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QUALITIES OF STYLE
1. The qualities here treated of are clearness, force, and interest.
Clearness concerns itself with imparting truth to the mind. It is necessary for all composition and without either of the other two qualities is usually sufficient in scientific and legal language.
Force is the quality which presents to the emotions and will the good or evil of a course, in order by these motives to bring about resolution and action. It is the quality found in persuasive speeches and essays.
Interest is the quality which arrests and holds the attention of the mind by presenting the novelty, humor, or beauty of the topic. It finds its greatest field in stories and informal essays, but is used in all composition. Interest and force often make their appeal through the imagination.
A word or sentence may at one and the same time be clear for the mind, forceful for the emotions and the will, and interesting to the imagination and intellectual attention. Truth, mental attractiveness, and good may all be united in the one thought, as “To speak a word in due time is like apples of gold on beds of silver,” Prov. 25:11. Where the subject is of itself important, as in science, clearness is usually sufficient; where the subject is trite or the reader is indifferent to its importance, interest must be awakened for attention and force invoked for action. This division and this meaning of the qualities will be found, it is believed, to be those traditionally accepted by the rhetoricians of all languages. Some recent writers vary in their use of these terms.
2. Language is clear when the thought is fully and readily understood.
Clearness is the first and most necessary quality of language. The purpose of language is to convey thought from one mind to another. Language should therefore exactly mirror the writer's thought and be such as readily to be understood by the reader. Clear thinking is needed for clear writing. Study, careful reading, analysis of compositions, and the choice of a subject within one's powers are helps to clear thinking.
I. Clearness in Words 3. Use words which express the thought exactly in kind (right word) and exactly in degree (accurate word). Such words will insure a full expression of your thought.
He goes away; walks away; limps away; rides away.
The verbs express different degrees of swiftness in going.
4. Use words readily understood by the reader (apt word). The apt word is one commonly used (current) and belonging to the language (native), not too old (obsolete), not too new (newly coined), not too learned (technical).
In the following passage Newman is humorously caricaturing the use of English legal and obsolete terms, unintelligible to an audience and absurdly quoted through prejudice.
If you wage war to the knife with its blighting superstitions of primogeniture, gavel kind, mortmain and contingent remainders; if you detest
the provisions of its habeas corpus, quare impedit and quitam (hear, hear); if you scorn the mummeries of its wigs and bands and coifs and ermine (vehement cheering); if you trample and spit upon its accursed fee simple, fee tail, villanage and free soccage, fiefs, heriots, seizins, feuds (a burst of cheers).
NEWMAN : Present Position of Catholics.
1. In any passage cited in this book instances may be found exemplifying the use of right, accurate, and apt words. Substitute other nouns, adjectives, or verbs and see whether you have improved or injured the passage. In any given passage, what is the best instance of the right word?
2. The lowing herd wind slowly o'er the lea.-GRAY: Elegy.
In place of the cattle substitute birds, various animals, groups of men, and use the right word for the sound, the collection, the movement, etc.
3. For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
The oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely,
- SHAKESPEARE: Hamlet.
For these evils of life suggest joys of life or beauties of some scene or pleasures of books or advantages of studies or of games, using in each case the right combination of words, as “the proud man's contumely,”
" " the insolence of office.”
4. The still higher faculty of invention Addison possessed in still larger measure. The numerous fictions, generally original, often wild and grotesque, but always singularly graceful and happy, which are found in his essays, fully entitle him to the rank of a great poet, a rank to which his metrical compositions give him no claim.
- MACAULAY: Addison.
The qualities of Addison's fictions prove him a poet. The repetition of "rank" before its relative helps clearness. The right word is used in the adjectives and adverbs.