Friday, July 2, 2010

A recurring theme

I saw this line in a wire story today -- Rendell said Thursday that if those differences persisted and legislators took no action on the bills in the next 10 days, he would be required under the state constitution to veto the hard-fought budget -- and, as I stumbled over what exactly a "hard-fought budget" would be, I figured I'd point out (not for the first time) about modifiers and why they're silly sometimes.

 Obviously the writer is trying to tell you, in two words, that legislators have really wrestled over this budget. But to me, using "hard-fought" to modify budget is a lazy and, when you think about it, ineffective way to do it.

I don't think a budget itself can be "hard-fought" any more than it can be "purple-tinged" or "foul-smelling" or
"mouse-quiet." You could describe the process as hard-fought, maybe. But why attach a modifier to it at all? Why not trust your reporting and writing skills and write a sentence that says, "Legislators worked 16-hour days and argued for weeks over spending cuts and taxes," for example?

It's the same as writing "tragic accident" or "uplifting victory." Just show the reader what happened. Those little modifiers don't do nearly the work we sometimes think they do.