Newborn Kittens

My husband and I used to do a lot of animal rescue work. We especially enjoyed raising motherless kittens. So I was happy to read a newspaper story about a local animal shelter that received a generous donation of incubators and other medical equipment. According to the story, “These devices will be used to take care of the hundreds of orphaned neonates – kittens without mothers to care for them.”

But my writer’s eye was not happy with that last sentence. There’s no reason to use neonates! If you were writing something instructional and needed to introduce and define the new word neonate, the sentence would be fine. I use this strategy all the time when I introduce a new term in my academic writing.

But why use neonates in a newspaper article? (Another problem is that the sentence makes it sound like neonates are always kittens and always motherless. No, they’re not. Any newborn mammal is a neonate.)

Your first goal as a writer is to connect with your readers. Never use an unusual word when an ordinary one will do. If you’re writing about a complicated medical procedure, of course you’re going to need anatomical terms that the average reader won’t know. But there’s no need to describe adorable kittens as neonates.

To put it another way: we need to get over the notion that Latin words (neonate) are better than English ones (newborn).

four kittens


2 thoughts on “Newborn Kittens

  1. jas

    But “given” is not an error. And I am outdated. Thus, for the first time, I failed to find the error.

  2. ballroomdancer Post author

    You’re right – my apologies! I was in a hurry this morning. I should have worded the instructions like this: “Can you improve the sentence below?” I made the change!

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