Screaming Bore Such

In fact, the rock and roller and aspiring parliamentarian formally known as the third earl of Harrow spelled his stage name and nom de politique “Screaming Lord Sutch,” but I needed a headline for this column about eradicating the phrase “such as” from your writing.

I found this sentence recently in a piece I was editing: “The Pan American Health Organization has reported outbreaks and increasing numbers of patients with diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis, measles, and diphteria.”

So what’s wrong with that? Technically, nothing. But “such as” is such a clunker of a word-pair to drop into an otherwise compelling sentence. It adds no real information; it just sets up a list. This is better: “The Pan American Health Organization has reported outbreaks and increasing numbers of patients with such diseases as malaria, tuberculosis, measles, and diptheria.”

See how much more swiftly the sentence moves? All it takes is moving the “such” to a position in front of collective noun — in this case, “diseases” — instead of after it and you not only excise that two-word tumor in the middle of your sentence; you also rid yourself of a comma. Try it yourself on any sentence containing “such as.” You’ll be amazed. And you’ll be amazed at how often writers fail to make this simple improvement.

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