Thursday, October 22, 2009

Less is not more

I was just reading about a moonless night and thought about all those words ending in less. Somehow a lot of them don't work very well for me.

Am I alone in seeing a picture of a moon in my mind's eye when I read moonless and then having to purge that from my thoughts to get to the intended meaning? When I read
The moonless night was interrupted by a bright flash of light.
the first image that came to mind was a night scene bright with moonlight. Now if the author had written dark I would have been with him straight away. I have a similar problem with spotless which brings up a picture of spots for me, whereas immaculate doesn't. (I know it comes from macula = spot but I'm not fluent enough in Latin for that to be an issue for me.)

Dauntless doesn't have the same effect, presumably because daunt isn't a word I use regularly and when I do meet it it's mostly in the negative, as in undaunted.

Mostly, I think words ending in less are best avoided, especially if the alternative is shorter and more direct. What do you think?

14 COMMENTS:

Scarlet-Blue said...

I misread 'dauntless' as 'doubtless', which is a more familiar word to me... speed reading also plays a part with interpretation.
Sx

Bevie said...

I have to confess I hadn't thought about it, but I do have the same reaction to the 'less' words. I see the moon and have to purge it. Same with a good many of the other 'less' words: it's there and then has to be removed.

Just counted. I have 25 'less' words in my 136,000-word story.

Whirlochre said...

You may be on to something here.

And like Bevie, it looks like I'm going to have to run a check...

Sophie in the Moonlight said...

Do you think the issue with -less words has to do with your mind's eye? Spotless and moonless are visual words, dauntless and doubtless are not.

When I read your examples, I was peevish, too. 'Tis a sloppy writer who creates a world for her or his readers and then asks the readers to go back and erase that last part for the author.
"Not moonlit night, moonless night," said the tasteless writer to his audience. To which they all replied, "Huh? Okay. If you say so."

The.Effing.Librarian said...

not a great sentence. "moonless" doesn't mean dark if we're near a city. moonless just means that the moon is normally visible, but now is not. just as spotless means that "I" normally exist in a spotted world and this thing is not. does the author use these words to enhance this world or are they just thrown around lazily? some writers don't even understand the narrative voice. if he used moonless when he meant dark, then moonless is the wrong word.

writtenwyrdd said...

I think it depends. Sometimes the rythm calls for a particular syllabic content, ya know? Or perhaps you want to go more Anglo Saxon versus French. I mean, nothing gets to nitty gritty like older English words (aka Anglo Saxon) and high falutin' like French-origin English words.

Bee said...

I've never thought of this before, either, although I often think about words and ponder word meanings.

Moonless seems to be a particularly problematic (and therefore pointed) example.

Have you ever read Anne Fadiman's Ex Libris? It's an entire books of essays about reading/books/words -- and totally delightful.

Bee said...

How do you feel about regardless? I like that one.

I also like shameless, for some reason. Timeless is good, too.

fairyhedgehog said...

Scarlet, I think you've got a point there and I do read very quickly!

Bevie, 25 out of 136,000 isn't very many and maybe some of them need to stay!

Whirl, maybe it's not all 'less' words, just some of them.

Sophie, that makes sense. It is the visual words that are giving me trouble.

effing, you're right. 'moonless' and 'dark' aren't synonyms. Maybe in the right context 'moonless' would be just the right word.

writtenwyrdd, it's a tricky one. There's the visual aspect and yet as you point out the rhythm is important too.

Bee, another book for my Christmas wish list? Santa's going to need an awfully big sack.

I love 'timeless' too. Maybe it's just the visual words that don't work for me.

Richard N said...

'Moonless' works perfectly well for me - maybe because I grew up in a very rural area where 'moonless' meant 'more than just ordinary dark'.

Most 'townies' have no idea what the word 'dark' really means...

Scott from Oregon said...

I like "hopeless" and "pointless" and joyless"...

At least as descriptors...

fairyhedgehog said...

Richard, I suspect you're right. I'm an incorrigible townie, I'm afraid.

Scott, I think I may have overreacted to the less words. "Hopeless", "pointless" and "joyless" are indeed all good - so to speak.

Tara said...

I'd never thought about it before. Interesting point.

fairyhedgehog said...

Tara, thank you!

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