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I often find myself editing prose to remove needless verbiage. Is there a word for this process? It comes up frequently enough to be useful.

I sometimes say that I tightened the wording, but perhaps this can be improved upon.

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    Informally, you might use tersify, but you won't find that word in a dictionary! I'm not sure about the bit in brackets in your question title: did you mean "an overly prolix title"?
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented Nov 7, 2013 at 8:29
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    @AndrewLeach: Stackexchange rejected the title "'To make terse'" as too short, so I lengthened the title by adding that remark.
    – Charles
    Commented Nov 9, 2013 at 16:51
  • Yes, but did you mean to tersify wording which was already insufficiently prolix?
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented Nov 9, 2013 at 17:35
  • @AndrewLeach: No, the only text which was (apparently) insufficiently prolix was the title.
    – Charles
    Commented Nov 11, 2013 at 15:14
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    Verbiage is, by definition, unnecessary. So "needless verbiage" is an example of itself. Commented Feb 18, 2014 at 15:48

3 Answers 3

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You could say that you streamlined the wording.

You could also talk about tidying up the writing.

But I actually like both tighten and edit.

e: Was rereading Steven Brust's The Phoenix Guards, and the fictional narrator describes this process thusly:

... for the past twenty-one years, we have had the honor of refining, or, if we are permitted, "honing" the notebook ...

I like both refining and honing for this process. Refining, in particular, describes reducing something to its fundamental elements. (Although Brust's usage is deliberately ironic, since the narrator is anything but terse.)

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  • Streamlined: perfect! (Yes, I like tighten as well, but it's good to have alternatives.)
    – Charles
    Commented Nov 9, 2013 at 16:52
  • TPG + 5HYA are the best!
    – tchrist
    Commented Dec 14, 2013 at 22:26
  • "Edit" is the usual word in journalism and publishing, done by an "editor" in publishing or "subeditor" in journalism, although "edit" obviously has wider meanings.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Aug 9, 2023 at 8:43
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I am currently infatuated with the word fettle.

fettle: v, trim or clean the rough edges of (a metal casting or a piece of pottery) before firing. (NOAD)

As the entry indicates, this applies specifically to sculpture but it can be easily applied to writing. What are you doing when you edit down a piece but trimming its excesses and cleaning the rough edges?

In full disclosure, I have never seen or heard anyone besides myself and those I have influenced to use fettle to refer to writing--I think I came across it in Cousin Bette as Balzac described Wenceslas's work process. Still, I often use it for writing. I do very little bronze casting (zero at time of writing) but I certainly write frequently. It would be such a shame to relegate such a fun word to such rare usage. I also am always a fan of a little metaphoric language.

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The missing piece with these answers is that they aren’t accounting for the qualitative connotation of “terse”—it implies tension between the speaker and audience, so it isn’t quite synonymous with words like “succinct.” I’d suggest something closer to “truncate” or “curtail”, but that might suggest a stopping point as opposed to a shortening. You might be looking for something more like “concise”, though, in which case I’d suggest “condense,” “abridge,” or “refine.” Hope that helps.

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