I've just finished reading Essential English for Journalists, Editors and Writers by former Sunday Times editor Harold Evans. It's full of suggestions for improving clarity of meaning, and in amongst the tips on sentence structure, story selection and writing effective headlines I discovered a whole new word: monologophobia.
The chap who came up with the term, Theodore Bernstein of The New York Times, described a monologophobe as someone 'who would rather walk naked in front of Saks Fifth Avenue than be caught using the same word more than once in three lines of type.'
Sound familiar? If you're an editor you're probably guilty of it. I know I am.
I touched on it the other day when talking about football writing, but it's not restricted to this genre. Music journalism for example; why else would anyone talk about a band's 'sophomore album' when 'second' does the job just fine? Or children's fiction, where a character exclaims, cries, calls, adds, declares, wonders, squeaks and makes all manner of funny noises because the author is terrified of writing 'say' twice in the same paragraph.
The reason we all do it is rhythm. Sometimes to repeat the same word several times in a small space just sounds plain wrong and you want to create sentences that flow naturally, that have a certain balance to them when spoken aloud.
But discovering the existence of monologophobia has made me think. Next time I'm hunting, searching and looking for three different ways of saying exactly the same thing I'm going to ask myself if it would really matter if I used the same word twice. If the sentence sounds really awkward - like it's not just been knocked into shape, it's been tortured with a cattle prod - the answer might be no.