Scientific English as a Foreign Language
Answers to Lesson of January 20, 1999

Verbose is an adjective that means "characterized by use of too many words." You do not want verbose, flowery, wordy, superfluous, redundant, excessively descriptive manuscripts. Better they be terse and pithy. The following two examples highlight the effect of excess verbiage.

It's not always easy for a non-native speaker to shorten and simplify text. But you can seek out phrases that can be replaced by a single word. The phrases below can be replaced by because, now, approximately, about, although, or soon.

Inspiration for this exercise was taken from "Getting the Words Right", by T.A.R. Cheney, Writer's Digest Books, Cincinnati (1990).

A philosopher, a physicist and a mathematician are scheduled to prove their survivability. Therefore they are to be incarcerated in different cells, each having a closed can of corned beef and no can opener.

The philosopher goes first. After two weeks, the cell is opened and the philosopher is found dead, the can still closed. He must have died thinking about a way to open it.

The physicist goes second. Two weeks later he is found with the whole wall filled with formulas, munching happily on his corned beef.

Last goes the mathematician. Two weeks later the door is opened. The can is still there, untouched but the mathematician has disappeared. Suddenly the jailor hears a knocking from inside the can. After he opens the can, he discovers the mathematician sitting inside, scratching his beard and mumbling, "There must have been something wrong with the prefix."

-submitted by Ernst Schnell

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Created January 20, 1999, by Nancy Burnham and Fred Hutson.