Elegant variation is a phrase coined by Henry W. Fowler to refer to the unnecessary use of synonyms. In Modern English Usage (1926) he wrote:

It is the second-rate writers, those intent rather on expressing themselves prettily than on conveying their meaning clearly, & still more those whose notions of style are based on a few misleading rules of thumb, that are chiefly open to the allurements of elegant variation. ... The fatal influence ... is the advice given to young writers never to use the same word twice in a sentence -- or within 20 lines or other limit.

In The King's English (1908), he gives as one of his several examples this passage from The Times:

The Emperor received yesterday and to-day General Baron von Beck... It may therefore be assumed with some confidence that the terms of a feasible solution are maturing themselves in His Majesty's mind and may form the basis of further negotiations with Hungarian party leaders when the Monarch goes again to Budapest.

Fowler objected to this passage because The Emperor, His Majesty, and the Monarch all refer to the same person: "the effect", he pointed out in Modern English Usage, "is to set readers wondering what the significance of the change is, only to conclude that there is none." Elegant variation is still common in modern journalism, where, for example, a "fire" very often becomes a "blaze" or a "conflagration" with no very clear justification, and it is considered an especial fault in legal, scientific, and technical writing, where it is important to avoid ambiguity.

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External Link

Elegant Variation -- Fowler's discussion of elegant variation in The King's English (1908)