In Terms of a Response

The following quote specifically addresses superfluous, and apparently non-expert verbal speech (I don’t necessarily agree with Newman on everything here, but he makes some interesting and humorous observations):

“In March, 1974, the White House press secretary, Ron Ziegler, explained a request for a four-day extension of a subpoena from the Watergate prosecutor for certain files. The extension was needed, Ziegler said, so that James St. Clair, President Nixon’s attorney, could ‘evaluate and make a judgment in terms of a response.’

We are all of us ready to man the barricades for the right to evaluate and make a judgment in terms of a response, but Ziegler could have said that St. Clair wanted more time to think about it. That he didn’t is a commentary on the state of language in the United States, and the state of the language is a commentary on the state of our society. It must be obvious that our society, like our language, is in serious trouble when a man who represents the President speaks of evaluating and making a judgment in terms of a response” (Edwin Newman, Strictly Speaking, pp. 13-14).

To paraphrase Strunk & White’s Elements of Style, “in terms of” is a piece of padding that is best omitted.  But as Newman seems to imply, Ziegler’s entire sentence needs to be crumpled and tossed.  Take a fresh piece of paper and start over.

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