The sentence from the Steve Elling article we were discussing:
Imagine if Woods had been put on the team, taking a spot he admittedly had not earned, and then stunk up Gleneagles like a 20-year-old pair of leather Nikes.
I asked why he chose “leather Nikes” instead of “Nikes,” or “Air Jordans,” or even “Nike shoes” or “Nike sneakers.” Here’s my take; others may disagree. Either way, when you are writing, you need to think about such things. In almost all cases, your goal is to have people quickly, effortlessly, and precisely understand your point.
First off, let’s mention “Nikes” is used instead of just “old sneakers” in order to keep the connection with Woods, who is obviously one of Nike’s major endorsers. We have decided a Nike reference is desirable for this sentence. Now, because Elling’s readers are followers of golf, the word “Nikes” doesn’t necessarily conjure basketball shoes as the first mental image. By using leather Nikes, you eliminate everything like clubs, balls, other types of clothing, and keep the reader’s mental train from going off the rails.
“Air Jordans” would have served the same purpose, but you introduce the unnecessary distraction of Michael Jordan. The reader might subconsciously think he is supposed to find a link between Woods and Jordan to fully get the point/joke. If you were writing about basketball, say some current member of the Chicago Bulls, “Air Jordans” might be the way to go, but Elling is talking golf, so it is discarded.
“Nike shoes” or “Nike sneakers” would be okay, but they just don’t flow. “Nike shoes” is clumsy, and “sneakers” probably, at least for me, introduces distractions, as it is a determinedly generic word that clashes with the Nike brand/Woods the Endorser subconscious image, which is a building block of our thought/sentence.
I don’t know why I found this so interesting yesterday that I felt compelled to write about it, but I did. Craft is an under-appreciated part of writing. We get so caught up in what we want to say that we can neglect the importance of how we say it.
Have you ever read something you were highly interested in, but struggled to keep focus and finish? Odds are the problem was poor writing, not a lack of concentration on your part. Choosing “leather shoes” is just one of a hundred such decisions you face when writing an article. Get enough of them right and your writing will be as much fun to read as Steve Elling’s.