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|The English language has borrowed extensively from other languages. The result is an enormous vocabulary of some million words, many with similar meanings. Roget's Thesarus, for example, lists almost 100 synonyms for insane and over 150 synonyms for destroy. From this abundance, writers choose the words that best fit intended meaning and individual styles.
CHOOSING WORDS - Establishing the Formality.
Each time you write, you should decide whether to use a formal or an informal voice. The decision depends on your purpose and your audience. A formal voice is appropriate for business correspondence, reports, research papers, and articles in scholarly journals - documents in which writers distance themselves personally from the readers. While an informal voice is appropriate for purposes such as humorous writing, advertising, and articles in popular magazines - material in which writers try to establish a personal relationship with readers. Hence, you should use a formal style to establish a polite, professional relationship with a reader and an informal style to establish a friendly, conversational relationship.
The degree of formality or informality is established in large part by vocabulary. Words derived from Anglo-Saxon (Old English) seem more informal and conversational than words derived or borrowed from other languages. For example, the Anglo-Saxon derivatives lucky, get, buy and crazy seem less formal than their synonyms derived from Greek and Latin: fortunate, obtain, purchase, and demented. Likewise, the English words therefore and masterpiece are less formal than their Latin counterparts ergo and magnum opus.
Clipped forms are more informal than full forms. For example, pro, ad and deli are more informal than professional, advertisement, and delicatessen. Likewise, contractions (can't, isn't, it's) are more informal than uncontracted forms (cannot, is not, it is).
First person (I, we) and second person (you) are less formal than third (one, the writer, the student). If you are writing about yourself, I certainly seems more natural than one or this writer. If you are addressing a reader personally, you seems natural. Avoid, however, using you to mean people in general.
Slang is informal - sometimes, very informal - and its appearance in formal documents can reduce them to the absurd. Imagine, for example, reading something like this in a college bulletin: "Students with wheels should boogie on over to the security office and get a decal." However, a carefully chosen slang expression can make prose more interesting, vivid or efficient. "Razzmatazz" is more interesting than "a flashy display." "Bug a telephone" is more vivid than "equip a telephone with a microphone." "Computer nerd" is definitely more efficient than "a person who forgets the social amenities in an obsession for computers." Remember that an abundance of slang will make prose seem silly. Furthermore, the meanings of slang expressions are frequently unstable - changing unpredictably from time to time and audience to audience.
Chosing a formal or informal voice is often arbitrary; in many circumstances, readers will accept either. But whichever you choose, you should maintain it consistently throughout a composition. Notice how the voice in the following passage seems to shift from formal to informal and back to formal. As a result, the reader gets mixed signals about the writer's attitude.
If a person has no computer experience, shopping for a personal computer is very frustrating - primarily because the novice and the sales personnel do not use the same vocabulary. A salesperson will toss off a lot of stuff about memory, hard disks, and menus. And the novice will stand by nodding wisely but without a clue. This problem could be overcome if sales personnel were taught to explain in non-technical terms the capabilities of the equipment they sell.
A consistent voice - either informal or formal - makes clear the writer's attitude.
If you have no computer experience, shopping for a personal computer is a nightmare - primarily because the computer-impaired and the salespeople do not speak the same language. A salesperson will toss off a lot of stuff about memory, hard disks, and menus. And you will stand there nodding like an idiot but without a clue. This problem could be overcome if salespeople were taught to speak in plain English.
If a person has no computer experience, shopping for a personal computer is very frustrating - primarily because the novice and the sales personnel do not use the same vocabulary. A salesperson will casually discuss memory, hard disks and menus. And the novice will stand by nodding wisely but understanding nothing. This problem could be overcome if sales personnel were taught to explain in non-technical terms the capabilities of the equipment they sell.
Remember that when you adopt a voice, you should maintain it consistently throughout a composition. Otherwise, your reader will not know how to react.
EXERCISE: Revise ONE of the following passages to make the formality of the vocabulary consistent.
There are few afficionados of checkers. Most people think of checkers as a game for small fries. But this game can bring jollity and challenge even to the intelligentsia. Players can toil for years trying to divine the moves and can cram from hundreds of tomes that contain the lore of checkers masters. The competition at times gets fierce; it's no place for sissies with butterflies. One game played by virtuosos lasted seven hours and thirty minutes only to end in a draw.
You'll love the yummy cuisine you find all over New Orleans - especially the seafood. The oysters in an elegant cafe like Antoine's can be the piece de resistance of a lavish supper - something that will really fill the bill. Whenever you're looking for a bellyful of sumptuous chow, you might consider the trout Veronique at the Hotel Ponchartrain or the shrimp remoulade at Arnaud's.