The Language Perfectionist: A Wordy Phrase to Excise From Your Writing

Consider these examples, found online:

  • “Do you have to sweat in order to lose weight while exercising?”
  • “We have lied to ourselves and others in order to justify our actions.”
  • “Glee, at that point, was about a motley crew of quirky teenagers trying to mold together in order to win sectionals.”

In his new usage guide, The Accidents of Style, Charles Harrington Elster offers this advice:

“The next time you find yourself writing in order to… try deleting in order. It won’t affect your meaning, and you’ll be amazed how much tighter and stronger your sentence will be as a result. Indeed, you’d be hard put to find a sentence… that wouldn’t be improved by the removal of in order….”

Thus, the first sentence above is better as “Do you have to sweat to lose weight while exercising?”

Nitpickers might quibble that the U.S. Constitution was written “in Order to form a more perfect Union.” But language has changed over the centuries. Our founding fathers should be regarded as role models for political philosophy rather than grammar and usage — or capitalization.

[Ed Note: For more than three decades, Don Hauptman was an award-winning independent direct-response copywriter and creative consultant. He is author of The Versatile Freelancer, an e-book that shows writers and other creative professionals how to diversify their careers into speaking, consulting, training, and critiquing.]