J Faced withjmeh a- variety ef obstacles, the reader is at first a remarkably tenacious bird. Although they look like a first draft, they had already been rewritten and retyped—like almost every other page— four or five times. With each rewrite I try to make what I have written tighter, stronger and more precise, eliminating every element that's not doing useful work. Then I go over it once more, reading it aloud, and am always amazed at how much clutter can still be cut.
In later editions I eliminated the sexist pronoun "he" denoting "the writer" and "the reader. Faced with such obstacles, readers are at first tenacious. But they won't do that for long. The writer is making them work too hard, and they will look for one who is better at the craft. Writers must therefore constantly ask: what am I trying to say? Surprisingly often they don't know. Then they must look at what they have written and ask: have I said it?
Is it clear to someone encountering the subject for the first time? If it's not, some fuzz has worked its way into the machinery. The clear writer is someone clearheaded enough to see this stuff for what it is: fuzz. I don't mean that some people are born clearheaded and are therefore natural writers, whereas others are naturally fuzzy and will never write well. Thinking clearly is a conscious act that writers must force on themselves, as if they were working on any other project that requires logic: making a shopping list or doing an algebra problem.
Good writing doesn't come naturally, though most people seem to think it does. Or they say, "I could write a book about that. Writing is hard work. A clear sentence is no accident. Very few sentences come out right the first time, or even the third time. Remember this in moments of despair.
If you find that writing is hard, it's because it is hard. New varieties sprout overnight, and by noon they are part of American speech. Consider what President Nixon's aide John Dean accomplished in just one day of testimony on television during the Watergate hearings. The next day everyone in America was saying "at this point in time" instead of "now. We no longer head committees. We head them up. We don't face problems anymore. We face up to them when we can free up a few minutes. It is worth bothering about. Writing improves in direct ratio to the number of things we can keep out of it that shouldn't be there.
Examine every word you put on paper. You'll find a surprising number that don't serve any purpose. Take the adjective "personal," as in "a personal friend of mine," "his personal feeling" or "her personal physician. The personal friend has come into the language to distinguish him or her from the business friend, thereby debasing both language and friendship.
As for the personal physician, that's the man or woman summoned to the dressing room of a stricken actress so she won't have to be treated by the impersonal physician assigned to the theater. Someday I'd like to see that person identified as "her doctor. The rest is clutter. Clutter is the laborious phrase that has pushed out the short word that means the same thing. Even before John Dean, people and businesses had stopped saying "now. Yet the idea can always be expressed by "now" to mean the immediate moment "Now I can see him" , or by "today" to mean the historical present "Today prices are high" , or simply by the verb "to be" "It is raining".
There's no need to say, "At the present time we are experiencing precipitation. Even your dentist will ask if you are experiencing any pain. If he had his own kid in the chair he would say, "Does it hurt? By using a more pompous phrase in his professional role he not only sounds more important; he blunts the painful edge of truth. It's the language of the flight attendant demonstrating the oxygen mask that will drop down if the plane should run out of air. Clutter is the ponderous euphemism that turns a slum into a depressed socioeconomic area, garbage collectors into wastedisposal personnel and the town dump into the volume reduc-.
I think of Bill Mauldin s cartoon of two hoboes riding a freight car. One of them says, "I started as a simple bum, but now I'm hard-core unemployed. I saw an ad for a boys' camp designed to provide "individual attention for the minimally exceptional. When the Digital Equipment Corporation eliminated 3, jobs its statement didn't mention layoffs; those were "involuntary methodologies. Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness. Verbal camouflage reached new heights during General Alexander Haig's tenure as President Reagan's secretary of state.
Before Haig nobody had thought of saying "at this juncture of maturization" to mean "now. I don't. But the list would be tedious. The point of raising it now is to serve notice that clutter is the enemy. Beware, then, of the long word that's no better than the short word: "assistance" help , "numerous" many , "facilitate" ease , "individual" man or woman , "remainder" rest , "initial" first , "implement" do , "sufficient" enough , "attempt" try , "referred to as" called and hundreds more.
Beware of all the slippery new fad words: paradigm and parameter, prioritize and potentialize. They are all weeds that will smother what you write. Don't dialogue with someone you can talk to. Don't interface with anybody. Just as insidious are all the word clusters with which we explain how we propose to go about our explaining: "I might add," "It should be pointed out," "It is interesting to note.
If it should be pointed out, point it out. If it is interesting to note, make it interesting; are we not all stupefied by what follows when someone says, "This will interest you"? Don't inflate what needs no inflating: "with the possible exception of" except , "due to the fact that" because , "he totally lacked the ability to" he couldn't , "until such time as" until , "for the purpose of" for.
Is there any way to recognize clutter at a glance? Here's a device my students at Yale found helpful. I would put brackets around every component in a piece of writing that wasn't doing useful work. Often just one word got bracketed: the unnecessary preposition appended to a verb "order up" , or the adverb that carries the same meaning as the verb "smile happily" , or the adjective that states a known fact "tall skyscraper".
Often my brackets surrounded the little qualifiers that weaken any sentence they inhabit "a bit," "sort of , or phrases like "in a sense," which don't mean anything. Sometimes my brackets surrounded. Most first drafts can be cut by 50 percent without losing any information or losing the authors voice. My reason for bracketing the students' superfluous words, instead of crossing them out, was to avoid violating their sacred prose.
I wanted to leave the sentence intact for them to analyze. I was saying, "I may be wrong, but I think this can be deleted and the meaning won't be affected. But you decide. Read the sentence without the bracketed material and see if it works. Entire paragraphs were bracketed. But soon the students learned to put mental brackets around their own clutter, and by the end of the term their papers were almost clean. Look for the clutter in your writing and prune it ruthlessly.
Be grateful for everything you can throw away. Reexamine each sentence you put on paper. Is every word doing new work? Can any thought be expressed with more economy? Is anything pompous or pretentious or faddish? Are you hanging on to something useless just because you think it's beautiful? Simplify, simplify. So much for early warnings about the bloated monsters that lie in ambush for the writer trying to put together a clean English sentence.
Then I'll get to the larger issue of who the writer is and how to preserve his or her identity. Few people realize how badly they write. Nobody has shown them how much excess or murkiness has crept into their style and how it obstructs what they are trying to say. If you give me an eight-page article and I tell you to cut it to four pages, you'll howl and say it can't be done.
Then you'll go home and do it, and it will be much better. After that comes the hard part: cutting it to three. The point is that you have to strip your writing down before you can build it back up. You must know what the essential tools are and what job they were designed to do. Extending the metaphor of carpentry, it's first necessary to be able to saw wood neatly and to drive nails. Later you can bevel the edges or add elegant finials, if that's your taste. But you can never forget that you are practicing a craft that's based on certain principles.
If the nails are weak, your house will collapse. If your verbs are weak and your syntax is rickety, your sentences will fall apart. I'll admit that certain nonfiction writers, like Tom Wolfe and Norman Mailer, have built some remarkable houses. But these are writers who spent years learning their craft, and when at last they raised their fanciful turrets and hanging gardens, to the surprise of all of us who never dreamed of such ornamentation, they knew what they were doing.
Nobody becomes Tom Wolfe overnight, not even Tom Wolfe. First, then, learn to hammer the nails, and if what you build is sturdy and serviceable, take satisfaction in its plain strength. But you will be impatient to find a "style"—to embellish the plain words so that readers will recognize you as someone special. You will reach for gaudy similes and tinseled adjectives, as if "style" were something you could buy at the style store and drape onto your words in bright decorator colors.
Decorator colors are the colors that decorators come in. There is no style store; style is organic to the person doing the writing, as much a part of him as his hair, or, if he is bald, his lack of it. Trying to add style is like adding a toupee. At first glance the formerly bald man looks young and even handsome. But at second glance—and with a toupee there's always a second glance—he doesn't look quite right. The problem is not that he doesn't look well groomed; he does, and we can only admire the wigmaker's skill.
The point is that he doesn't look like himself. This is the problem of writers who set out deliberately to garnish their prose.
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The reader will notice if you are putting on airs. Readers want the person who is talking to them to sound genuine. Therefore a fundamental rule is: be yourself. No rule, however, is harder to follow. It requires writers to do two things that by their metabolism are impossible. They must relax, and they must have confidence. Telling a writer to relax is like telling a man to relax while being examined for a hernia, and as for confidence, see how stiffly he sits, glaring at the screen that awaits his words.
See how often he gets up to look for something to eat or drink. A writer will do anything to avoid the act of writing. I can testify from my newspaper days that the number of trips to the water cooler per reporter-hour far exceeds the body's need for fluids. What can be done to put the writer out of these miseries? Unfortunately, no cure has been found. I can only offer the consoling thought that you are not alone. Some days will go better than others.
Some will go so badly that you'll despair of ever writing again. We have all had many of those days and will have many more. Still, it would be nice to keep the bad days to a minimum, which brings me back to the problem of trying to relax. Assume that you are the writer sitting down to write. You think your article must be of a certain length or it won't seem important. You think how august it will look in print. You think of all the people who will read it.
You think that it must have the solid weight of authority. You think that its style must dazzle. No wonder you tighten; you are so busy thinking of your awesome responsibility to the finished article that you can't even start. Yet you vow to be worthy of the task, and, casting about for grand phrases that wouldn't occur to you if you weren't trying so hard to make an impression, you plunge in. No person could have written them. Paragraph 2 isn't much better. But Paragraph 3 begins to.
You've started to relax. It s amazing how often an editor can throw away the first three or four paragraphs of an article, or even the first few pages, and start with the paragraph where the writer begins to sound like himself or herself. What I'm always looking for as an editor is a sentence that says something like "I'll never forget the day when I. A person! Writing is an intimate transaction between two people, conducted on paper, and it will go well to the extent that it retains its humanity. Therefore I urge people to write in the first person: to use "I" and "me" and "we" and "us.
Nobody else thinks or feels in exactly the same way. They think they must earn the right to reveal their emotions or their thoughts. Or that it's egotistical. Hence the professorial use of "one" "One finds oneself not wholly in accord with Dr. Maltby s view of the human condition" , or of the impersonal "it is" "It is to be hoped that Professor Felt's monograph will find the wider audience it most assuredly deserves". I want a professor with a passion for his subject to tell me why it fascinates him.
I realize that there are vast regions of writing where "I" isn't allowed. Newspapers don't want "I" in their news stories; many magazines don't want it in their articles; businesses and institutions don't want it in the reports they send so profusely into the American home; colleges don't want "I" in their term papers or dissertations, and English teachers discourage any first-person pronoun except the literary "we" "We see in Melville's symbolic use of the white whale. Many of those prohibitions are valid.
Newspaper articles should consist of news, reported objectively. I also sympathize with teachers who don't want to give students an easy escape into opinion—"I think Hamlet was stupid"—before they have grappled with the discipline of assessing a work on its merits and on external sources. Still, we have become a society fearful of revealing who we are.
The institutions that seek our support by sending us their brochures sound remarkably alike, though surely all of them— hospitals, schools, libraries, museums, zoos—were founded and are still sustained by men and women with different dreams and visions. Where are these people? It's hard to glimpse them among all the impersonal passive sentences that say "initiatives were undertaken" and "priorities have been identified. The political columnist James Reston didn't use "I" in his columns; yet I had a good idea of what kind of person he was, and I could say the same of many other essayists and reporters.
Good writers are visible just behind their words. If you aren't allowed to use "I," at least think "I" while you write, or write the first draft in the first person and then take the "F's out. It will warm up your impersonal style. Style is tied to the psyche, and writing has deep psychological roots. The reasons why we express ourselves as we do, or fail to express ourselves because of "writer's block," are partly buried in the subconscious mind. There are as many kinds of.
This is a short book, and my name isn't Sigmund Freud. But I've also noticed a new reason for avoiding "I": Americans are unwilling to go out on a limb. A generation ago our leaders told us where they stood and what they believed. Today they perform strenuous verbal feats to escape that fate. Watch them wriggle through TV interviews without committing themselves. I remember President Ford assuring a group of visiting businessmen that his fiscal policies would work.
He said: "We see nothing but increasingly brighter clouds every month. Ford's sentence was just vague enough to say nothing and still sedate his constituents. Later administrations brought no relief. Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, assessing a Polish crisis in , said: "There's continuing ground for serious concern and the situation remains serious. The longer it remains serious, the more ground there is for serious concern. I am not in that mode. I am in the mode of being deeply concerned. It's hard to know where to begin picking from his trove of equivocal statements, but consider this one: "And yet, on balance, affirmative action has, I think, been a qualified success.
I give it first prize as the most wishy-washy sentence in modern public discourse, though a rival would be his analysis of how to ease boredom among assembly-line workers: "And so, at last, I come to the one firm conviction that I mentioned at the beginning: it is that the subject is too new for final judgments. Leaders who bob and weave like. The same thing is true of writers. Sell yourself, and your subject will exert its own appeal.
Believe in your own identity and your own opinions. Writing is an act of ego, and you might as well admit it. Use its energy to keep yourself going. Soon after you confront the matter of preserving your identity, another question will occur to you: "Who am I writing for? Don't try to visualize the great mass audience. Don't try to guess what sort of thing editors want to publish or what you think the country is in a mood to read. Editors and readers don't know what they want to read until they read it. Besides, they're always looking for something new. Don't worry about whether the reader will "get it" if you indulge a sudden impulse for humor.
If it amuses you in the act of writing, put it in. It can always be taken out, but only you can put it in. You are writing primarily to please yourself, and if you go about it with enjoyment you will also entertain the readers who are worth writing for. If you lose the dullards back in the dust, you don't want them anyway. This may seem to be a paradox.
Earlier I warned that the reader is an impatient bird, perched on the thin edge of distrac-. Now I'm saying you must write for yourself and not be gnawed by worry over whether the reader is tagging along. I'm talking about two different issues. One is craft, the other is attitude.
The first is a question of mastering a precise skill. The second is a question of how you use that skill to express your personality. In terms of craft, there's no excuse for losing readers through sloppy workmanship. If they doze off in the middle of your article because you have been careless about a technical detail, the fault is yours. But on the larger issue of whether the reader likes you, or likes what you are saying or how you are saying it, or agrees with it, or feels an affinity for your sense of humor or your vision of life, don't give him a moment's worry.
You are who you are, he is who he is, and either you'll get along or you won't. Perhaps this still seems like a paradox. How can you think carefully about not losing the reader and still be carefree about his opinion? I assure you that they are separate processes. First, work hard to master the tools. Simplify, prune and strive for order. Think of this as a mechanical act, and soon your sentences will become cleaner. But at least your sentences will be grounded in solid principles, and your chances of losing the reader will be smaller.
Think of the other as a creative act: the expressing of who you are. Relax and say what you want to say. And since style is who you are, you only need to be true to yourself to find it gradually emerging from under the accumulated clutter and debris, growing more distinctive every day. Perhaps the style won't solidify for years as your style, your voice. Just as it takes time to find yourself as a person, it takes time to find yourself as a stylist, and even then your style will change as you grow older. But whatever your age, be yourself when you write. Many old men still write with the zest they had in their twenties or.
Other old writers ramble and repeat themselves; their style is the tip-off that they have turned into garrulous bores. Many college students write as if they were desiccated alumni 30 years out. Never say anything in writing that you wouldn't comfortably say in conversation. If you're not a person who says "indeed" or "moreover," or who calls someone an individual "he's a fine individual" , please don't write it.
Let's look at a few writers to see the pleasure with which they put on paper their passions and their crotchets, not caring whether the reader shares them or not. White in , at the height of World War II: Chickens do not always enjoy an honorable position among city-bred people, although the egg, I notice, goes on and on.
Right now the hen is in favor. The war has deified her and she is the darling of the home front, feted at conference tables, praised in every smoking car, her girlish ways and curious habits the topic of many an excited husbandryman to whom yesterday she was a stranger without honor or allure. My own attachment to the hen dates from , and I have been faithful to her in good times and bad.
Ours has not always been an easy relationship to maintain. At first, as a boy in a carefully zoned suburb, I had neighbors and police to reckon with; my chickens had to be as closely guarded as an underground newspaper. Later, as a man in the country, I had my old friends in town to reckon with, most of whom regarded the hen as a comic prop straight out of vaudeville Their scorn only increased my devotion to the hen.
I remained loyal, as a man would to a bride whom his family received with open ridicule. You would think, from their nervous cries of wonder and praise, that the hen was hatched yesterday in the suburbs of New York, instead of in the remote past in the jungles of India. To a man who keeps hens, all poultry lore is exciting and endlessly fascinating.
Every spring I settle down with my farm journal and read, with the same glazed expression on my face, the age-old story of how to prepare a brooder house There's a man writing about a subject I have absolutely no interest in. Yet I enjoy this piece thoroughly. I like the simple beauty of its style. I like the rhythms, the unexpected but refreshing words "deified," "allure," "cackling" , the specific details like the Laced Wyandotte and the brooder house.
But mainly what I like is that this is a man telling me unabashedly about a love affair with poultry that goes back to It's written with humanity and warmth, and after three paragraphs I know quite a lot about what sort of man this hen-lover is. Or take a writer who is almost White s opposite in terms of style, who relishes the opulent word for its opulence and doesn't deify the simple sentence.
Yet they are brothers in holding firm opinions and saying what they think. This is H. In the big cities of the Republic, despite the endless efforts of consecrated men, it is laid up with a wasting disease. The very Sunday-school superintendents, taking jazz from the. Even in Dayton, I found, though the mob was up to do execution on Scopes, there was a strong smell of antinomianism. The nine churches of the village were all half empty on Sunday, and weeds choked their yards.
Only two or three of the resident pastors managed to sustain themselves by their ghostly science; the rest had to take orders for mailorder pantaloons or work in the adjacent strawberry fields; one, I heard, was a barber. Exactly twelve minutes after I reached the village I was taken in tow by a Christian man and introduced to the favorite tipple of the Cumberland Range; half corn liquor and half Coca-Cola.
They were all hot for Genesis, but their faces were too florid to belong to teetotalers, and when a pretty girl came tripping down the main street, they reached for the places where their neckties should have been with all the amorous enterprise of movie stars. This is pure Mencken in its surging momentum and its irreverence. At almost any page where you open his books he is saying something sure to outrage the professed pieties of his countrymen. The sanctity in which Americans bathed their heroes, their churches and their edifying laws—especially Prohibition—was a well of hypocrisy for him that never dried up.
Some of his heaviest ammunition he hurled at politicians and Presidents—his portrait of "The Archangel Woodrow" still scorches the pages—and as for Christian believers and clerical folk, they turn up unfailingly as mountebanks and boobs. It may seem a miracle that Mencken could get away with such heresies in the s, when hero worship was an American.
Not only did he get away with it; he was the most revered and influential journalist of his generation. The impact he made on subsequent writers of nonfiction is beyond measuring, and even now his topical pieces seem as fresh as if they were written yesterday. The secret of his popularity—aside from his pyrotechnical use of the American language—was that he was writing for himself and didn't give a damn what the reader might think. It wasn't necessary to share his prejudices to enjoy seeing them expressed with such mirthful abandon.
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Mencken was never timid or evasive; tie didn't kowtow to the reader or curry anyone's favor. It takes courage to be such a writer, but it is out of such courage that revered and influential journalists are born. Of all the earnest books on education that have sprouted in America, Herndon s is—for me—the one that best captures how it really is in the classroom.
His style is not quite like anybody else's, but his voice is true. Here's how the book starts: I might as well begin with Piston. Piston was, as a matter of description, a red-headed medium-sized chubby eighthgrader; his definitive characteristic was, however, stubbornness. Without going into a lot of detail, it became clear right away that what Piston didn't want to do, Piston didn't do; what Piston wanted to do, Piston did.
It really wasn't much of a problem. Piston wanted mainly to paint, draw monsters, scratch designs on mimeograph blanks and print them up, write an occasional horror story— some kids referred to him as The Ghoul—and when he didn't want to do any of those, he wanted to roam the halls and on occasion we heard investigate the girls' bathrooms. We had minor confrontations. Once I wanted everyone to sit down and listen to what I had to say—something about the way they had been acting in the halls.
I was letting them come and go freely and it was up to them I planned to point out not to raise hell so that I had to hear about it from other teachers. Sitting down was the issue—I was determined everyone was going to do it first, then I'd talk. Piston remained standing. I reordered. He paid no attention. I pointed out that I was talking to him.
He indicated he heard me. I inquired then why in hell didn't he sit down. He said he didn't want to. I said I did want him to. He said that didn't matter to him. I said do it anyway. He said why?
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I said because I said so. He said he wouldn't. I said Look I want you to sit down and listen to what I'm going to say.
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He said he was listening. I'll listen but I won't sit down. Well, that's the way it goes sometimes in schools. You as teacher become obsessed with an issue—I was the injured party, conferring, as usual, unheard-of freedoms, and here they were as usual taking advantage. It ain't pleasant coming in the teachers' room for coffee and having to hear somebody say that so-and-so and so-and-so from your class were out in the halls without a pass and making faces and giving the finger to kids in my class during the most important part of my lesson about Egypt—and you ought to be allowed your tendentious speech, and most everyone will allow it, sit down for it, but occasionally someone wises you up by refusing to submit where it isn't necessary..
How did any of us get into this? Any writer who uses "ain't" and "tendentious" in the same sentence, who quotes without using quotation marks, knows what he's doing. This seemingly artless style, so full of art, is ideal for Herndon's purpose. It avoids the pretentiousness that infects so much writing by people who are doing worthy work,. Herndon sounds like a good teacher and a man whose company I would enjoy.
But ultimately he is writing for himself: an audience of one. They want me to say "Whom am I writing for? Its just not me. There is a kind of writing that might be called journalese, and its the death of freshness in anybody's style. You must fight these phrases or you'll sound like every hack. You'll never make your mark as a writer unless you develop a respect for words and a curiosity about their shades of meaning that is almost obsessive.
The English language is rich in strong and supple words. Take the time to root around and find the ones you want. What is "journalese"? It's a quilt of instant words patched together out of other parts of speech. Adjectives are used as nouns "greats," "notables". Nouns are used as verbs "to host" , or they are chopped off to form verbs "enthuse," "emote" , or they are padded to form verbs "beef up," "put teeth into".
This is a world where eminent people are "famed" and their associates are "staffers," where the future is always "upcoming" and. Nobody in America has sent a note or a memo or a telegram in years. Famed diplomat Henry Kissinger, who hosted foreign notables to beef up the morale of top State Department staffers, sat down and fired off a lot of notes. Notes that are fired off are always fired in anger and from a sitting position. What the weapon is I've never found out. Here's an article from a famed newsmagazine that is hard to match for fatigue: Last February, Plainclothes Patrolman Frank Serpico knocked at the door of a suspected Brooklyn heroin pusher.
When the door opened a crack, Serpico shouldered his way in only to be met by a. Somehow he survived, although there are still buzzing fragments in his head, causing dizziness and permanent deafness in his left ear. Almost as painful is the suspicion that he may well have been set up for the shooting by other policemen. For Serpico, 35, has been waging a lonely, four-year war against the routine and endemic corruption that he and others claim is rife in the New York City police department.
His efforts are now sending shock waves through the ranks of New York's finest.. Though the impact of the commissions upcoming report has yet to be felt, Serpico has little hope that. The upcoming report has yet to be felt because it's still upcoming, and as for the permanent deafness, it's a little early to tell. And what makes those buzzing fragments buzz? By now only Serpico's head should be buzzing. We know just what to expect. No surprise awaits us in the form of an unusual word, an oblique look. We are in the hands of a hack, and we know it right away.
We stop reading. Don't let yourself get in this position. The only way to avoid it is to care deeply about words. If you find yourself writing that someone recently enjoyed a spell of illness, or that a business has been enjoying a slump, ask yourself how much they enjoyed it. Notice the decisions that other writers make in their choice of words and be finicky about the ones you select from the vast supply. The race in writing is not to the swift but to the original. Make a habit of reading what is being written today and what has been written by earlier masters. Writing is learned by imitation.
But cultivate the best models. Don't assume that because an article is in a newspaper or a magazine it must be good. Also get in the habit of using dictionaries. My favorite for handy use is Webster's New World Dictionary, Second College Edition, although, like all word freaks, I own bigger dictionaries that will reward me when I'm on some more specialized search. If you have any doubt of what a word means, look it up. Learn its etymology and notice what curious branches its original root has put forth.
See if it has any meanings you didn't know it had. Master the small gradations between words that seem to be synonyms. What's the difference between "cajole," "wheedle," "blandish" and "coax"? Get yourself a dictionary of synonyms. And don't scorn that bulging grab bag Roget's Thesaurus. It's easy to regard the book as hilarious. Look up "villain," for. You'll find ruffians and riffraff, miscreants and malefactors, reprobates and rapscallions, hooligans and hoodlums, scamps and scapegraces, scoundrels and scalawags, Jezebels and jades. You'll find adjectives to fit them all foul and fiendish, devilish and diabolical , and adverbs and verbs to describe how the wrongdoers do their wrong, and cross-references leading to still other thickets of venality and vice.
Still, there's no better friend to have around to nudge the memory than Roget. It saves you the time of rummaging in your brain—that network of overloaded grooves—to find the word that's right on the tip of your tongue, where it doesn't do you any good. The Thesaurus is to the writer what a rhyming dictionary is to the songwriter—a reminder of all the choices—and you should use it with gratitude. If, having found the scalawag and the scapegrace, you want to know how they differ, then go to the dictionary.
Also bear in mind, when you're choosing words and stringing them together, how they sound. This may seem absurd: readers read with their eyes. But in fact they hear what they are reading far more than you realize. Therefore such matters as rhythm and alliteration are vital to every sentence. A typical example— maybe not the best, but undeniably the nearest—is the preceding paragraph.
Obviously I enjoyed making a certain arrangement of my ruffians and riffraff, my hooligans and hoodlums, and my readers enjoyed it too—far more than if I had provided a mere list. They enjoyed not only the arrangement but the effort to entertain them. They weren't enjoying it, however, with their eyes.
They were hearing the words in their inner ear. White makes the case cogently in The Elements of Style, a book every writer should read once a year, when he suggests trying to rearrange any phrase that has survived for a cen-. How trying it is to live in these times! These are trying times for men's souls. Soulwise, these are trying times. Good writers of prose must be part poet, always listening to what they write. White is one of my favorite stylists because I'm conscious of being with a man who cares about the cadences and sonorities of the language. I relish in my ear the pattern his words make as they fall into a sentence.
I try to surmise how in rewriting the sentence he reassembled it to end with a phrase that will momentarily linger, or how he chose one word over another because he was after a certain emotional weight. Such considerations of sound and rhythm should be woven through everything you write. If all your sentences move at the same plodding gait, which even you recognize as deadly but don't know how to cure, read them aloud. I write entirely by ear and read everything aloud before letting it go out into the world.
You'll begin to hear where the trouble lies. See if you can gain variety by reversing the order of a sentence, or by substituting a word that has freshness or oddity, or by altering the length of your sentences so they don't all sound as if they came out of the same mold. An occasional short sentence can carry a tremendous punch. It stays in the reader's ear.
Remember that words are the only tools you've got. Learn to use them with originality and care. And also remember: somebody out there is listening. All this talk about good words and bad words brings us to a gray but important area called "usage. What is good English? What newly minted words is it O. Is it O. Earlier I mentioned an incident of college students hassling the administration, and in the last chapter I described myself as a word freak.
Here are two fairly recent arrivals.
Anyway, I accept these two usages gladly. I don't consider them slang, or put quotation marks around them to show that I'm mucking about in the argot of the youth culture and really. They're good words and we need them. But I won't accept "notables" and "greats" and "upcoming" and many other newcomers.
They are cheap words and we don't need them. Why is one word good and another word cheap? I can't give you an answer, because usage has no fixed boundaries. Language is a fabric that changes from one week to another, adding new strands and dropping old ones, and even word freaks fight over what is allowable, often reaching their decision on a wholly subjective basis such as taste "notables" is sleazy.
Which still leaves the question of who our tastemakers are. The question was confronted by the editors of a brand-new dictionary, The American Heritage Dictionary, at the outset of their task in the mids. They assembled a "Usage Panel" to help them appraise the new words and dubious constructions that had come knocking at the door. Which ones should be ushered in, which thrown out on their ear?
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The panel consisted of men and women—mostly writers, poets, editors and teachers—who were known for caring about the language and trying to use it well. I was a member of the panel, and over the next few years I kept getting questionnaires. Would I accept "finalize" and "escalate"? How did I feel about "It's me"? Would I allow "like" to be used as a conjunction—like so many people do?
How about "mighty," as in "mighty fine"? We were told that in the dictionary our opinions would be tabulated in a separate "Usage Note," so that readers could see how we voted. The questionnaire also left room for any comments we might feel impelled to make—a chance that the panelists seized avidly, as we found when the dictionary was published and our comments were released to the press. Passions ran high. Tuchman, asked about the verb "to author.
Mumford that the adverb "good" should be "left as the exclusive property of Ernest Hemingway. Any dolt can rule that the suffix "wise," as in "healthwise," is doltwise, or that being "rather unique" is no more possible than being rather pregnant. The other half of the job is to help the language grow by welcoming any immigrant that will bring strength or color.
Therefore I was glad that 97 percent of us voted to admit "dropout," which is clean and vivid, but that only 47 percent would accept "senior citizen," which is typical of the pudgy new intruders from the land of sociology, where an illegal alien is now an undocumented resident. I'm glad we accepted "escalate," the kind of verbal contraption I generally dislike but which the Vietnam war endowed with a precise meaning, complete with overtones of blunder.
I'm glad we took into full membership all sorts of robust words that previous dictionaries derided as "colloquial": adjectives like "rambunctious," verbs like "trigger" and "rile," nouns like "shambles" and "tycoon" and "trek," the latter approved by 78 percent to mean any difficult trip, as in "the commuter's daily trek to Manhattan. But our panel evidently felt that the Manhattan commuters daily trek is no less arduous. Still, 2 2 percent were unwilling to let "trek" slip into general usage.
Thus our 95 percent vote against "myself," as in "He invited Mary and myself to dinner," a word condemned as "prissy," "horrible" and "a genteelism," ought to warn off anyone who doesn't want to be prissy, horrible and genteel. As Red Smith put it, "'Myself is the refuge of idiots taught early that 'me' is a dirty word. On the other hand, only 66 percent of our panel rejected the verb "to contact," once regarded as tacky, and only half opposed the split infinitive and the verbs "to fault" and "to bus. If you contact your school board you risk your reputation by another 16 percent.
Our apparent rule of thumb was stated by Theodore M. Bernstein, author of the excellent The Careful Writer: "We should apply the test of convenience. Does the word fill a real need? If it does, let's give it a franchise. One of our panelists, Katherine Anne Porter, called "O. One of the words 7 railed against was "personality," as in a "TV personality. What do the Gabor sisters do? In the end it comes down to what is "correct" usage. We have no king to establish the Kings English; we only have the Presidents English, which we don't want.
Webster, long a defender of the faith, muddied the waters in with its permissive Third Edition, which argued that almost anything goes as long as somebody uses it, noting that "ain't" is "used orally in most parts of the U. Just where Webster cultivated those speakers I ain't sure.
Nevertheless it's true that the spoken language is looser than the written language, and The American Heritage Dictionary properly put its question to us in both forms. Often we allowed an oral idiom that we forbade in print as too informal, fully realizing, however, that "the pen must at length comply with the tongue," as Samuel Johnson said, and that todays spoken garbage may be tomorrows written gold. I think a sentence is a fine thing to put a preposition at the end of. Our panel recognized that correctness can even vary within a word.
We voted heavily against "cohort" as a synonym for "colleague," except where the tone was jocular. Thus a professor would not be among his cohorts at a faculty meeting, but they would abound at his college reunion, wearing funny hats. We rejected "too" as a synonym for "very," as in "His health is not too good.
But we approved it in sardonic or humorous use, as in "He was not too happy when she ignored him. They're not. They are signals to the reader that you are sensitive to the shadings of usage. It adds a tinge of sarcasm that otherwise wouldn't be there. Luckily, a pattern emerged from the deliberations of our panel, and it offers a guideline that is still useful. We turned out to be liberal in accepting new words and phrases, but conservative in grammar. It would be foolish to reject a word as perfect as "dropout," or to pretend that countless words and phrases are not entering.
Nor should we forget all the short words invented by the counterculture in the s as a way of lashing back at the self-important verbiage of the Establishment: "trip," "rap," "crash," "trash," "funky," "split," "rip-off," "vibes," "downer," "bummer" and many more.
A Commonsense Guide to Grammar and Usage, Sixth Edition
If brevity is a prize, these were winners. The only trouble with accepting words that entered the language overnight is that they often leave just as abruptly. The "happenings" of the late s no longer happen, "out of sight" is out of sight, and even "awesome" has begun to chill out. The writer who cares about usage must always know the quick from the dead. Incorrect usage will lose you the readers you would most like to win. Know the difference between a "reference" and an "allusion," between "connive" and "conspire," between "compare with" and "compare to.
It means "include"; dinner comprises meat, potatoes, salad and dessert. We were not pedants, so hung up on correctness that we didn't want the language to keep refreshing itself with phrases like "hung up. Meanwhile the battle continues. In the Usage Panel was reconstituted, and today I still receive ballots soliciting my opinion on new locutions: verbs like "definitize" "Congress definitized a proposal" , nouns like "affordables," colloquialisms like "the bottom line" and strays like "into" "He's into backgammon and she's into jogging".
It no longer takes a panel of experts to notice that jargon is flooding our daily life and language. President Carter signed an executive order directing that federal regulations be written "simply and clearly.
Whether these efforts will do much good I wouldn't want to bet. Still, there's comfort in the sight of so many watchdogs standing Canute-like on the beach, trying to hold back the tide. Then I began to meet "de-impact," usually in connection with programs to de-impact the effects of some adversity. Nouns now turn overnight into verbs. We target goals and we access facts. Train conductors announce that the train won't platform. A sign on an airport door tells me that the door is alarmed.
Companies are downsizing. It's part of an ongoing effort to grow the business. We face our daily job with more zest if the boss tells us it's an ongoing project; we give more willingly to institutions if they have targeted our. Otherwise we might fall prey to disincentivization. I could go on; I have enough examples to fill a book, but it's not a book I would want anyone to read.
We're still left with the question: What is good usage? One helpful approach is to try to separate usage from jargon. As every businessman knows, the bottom line is the one that matters. If someone says, "The bottom line is that we just can't work together," we know what he means. I don't much like the phrase, but the bottom line is that it's here to stay.
New usages also arrive with new political events. Just as Vietnam gave us "escalate," Watergate gave us a whole lexicon of words connoting obstruction and deceit, including "stonewall," "deep-six," "launder," "enemies list" and other "gate"-suffix scandals "Irangate". It's a fitting irony that under Richard Nixon "launder" became a dirty word. Today when we hear that someone laundered his funds to hide the origin of the money and the route it took, the word has a precise meaning.
It's short, it's vivid, and we need it. I accept "launder" and "stonewall"; I don't accept "prioritize" and "disincentive. It's the difference between, say, "printout" and "input. Before the advent of computers it wasn't needed; now it is. But it has stayed where it belongs. Not so with "input," which was coined to describe the information that's fed to a computer. Our input is sought on every subject, from diets to philosophical discourse "I'd like your input on whether God really exists".
I don't want to give somebody my input and get his feed-. You might say it's how I verbalize the interpersonal. The publication presents proof from the longitudinal speech info of 4 baby moment language L2 inexperienced persons to be able to try the predictions of a contemporary idea of null-subjects, particularly, the Morphological Uniformity precept MUP.
Get Grammar : 1, practice questions for dummies PDF. Perform makes ideal - and is helping deepen your knowing of English grammarEstablishing strong grammar behavior will set you up for fulfillment. This formula contains the purely "lexical" elements of the Ket verb in the linear order in which they occur in an actual form, separated by hyphens, thus starting with any P7 incorporate46 cf. This string of lexical elements is then invariably followed by an indication of the conjugation class I-V, with, if applicable, a subscript indication of morphologically transitive tr or intransitive itr verbs, cf.
With verbs of conjugation classes II and III, the "series" of the P6 subject and object markers, which is not predictable, has to be indicated. In most cases, a few sentences have to suffice to characterize the contributions of the most important personalities in the field. A more detailed account can be found in Vajda , This outstanding book contains a remarkably complete bibliography of virtually everything written and published on Yeniseian linguistics and ethnography before the 21st century, and no student of Ket can afford to ever be without it.
Readers demanding more information about the works of scholars mentioned in this chapter should open the relevant pages of Vajda's book and will find all of them enumerated, summarized and competently characterized, down to the tiniest newspaper article. Of the various orthographic conventions for Ket. Examples taken from published sources are retranscribed into the notational system used throughout this book, except where noted otherwise, or where phonetic details are central to the discussion. If verbs are quoted as lexical entries, a schematic "verbal formula" is applied throughout.
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