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The King's English

Posted by marshallz10 z9-10 CA (My Page) on
Sun, Nov 25, 12 at 9:43

I just can't pass this up! Fred Reed, that irascible curmudgeon, recently posted a thrashing of our loss of style in writing and speaking. He cites Strunk and White's Elements of Style but offers up and earlier style manual:

http://www.bartleby.com/116/101.html#3

H.W. Fowler (1858�1933). The King�s English, 2nd ed. 1908.

ANY one who wishes to become a good writer should endeavour, before he allows himself to be tempted by the more showy qualities, to be direct, simple, brief, vigorous, and lucid.

This general principle may be translated into practical rules in the domain of vocabulary as follows:�

Prefer the familiar word to the far-fetched.
Prefer the concrete word to the abstract.
Prefer the single word to the circumlocution.
Prefer the short word to the long.
Prefer the Saxon word to the Romance. 1


These rules are given roughly in order of merit; the last is also the least. It is true that it is often given alone, as a sort of compendium of all the others. In some sense it is that: the writer whose percentage of Saxon words is high will generally be found to have fewer words that are out of the way, long, or abstract, and fewer periphrases, than another; and conversely. But if, instead of his Saxon percentage's being the natural and undesigned consequence of his brevity (and the rest), those other qualities have been attained by his consciously restricting himself to Saxon, his pains will have been worse than wasted; the taint of preciosity will be over all he has written. Observing that translate is derived from Latin, and learning that the Elizabethans had another word for it, he will pull us up by englishing his quotations; he will puzzle the general reader by introducing his book with a foreword. Such freaks should be left to the Germans, who have by this time succeeded in expelling as aliens a great many words that were good enough for Goethe. And they, indeed, are very likely right, because their language is a thoroughbred one; ours is not, and can now never be, anything but a hybrid; foreword is (or may be) Saxon; we can find out in the dictionary whether it is or not; but preface is English, dictionary or no dictionary; and we want to write English, not Saxon. Add to this that, even if the Saxon criterion were a safe one, more knowledge than most of us have is needed to apply it. Few who were not deep in philology would be prepared to state that no word in the following list (extracted from the preface to the Oxford Dictionary) is English:�battle, beast, beauty, beef, bill, blue, bonnet, border, boss, bound, bowl, brace, brave, bribe, bruise, brush, butt, button. Dr. Murray observes that these 'are now no less "native", and no less important constituents of our vocabulary, than the Teutonic words'.

Here is a link that might be useful: To Fume, Perchance to Growl, Random Vaporings on Language


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: The King's English

Seems akin to Orwell's guide to good writing.

Nevertheless I endlessly delight in the connections between modern English and the modern Romance languages.


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RE: The King's English

Thanks, Marshall.
Fred always comes through with a message that bites, but we all know it to be true.


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Let us camp in the field of english-ness.....


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RE: The King's English

Fowler also wrote a style manual for American English although I have not seen it. American English is rich in vocabulary influenced by many languages. Pat loves the influences of the Romance languages. I do too but realize how Germanic our English language still manages to remain.

Steve, you are right about Fred Reed; sometimes he issues lumps of obnoxiousness.


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RE: The King's English

  • Posted by sweeby Gulf Coast TX (My Page) on
    Sun, Nov 25, 12 at 12:05

"In a sentence, the vulgar have discovered that it is easier to reject higher standards than to meet them. By sheer numbers they prevail."

But always some pearls of wisdom...


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RE: The King's English

sweeby: "But always some pearls of wisdom..."

Indeed. And I say "never say die."

;D


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RE: The King's English

His "lumps of obnoxiousness" are equal opportunity offenders... like his little hit piece, A Plague of Grief Therapy. "They (therapists) seem to pop up at disasters faster than toadstools in damp weather..."

Something to consider.


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Do check on his misogynistic musings for Fred's full flavor of foulness. Maybe he left more than body pieces as a Marine grunt in Vietnam.


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RE: The King's English

Do check on his misogynistic musings for Fred's full flavor of foulness.

That I have encountered, and that is what keeps me from reading anymore of his commentaries. (Additionally, he writes as if he is passed his limit of alcohol consumption, plus his sense of humor and mine are not in sync.) I depend on the occasional synopsis from Marshall to stay current on his worthwhile comments.

I admire George Orwell's essay on writing clearly.


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RE: The King's English

Personally, I love language... but I don't like to read about how it should be used, or its dissected history. We all have our styles... and they come through rather clear on a forum, don't you think?

Word play... I do like it. The pen is, indeed, often mightier than the sword.


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RE: The King's English

Nancy, I have e-mailed to him my complaints about his intolerance toward women libbers, affirmative action, marriage and the like. No replies. He does brag about his love of vino de Padre... and the local pub where I suspect he composes his missives and sends out his weekly-to-bimonthly emails. Just a guess. He did go to the US to have an operation meant to save what little sight remains, VA facilities I suspect.


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Bring back William Safire!


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I have e-mailed to him my complaints about his intolerance

Marshall, good for you!

And you received the response that even I could have predicted. ;0)


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RE: The King's English

I find Mr. Reed's piece right on target. People no longer write as they speak...far too many ramblings, reaching for alternative words when the ordinary would suffice and contrived manners.

At first glance refreshing, but it gets old quick.


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Lavender: "People no longer write as they speak...far too many ramblings, reaching for alternative words when the ordinary would suffice and contrived manners." Add to that conscending.

I agree that there are those people. There are also the people whose writing seems so careless to me that they come off (to me) as one or more of these: arrogant, ignorant, or loaded; or any combination of these.


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Or - maybe they do write as they speak.

I've noticed the lack of using forms of the verb "to be" in speaking and writing (even here on the forums) and have never known if that is a regionalism or exactly what. The clothes need washed; he needs gone for a bit, etc.

I don't know why that particular thing bothers me more than anything I can put my finger on - I suppose because it sounds and reads sadly untutored.


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Of course the ordinary would do... but isn't it much better to locate and use the word, the right word, to describe exactly what one wants to say? I think so.

There are many, many antonyms and synonyms available for use... why limit one's speech OR writings to the ordinary... or use a word that doesn't quite catch the tone in the proper manner?

I happen to write very much the way I speak... hence the triple dots marking a pause... longer than a comma's worth, but not quite the end of a thought needing a period.

The trick with the written word, I think, is to decipher everyone's style, so we know exactly what they mean.


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One runs the risk of their writings coming across as artificial and contrived when they have to or choose to seek out the right or most descriptive word. Writing shouldn't sacrifice its flow and spontaneity for the sake of choosing the best word.

IMO, good writing skills is the ability to put ordinary words together in an extrodinary and interesting manner. In other words (s'cuse the pun), it's the sum of its parts.


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Well, here in the land of the West Saxons a single word is often sufficient:)

I grew up with both Fowler books at boarding school, before moving to America and learning another language entirely, as well as Latin with a Virginia accent. 'The King's English' and 'Modern English Usage' are both still on my bookshelf, though not consulted enough.

I love all the varieties of English spoken around the world - that is what has kept the language so dynamic and vibrant, and thank Goodness we don't have any form of 'Academy' fighting to keep the language 'pure'.

Best wishes
Jon


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Jon, are you snarking the French Academie? Renowned for throwing out perfectly good anglicized words in favor of often contorted French-rooted words or phrases.


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Oh, I would never dream of implying such a thing, marshall :)

Best wishes
Jon


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Every writer worth his or her salt keeps a dictionary and thesaurus handy. Writing isn't always about using the ordinary, in language. It's about the thought or thoughts contained therein... the story woven.


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Salt is cheap as talk these days.


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Talk about weaving: "America's present need is not heroics, but healing; not nostrums, but normalcy; not revolution, but restoration; not agitation, but adjustment; not surgery, but serenity; not the dramatic, but the dispassionate; not experiment, but equipoise; not submergence in internationality, but sustainment in triumphant nationality." (Warren G. Harding, Bloviator Extraordinaire)


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That, PNBrown, depends on the source. As far as I am aware, the pen is still mightier than the sword... as they say... in many ways. And knowledge is still power... if one is willing to open the mind and explore...


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We need more cliches, less bloviating


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But cliches, platitudes, boviation can be an attempt to give what you're saying/writing a certain bona fides.


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Good salt, worth eating, is dear. So any writer worth his/her himalayan pink salt....


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Everyone here writes in a certain, recognizable style... some take a little getting used to, while others are easier to grasp. Either way, we seem to get along okay in the department of writing and reading.


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RE: The King's English

  • Posted by sweeby Gulf Coast TX (My Page) on
    Mon, Nov 26, 12 at 21:11

The primary obstacle to clear writing is, I believe, a deficit in clear thinking. Once a writer knows exactly what he wants to say, putting his thoughts on paper is a straight-forward matter. Adding graceful flow to a paper that already contains a strong and coherent logical flow is simply a matter of fine-tuning.


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"But cliches, platitudes, boviation can be an attempt to give what you're saying/writing a certain bona fides."

It can also be an attempt to show off or it can be an attempt to hide other personal deficiencies.

One of the key rules to be aware of in all writing (and public speaking) is to know your audience. If you don't know your audience, all the bloviation one can come up with will be very self defeating.


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Actually, language creates thoughts. Without words, we could not think clearly much less communicate thoughts to others.

And style is not some external coat one slips into and out of. Style is more effective and coherent thinking.

Lots of big fancy words and pretentious phrasings are more like gaudy bright-colored boas, especially if you wear several of them--they might get someone's attention, but aren't necessary for most situations since they are intended to distract from the poverty of ideas in the expressions.

Of course, if you are just asking for directions to the next town, the clearest, most direct language is not only sufficient but probably also the best.

Kate's rules of language for today. : )

Kate


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I agree with you jmc01. Was respnding to marshall, but I overlooked adding the smiley face or LOL!

Bloviation should be relegated to the "simply showing off" shelf or occasionally to that place for limp attempts at self promotion.

Some seem to lose precision in putting down thoughts - we get the thought followed by ten paragraphs explaining it in different ways.


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I happen to agree with Fred in this particular essay. Perhaps because I grew up with a quite similar background to his own, in the south, of that generation.

He is stating that our language reflects the dumbing-down of our culture, and the increasing reduction of all to the lowest common denominator, the trashing of high standards.

The one thing I would take issue with is rhe preference of the Saxon derived word to those words with roots in the Romance languages. I am fascinated with the time period in English history, after 1066, after William the Conqueror invaded England, when so many French words entered the common language of that day, resulting in a new richness.


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We can argue bloviation until the cows come home... but the truth is, some of us enjoy language and words and grammar and punctuation more than others. Some have a penchant for numbers, instead. Arguing language won't change the way most, or all of us express ourselves.


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"Lots of big fancy words and pretentious phrasings are more like gaudy bright-colored boas, especially if you wear several of them--they might get someone's attention, but aren't necessary for most situations since they are intended to distract from the poverty of ideas in the expressions."

Symptoms of Histrionic Personality Disorder, if you ask me.


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RE: The King's English

William Safires's "Fumblerules of Grammar"-

(Source: Maximum Awesome; Image: William Safire in 1968, courtesy of NYTimes.)

Remember to never split an infinitive.
A preposition is something never to end a sentence with.
The passive voice should never be used.
Avoid run-on sentences they are hard to read.
Don't use no double negatives.
Use the semicolon properly, always use it where it is appropriate; and never where it isn't.
Reserve the apostrophe for it's proper use and omit it when its not needed.
Do not put statements in the negative form.
Verbs has to agree with their subjects.
No sentence fragments.
Proofread carefully to see if you words out.
Avoid commas, that are not necessary.
If you reread your work, you can find on rereading a great deal of repetition can be avoided by rereading and editing.
A writer must not shift your point of view.
Eschew dialect, irregardless.
And don't start a sentence with a conjunction.
Don't overuse exclamation marks!!!
Place pronouns as close as possible, especially in long sentences, as of 10 or more words, to their antecedents.
Hyphenate between sy-llables and avoid un-necessary hyphens.
Write all adverbial forms correct.
Don't use contractions in formal writing.
Writing carefully, dangling participles must be avoided.
It is incumbent on us to avoid archaisms.
If any word is improper at the end of a sentence, a linking verb is.
Steer clear of incorrect forms of verbs that have snuck in the language.
Take the bull by the hand and avoid mixing metaphors.
Avoid trendy locutions that sound flaky.
Never, ever use repetitive redundancies.
Everyone should be careful to use a singular pronoun with singular nouns in their writing.
If I've told you once, I've told you a thousand times, resist hyperbole.
Also, avoid awkward or affected alliteration.
Don't string too many prepositional phrases together unless you are walking through the valley of the shadow of death.
Always pick on the correct idiom.
"Avoid overuse of 'quotation "marks."'"
The adverb always follows the verb.
Last but not least, avoid cliches like the plague; They're old hat; seek viable alternatives.
Never use a long word when a diminutive one will do.
Employ the vernacular.
Eschew ampersands & abbreviations, etc.
Parenthetical remarks (however relevant) are unnecessary.
Contractions aren't necessary.
Foreign words and phrases are not apropos.
One should never generalize.
Eliminate quotations. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "I hate quotations. Tell me what you know."
Comparisons are as bad as cliches.
Don't be redundant; don't use more words than necessary; it's highly superfluous.
Be more or less specific.
Understatement is always best.
One-word sentences? Eliminate.
Analogies in writing are like feathers on a snake.
Go around the barn at high noon to avoid colloquialisms.
Who needs rhetorical questions?
Exaggeration is a billion times worse than understatement.
capitalize every sentence and remember always end it with a point


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RE: The King's English

In both Nigeria and Ghana, they speak a version of pidgin English thats a blast to listen to - if they do it right, its intentionally hilarious - they make fun of the words and intentionally mis-interpret what they say - sort of rolling puns.

At the link is a utube about a radio show that broadcasts in pidgin - the woman talking about imported pharmaceuticals is almost incomprehensible to my ears, thats the serious stuff. The radio jock is the one who's funny.

Here is a link that might be useful: link to West African pidgin


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RE: The King's English

jmc, thanks -- that list is delightful.

And don't start a sentence with a conjunction.
Don't overuse exclamation marks!!!

Those two rules would eliminate a good many thread titles.

AND WHAT IS OBAMA'S EXCUSE NOW!!!


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RE: The King's English

William Safire's Sunday NY Times magazine article was the reason I bought the paper. He wrote about words and language every week and most of his articles are on line now.


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