monologophobia

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

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(Effe Emme/Getty Images)

Definition:

A fear of using a word more than once in a single sentence or paragraph.

The term monologophobia was coined by New York Times editor Theodore M. Bernstein in The Careful Writer, 1965.

See Examples and Observations, below. Also see:

Examples and Observations:

  • "It took about a dozen men and women to heave the huge, orange produce item onto the forklift.

    "When the driver lowered the massive pumpkin, the last of the 118 entered in yesterday's annual 'All New England Weigh-Off' kicking off the Topsfield Fair, the traditional Halloween ornament broke the scale. . . ."
    ("Pumpkin Pounds Topsfield Scale: Oversized Produce Weighs in As Big Hit With Visitors to Fair." The Boston Globe, October 1, 2000)
  • Bernstein on Monologophobia
    "A monologophobe (you won't find it in the dictionary) is a writer who would rather walk naked in front of Saks Fifth Avenue than be caught using the same word more than once in three lines. What he suffers from is synonymomania (you won't find that one, either), which is a compulsion to call a spade successively a garden implement and an earth-turning tool. . . .

    "Now avoidance of monotony caused by jarring repetition of a conspicuous word or phrase is desirable. A little touch of monologophobia might have helped the framer of this sentence: 'The Khrushchev defeats, General Hoxha said, took place at the international Communist meetings that took place in Bucharest in June, 1960, and in Moscow in November, 1960.' . . .

    "But mechanical substitution of synonyms may make a bad situation worse. 'Elegant variation' is the term applied by Fowler to this practice. It is particularly objectionable if the synonym is the one that falls strangely on the ear or eye: calling a snowfall a descent, calling gold the yellow metal, calling charcoal the ancient black substance. Repetition of the word is better than these strained synonyms. Often a pronoun is a good remedy, and sometimes no word at all is required."
    (Theodore M. Bernstein, The Careful Writer: A Modern Guide to English Usage. Scribner, 1965)
  • "[M]onologophobia strikes in many places. In court reports there is a bewildering alternation of the names of people with their status as 'defendant' or 'plaintiff.' It is better to stick to names throughout."
    (Harold Evans, Essential English. Pimlico, 2000)
  • Verdict and Ruling
    "[An] accident of style that writers often get into with verdict and ruling is switching blithely back and forth between them, as if the words were interchangeable. In a story about a British libel case where the judge ruled against a Holocaust-denying historian, a reporter for the Chicago Tribune did this egregiously: 'International Jewish groups applauded the unsparing British court verdict against Irving. . . . The verdict shredded Irving's reputation. . . . Professor Dorothy Lipstadt of Emeroy University . . . hailed the ruling. . . . The ruling also was a victory for Penguin Books, her British publisher. . . . [Irving] said he had two words to describe the ruling. . . . Irving may appeal the verdict.'

    "In every instance in that story, verdict should have been ruling. But the reporter was no doubt suffering from a bad case of monologophobia, a fear of repeating the same word. . . .

    "Instead of flip-flopping between the correct ruling and the incorrect verdict, the Chicago Tribune reporter should have assuaged his monologophobia by here and there tossing in the word decision, an unobjectionable substitute for ruling."
    (Charles Harrington Elster, The Accidents of Style: Good Advice on How Not to Write Badly. St. Martin's Press, 2010)

     

    Also Known As: elegant variation, burly detective syndrome