Helen Sword’s NYT Opinionator essay on “Zombie Nouns” is one of the most profound short essays on writing that I’ve read since at least college. Maybe even high school. I don’t know if that says more about my writing ability or Sword’s:
Take an adjective (implacable) or a verb (calibrate) or even another noun (crony) and add a suffix like ity, tion or ism. You’ve created a new noun: implacability, calibration, cronyism. Sounds impressive, right?
Nouns formed from other parts of speech are called nominalizations. Academics love them; so do lawyers, bureaucrats and business writers. I call them “zombie nouns” because they cannibalize active verbs, suck the lifeblood from adjectives and substitute abstract entities for human beings:
Read the rest of Sword’s essay here. It’s really one of the best practical essays on writing I’ve read in awhile.