题目 Contest Sentence:
“About a half century ago, computers were quite large by comparison to today’s computers, pretty unreliable, very difficult to operate, and almost considered a technology without a future.”
正确解答 Answer: We believe the best revision is… “Fifty years ago, computers were large compared to today’s models, unreliable, difficult to operate, and considered a technology without a future.”
我们相信最佳写法应为 “Fifty years ago, computers were large compared to today’s models, unreliable, difficult to operate, and considered a technology without a future.”
This sentence reduces the word count to 21 from 28, mostly by eliminating weasel words. What is weasel wording? It is phraseology that hedges rather than declares. In this case, the writer hedged by writing earlier computers were “quite large,” rather than flat-out saying they were large, especially when placed side by side with today's hand-held units. Other weasel words are “pretty” and “very” and “almost.” While such modifiers have their legitimate uses, they are only fillers in this sentence.
剔除遁辞后，句子从28个字变成21个字。什么是遁辞？使用遁辞就是用字闪烁其词，不直接说明。例句里，作者取巧地说，和今天的手提电脑相比，早期的电脑「相当大」(“quite large”) ，而非直截了当地说电脑很大。其他遁辞还有 “pretty”、“very” 与 “almost”。这些修饰语有其适切的用法，但在本例中只是滥竽充数。
The introductory phrase, “About a half century ago,” is unnecessarily vague. A quick check of computer history shows that it would have been accurate to say “Fifty years ago…,” or for that matter 55 years ago. Instead, the lazy writer opted to use tired and imprecise “about” phrasing. In another place, the writer used two passive words—“by comparison”—instead of “compared,” a more forceful expression. Not only does the passive construction slow down a reader, it lengthens the sentence without vivifying it.
开头句“About a half century ago” 很模糊，可以更精准的表达，稍微查证一下电脑的历史，就知道用50 年前(“Fifty years ago…,”) 才正确，更精确点，应该说55年前。但是作者却偷懒，用老套含糊的 “about” 表达；此外，作者还用了被动说法 “by comparison”，而非更有力的 “compared”。被动结构不仅让人读得慢，也拉长句子，难以让句子更生动。
Writers make a mistake when they believe readers of academic papers—usually professors—are OK with trudging to a conclusion, rather than being propelled to the end by active, direct word choices. Writers also err in believing that dropping in modifiers and otherwise fudging instead of writing with exactness goes unnoticed by these same professors. This is a helpful rule of thumb for a writer of a paper: The heavier and more insipid the subject, the more direct and animated the writing must be. Content is gold, but gold is heavy; lift it with exact, robust language.