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of the present century are such authors as Charles Lamb, Jane Austen, Scott, Coleridge, Landor, Macaulay, Thackeray, Dickens, Matthew Arnold, Froude, Ruskin, and George Eliot.
6. Our sentences must be written in pure English.
(i) This rule forbids the use of obsolete or old-fashioned words, such as erst, peradventure, hight, beholden, vouchsafe, methinks, etc.
(ii) It forbids also the use of slang expressions, such as awfully, jolly, rot, bosh, smell a rat, see with half an eye, etc.
(iii) It forbids the employment of technical terms, unless these are absolutely necessary to express our meaning; and this is sure to be the case in a paper treating on a scientific subject. But technical terms in an ordinary piece of writing, such as quantitative, connotation, anent, chromatic, are quite out of place.
(iv) In obedience to this rule, we ought also carefully to avoid the use of foreign words and phrases. Affectation of all kinds is disgusting; and it both looks and is affected to use such words as confrère, raison d'être, amour propre, congé, etc.
(v) This recommendation also includes the Practical Rule : “When an English-English (or 'Saxon ') and a Latin-English word offer themselves, we had better choose the Saxon.”
(vi) The following is from an article by Leigh Hunt: “In the Bible there are no Latinisms; and where is the life of our language to be found in such perfection as in the translation of the Bible We will venture to affirm that no one is master of the English language who is not well read in the Bible, and sensible of its peculiar excellences. It is the pure well of English. The taste which the Bible forms is not a taste for big words, but a taste for the simplest expression or the clearest medium of presenting ideas. Remarkable it is that most of the sublimities in the Bible are conveyed in monosyllables. For example, 'Let there be light: and there was light. Do these words want any life that Latin could lend them ? ... The best styles are the freest from Latinisms ; and it may be almost laid down as a rule that a good writer will never have recourse to a Latinism if a Saxon word will equally serve his purpose. We cannot dispense with words of Latin derivation; but there should be the plea of necessity for resorting to them, or we wrong our English.”
(vii) At the same time, it must not be forgotten that we very often are compelled by necessity to use Latin words. Even Leigh Hunt, in the above passage, has been obliged to do so while declaiming against it. This is apparent from the number of words printed in italics, all of which are derived from Latin. This is most apparent in the phrase equally serve his purpose, which we could not now translate into "pure” English.
7. Our sentences must be written in accurate English. That is, the words used must be appropriate to the sense we wish to convey. Accuracy is the virtue of using “the right word in the right place."
(i) “The attempt was found to be impracticable.” Now, impracticable means impossible of accomplishment. Any one may attempt anything; carrying it out is a different thing. The word used should have been design or plan.
(ii) "The veracity of the statement was called in question.” Veracity is the attribute of a person ; not of a statement.
(iii) Accurate English can only be attained by the careful study of the different shades of meaning in words ; by the constant comparison of synonyms. Hence we may lay down the
Practical Rule II.—Make a collection of synonyms, and compare the meanings of each couple (i) in a dictionary, and (ii) in a sentence.
The following are a few, the distinctions between which are
8. Our sentences should be perfectly clear. That is, the reader, if he is a person of ordinary common-sense, should not be left for a moment in doubt as to our meaning.
(i) A Roman writer on style says: “ Care should be taken, not that the reader may understand if he will, but that he shall understand whether he will or not."
(ii) Our sentences should be as clear as “mountain water flowing over a rock.” They should “economise the reader's attention.”
(iii) Clearness is gained by being simple, and by being brief.
(iv) Simplicity teaches us to avoid (a) too learned words, and (6) roundabout ways of mentioning persons and things.
(a) We ought, for example, to prefer-
. Reliable. Commence 1. Initiate.
(6) We ought to avoid such stale and hackneyed phrases as the Swan of Avon” for Shakespeare ; the “Bard of Florence" for Dante ; "the Great Lexicographer" for Dr Johnson. (v) Brevity enjoins upon us the need of expressing our meaning in as few words as possible.
Opposed to brevity is verbosity, or wordiness. Pope says
“ Words are like leaves; and, where they most abound,
Much fruit of sense beneath is rarely found.” (vi) Dr Johnson says:
Tediousness is the most fatal of all faults." +
9. Our sentences should be written in flowing English. That is, the rhythm of each sentence ought to be pleasant to the ear, if read aloud. This axiom gives rise to two rules :
Practical Rule III. — Write as you would speak !
(i) This, of course, points to an antecedent condition—that you must be a good reader. Good reading aloud is one of the chief conditions of good writing. “Living speech," says a philosophic writer, “is the corrective of all style.”
Practical Rule IV.-After we have written our piece of composition, we should read it aloud either to ourselves or to some
Thus, and thus only, shall we be able to know whether each sentence has an agreeable rhythm.
Practical Rule V._"Never write about any
do not well understand. If you clearly understand all about your matter, you will never want thoughts; and thoughts instantly become words.”—COBBETT.
“Seek not for words ; seek only fact and thought,
10. Our sentences should be compact.
(i) That is, they ought not to be loose collections of words, but firm, well-knit, nervous organisms.
(ii) A sentence in which the complete sense is suspended till the close is called a period. Contrasted with it is the loose sentence.
(a) Loose Sentence.—The Puritans looked down with contempt on
the rich and the eloquent, on nobles and priests. (6) Period.—On the rich and the eloquent, on nobles and priests
the Puritans looked down with contempt. (iii) The following is a fine example of a loose sentence : "Notwithstanding his having gone, in winter, to Moscow, where he found the cold excessive, and which confined him, without intermission, six weeks to his room, we could not induce him to come home." This no more makes a sentence than a few cartloads of bricks thrown loosely upon the ground constitute a house.
One object in style is to call the attention of the reader in a forcible and yet agreeable way to the most important parts of our subject—in other words, to give emphasis to what is emphatic, and to make what is striking and important strike the eye and mind of the reader. This purpose may be attained in many different ways; but there are several easy devices that will be found of use to us in our endeavour to give weight and emphasis to what we write. These are :
1. The ordinary grammatical order of the words in a sentence may be varied; and emphatic words may be thrown to the beginning or to the end of the sentence. This is the device of Inversion.
Thus we have, “Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.” “Jesus I know, and Paul I know: but who are ye?”. "Some he imprisoned ; others he put to death.” “Go he must!” “ Do it he shall !” “They could take their rest, for they knew Lord Strafford watched. Him they feared, him they trusted, him they obeyed.” “He that tells a lie is not sensible how great a task he undertakes ; for, to maintain one, he must invent twenty more.” In the last sentence, the phrase to maintain one gains emphasis by being thrown out of its usual and natural position. But
Caution 1.—Do not go out of your way to invert.
It has a look of affectation. Do not say, for example, “True it is," or “Of Milton it was always said,” etc. And do not begin an essay thus : “Of all the vices that disfigure and degrade," etc.
2. The Omission of Conjunctions gives force and emphasis.
Thus Hume writes : “He rushed amidst them with his sword drawn, threw them into confusion, pushed his advantage, and gained a complete victory." We may write: “You say this; I deny it.”
3. The use of the Imperative Mood gives liveliness and emphasis.
Thus we find the sentence : Strip virtue of the awful authority she derives from the general reverence of mankind, and you rob her of half her majesty.” Here strip is equal to If you strip; but is much more forcible.
4. Emphasis is also gained by employing the Interrogative Form.
(i) Thus, to say “Who does not hope to live long ?” is much more forcible and lively than “All of us hope to live long."
(ii) This is a well-known form in all impassioned speech. Thus, in the Bible we find : “Your fathers, where are they? And the prophets, do they live for ever?”
5. The device of Exclamation may also be employed to give emphasis; but it cannot be frequently used, without danger of falling into affectation.
Thus Shakespeare, instead of making Hamlet say, “Man is a wonderful piece of work,” etc.—which would be dull and flat-writes, “What a piece of work is man !” etc.
6. Emphasis may be gained by the use of the device of Periphrasis.
(i) Thus, instead of saying “John built this house," or " This house was built by John,” we can say : “It was John who built this house ;" “It was no other than John who,” etc.
7. Repetition is sometimes a powerful device for producing emphasis ; but, if too frequently employed, it becomes a tiresome mannerism.
(i) Macaulay is very fond of this device. He says : “Tacitus tells a fine story finely, but he cannot tell a plain story plainly. He stimulates till stimulants lose their power.” Again : “He aspired to the highest -above the people, above the authorities, above the laws, above his country.”