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lion is more distinctly apprehended by the mind than the word beast, beast than animal, animal than being.
The 7th and last rule for preserving propriety in our words and phrases, is, to avoid all those which are not adapted to the ideas we mean to communicate; or which are less significant than others, of those ideas. “ He feels any sorrow that can arrive at man;" better“ happen to man.” “ The conscience of approving one's self a benefactor, is the best recompense for being so;” it should have been “ consciousness." He firinly believed the divine precept, “ There is not a sparrow falls to the ground,” &c. It should have been “ doctrine.”
“ It is but opening the eye, and the scene enters.” A scene cannot be said to enter : an actor enters; but a scene appears or presents itself.
“ We immediately assent to the beauty of an object, without inquiring into the causes of it :" it is proper to say, that we assent to the truth of a proposition ; but it cannot so well be said, that we assent to the beauty of an object. Acknowledge would have expressed the sense with propriety.
“ The sense of feeling, can, indeed, give us a notion of extension, shape, and all other ideas that enter at the eye, except colours.” Extension and shape can, with no propriety, be called ideas; they are properties of matter, Neither is it accurate, to speak of any sense giving us a notion of ideas : our senses give us the ideas themselves. The meaning of the sentence would have been proper, and much clearer, if the author had expressed himself thus : “The sense of feeling can, indeed, give us the idea of extension, figure, and all the other properties of matter, which are perceived by the eye, except colours.”
“ The covetous man never has a sufficiency; although he has what is enough for nature,” is much inferior to, “ The covetous man never has enough; although he has what is sufficient for nature.”
“ A traveller observes the most striking objects he sees; a general remarks all the motions of his enemy;" better thus; “A traveller remarks," &c.;.“ A general observes," &c.
« This measure enlarged his school, and obliged him to increase the buildings;" it should be, “increased his school ;” and “enlarge the buildings.”
“He applied a medicine before the poison had time to work ;” better thus: “He applied an antidote,” &c. ..
“ The poison of a suspicious temper frequently throws out its bad qualities, on all who are within its reach ;" better, “ throws out its malignant qualities."
“ I will go except I should be ill ;” “ I saw them all unless two or three:” corrected thus : “unless I should be ill;" s except two or three.”
A selection of words and phrases, which are peculiarly expressive of the ideas we design to communicate; or which are as particular and determinate in their signification, as is consistent with the nature and the scope of the discourse; possesses great beauty, and cannot fail to produce a good effect.
Exercises, p. 179. Key, p. 151. PRECISION is the third requisite of perspicuity with respect to words and phrases. It signifies retrenching superfuities, and pruning the expression, so as to exhibit neither more nor less than an exact copy of the person's idea who uses it.
The words used to express ideas may be faulty in three respects. 1st, They may not express the idea which the author intends, but some other which only resembles it; secondly, They may express that idea, but not fully and completely; thirdly, They may express it, together with something more than is intended. Precision stands opposed' to these three faults, but chiefly to the last. Propriety implies a freedom from the two former faults. The words which are used may be proper ; that is, they may express the idea intended, and they may express it fully; but to be precise, signifies that they express that idea and no more.
The use and importance of precision may be deduced
from the nature of the human mind. It never can view, clearly and distinctly, more than one object at a time. If it must look at two or three together, especially objects that have resemblance or connexion, it finds itself confused and embarrassed. It cannot clearly perceive in what they agree, and in what they differ. Thus, were any object, suppose some animal, to be presented to my view, of whose structure I wished to form a distinct notion, I should desire all its trappings to be taken off, I should require it to be brought before me by itself, and to stand alone, that there might be nothing to divide my attention. The same is the case with words. If, when any one would inform me of his meaning, he also tells me more than what conveys it; if he joins foreign circumstances to the principal objects; if, by unnecessarily varying the expression, he shifts the point of view, and makes me see sometimes the object itself, and sometimes another thing that is connected with it, he thereby obliges me to look on several objects at once, and I lose sight of the principal. He loads the animal he is showing me, with so many trappings and collars, that I cannot distinctly view it; or he brings so many of the same species before me, somewhat resembling, and yet somewhat differing, that I see none of them clearly. When an author tells me of his hero's courage in the day of battle, the expression is precise, and I understand it fully: but if, from the desire of multiplying words, he should praise his courage and fortitude ; at the nioment he joins these words together, my idea begins to waver. He means to express one quality more strongly, but he is in truth expressing two: courage resists danger ; fortitude supports pain. The occasion of exerting each of these qualities is different; and being led to think of both together, when only one of them should be considered, my view is rendered unsteady, and my conception of the object indistinct.
All subjects do not equally require precision. It is sufficient, on many occasions, that we have a general view of the meaning. The subject, perhaps, is of the known and familiar kind, and we are in no hazard of mistaking the sense of the author, though every word which he uses is not precise and exact.
Many authors offend against this rule of precisión. A considerable one, in describing a bad action, expresses himself thus : “ It is to remove a good and orderly affection, and to introduce an ill or disorderly one; to commit an action that is ill, immoral, and unjust; to do ill, or to act in prejudice of integrity, good nature, and worth.”
A crowd of unmeaning or useless words is brought together by some authors, who, afraid of expressing themselves in a common and ordinary manner, and allured by an ap pearance of splendour, surround every thing which they mean to say with a certain copious loquacity.
The great source of a loose style in opposition to precision, is the injudicious use of the words termed synonymous. They are called synonymous, because they agree in expressing one principal idea ; but, for the most part, if not always, they express it with some diversity in the circumstances.
The following instances show a difference in the meaning of words reputed synonyinous, and point out the use of attending, with care and strictness, to the exact import of words.
Custom, habit.--Custom, respects the action ; habit, the. actor. By custon, we mean the frequent repetition of the same act: by habit, the effect which that repetition produces on the mind or body. By the custom of walking often in the streets, one acquires a habit of idleness.
Pride, canity.-Pride makes us esteem ourselves; vanity, makes us desire the esteem of others. It is just to say, that a man is too proud to be vain.
Haughtiness, disdain.-Haughtiness is founded on the high opinion we entertain of ourselves; disdain, on the low opinion we have of others.
Only, alone.-Only, imports that there is no other of the same kind; alone, imports being accompanied by no other. An only child, is one that has neither brother nor sister: a child alone, is one who is left by itself. There is a differ
ence, therefore, in precise language, between these two phrases “Virtue only makes us happy;" and “ Virtue alone makes us happy.”
Wisdom, prudence.--Wisdoon leads us to speak and act what is most proper. Prudence, prevents our speaking or acting improperly.
Entire, complite.--A thing is entire, by wanting none of its parts: complete, by wanting none of the appendages that belong to it. A man may have an entire house to hinself, and yet not have one complete apartinent,
Surprised astonished,amazed,confounded.--I am surprised with what is new or unexpected; I am astonished at what is vist or great; I am amazed at what is incomprehensible; I am confounded by what is shocking or terrible. :
Tranquillity, peace, calm.-Tranquillity, respects a situation free from trouble, considered in itself; peace, the same situation with respect to any causes that might interrupt it; calm, with regard to a disturbed situation going before or following it. A good man enjoys tranquillity, in himself; peace, with others; and calm, after the storm.
These are some of the numerous instances of words, in our language, whose significations approach, but are not precisely the same. The more the distinction in the ineaning of such words is attended to, the more clearly and forcibly shall we speak or write. It may not, on all occasions, be necessary to pay a great deal of attention to very nice distinctions; yet the foregoing instances show the utility of some general care to understand the distinct import of our words.
While we are attending to precision, we must be on our guard, lest, from the desire of pruning tov closely, we retrench all copiousness. Scarcely in any language are there two words that convey precisely the saine idea ; a person thoroughly conversant in the propriety of the language, will always be able to observe something that distinguishes them. As they are like different shades of the same colour, an accurate writer can employ them to great advantage, by