Monday, October 12, 2009

From the "Language Log" Site

"Here's why I bothered to write anything at all about a pathetic little 500-word radio sermon: I am so sick of seeing stupid writing advice handed out by pusillanimous pseudo-experts on language — dim-witted vicars like Angela Tilby, pontificating authoritarians like E. B. White in the chapter he added to The Elements of Style, and all the English teachers who have (while hypocritically making free to constantly using adjectives in their own writing) poisoned the reputation of adjectives down the centuries (see the first chapter of Ben Yagoda's delightful little book on the parts of speech, When You Catch an Adjective, Kill It).

These people are wasting educational time and effort, and helping to drive students into a state that I have written about before, characterized by "vague unease instead of a sense of mastery," and feeling "less sure of themselves, yet no better informed," so that their writing ability is "probably being harmed rather than enhanced" — in short, a state of nervous cluelessness about language.

Repeating the falsehood that adjectives are bad in general makes people less able to see what is wrong when they really are over-used."

Amen! I love riproarin', seductive adjectives. Hemingway is the bees' knees, but I'm a sucker for rhetoric, too, rhetoric that nae has to be smothered in direct Presbyterian relating. (Would that last sentence have been better enacted by tacking an "ism" onto the middle word, and expunging "direct" and "relating", or, similarly, by choosing a more "accurate" stand-alone noun?) Literal-minded, fussy, unfunny, colourless, scrimping, legalistic, noun-as-holy-intonation marms. Or, if you're allergic to adjectives -- marms.

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