Wednesdays with Words – June 25, 2014

I’m nearing the end of Good Prose by Tracy Kidder and Richard Todd.  My current chapter has not been as quotable as past chapters but here are a couple of thoughts:

The familiar rules about writing turn out to be more nearly half-truths, dangerous if taken literally.  They are handy as correctives, but not very useful as instruction.

‘Never use a five-dollar-word when a fifty-cent word will do’ said Mark Twain, and this advice seems to be universally accepted.  True, there is no faster way to make a passage impenetrable than to accumulate long Latinate words.  But much of the force of English derives from the conquests and invasions that gave it multiple sources.  It is almost impossible to write prose in English without blending short, blunt Anglo-Saxon with more formal Latinate words, and the way you blend them matters.  It is a little-noted fact that a reader’s eye, just glancing at a page, can tell something about the contents simply by registering its texture.  The mere look of your prose can invite readers to go on or can warn them off before they read a word.


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