Saturday, August 14, 2021


I consider myself an anti-prescriptivist in English usage, but James located an essay that convinces me immediately that I am at least partly wrong in this. Formal English has an additional advantage of expression I had not considered. A Dash of Rhetoric. I continue to oppose the idea that many supposed rules of English are valid, as they are often pettifogging nonsense inserted into the language in previous centuries for artificial reasons, whatever cachet they have retained because of imperious instructors. But this makes sense to me.  Avoiding ambiguity in expression that is not interactive is a worthy goal, and formal English can be a considerable aid in this.


Douglas2 said...

Twice today when giving my name, the name-taker negotiated the correct choice of ambiguous letters with use of a phonetic alphabet -- but in place of the familiar Alfa, Bravo, Charlie signifiers for each letter from the NATO/telegraph phonetic alphabet, they both used saint's names. It served the purpose, and reminded me of how frequently there is back and forth to clarify meaning.

I've noticed recently that a colleague has become much less formal and more colloquial in their emails to me, but that this frequently leaves me wondering whether the instruction was to do one thing or to do another, as both could equally fulfill the text as-written.

"do the usual setup" was a recent one, I knew the goal was to save time and labor, but did he mean "the usual setup" we would usually use for these circumstances, or "the usual setup" that we use for the majority of use of that room, in order to save the labor of changing over and changing back. It turned out to be the first, but I've found that being colloquial rather than specific has let to more email, texts, and phonecalls rather than less as the ambiguities get ironed out.

But there are parts of that linked essay where I immediately spot claims that are only partly true, or claims where I look for supporting evidence but find none other than assertion. I do think it makes a good point overall.


Grim said...

The error of my youth was to focus on the formal at the expense of the conversational. What a shame. I missed out on a lot of fun in the name of being precise and not misunderstood.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I owe a good deal to both registers. I think my goal is to attain the precision of the formal within a colloquial style.

Abdul said...