Thursday, February 11, 2010

Financial writers clinic: Getting rid of "mitigate"

Words with Latin roots, such as "mitigate," drain life out of  your writing. Let's spruce up a sentence by deleting "mitigate."

Here's a sentence from New York Times' reporter Gretchen Morgenson's "Credit Cards and Reluctant Regulators":
Alliance is not the only company working to mitigate the effects of new credit card restrictions.
I'd rewrite it as
Alliance is not the only company trying to work around new credit card restrictions.
What do you think? Better or worse?Clearer or more muddled?

Related post
* Can you make a case for "mitigate"?
Susan B. Weiner, CFA
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Copyright 2010 by Susan B. Weiner All rights reserved


  1. In your example, it might depend on what actions Alliance is taking. Mitigate means to lessen while I would suggest 'work around' connotes more avoidance. It's a subtle distinction, but possibly important. If I were to remove mitigate, I'd be more inclined to say "trying to reduce the impact of new..." but if I am going to say that, mitigate might be the more elegant phraseology.

  2. Thanks, Michael. As you say, sometimes a shorter sentence may result from using long words such as "mitigate."

    The fact that you and I interpreted "mitigate" differently in this sentence suggests that it's not a precise word. Of course, you're right about the meaning of "mitigate." I rewrote the sentence based on how I interpreted Morgenson's overall thrust. I had the benefit of reading the entire article.

    What do you think about replacing "mitigate" with "ease" or "lessen" in Morgenson's original sentence?

  3. On a related note, Jon Winokur, author of Advice to Writers ( posted the following charming quote from Mark Twain:

    "I never write metropolis for seven cents because I can get the same price for city."

  4. Why not ask a lawyer? Don't they use this word as well?

  5. Yes, they do use this word. I asked an expert who teaches legal writing. She wasn't aware of any cases where "mitigate" couldn't be replaced.


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