Cutting Out Lard

In Revising Prose, Richard Lanham lambastes writers for composing sentences fattened with meaningless "lard." Lanham offers his "Paramedic Method" for cutting out a sentence's fat and reducing its "lard factor."

On this page, we'll look at Lanham's method and even try it out. But first we'll look at a couple of other quick ways to reduce excess verbiage and practice our four prose principles: rhythm, balance, simplicity, and humor.

Eliminating Adverbs & Intensifiers

In order to write, you have to hate adverbs
              -- Theordore Roethke

Revising to enliven
Letting the force of verbs become absorbed into adverbial "intensifiers" weakens prose.

Eliminating adverbs and intensifiers
We use adverbs and intensifiers to kick up our writing's energy. Unfortunately, these speech parts just add more drag to our prose. Reducing adverbs and intensifiers, on the other hand, puts the force where it belongs.

The first step is easy: eliminate all intensifiers.
"Intensifiers" are adverbs meant to strengthen other modifiers, whether adjectives or adverbs. But they rarely do. Words like very, extremely, incredibly, exceedingly, remarkably, etc. can all be eliminated because their meanings can be contained in the terms they modify.

For example, a monster isn't "very ugly"; it's "hideous," "repugnant" or, well, "monstrous." And a child's cheeks don't need to turn "extremely red" when they can turn "scarlet." Nor does a woman need to walk away "very quickly"; if she just walks away "quickly" or "fast," we get the picture.

The second step follows on the first: eliminate adverbs altogether and let verbs carry full force.
The woman who "walks away quickly" darts off, races away, whizzes, zips, or zooms. Again, you get the picture and the point. Verbs express action, and they should convey the action's full force. Don't let your verbs sag, only to pump them up with unnecessary adverbs.

X-out all the intensifiers and other adverbs in your essay, replacing them with more forceful descriptors and verbs.

Forgotten what an adverb is?
Click here and sing along!

Eliminating Expletives

Revising to enliven
Static "be-verbs" deaden prose. Expletives often introduce these lifeless constructions. Avoid them whenever you can.

Eliminating expletives
The term expletive refers to any word in English that contributes no real meaning to a sentence. Curse words and obscenities fall into this category because they express only the speaker's emotion, not a particular attribute of the subject itself, as in "Close the darn door" (as opposed to "Close the barn door").

Other meaningless filler-words are the more benign it and there when they appear in such constructions as "It is my opinion that ..." or "There was a look in her eye that ...."

Though less offensive than obscenities, perhaps, these constructions are just as devoid of meaning and destructive to prose. They put filler in the front of a sentence, move meaning to the back, reduce active verbs to is or are, and consign the sentence's real action to a dependent clause. They are a way of putting of saying what we mean with an overly long wind-up before the pitch.

There was something in Mr. Waldman's speech that struck a chord with Victor.

It is Victor's response that echoes the chilling histories of past leaders, scientists, or lawmakers who had unlimited power in mind.

What makes matters worse is that, unlike Frankenstein's monster, we have language to express those emotions.

It was almost as though such an incredible amount of fear had overcome his spirit that he was unable to regain his wits and save Elizabeth before the monster could kill her in the next room.

Recast each sample sentence to eliminate the expletive construction. Then x-out every such construction in your own essay and rewrite the sentence.

If you can, also locate every other be-verb construction in your draft and recast the sentence using an active, transitive verb instead. For instance, "is indicative of" would become "indicates" or "were in possession of" would become simply "possessed."

Lanham's Lard Factor & the Paramedic Method

In Revising Prose, Lanham criticizes writers for composing sentences that "have been assembled from strings of prepositional phrases glued together by that all-purpose epoxy 'is'" (3). He opens his book thus:

Since we all live in a bureaucracy these days, it's not surprising that we end up writing like bureaucrats. Nobody feels comfortable writing simply "Bill loves Marge." The system requires something like "A romantic relationship is ongoing between Bill and Marge...." Or still better, "One can easily see that an interactive romantic relationship is currently being fulfilled between Bill and Marge." (1)

As a cure for flabby bureaucratic prose, Lanham offers his "Paramedic Method" for cutting out the sentence's fat and reducing its "lard factor." It goes like this:

Take a sentence
Highlight or circle the prepositions (at, in, on, to, of, for, etc.).
Highlight or circle the "is" forms.
Ask, "Where is the action?" "Who's kicking whom?"
Put this "kicking" action in a simple active verb.
Put the "who" in the subject spot.
Start fast - no slow wind-ups.

Applying Lanham's method
Takes this sentence for example:

In response to the issue of equality for educational and occupational mobility, it is my belief that a system of gender inequality exists in the school system.

After highlighting the prepositions and be-verbs, Lanham suggests, realign the sentence:

 In response
 to the issue
 of equality
 for educational and occupational mobility
 it is my belief that a system
 of gender inequality exists
 in the school system.

We can now locate the sentence's dormant action: "it is my belief."
Change the is-form to produce an active verb: "I believe."
Eliminate all unnecessary prepositional phrases and qualifiers.
Recast the sentence: "I believe gender inequality exists in the schools."

According to Lanham's analysis, we now have replaced a 26-word sentence with an equally meaningful 9-word sentence. The 17-word reduction yields a "lard factor" of 65%.

Try the Paramedic Method on this sentence
The point I wish to make is that the employees working at this company are in need of a much better manager of their money.

Locate at least three lard-filled sentences in your own essay that could benefit from the Parademic Method and perform it on them.