Linguistic Bouquets & Brickbats

I love language, to begin with. I adore a clever turn of phrase, a well-chosen word, a finely crafted thought.

At the same time, I abhor slipshod sentences, vapid verbage and atrocious alliteration.

Thus, time to call out some linguistic examples I have recently noted.

Thumbs DownDivergent spelling seems to be everywhere. Also known as “sensational spelling” (although it doesn’t seem that sensational to me), intentional misspelling litters the countryside in the form of product names (Krispy Kreme, Froot Loops), song titles (Katy Perry’s “California Gurls”, Prince’s “I Would Die 4 U”) and television (Nick at Nite, Syfy). While relatively harmless, it still bothers me in that it sacrifices clarity for cleverness. Nowhere is it more apparent than in texting; is it really that taxing to add “y” and “o” before “u”? And what lesson are we teaching the youngsters? Words have beauty, and deliberate misspelling and haphazard abbreviation causes them to lose their luster.

Thumbs UpI recently listened to a podcast from The Economist in which British economist Bernard Connolly used the phrase “Doctrine of Immaculate Transfer”: the belief that an improvement in one place automatically leads to improvement in others. I’ll be adding that to my personal language lineup.

Thumbs Down“It’s not rocket science”. This hackneyed bromide needs to be put out to pasture. Suggested replacements: “It’s not Advanced Calculus” or “It’s not writing Malebolge code”. “This is simple” will also do nicely.

Thumbs DownI am also quite done with the phrases “Don’t go there” and “To make a long story short…”, and for the same reason: by the time they are uttered, it’s too late. I’ve already gone there, and the story is already too long to be benefit from shortening.

Thumbs UpOne of my favorite writers is Ring Lardner, who populated his works with some of the best turns of phrase in the English language. To wit:

“They gave each other a smile with a future in it.”

He looked at me as if I were a side dish he hadn’t ordered.

“He gave her a look you could have poured on a waffle.”

“The race is not always to the swift nor the battle to the strong – but that’s the way to bet.”

Writing and speaking with a less speed and more care, fewer clichés and greater clarity, and a little more pizzazz all around will provide enormous benefits with a modicum of effort.

After all, it’s not rocket science.


Today’s Fact Cetera

Shakespeare invented the words “assassination” and  “bump”.

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