Use Figurative And Connotative
Language Sparingly





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Use figurative and connotative language sparingly. Except for those who write scientific and technical articles, few writers would claim that they always use neutral language that has no emotional content. Nor would they want to anyone who wants to write colorful and engaging prose that involves people will use vigorous language at times and will want to use images and metaphors. Images and Metaphors are seldom neutral.


Notice their effect in this paragraph by William Zinsser:


I was the smallest of boys, late to grow, living in a society of girls who shot up like mutants and were five – foot –nine by the age of twelve. Nowhere was the disparity sharper than at the dances I was made to attend throughout my youth. The tribal rules required every boy to bring a gardenia to the girl who invited him, which he would pin to the bosom of her gown. Too young to appreciate the bosom, I was just tall enough for my nose to be pressed into the gardenia I had brought to adorn it. The sickly smell of that flower was like chloroform as I lurched round and round the dance floor. Talk was almost out of the question. My lofty partner was just as isolated and resentful. (
William Zinsser : Inventing The Truth)


And the author of a report about corruption in college sports issued by the knight commission in June 2001 uses passionate language to convince readers that colleges and universities are damaging their institutions through commercialization.


Here is an excerpt fro the report.


Major college sports do far more damage to the university, to its student and faculty, its leadership, its reputation and credibility than most realize or at least are willing to admit. The ugly disciplinary incident, outrageous academic fraud, dismal graduation relates and uncontrolled expenditures surrounding college sports reflect what Duderstadt and others have rightly characterized as an entertainment industry that is not only the antithesis of academic values but is corrosive and corruptive to the academic enterprise. (
Knight Report : A Call to Action)


In these paragraphs, the authors use vivid language to engage their readers’ emotions - Zinsser to evoke a nostalgic image from his childhood (shot up like mutants, tribal rules, sickly smell, lurched around and round), the Knight Report to stir outrage about the way money has corrupted college sports (ugly, outrageous, dismal and so on). Both are using connotation – the power of words to suggest much more than their bare – bones dictionary definitions include – but they’re doing so responsibly and openly. That’s the key : responsibility. You can use emotional language for effect, but don’t conceal your position and your purpose from your readers.


Other Pages in This Section :


Choose A Good Title.

Write Strong Leads.

Keep Your Writing Tight And Unified.

Keep Your Sentences and Paragraphs to a Reasonable Length.

Chunk Your Writing Into Manageable Units.

Avoid Antagonizing Your Readers.

Make Your Writing Look Good.

Avoid Stereotypes And Offensive Labeling.

Maintain A Civil Tone.










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