HomeWritersLiterary AgentsEditorsPublishersResourcesDiscussion
Forum Login | Join the discussion
+ Reply to Thread
Results 1 to 10 of 10

Thread: "But" check.

  1. #1
    Goliardys
    Guest

    "But" check.

    Following on from the thread about checking certain overused words, let me say something about "but" - a word that fascinates me. I first started checking my "buts" just to make sure I didn't have two close together, and then I realised that many of them had been superfluous in the first place.

    Take the sentence I have just written, for instance. I could have said "but then I realised", which would have been unnecessarily reductive. A "but" should take away part of the force from the preceding thought (as in "he had lost his job but he still had his self respect"), not add to it.

    Here's an example of a change I made on that principle:

    There were many Filipinos in the camp, but he knew every one of them.

    to:

    There were many Filipinos in the camp, and he knew every one of them.

    And even when the second thought opposes the first, the strength of the opposition may need no "but" to introduce it. I have strengthened my prose by changes of the following sorts:

    He smiled at one or two of them, but they didn't smile back.

    to:

    He smiled at one or two of them. They didn't smile back.

    and:

    He tried to fight back, but with three women on him he stood no chance.

    to:

    He tried to fight back. With three women on him he stood no chance.

    etc.

    When I check "buts" now I aim to remove them if I can. I reckon I can reduce their number from any piece of my prose by three quarters. The ones that remain have to perform an essential adversative function.

    *

    Many published authors do use the superflous "but", in my opinion. For example this, by that otherwise delightful author "Deborah Wright":

    While she, what did she have? A job which everyone thought was so prestigious but she quite liked. (The Rebel Fairy.)

    Goliardys.



  2. #2
    Elizabeth
    Guest

    Re: "But" check.

    But me no buts, as I always say :-)

  3. #3
    Gary Kessler
    Guest

    Re: "But" check.

    Of course there are many more "ands" in a normal manuscript than there are "buts," so the first example on knowing the Filipinos hasn't gotten you anywhere really, unless you have a "thing" about "buts" that you don't have about "ands."

  4. #4
    Goliardys
    Guest

    Re: "But" check.

    "And" joins two clauses; "but" sets them in opposition.

    The amended sentence is better than the original not because it saves words but because it is, though less ambitious, simpler and clearer. "But" in the first sentence strained to do too much: it tried to enforce the thought that this guy knew every one of the Filipinos in the camp, despite there being so many of them. That notion may be implicit in the sentence; it is not made explicit, and so "but" is not required.

    I have now looked this issue up in Fowler, who says this:

    "A writer having in his mind two facts of opposite tendency, and deciding to give them in two opposite and contrasting sentences connected by "but", forgets that the mere presence of the opposed facts is not enough to justify "but"; the sentences must be so expressed that the total effect of one is opposed to that of the other." (Modern English Usage.)


    Goliardys.

  5. #5
    Richard F.
    Guest

    Re: "But" check.

    I did a butt check and it's gone!

  6. #6
    Roger Duval
    Guest

    Re: "But" check.

    I see a budding comedy routine here!

  7. #7
    Pamela Taylor
    Guest

    Re: "But" check.

    You guys are going to drive me crazy!!! Last night I was trying to write and got to a sentence that joined in the middle with "but then." So much for my spontaneous flow of writing! I just had to stop and wonder if a simple "and" would be better or maybe a simple "but" or a simple "then" and if I was truly trying to put a opposition between the action the hero was going to take and the action he finally decided to take. Guess what, I decided (five minutes later) that but then was justified!

    Jeesh! No more reading threads about language usage!

    Pamela

  8. #8
    Bob Kellogg
    Guest

    Re: Butt check.

    Richard, I'm with you. I couldn't concentrate on the problem. Butt checks kept intruding.

    So what are you going to do to replace it? I don't think you'll get any offers.

    Bob K.

  9. #9
    Goliardys
    Guest

    Re: Butt check.

    Pamela, maybe those five minutes were worth it.

    My own method is to write any old go-to-hell way and only refine the "buts" and so forth right during the final draft. It may be a small matter, like picking fluff off my coat, but it makes me feel better.

    *

    As for "butt" checks, I once had a girlfriend who checked her butt with a hand-mirror before she went out. I found that sexy but appallingly vain. She did look corking in tight jeans, though.

    Goliardys.

  10. #10
    Pamela Taylor
    Guest

    Re: Butt check.

    LOL. Save that one for your novel, Goliardys!

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts