July 13, 2012

"Have something to say, and say it as clearly as you can. That is the only secret of style."

An aphorism by Matthew Arnold that begins the first of 10 lessons in the excellent book "Style: The Basics of Clarity and Grace."

39 comments:

chickelit said...

Good style works for good science, too: link

rehajm said...

translation: shorts are right out.

EDH said...

For $148 hardcover.

Reminds me of the Dr. Hook lyric:

We sing about beauty and we sing about truth
For ten-thousand dollars a show


Which was big money in 1972.

edutcher said...

I was exposed to Strunk and White.

Clarity and brevity really are the essence.

Chip Ahoy said...

Could you expand on that please?

Jason (the commenter) said...

Clarity may be stylish, but ambiguity is interesting.

Chip Ahoy said...

I rather liked the little book about rhetoric. It surprised me in that it's all about the joys of repetition and it's multitudinous forms all with their own names. Except this one. Various forms. Of repetition.

leslyn said...

STRUNK & WHITE! STRUNK & WHITE! ...Anyone seen my vuvuzuela?

Judy said...

Ann,
Thanks for posting this.
See this very very clear and stylish blog: LINK

Cheers!

captcha: 34 oungarda!

rcocean said...

Mathew Arnold was all wrong. Case in point: Chris Hitchens.

Rick67 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rick67 said...

I used Williams' Style 3rd ed to teach writing to first year students aka freshmen at Cornell. In my experience it is the best.

Strunk and White has good points but even at Cornell (which White helped found) it is not regarded as the best text on writing and style.

God, An Original A-hole said...

Good style works for crusty old embezzler's suicide note too:

I have committed fraud. For this I feel constant and intense guilt.

FleetUSA said...

I certainly agree. My complaint about my education (Jesuit high, Jesuit college, Tulane law) was that initially I was never really taught how to communicate in writing and hence had mediocre grades (B+ when a B meant something).

I didn't learn to communicate until my days as an officer on an aircraft carrier. Then I went to NYU law after the Navy - LLM Tax and bingo. Maturity and knowing how to communicate got me to the top of the class. What a break, all thanks to the Navy.

Anchors aweigh.

bagoh20 said...

This is like expecting the President to fix the economy.

Don't you think I would do this shit if I could?

rhhardin said...

Style requires large sails.

traditionalguy said...

Eureka, I've got it.

The secret is have something to say. Then the rest comes easy.

An old Greek guy named Archi Medes first said that.

Richard Dolan said...

It's not a secret and 'clarity' is not a style. But unless you're really good (today's James Joyce or TS Eliot, say), it's better to write clearly even if the style is a bit clunky.

rcocean said...

Actually if you're like Joyce you can have nothing really to say - but you say it so well, people don't care.

Fen said...

Ah... ahem... looks like something I may need. Our Fen could always be a little more graceful, yes?

Blue@9 said...

Yeah, this is oversimplifying by quite a bit. You can't read Nabokov and say that the only secret to style is having something to say and saying it clearly. The way you say something is important. For instance, poetry leans heavily on metaphor to make a work more than the sum of its parts. Lots of great poetry would fail miserably if they were just clear and direct.

Craig Landon said...

I'm with FleetUSA. Nothing focused my mind on this topic more that receiving back my first 2-3 letters on some mundane Navy topic all covered in red ink and various insults from My first CO (CDR Tom Scott, bless him)(COs used red ink, back then).

A trip to the bookstore for Strunk & White, diligent application of same, continued polishing, and I could move on to flying jets without worrying about crappy writing. It made a difference in the subsequent 23 years.

Tim said...

You can lead me to Amazon but you can't make me buy.

XRay said...

Academic and elitist bullshit. Intimating that Joyce had clarity... hilarious.

Synova said...

The Kindle price is $32!!!

And the hardcover was over $148!

No. Freaking. Way.

Give me my 4th edition copy of Strunk's "little book."

Synova said...

"Strunk and White has good points but even at Cornell (which White helped found) it is not regarded as the best text on writing and style."

The best parts are the forwards. :)

Strunk seems like a willful, capricious, and entirely wonderful creature. He more or less made up rules according to his own whim and preference and demands that *you* assert your own errors loudly and with confidence. No timidity permitted.

themightypuck said...

@bagoh20 hi5 rulebooks for creatives are oxymoronic. Charging for common sense is a bit icky.

sydney said...

Rick67,

Are you the teacher who told my Cornell freshman son that the word "mankind" shouldn't be used because it is insulting?

JAL said...

@ Synova The Kindle price is $32!!!

And the hardcover was over $148!


And the used price is $0.01 plus $3.99 shipping. Hardcover or paperback.

Joe Schmoe said...

Hey Navy guys, are you saying that the govt. branch that puts out MIL-SPECs and MIL-STDs by the pound are actually good at teaching writing skills? I'm having a hard time believing that.

Chip Ahoy said...

Have something to say, and say it as clearly as you can. That is the only secret of style.

The secret of style is having something to say and saying it clearly as you can.

19 , ..

16 .

A savings of three words, one comma, and one period.

Craig said...

The Dubliners was the very essence of clarity and grace, so clear, in fact, that Ulysses and The Wake had to be written in code.

Chip Ahoy said...

Have something to say and be clear is the secret.

Fine then:

The oryx is disappointed.

FleetUSA said...

@Joe Schmoe. Not exactly. We are talking about ship-to-ship communication and communication with enlisted shipmates who may not have a high school education.

Krumhorn said...

Johnny Adams has style:

I'm a body and fender man. Baby, let me pound your dents

Suh-weeet

-- Krumhorn

...

Michael Haz said...

Gosh!

sydney said...

The Kindle price has gone down to $24 and some odd cents. Maybe if we complain some more it will go down further. Whatcwould you pay for a Kindle version?

Jose_K said...

I would buy it, but Amazon does not sell it to mu country.They sell the kindle but no books to read on it...

Dante said...

Exactly. "Nuance" should be a bad word, with all it's arrogant implications that "If you agree, you are smart, but if you don't, you aren't smart enough (to understand the bullshit ideas we can't express).