« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »
ambiguous words, unintelligible expressions, and all such words and phrases as are not adapted to our meaning.
1. Avoid low expressions : such as, “ Topsy turvy, hurly burly, pellmell; having a month's mind for a thing; currying favour with a person; dancing attendance on the great,” &c.
“ Meantime the Britons, left to shift for themselves, were forced to call in the Saxons for their defence.” The phrase “ left to shift for themselves,” is rather a low phrase, and too much in the familiar style to be proper in a grave treatise.
2. Supply words that are wanting. “ Arbitrary power I look upon as a greater evil than anarchy itself, as much as a savage is a happier state of life than a slave at the oar;" it should have been, “ as much as the state of a savage is happier than that of a slave at the oar.” “ He has not treated this subject liberally, by the views of others as well as his own;" “ By adverting to the views of others," would have been better. “ This generous action greatly increased his former services;" it should have been, greatly increased the merit of his former services."
“ By the pleasures of the imagination or fancy (which I shall use promiscuously) I here mean,” &c. This passage ought to have had the word “terms” supplied, which, would have made it correct: "terms which I shall use promiscuously.”
It may be proper in this place to observe, that articles and prepositions are sometimes improperly omitted ; as in the following instances : “How immense the difference between the pious and profane!” “ Death is the common lot of all; of good men and bad.” They should have had the article and preposition repeated: “How immense the difference between the pious and the profane!” “ Death is the common lot of all; of good men and of bad."
The repetition of articles and prepositions is proper, when we intend to point out the objects of which we speak, as distinguished from each other, or in contrast; and when we wish that the reader's attention should rest on that distinction: as, “Our sight is at once the most delightful, and the most useful of all our senses.'
3. In the same sentence, be careful not to use the same word too frequently, nor in different senses. “ One may have an air which proceeds from a just sufficiency and knowledge of the matter before him, which may naturally produce some motions of his head and body, which might become the bench better than the bar."
The pronoun which is here thrice used, in such a manner as to throw obscurity over the sentence.
Gregory favoured the undertaking, for no other reason than this, that the manager, in countenance, favoured his friend.” It should have been, “ resembled his friend."
“ Charity expands our hearts in love to God and man: it is by the virtue of charity that the rich are blessed, and
poor supplied.” In this sentence, the word "charity" is improperly used in two different senses; for the highest benevolence, and for almsgiving.
4. Avoid the injudicious use of technical terms. To inform those who do not understand sea-phrases, that “\Ve tacked to the larboard, and stood off to sea,” would be expressing ourselves very obscurely. Technical phrases not being in current use, but only the peculiar dialect of a particular class, we should never use them but when we know they will be understood.
5. Avoid equivocal or ambiguous words. The following sentences are exceptionable in this respect. " As for such animals as are mortal or noxious, we have a right to destroy them.” “ I long since learned to like nothing but what
“ He aimed at nothing less than the crown,” may denote either, “Nothing was less aimed at by him than the crown,” or “ Nothing inferior to the crown could satisfy his ambition.” “I will have mercy, and not sacrifice.” The first part of this sentence denotes, “I will exercise mercy;" whereas it is in this place employed to signify, “ I require others to exercise it.” The translation should therefore have been accommodated to these different meanings. They were both much more ancient among the Persians, thau Zoroaster or Zerdusht,” The or in this
(Propriety. sentence is equivocal. It serves either as a copulativet
to synonymous words, or as a disjunctive of different things. If, therefore, the student should not know that Zoroaster and Zerdusht mean the same person he will mistake the
“ The rising tomb a lofty column bore:”.“ And thus the son the fervent sire addrest." Did the tomb bear the column, or the column the tomb? Did the son address the sire, or the sire the son ?
6. Avoid unintelligible and inconsistent words or phrases. “ I have observed,” says Steele, “that the superiority among these coffeehouse politicians, proceeds from an opinion of gallantry and fashion.” This sentence, considered in itself, evidently conveys no meaning. First, it is not said whose opinion, their own, or that of others : Secondly, it is not said what opinion, or of what sort, favourable or unfavourable, true or fal but in general, “an opinion of gallantry and fashion, which contains no definite expression of any meaning. With the joint assistance of the context, reflection, and conjecture, we shall perhaps conclude that the author intended to say ; « That the superiority among these politicians was determined by the opinion generally entertained of the rank, in point of gallantry and fashion, that each of them had attained.”
“ This temper of mind,” says an author, speaking of humility, keeps our understanding tight about us.” Whether the author had any meaning in this expression, or what it was, is not easy to determine.
Sometimes a writer runs on in a specious verbosity, amusing his reader with synonymous terms and identical propositions, well-turned periods, and high sounding words; but at the same time, using those words so indefinitely, that the reader can either affix no meaning at all to them, or may affix to them almost any meaning he pleases,
“ If it is asked,” says a late writer, “ whence arises the harmony, or beauty of language? what are the rules for obtaining it? the answer is obvious. Whatever renders a period sweet and pleasant, makes it also graceful. A good ear is the gift of nature; it may be much improved, but not acquired by art. Whoever is possessed of it, will scarcely need dry critical precepts to enable him to judge of a true rhythmus, and melody of composition. Just numbers, accurate proportions, a musical symphony, magnificent figures, and that decorum which is the result of all these, are unison to the human mind.”
The following is a poetical example of the same nature, in which there is scarcely a glimpse of meaning, though it was composed by an eminent poet.
From harmony, from heavenly harmony,
This universal frame began :
From harmony to harmony
The diapason closing full in man. In general, it may be said, that in writings of this stamp, we must accept of sound instead of sense; being assured, that if we meet with little that can inform the judgment, we shall at least find nothing that will offend the ear. And perhaps this is one reason that we pass over such smooth language, without suspecting that it contains little or no meaning. In order to write or speak clearly and intelligibly, two things are especially requisite: one, that we have clear and distinct ideas of our subject; and the other, that our words be approved signs of those ideas. That persons who think confusedly, should express themselves obscurely, is not to be wondered at; for embarrassed, obscure, and feeble sentences, are generally, if not always, the result of embarrassed, obscure, and feeble thought; but that persons of judgment, who are accustomed to scrutinize their ideas, and the signification of their words, should sometimes write without any meaning, is, at first sight, matter of admiration. This, however, when further considered, appears to be an effect derived from the saine cause, indistinctness of conception, and inattention to the exact import of words. The occasions on which we are most apt to speak and write in this unintelligible' manner, are the three following.
The first is, where there is an exuberance of metaphor. Writers who are fond of the metaphoric style, are generally disposed to continue it too long, and to pursue it too far, They are often misled by a desire of flourishing on the several properties of a metaphor which they have ushered into the discourse, without taking the trouble to examine whether there are any qualities in the subject, to which these properties can, with justice and perspicuity, be applied. The following instance of this sort of writing is from an author of considerable eminence. “Men must acquire a very peculiar and strong habit of turning their view inward, in order to explore the interior regions and recesses of the mind, the hollow caverns of deep thought, the private seats of fancy, and the wastes and wildernesses, as well as the more fruitful and cultivated tracts of this obscure climate.” A most wonderful way of telling us, that it is difficult to trace the operations of the mind. The author having determined to represent the human mind under the metaphor of a country, revolved in his thoughts the various objects which might be found in a country, without considering whether there are any things in the mind properly analogous to these. Hence the strange parade he makes with regions and recesses, hollow carerns and private seats, wastes and wildernesses, fruitful and cultirated tracts; words which, though they have a precise meaning, as applied to country, have no definite signification, as applied to mind.
The second occasion of our being apt to write unintelligibly, is that wherein the terms most frequently occurring, denote things which are of a complicated nature, and to wbich the mind is not sufficiently familiarised. Of these the instances are numberless in every tongue; such as Government, church, state, constitution, power, legislature, jurisdiction, &c.
The third and principal occasion of unintelligible writing, is, when the terms employed are very abstract, and consequently of very extensive signification. Thus the word