Thursday, December 07, 2006

Clear, Expressive English

Between Two Worlds linked to an important article by Joseph Epstein about Vocabula Review writer Robert Fiske that argues that, "without careful language there can be no clear thought." Here is a good sampling of the article:

Mr. Fiske's own characteristic tone is perhaps best caught in his Dimwit's Dictionary. In that 400-page work a vast body of words and phrases are shown up for the linguistic ciphers they are. He has established a number of categories for "Expressions That Dull Our Reason and Dim Our Insight." These included grammatical gimmicks, which are expressions (such as "whatever," "you had to be there") that are used by people who have lost their powers of description; ineffectual phrases ("the fact remains," "the thing about it is," "it is important to realize") used by people to delay coming to the point or for simple bewilderment; infantile phrases ("humongous," "gazillions," "everything's relative"), which show evidence of unformed reasoning; moribund metaphors ("window of opportunity") and insipid similes ("cool as a cucumber"); suspect superlatives ("an amazing person," "the best and the brightest"), which are just what the category suggests; torpid terms ("prioritize," "proactive," "significant other"), which are vapid and dreary; not to mention plebeian sentiments, overworked words, popular prescriptions, quack equations, and wretched redundancies.

There are so many cliched and overused words and phrases that convey little meaning and expose the mindlessness that so many of us are guilty of using in our vocabulary. We hear the phrases in the news and media and become puppets repeating them without thinking for ourselves.

Here are a few I would add to Fiske's list:
  • troops/commanders "on the ground"
  • "I could care less."
  • pluralizing names as a way of typifying a sort of individual (such as, "the Mark Redmans, Tomo Ohkas, and Miguel Batistas of the world.")
  • "move forward"
  • "take this off-line"
  • "synergy"

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