“Wens and hypertrophied members” (courtesy Fowler & Fowler)

Guess how many Wens are in this photo ...

Guess how many Wens are in this photo … (answer below)

In a section called “Euphony” in their book The King’s English, H. W. Fowler and F. G. Fowler give the following advice to writers, under a rather bizarre subheading:

“Wens and Hypertrophied Members”

“No sentence is to be condemned for mere length; a really skilful writer can fill a page with one and not tire his reader, though a succession of long sentences without the relief of short ones interspersed is almost sure to be forbidding. But the tiro, and even the good writer who is not prepared to take the trouble of reading aloud what he has written, should confine himself to the easily manageable. The tendency is to allow some part of a sentence to develop unnatural proportions, or a half parenthetic insertion to separate too widely the essential parts. The cure, indispensable for every one who aims at a passable style, and infallible for any one who has a good ear, is reading aloud after writing.”

They then go on to give more specific examples of the ‘wens and hypertrophied members’ about which they seem to be complaining:

“1. Disproportionate insertions [… see examples in book]

2. Sentences of which the end is allowed to trail on to unexpected length. [… see examples in book]

3. Decapitable sentences. Perhaps the most exasperating form is that of the sentence that keeps on prolonging itself by additional phrases, each joint of which gives the reader hopes of a full stop.”

And here, for the benefit of anyone who doesn’t quite get any of the above, is a useful glossary of terms:

* wen: 2. a spot, a blemish, a stain, (lit. & fig.). 3. transf. & fig. An unsightly or disfiguring addition etc.; esp. a large and congested city. (OED) There are at least 4 Wens pictured above, including the Great Wen of Great Britain.

** hypertrophy: The enlargement of an organ or tissue from the increase in size of its cells.

*** euphony: The quality of being pleasing to the ear

**** tiro: a beginner or novice

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