That's short for "omit needless words", Will Strunk's famous injunction
to writers. Until today, I hadn't realized there was an ONW poem,
but there is: the preface to Maurice Sagoff's book ShrinkLits
is the following
"condensed" version of The Elements
"Omit needless words!"
Said Strunk to White.
With words --
-- The core --
P'raps not ...
Let's see ...
"Er -- I mean 'Quite!'
Or, simply, 'Right!' "
(Thanks to Rowyn McDonald for supplying me with the poem.)
A somewhat different, but also entertaining, take on ONW came from
Geoff Pullum last July, when he wrote me:
I offer you a Goedelian paradox...
Consider the advice, "Omit needless words". Why not omit the word
"needless" here? You should, if the word "needless" is needless
in this context. Is it? Well, if it is needless, you should
omit it, and say simply, "Omit words". But then you have not
given the right advice about which words to omit. So the word
"needless" must be needed. Why is it needed? The sentence
"Omit words" does make sense. The problem is that it clearly
gives bad advice unless it is understood in terms of omitting words
that are NOT NEEDED. But if it HAS TO
be understood thus, then "needless" is predictable in this context,
just from common sense. Therefore "needless" should be
omitted. But then you have not given the right advice about which
words to omit. So the word "needless" must be needed... Do
you get a sense of where I'm going with this?
zwicky at-sign csli period stanford period edu
Posted by Arnold Zwicky at January 24, 2007 04:25 PM