by Kieran Healy on December 2, 2004

Eugene Volokh “complains”: that a recent draft of one his papers is missing something:

bq. Verve. “Energy and enthusiasm in the expression of ideas . . . . Vitality; liveliness.” My writing was the usual lawyerese, flabby and clausy. The substance was getting there (though it still needs a lot of work), but it was missing vigor, concreteness, punch. So I’ve been doing Vervification Edits as part of my substantive editing passes.

“Verve” is a good word for the quality he’s after, but I think “brio” is better, if only because its roots are mostly Italian and those people know how to live it up. In Jonathan Coe’s terrific novel, _What a Carve Up_ (published in the United States as The Winshaw Legacy) the narrator phones in a book review. Its chief complaint is that the book’s author “lacks the necessary brio” to carry off the story. Unfortunately something goes wrong in the transcription and the published version claims that the author “lacks the necessary biro,” instead. Just as debilitating to the writing process, to be sure, but as a critical observation of character perhaps not so incisive.

I’m recovering from a bad cold, so I’ve been feeling a little short of brio myself. I have three papers to draft, a review to write and a book manuscript to revise (I sign the contract this week). So if anyone has any strategies for revivifying oneself, let me know in the comments.



bad Jim 12.02.04 at 3:17 am

I’m not sure what wooden trains have to do with creative writing, but they could be an entertaining occupation while you’re bedridden.

As an alternative to Brio I’d suggest panache, which goes beyond style into something approximating character.


Matt 12.02.04 at 5:12 am

And here I’d long thought _Brio_ was something for scrubbing dirty pans.


Chris 12.02.04 at 5:20 am

I did not get this post at all until I did a Google search on “Biro.” Far as I know they’re just called Bics on this side of the puddle.


Kieran Healy 12.02.04 at 5:32 am

I put a link in to make that joke more accessible to people who use Bics instead of Biros.


cloquet 12.02.04 at 5:46 am

Wow, Mr. Volokh really got you on that one Mr. Healy. You think it is possible for a paper titled “Child Custody and Speech Restrictions” to have verve and brio? Mostly pathos, I would guess.

Mr. Volokh must know, that we like boring and predictable in our lawyering, and he must have learned his lessons well. Too much verve and brio in a lawyer, well, that just makes us nervous.


Kieran Healy 12.02.04 at 5:53 am

I guess it’s true that lawyers tend to be stronger on biro than brio. But surely Eugene is an exception.


Alex H. 12.02.04 at 6:05 am

“If anyone has any strategies for revivifying oneself…”



Jackmormon 12.02.04 at 7:02 am

Semi-serious strategy of revivification: read the most poetic, obscure theorist in a field slightly adjacent to yours.

Benjamin’s Arcades Project is currently making me sit up and want to argue.


Doug 12.02.04 at 10:21 am

“If anyone has any strategies for revivifying oneself…”



Anders Widebrant 12.02.04 at 10:34 am

My copy of The Economist Style Guide quotes Sydney Smith:

“As a general rule, run your pen through every other word you have written; you have no idea what vigour it will give to your style.”


rob 12.02.04 at 2:24 pm

Like this:

As general run pen every word have you no what it give your

(sorry, it was irresistible)


harry 12.02.04 at 2:28 pm

Your own suggestion was to read Peter Cook, which during my recent bout of pneumonia made me more cheerful, if not any better.


Patrick Belton 12.02.04 at 3:25 pm

Feel better! I second the suggestion above about Italy, but caffeine is possibly both cheaper and nearer. Disclaimer: of course, I’m speaking as an addict.


cloquet 12.02.04 at 4:13 pm

Sure wish I had the reference for this one. I read a short science journal article about 10 years ago, which described the morning rituals of a tribe in Central or South America.

Every morning, the men got together and drank an extremely strong concoction of coffee, and then proceeded to throw up together also. They did this every single day. Maybe Mr. Healy will try this one. Might have some trouble getting those guy partners, but sure would beat going to the coffee bar just for some free wifi internet, when there are so many other superior brio socializing opportunities.

Do you think that might qualify as brio? That brio ref was okay, bad jim, but I know you can do better. I challege you to come up with a better one than this.


Mary Kay 12.02.04 at 4:32 pm

Is this the first sign of impending burn-out? I suggest that you get away, take a break, and get some sleep. Then take the time to think about why you went into Sociology. Yoga, long walks in the country with my dog, and good conversation help me.


Njorl 12.02.04 at 6:55 pm

How about a compromise between Italy, coffee and the tribal vomitting – have a nice espresso and belch afterwards. I always feel good after a good belch.


HP 12.02.04 at 8:47 pm

Anders, Rob: I think “every other word” really means “50 percent on average.” Try this (spelling and punctuation cleaned up):

A rule: you’re through. Every word, have you? No. Vigour will give style.


vim 12.02.04 at 11:38 pm

“If anyone has any strategies for revivifying oneself…”

Brio yourself a nice cuppa.


nick 12.05.04 at 3:45 am

Verve = giving some nerve to your verbs. Sort of. At least, that’s what Thomas Gray was thinking about, and he’s among the earliest to use it in English.

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