The Efficient Style

As a result of t he general passion for efficiency, an ancient and useful, though modest, member of the parts of speech is marked for the scrap-heap. Not by systematic propaganda, but by their practice, the efficiency experts have indicated their programme of reform. Their goal, to express it in their own style, is prexposition elimination, and their method is compound formation.

I am aware that the expressions just used are not remarkable, either for euphony or for perspicuity. The absence of these old-fashioned qualities, however, does not trouble the pragmatical exponents of the efficient style. From their point of view, which for the moment I am trying to adopt, the highest good is space-utilization. If a line to the page may be saved by the use of prepositionless phrases formed by substantive juxtaposition, who but a foe to conservation would oppose such plainly demonstrable economy? Of course this reform, like simplified spelling and all other great progressive movements, will have to overcome the stubborn conservatism of a few reactionaries. Against statistics of the actual saving in inches per page, certain sentimental pedants and purists will weigh nice distinctions of meaning and purely subjective considerations of taste and connotation. These selfish enemies of posterity would seek to thwart a noble altruistic movement by a miserable de gustibus. They would not be willing to lop off a few needless words or letters, even to give the printers an eight-hour day or to relieve a shortage of wood-pulp at the paper mills.

As in the case of simplified spelling, so in this instance, it will be better not to attempt too sweeping a reform all at once. In order to popularize the antipreposition movement, it might be well for a committee to recommend a select list of prepositionless phrases. Timid writers could begin by adopting these expressions bodily and could later attempt word-combinations of their own. The great saving of mental exertion made possible by the new system would prove a strong argument in its favor. Difficulties in the choice between prepositions would be removed by doing away with the prepositions themselves. Take for example the sentence, ‘The speaker compared the German fleet with that of Great Britain.’ Some writers would hesitate between the alternatives, ‘compared with’ and ‘compared to,’ and could not write one without a disquieting feeling that they should have used the other. An easy way out of the dilemma would be to write, in the approved style of the efficiency experts, ‘The speaker made a GermanBritish fleet-comparison.’ To be sure, the juggling of substantives might be somewhat awkward at first, but with a little practice the average writer could become as skillful as the makers of newspaper headlines. Let him learn wisdom from such puzzling but spacesaving captions as ‘Wilson Opposition Increases,’which he who runs is expected to read. Let him study the writings of technical men, who turn out such masterpieces of prepositionless style as, ‘ Motor-car cost-reduction and car-selling-system efficiency combine to produce an unparalleled car-sales volume.’

Despite the convincing arguments of space-saving and mental ease, let me repeat, the advocates of the efficient style will need courage and persistence in order to extend their reform. Scoffers will perhaps term the new language a ‘recrudescence of Carlylese.’ They may even stigmatize it as ‘an insidious linguistic Pan-Germanism.’ But the friends of true reform should not be disheartened. They should think only of the great service which they are rendering to posterity by introducing economy and simplicity into the language. They should look forward to a time when eloquent prepositionless tributes will be paid to the pioneers in this important movement for the amelioration of style. And if such oft-reiterated praise has been bestowed upon the mythical benefactor of humanity who made two blades of grass grow where one grew before, what shall be said of the language reformers who make two words suffice where three wore formerly required?