Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Say it clearly or not at all

Most writers, and nearly all editors, secretly know that they care too much. Once upon a time, poor language was restricted to personal correspondence, because nobody got published unless they had a good grasp of English already, and even the worst of them (F Scott Fitzgerald springs to mind) usually had good editors who would make sure their writing was in decent shape before any reader saw it.

That all changed with the internet. Suddenly we are overwhelmed by the thoughts of the illiterati as they spew across the web like stinking turds from a broken sewer, through blogs, Facebook, Twitter and the comment sections of news websites. No sooner has an idea dawned with feeble glow of a five-Watt bulb than it's there on the internet for the world to see, forever. Speak You're Branes: there's no one to stop you.

In truth, we live in the most literate age the world has ever known, but it doesn't look like it. The question is, does it matter? All languages have reached where they are through the choices made by the illiterate and uneducated. It's only in the past couple of centuries that the elite have sought to control language. What role does this elite have to play?

I must count myself as part of this elite or else I wouldn't have a blog, or, for that matter, a job. And this is my priority: to cajole writers into doing all that good writing demands, which is to state your point of view clearly and unambiguously.

Writers and editors grumble about 'correct usage': I will never allow 'impact' as a verb, for example; but that's an editor's anally retentive obsession at play. In truth, clarity is the only thing that matters. Break every rule you like, but the only important thing is that you make your meaning clear. Don't hide your meaning in cliché or jargon. Say what you want to say. Don't pretend to say something and then hide it. If it's worth saying, then say it clearly. If you don't want to say it, just leave it unsaid. 

Moral: Fear is the writer's greatest enemy

1 comment:

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