Sunday, September 25, 2005

Writing style and word choices: following in the footsteps of George Carlin

There is a scene in the film A River Runs Through It that reminds me of my own childhood. Norman talks about going to school under the instruction of his father. Norman learned to write Presbyterian style, which meant with the principle of thrift. As I have noted in an earlier post, The (original) Madhouse Gazette was my first foray into journalism back in the late 1970's. My other grandfather (Not Elihu) would sit with my published newspaper and critique its content for layout and use of language. Because I was more concerned with ideas than details, my grandfather's instruction has gently eroded. I became more deeply concerned with getting the idea out in a timely manner than the construction details.

The stakes have never been as high for me as they are now.

As a senior pastor and a (hopefully) a future doctoral student, I wish I had my grandfather around to discuss the importance of words and the construction of language. My preaching professor would have been glad to know that I was raised in environment where words matter.

When I used to write for the The Olympian newspaper, I occasionally received memos regarding language we should no longer use because they have lost their meaning, or violated the principle of thrift.

Reading the letters in the Argus Leader has reminded me that the time has come in my life when I create my own list of words to avoid in both writing and speech. I have a long way to go before I become a writer of worth, but my grandfather reminded me on a regular basis that clarity of thought through diction is a worthy endeavor.

Thanks, Granddad.

The List--Installment (Like George Carlin, I will add to the list when I feel like it)

1. Whether or not--my grandfather used to scream at the radio or television when he heard this one. Though Granddad has been dead for a few years now, I have taken up his cause. He said the statement is redundant, which is against the thrift principle. Whether or not may be appropriate in limited circumstances when it can be replaced by the word "regardless." Regardless seems better.

2. In terms of--Granddad never made a statement against this phrase, but I imagine he might these days. I hear it frequently, and occasionally it comes out my own mouth in torrents. This can't be good.

3. Clearly--I have seen this word attached in many letters to the editor to create emphasis on a particular point in a debate. A well crafted point does not need a word like "clearly."

Enjoy your sabbath. I hope you are practicing one.

Rev. Elihu

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