Tuesday, 14 January 2020

But

I overuse the word "but" in both poetry and prose. I'm not the only one - when I read Margaret Drabble's "Jerusalem the Golden" I noticed on page 10 that it has a sequence of sentences which hinge on "but", "but", "but", "but", "but", "but" ... "nevertheless", "however, though", "though", "and yet".

I looked up alternatives ("although", "despite", "however", "yet", "nevertheless", etc). Using them helped a little. I then resorted to using alternative phrases in my work ("Having said that", "on the other hand", "even so", "for all his wealth, he was still sad", etc).

In a book about therapy I read about the technique of replacing "but" by the non-judgemental "and" - e.g. using "he's cute and he's a scientist" rather than "he's cute but he's a scientist". This challenges the underlying thought-pattern - the root of my stylistic problem. The underlying thesis-antithesis rhythm's ok for representing disappointment and dashed hopes (which is why Drabble uses it, I guess). It needn't be used at the sentence level so often though, even if the piece as a whole is structured along thesis, antithesis, (then maybe synthesis) lines.

Using "and" instead of "but" reduces structural detail and contrast, but opposition is the most simplistic of structures. Using "and" to make lists lets the reader decide what the contrasts are.

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