word used to enshroud weak, tendentious thinking.

Bill Clinton was a womanizer. He had an affair with an intern. Donald Trump is a womanizer and groper (or worse). Using them as my key examples upon which I construct a lead and build my case, I will write an opinion piece about male chauvinism or infidelity? They have a countless number of companions in the crime, and there are so many examples throughout history that such a piece would be meaningless. The only valid piece, approach, would be to begin with the topic of, say, male chauvinism, sexual predators, white privilege, or some such topic, define what is meant by it, and then proceed to show why it is a problem today, how it is not being acknowledged or addressed, etc. It might be a very boring piece, but at least one could conceive of such an approach. But to begin with Trump’s failings and outrageous behavior, and to then assert that this proves something about white male privilege is an a priori unsound and worthless endeavor. It amounts to this writer wanting to prove something — show us: that she is against white male privilege.

Rather than hanging her op-ed on the premise of white male privilege, the author could have merely written a piece — probably illustrated — showing what Trump has been up to in the past few weeks: mostly tweeting baseless complaints about the election having been stolen, watching television, and golfing. Then say that this is ridiculous and shows that he is not governing as he still should be and is, most importantly, not dealing with the pandemic in any way. That is enough to say, and although we already know it, the writer could give specific examples of Trump’s activities since the election and put in her two cents worth. Nothing wrong with that.

It’s as if I wrote an article. The head of the local school system was found to have been cheating for years, embezzling funds and neglecting kids’ education while enjoying luxuries and perks. The premise of my article is that corruption is pervasive; corrupt officials with a sense of entitlement are living a life of privilege and perks and see nothing wrong with this. (I might say, proving nothing, “White men in important positions are committing an awful lot of crime nowadays.”) Corruption has been going on forever, and most people don’t care about it. And so forth. Such an op-ed, though probably true with respect to the broad assertions made, would be worthless, would provide no enlightenment, as opposed to a news story about the official’s crimes, which would at least be informative.

In English composition we were taught the importance of choosing and identifying one’s thesis (main topic). The thesis of this op-ed, as the writer construes it, is white male privilege. A valid, workable and sustainable topic would have been, Donald Trump’s decadent behavior in the midst of a public health crisis in the waning days of his presidency.

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

    November 2020

POST UPDATED: generic writing (or how to say nothing in 430 plus words)

 

My post “generic writing (or how to say nothing in 430 plus words)” has been updated with new content. See

https://rogers-rhetoric.com/2020/06/01/generic-writing-or-how-to-say-nothing-in-430-plus-words/

 

— Roger W. Smith

“bombastic prose-poetry”

 

“Moralists come and go; religionists fulminate and declare the pronouncements of God as to this; but Aphrodite still reigns Embowered in the festal depths of the spring.”

— Theodore Dreiser, Dawn: An Autobiography of Early Youth

 

The words (characterization) “bombastic prose-poetry” are not mine. They are from Scott McLemee, “Keeping It Real,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, July 30, 2004.

 

posted by Roger W. Smith

    June 2020

generic writing (or how to say nothing in 430 plus words)

 

Reflections on This Moment

This is an unprecedented moment in our history; we all feel it. The pandemic continues to be deeply challenging for everyone, and tragic for too many. Now, the horrifying death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the protests that have followed are weighing heavily on all our minds. COVID-19 has magnified and exposed our most deeply embedded failings and fault lines. We stand with the Black community, our hearts aching for a country so divided by racial injustice, arrogance, and hatred. It’s hard not to be sad, not to be angry, and to remain hopeful.

In the face of cruelty, fear, and anxiety, we need to search for what we can still hold on to, what we can still believe in. We can all be proud that the mission of the Library—to educate, welcome and respect all perspectives, convene safe and productive conversations, and offer opportunity to all—directly combats divisiveness, ignorance, hate, and racism. It is and remains our founding idea: that everyone can learn and contribute, and must be respected. And in learning about others we learn about ourselves and hopefully find ways to live together, to embrace and better understand each other.

Our varied backgrounds and experiences within our city and society are our greatest source of strength: bringing new ideas and perspectives, teaching empathy, and shining a light on how we falter. But not if we close our eyes and ears to the lessons of diversity, rejecting the validity and equal value of experiences and lives other than our own. When we fail as a society to respect learning and each other, we become inhumane and untold tragedy follows.

We all have a responsibility to actively participate in our democracy as informed citizens, to collectively refine, demand, and enact justice. Educating ourselves further about the legacy of racial injustice in this country is a key piece of this.

The Library, your Library, is committed to enabling that learning. We will offer every tool, book, and collection we can, welcome and serve all, and encourage all to respect each other, learn together and from one another. All the accumulated knowledge we hold reminds us that we are capable, yes, of horror, but on balance, we are still capable together of imagining and achieving better.

For 125 years, whether in person or for now only online, we have led the fight against ignorance to support understanding, empathy, and solidarity. In this difficult moment, we reinforce our mission, and stand with all of our communities against injustice and racism.

Thank you, and please stay safe.

Yours,

Tony

Anthony W. Marx

President, The New York Public Library

June 1, 2020

 

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I am a devoted New York Public Library patron.

This message came in the form of an email.

I was hoping that Mr. Marx might say something about library services and plans for or the possibility of reopening.

If I may be permitted to do so, I ask what has Mr. Marx said here? Perhaps we have had similar thoughts in our private musings. But what is his purpose in writing this message? To library supporters and patrons. What has he said that might affect our views on anything one way or the other? And what does any of this have to do with the library, or Mr. Marx’s role as its president?

 

posted by Roger W. Smith

   June 1, 2020

 

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addendum, June 2

There have been similar posts this evening from other cultural institutions in the City such as the Park Avenue Armory and Queens Public Library.

It has occurred to me that what Mr. Marx and the other executives of these institutions are doing amounts to preening. They are using the tragic death of George Floyd to get credit for THEMSELVES and perhaps increased support for their institutions. Should I, should I be so inclined, put a post here stating the obvious: that I am greatly distressed about George Floyd’s death — to perhaps show myself in a good light as someone who cares? Should I, could I afford it, take out an advisement in a newspaper for the same purpose? What would the point be? All decent people feel the same way. Should I tell everyone that I do? Do they need to hear that? Would it do them good to hear it?

 

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addendum, June 10

The following are recent messages sent by email to alumni and members of the Brandeis University community by Brandeis University President Ronald D. Liebowitz.

 

June 1, 2020

Dear Members of the Brandeis Community,

George Floyd’s killing was cruel, inhumane, and contemptible. The injustice of violence against black people must stop.

The history of our great university is intertwined with the pursuit of justice. Brandeis was created in response to antisemitism and bigotry. We cannot tolerate discrimination, hatred, or violence against another person based on their race, religion, or background. These values are as important today as they were at our founding.

These are not just words or noble ideas. These are principles that inspire us at Brandeis to educate, to learn, and to act.

With that in mind, I join with Mark Brimhall-Vargas, chief diversity officer, in calling for us to come together, even if virtually. In the message Mark sent on Friday, he mentioned two different events happening this week. The Heller School is hosting a conference, “Co-Constructing Racial Justice through Life and Work.” And Mark will host “Coming Together to Face Systemic Racism.” I hope you will join me in attending both.

As Brandeisians, not all of our experiences are shared ones. We come from different backgrounds and have different perspectives. But I know that there are some things we have in common. This includes an unwavering commitment to justice, equity, and inclusion. It includes respecting other people, no matter their background.

I hope to see you at one of the events tomorrow or the next day. Let us come together to express our commitment to ending racist violence.

Sincerely,

Ron Liebowitz

 

June 9. 2020

Dear Members of the Brandeis Community,

Black Lives Matter.

Last week, I wrote to all of you saying violence against Black people must stop. The killing of George Floyd by police was inhuman, contemptible, and tragic. We gathered together virtually, and I heard many of you express outrage, fear, and the exhaustion of living with cruel racism in your lives and on our campus.

I said then that we must do more; we must do better.

In that spirit, I am announcing an initiative that will transform our campus and address systemic racism. I have asked key administrators to develop and submit action plans in the next 90 days.

• These action plans must include ongoing, significant engagement with members of the campus community. We must listen, and understand the kinds of systemic racism, bias, and ill-treatment experienced by Black members of our community. But we must go further than dialogue and understanding. We must rapidly move toward concrete change.

• The action plans I am calling for must be transformational, including new approaches regarding the roles and responsibilities of Public Safety, the Department of Community Living, Human Resources, Athletics, the Academy, and all of us who are charged with creating and sustaining a safe, respectful environment for learning and living.

• Action plans must be developed with broad input from diverse constituencies. Black students, Black student organizations, other students of color, other student organizations, faculty, members of each of the aforementioned departments, and other staff should all be invited to be part of the drafting process.

I am asking the following administrators to develop and submit these action plans by September 1:

• Executive Vice President Stew Uretsky, Vice President of Campus Operations Lois Stanley, Vice President for Human Resources Robin Switzer, and Director of Public Safety and Chief of Police Ed Callahan for the plans for Public Safety and Human Resources

•Vice Provost for Student Affairs Raymond Ou, Assistant Dean of Student Affairs Tim Touchette, and Director of Athletics Lauren Haynie for the plans for Community Living, Residential Life, and Athletics

• Provost Lisa Lynch, Dean Eric Chasalow, Dean Dorothy Hodgson, Dean Katy Graddy, Dean David Weil, and Vice President Lynne Rosansky for the plan for the Academy and its constituent Schools

Despite concerted efforts to address past incidents on campus, discrimination and bias continue to be issues for us at Brandeis. While we have piloted a number of initiatives, most of them voluntary in nature, across the university, we are committed to a more comprehensive approach to addressing racism in order to build stronger, more respectful relationships within the community.

Our university was founded on principles of inclusion that are as relevant today as they were in 1948. As I said at the community virtual gathering last week, we have not always lived up to our ideals, but those ideals — our values — point us in the right direction. The administration and I are committed to moving beyond “business as usual” and requesting voluntary efforts for change. We must work together to build a community that is diverse, welcoming, and free from bias and discrimination.

Sincerely,

Ron Liebowitz

 

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These communiqués are similar to the above email sent by Anthony W. Marx, President of the New York Public Library, on June 1.

I am a Brandeis University alumnus. The school has always been a liberal, forward looking place, in terms of views on the issues and the university community. University President Liebowitz feels it is incumbent upon him — he has taken upon himself, as have administrators of all sorts of educational and cultural institutions — to articulate his views at this time as the voice of the university.

But what has he said? What do these communiqués tell us? Why is he writing?

Because he feels he ought to say something.

President Liebowitz says in his first communiqué: “We cannot tolerate discrimination, hatred, or violence against another person based on their race, religion, or background. These values are as important today as they were at our founding.” And, in the second, he writes: “We gathered together virtually [after the murder of George Floyd], and I heard many of you express outrage, fear, and the exhaustion of living with cruel racism in your lives and on our campus.”

This is so vague as to be meaningless.

If there are racial injustices embedded in university policies — or in present campus realities — President Liebowitz could have said what they were, without necessarily going into detail. Then, we could see what they were; what problems he feels the university should address; and steps he is contemplating or undertaking. No such problems or injustices are mentioned. They are conspicuous by the absence of any mention of them.

So why should one read these communiqués? President Liebowitz did mention that the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis was hosting two conferences on addressing the problem of systematic racism. They don’t sound interesting to me, but at least this is informative.

Here, in essence, is the letter I would have written: We deplore the murder of George Floyd. We deplore the racism endemic in our society and the murder of our black citizens. We are ever mindful of these issues and are holding two virtual conferences this week that you may wish to attend. …

 

— Roger W. Smith

   post updated June 10, 2020