by Adbas Will
An essay I wrote for a female friend a while back.
Words and assorted clothing are comparable. A dictionary is a mini mall. Each section identified by one bold letter of the alphabet represents a store. Like clothes in an aisle, words fill every column. The value of an item to the shopper is determined by price. In the writer’s case, the meaning of a word will decide its value to his or her work.
One of the two most important similarities between words and assorted clothing, however, is neither found in a dictionary nor mini mall. The shopper’s purchase depends on the weather. Likewise, a word may only be selected by the writer if it is within context. A word used out of context is like a knitted sweater purchased on the brink of summer.
The second important similarity still is the most unique. Some clothing stores carry generic brands, while others sell clothing sown by famous designers (Miller 31). A cheap person will prefer to wear the generic clothing brands. This is a direct reflection of the lazy writer who favors the general term over the one that is commonly used in association with the subject. In response to Simplicity, an essay by professional writer and teacher William Zinsser, don’t use words where they don’t belong.
Based on the topic, Zinsser’s essay should be titled Concise instead. This gives the reader an accurate idea of what the text is about. Instructions on querying literary agencies across the nation consist of the same two adjectives: clear and concise (Cool 16). According to The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, simplicity is the state of being unmixed or uncompounded. The definition of concise, on the other hand, directly relates to words. It means to express a lot of information clearly in a few words. Ecclesiasticus 32:8 of the Apocrypha says, “Let thy speech be short, comprehending much in a few words.” In other words, “let thy speech be concise.”
In Zinsser’s book On Writing Well, he described clutter as the disease of American writing (Eschholz, Rosa, Clark 129). The word clutter is part of a “generic brand” of words. Anything can be cluttered whether a car, work desk, or bedroom. The “name brand” word that should be used is wordiness. Dictionary.com defines wordiness as a written expression in more words than are necessary. In the world as a whole, clutter is the opposite of simplicity. In the world of writing, however, wordiness is the opposite of concise. Using these terms creates a clearer context. Painting is also a form of speech (Gurney 8). In a biographical outline found at Wikipedia.com, Kenneth Noland, a renowned Color Field Painter stated, “For me, context is the key – from that comes the understanding of everything.” Entering the store to buy a jacket in the fall proves that your mind is clear. Opening a dictionary and choosing a word out of context confirms that it is not. This doesn’t mean that Zinsser is insane. He just prefers a plain T-shirt instead of a shirt made by Ralph Lauren with a sophisticated collar.
Overall, Zinsser is right. Writing should be concise. He wrote, “The secret to good writing is to strip every sentence to its cleanest components” (Eschholz, Rosa, Clark 130). The ideas in Simplicity also support the opinion of Professor Gregory Pence. In Let’s Think Outside the Box of Bad Clichés,” Pence blames himself for his students’ usage of meaningless clichés (Eschholz, Rosa, Clark 137). These clichés represent out of style clothing. They’re wearing the wrong words. His students are adding “clutter” to their papers. Professor Pence complains, “I must endure endless strings of nouns acting as adjectival phrases…” (Eschholz, Rosa, Clark 136). It’s like having a closet full of old clothing. The blame should be on popular music and TV sitcoms for telling students what words to use. By repeatedly listening to the same songs and dialogue, words and phrases become memorized. When writing, they resort to using a style of language their used to hearing (Thompson 20).
Popular culture is the origin of all jargon and clichés. Pence wrote, “Spare me the jargon from sports, such as being “on the bubble” for something” (Eschholz, Rosa, Clark 136). Based on his essay, students have turned into entertainers, trying desperately to stand out. They’re either “opening Pandora’s Box” or “sliding down the slippery slope” (Eschholz, Rosa, Clark 136). My best advice to Pence’s students is to leave the entertaining to those who are paid to entertain.
There are other parts to popular culture besides entertainment. In Charles R. Larson’s essay, Its Academic, or is it? he complains about the amount of grammatical errors found in today’s writing. With the evolution of text messaging and the social network, technology is to blame (Dahl 21). There are now acronyms for whole phrases. According to netlingo.com’s List of Chat Acronyms and Text Messaging Shorthand, there are even acronyms for entire sentences. “Alotbsol” is short for “Always look on the bright side of life.” My friend sent me a text yesterday that read “Wuz goin on?” I casually responded. Misspelling words and ignoring the rules to punctuation is an acceptable habit of society. That’s the reason Touchstone Books can publish a manuscript with a grammatically incorrect testimonial (Eschholz, Rosa, Clark 140-41). Society, including writers, is too used to text messaging.
In today’s society, there are many exciting ways to communicate such as video chatting, text messaging & social networking (Dahl 12). Each form of communication inevitably develops its own language. However, you should never write an essay as if you were composing a text message. The challenge is to keep the forms separate from each other like pants and shirts folded in different drawers below the bed. This helps avoid “clutter.” When your clothes are mixed together, every morning is a messy search for something to wear. Likewise, mixing today’s technological languages together creates a passage filled with “unnecessary words, pompous frills, and meaningless jargon” (Eschholz, Rosa, Clark 129). In response to Larson’s essay, we should not allow today’s advanced technology to blind us from the truth that there is, in fact, a proper way to write.
Whether Dr. Larson likes it or not, proper grammar is gradually becoming insignificant. According to Like I Said, Don’t Worry, an essay by Patricia T. O’Conner, everyone makes mistakes when writing whether they strive for grammatical perfection or not. No one should wear sandals in the winter, but what if you’re just taking out the trash? What’s the problem with being grammatically incorrect once in a while? The fact is that written messages are sent back and forth by thousands of Americans daily via computers (Eschholz, Rosa, Clark 144). This means that most things we write are understood despite grammatical mistakes. That’s like the guy wearing the mismatched sweat suit in the winter. He’s warm, though he doesn’t look right.
Matthew 7:1 of the Holy Bible says, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.” Furthermore, 1 Samuel 16:7 says, “For man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.” Should you deny that guy in the mismatched sweat suit your friendship? On the contrary, have we as readers become more concerned with the meaning of a sentence rather than its grammatical genius? The truth is that there is a conspiracy against society that is making us stupid (Thompson 14). At Mobithinking.com, statistics show that 632 million smart phones will be sold by the year 2015. That means the majority will be admitting that they’re, in fact, dumber than advanced technology. I don’t know everything, but I know nothing can be created by man to be smarter than a person created by God (Gen. 1:27, The Oxford Annotated Bible with Apocrypha). “Thanks to computers, Americans are communicating with one another at a rate undreamed of…” (Eschholz, Rosa, Clark 144). In this quotation, O’Conner is quietly admitting to have fallen victim to technology by accepting the mistakes in today’s writing. She needs to read Gregory Pence’s students’ papers, or the cluttered writings that Zinsser was referring to. As a former Book Review Editor for The New York Times, she’s used to reading the work of hired writers who take pride in what they do (Eschholz, Rosa, Clark 143). We students, nonetheless, are the important ones as leaders of future society (Thompson 29). Don’t ignore our mistakes teachers, urge us to fix them. To the homeless man wandering the cold streets without a coat, curse that wealthy individual you walk pass who doesn’t offer you the sweater off their back.
In conclusion, there are many words, but few can fit within one context. A powerful word that you would love to use but can’t, is like that shirt you tried on that didn’t fit. Whether your writing problem involves clutter, cliché, or bad grammar, what you’ve written is likely to be understood by most, due to the current “dumbing down” of society (Thompson 3). For those of us still sane, don’t just write what you want, and then blame your Word Processor for your mistakes. Show some dignity. Take pride in your work.
To further elaborate on my conclusion, there is one thing that these essays all have in common. Each writer agrees that there is a proper way to piece together words (Eschholz, Rosa, Clark 129-145). Knowing this should force us to be choosy with our words, as if we’re choosing what to wear to our boss’ formal gathering. Match up words and create your outfit, a sentence. At the mini mall, there are so many clothes on display. You know the season, your size, favorite colors, and style of dress before entering a store. Understanding yourself narrows down your options. As this relates to writing, narrow down your choice of words by understanding the topic of your writing. Know the context, be original and, more importantly, concise.