About the blog: What Things Are Made Of


The United States relies on imports for dozens of commodities in everyday use. Often enough, that reliance is 100%. In this book I aim to provide awareness of the hidden geology and mineralogy behind common things, and to develop an appreciation for the global resource distribution that underpins our society. While concerns about oil import reliance are in the news every day, our needs for other minerals are comparable and are typically unknown even to technologically aware Americans.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

My battle with “of”

I think scientists generally put lots of “ofs” in their writing. At least I do. I know it, I hate it, and I still do it.

Combined with the discovery of the vast copper resources of Chile, this spelled the beginning of the demise of the copper business of the United States. 

One of my first editors, my friend Sally Lawrence, read that line (and the plethora of other prepositions I had peppered my prose with) and wrote “Oh woe is me—prepositions are the downfall of many a good geologist.” I find now that I must force Word to highlight all my “ofs” so that I can ruthlessly, tediously reduce their number. I have trouble avoiding the word: I’m so accustomed to writing things like “the geology of Canada contributed to its position as one of the world’s leaders in production of mineral resources” – yikes! When I see that now, I really cringe! (But only when I’m on alert, in editor mode, and watching for such literary atrocities.)

But at least overuse of “of” can be repaired. Or maybe I should lose the “ofs” and say “I can overcome this problem.” Sometimes.

I’m prone to happily split an infinitive here and there, and I agree with Winston Churchill’s lines ending in prepositions, at least occasionally. And “of” is a useful and necessary word. I’m just trying aggressively to improve my writing by controlling its unchecked spread.

I hope you like the revised sentence about Chile’s copper. It may not be perfect, but at least it’s a little better, I think!

Combined with vast copper discoveries in Chile, decreased demand drove the U.S. copper industry into a long, generally downward spiral.


David Schultz said...

That was helpful, We engineers are guilty of of overdose (see) as well. Thanks.

Richard Gibson said...

Thanks Dave!