Monday, August 01, 2005

Clearly cantankerous

I bought a book over the weekend: The Dictionary of Disagreeable English by Robert Hartwell Fiske. I own another of his books: The Dictionary of Concise Writing.

Fiske describes himself as a curmudgeonly sort and he's prone to lay down the law with regard to usage. I appreciate that. I've found his books to be interesting and helpful. He's also the editor of The Vocabula Review. (motto: A society is generally as lax as its language.)

Here's a quote (found on page 6, which is a compendium of Fiske quotes, just to sort of get the reader in the right frame of mind):
"Since how a person speaks and writes is a fair reflection of how a person thinks and feels, shoddy language may imply a careless and inconsiderate people -- a public whose ideals have been discarded and whose ideas have been distorted. And in a society of this sort, easiness and mediocrity are much esteemed." (originally from The Dictionary of Concise Writing)

Strong words, but worth thinking about.

I judge usage books by how they handle certain of my pet peeve words, such as the word comprise. This word is misused so often I think it should be avoided. (J.K. Rowling seems rather fond of it -- about half the time she uses it correctly.) So I looked up how Fiske treats it -- he uses several examples and then sums it up nicely: "The distinction is thus: The whole comprises the parts; the parts compose the whole." Bravo!


Roy Jacobsen said...

Found you via Brandywine Books. As I said there, I think that our writing is a reflection on our thinking, and that a large portion of learning to write better is learning to think better.

I'll have to take a closer look at Fiske's books.

I wrote about writing and thinking on my blog back in April:

lindaruth said...

You make good points over there. Thanks for introducing yourself.