Tuesday, May 11, 2021

you think I'm harsh?

Seen over at Michael Gilleland's blog:

Competent writers always examine what they have put down. Better than competent writers—good writers—examine their effects before they put them down: they think that way all the time. Bad writers never examine anything. Their inattentiveness to the detail of their prose is part and parcel of their inattentiveness to the detail of the outside world. 

—Clive James (1939-2019), "Georg Christoph Lichtenberg," Cultural Amnesia (2007; rpt. London: Picador, 2012), pp. 379-405.

There's truth to the above, and it's one way for me to know whether I'm looking at good writing.  Does it show mastery of (i.e., attentiveness to) language?  Or is there a "can't be bothered" aspect to what I'm reading?  Some think it's a mistake to assess someone's mind through their writing; this is the same crowd that thinks an attempt to correct mistakes is "missing the point."  There may be some truth to that point of view (Dr. V makes typos all the time, but would I ever question his intelligence?), but I normally see that perspective as the last refuge of the mentally lazy.  If you care, you'll learn the rules and minimize errors.  You'll try to engage in the art of writing.  If you care about anything, you'll make time for it and master it.  If you don't, then you won't.  Simple.


John Mac said...

I stand convicted. I'm curious, though, is there a similar standard for the spoken word? If a conversation is reduced to writing, does its value diminish if it is fraught with grammatical errors?

The memory of an incident from the early days of my management career may serve to answer my own question. Imagine a time when computers and word processing were just being introduced to the workplace (yeah, I'm that old). In our office, only the secretary prepared correspondence. I used a device called a "Dictaphone" and would have my words composing letters and memos recorded. The secretary would then put the words on paper for our review and signature. One day she sheepishly came to me and said, "John, ascertain is not pronounced "a certain." I knew the meaning of the word but had never actually heard it spoken, so I had been saying it wrong. Had I said it wrong in a conversation I likely would have lost credibility with my audience.

Then again, isn't proper grammar (and pronunciation) just one more example of white supremeacy? Check your privalage!

Kevin Kim said...

I know that Styx loses credibility with me when he proves unable to pronounce basic words like "gyrate," "Nazi," and "overarching." (He pronounces these "guy-rate," "nah-zee," and "over-arcing.") He also misuses and makes up words. He doesn't seem to know that "denigrate" means "to speak scornfully of," as when he says, "This denigrates her chances of winning." He doesn't understand that "incline" is not the opposite of "decline" when talking about stats ("The value of the dollar has inclined in recent days"). He uses made-up words like "incepted," "clumbering," and "butcherous." He's genuinely smart in some ways, but I've come to think he's genuinely stupid in others. He's a college dropout, after all. (At least he doesn't write "afterall" in his Substack essays, as I've seen some nincompoops do.)

Yeah, proper grammar is certainly a sign of white supremacy. God knows you can't expect the beasts to speak and write with proper grammar! Perish the-- hey, wait a minute! I'm only half-white!