In the world of fine arts, every creator must grapple every day with the same question: How much is too much? How much is not enough?
These are judgment calls. Some symphony lovers believe that Beethoven should have stopped after his Eighth, or at least have killed the singers in his Ninth. Looking at the literary world, one thinks of Poe's bells and their incessant tintinnabulation: Would three or four bells have sufficed? How many adjectives are too many adjectives?
Today's meditations are prompted in part by an obituary for veteran actor Harvey Korman. He had appeared in many well-remembered films, among them “a couple versions” of the Pink Panther comedies. Couple versions?
Let us recur to the long-ago maxims of professor Will Strunk. His Rule 13 was, “Omit Needless Words!” Be not redundant! Should the writer have recalled “a couple OF versions?” In this case, Rule 13 must be broken. My ear demands the “of.” The sentence gets herky-jerky without it.
How do we identify Unwelcome Redundancy? How do we define “needless”? Merriam-Webster is a big help. The adjective means “not needed; unnecessary.”
Eileen M. Jones of Medford, Ore., sends along a simile from the Medford Mail Tribune about a scenic landmark: “As one of Oregon's oldest surviving covered bridges, the span over the Applegate River has been saved more times than a repentant sinner at an old-time tent revival.”
Were all the words necessary words? Suppose the writer had stopped after “repentant sinner.” How much bobtailing is too much bobtailing? It's a judgment call.