Rules are comforting. With them, you don’t have to consider your actions. You don’t have to think. And while, generally, rules are good, not thinking is bad—Bad, bad, bad.
Strunk and White’s Rule 14 is an excellent example. This rule simply states: “Use the active voice.”
Overall, this is good advice. It is good to use the active voice. It is good to attribute action. But, the skimmers among us—I am guilty of this too—sometimes take the rule at face value and decide from here on out to strike down passive voice.
Thou shalt not be passive!
Had they—had I—read but 2 inches down the page, they (I) would have found the following caveat:
This rule does not, of course, mean that the writer should entirely discard the passive voice, which is frequently convenient and sometimes necessary.
Strunk and White fail to inform us when exactly the passive voice is necessary.
The Gregg Reference Manual of Style comes to our aid:
The passive form of a verb is appropriate (1) when you want to emphasize the receiver of the action (by making it the subject) or (2) when the doer or the action is not important or is deliberately not mentioned.
Too much active voice can seem machine-like or monotonous. Mixing active with passive gives the writing variety and interest. The use of active voice when the actor is obvious also has the effect of placing special emphasis on the actor, almost to the point of being boastful and definitely gives a sense of assertiveness. These things are ok as long as it is the intention of the writer.
But please don’t think I am calling for the use of passive voice. I am merely not calling for its complete eradication. Here’s a quote that sums up my feelings. It is from my grandmother’s style book The Century Handbook of Writing by Garland Greever and Easley S. Jones @1932:
The passive voice is especially objectionable when, by failing to indicate the agent of the verb, it unnecessarily mystifies the reader.
Word Wabbit’s Rule #1 (which all too frequently is broken): Do not mystify the reader!
3700 B.C.—Sumerians developed the idea of systemic phoneticism; used cuneiform which would be widely borrowed and adapted.
Systemic phoneticism—a tool for specifying isolated particles of information, such as transcribing foreign words or phonetically sounding out hard to identify signs that held several possible meanings. (History of Writing by Steven Roger Fischer)
3100 B.C.—Egyptian hieroglyphics emerged when the Egyptians borrowed the idea of writing, logography, phonography, and linearity with sequencing from the Sumerians.
2500 B.C.—Mesopotamian cuneiform script was complete; capable of conveying any and all thought.
2000 B.C.—Egyptian scribes developed a 26 uniconsonantal sign alphabet which spread quickly among Egypt’s Semitic vassals, present in Egypt as slaves, mercenaries, and resident aliens.
1500 B.C.—Proto-Sinaitic derived from Egyptian hieroglyphics and was used in Caanan to write Caananite, the ancestral script of Phoenician and Hebrew. (BAS Library)
1000 B.C.—The Phoenicians converted the Proto-Sinaitic pictorial Caananite alphabet to a simplified nonpictorial, Phoenician consonantal alphabet. All Western alphabets derive from this script.
850 B.C.—The Greeks borrowed the Phoenician’s consonantal alphabet, finding it to be a faster and easier way for accountancy than syllabic writing; and added vowels.
775 B.C.—The Etruscans were settled by the Greeks and borrowed the Greek alphabet to create the Euboean-Etruscan alphabet, which was Italy’s prevalent writing system until 200 B.C. when Etruria was assimilated into the Roman Empire.
650 B.C.—The Romans borrowed the Euboean-Etruscan alphabet to write Latin and spread a modified version, the Latin alphabet, throughout the Roman Empire.
55 B.C.—The first British exposure to the Roman alphabet took place when Julius Caesar first invaded Great Britain.
300 A.D.—The Romans developed uncial writing, a modification of square capital writing and the origin of present day lower-case letters.
600 A.D.—Christian missionaries from Ireland and Europe took the Latin alphabet to England where it replaced the Etruscan-influenced Germanic runic alphabet, Futhorc.
100–1100 A.D.—Reign of Old English alphabet, a.k.a. Anglo-Saxon, and transition away from runic Futhorc alphabet. Beowulf is written in Old English.
1100–1450 A.D.—Reign of Middle English alphabet, the alphabet used to write Canterbury Tales.
1450 A.D.—Modern English alphabet emerges, the alphabet of Shakespeare and the Internet.
1927 A.D.—Television is first broadcast.
1950 A.D.—Emergence of Visual Language.
1961 A.D.—MIT develops Compatible Time-Sharing System (CTSS) which allows up to 30 users to log in at the same time and share messages.
1980 A.D.—CompuServe’s CB Simulator simulates citizen’s band radio through text-based messages and user handles.
1982 A.D.—Emoticons were started by Scott Fahlman, a Carnegie Mellon University professor; Commodore 64 PC is released and includes Internet service.
1990s—U.S. schools begin to drop cursive writing from their curriculums.
1995 A.D.—Texting was introduced as a way for phone networks to communicate important messages to their subscribers.
The book was originally written in 1919 by Professor William Strunk Jr. and was self-published by the author. It was professionally published in 1935, then again in 1957, 1972, and 2000. It’s fair to say this book has stood the test of time.
Strunk and White Elements of Style consists of:
11 Rules of Usage
11 Principles of Composition
21 Style Guidelines
Commonly Misused Words and Expressions
From the introduction:
Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all sentences short or avoid all detail and treat subjects only in outline, but that every word tell. (page xvi)
Professor Strunk, although one of the most inflexible and choosy of men, was quick to acknowledge the fallacy of inflexibility and the danger of doctrine. (page xvii)
Where I work we argue a bit about how relevant Strunk and White remains, with some taking the position of fully committed fans and other wanting more freedom (translate wanting to be lazy and not understand/follow the rules of grammar or of good writing style.) I guess you can figure out where I fall on this controversy.
[Written on September 2016: I’m very sorry to do this. I realize this was a popular post and provides a comprehensive summary of the book. However, it occurs to me that my review may have gone too far. I have have revealed too much of the book and instead of mere commenting on the book and giving examples, I gave far too many examples and very few comments. For this reason, today I have chosen to delete much of this post. I recommend that you buy the book. It is a great resource for any writer.]
By Theodore A. Rees Cheney, @ 1983, Writer’s Digest Books, 215 pages.
This is a book my grandmother gave me, which has turned out to be quite handy. The following are great tips for writing and editing. The looming question is how do these tips apply to advertising copy, and do they? Are these tips universal in their value? Well, regardless, I like them.
Purpose of Writing—to communicate with the reader
Purpose of Revision—to get the ideas and the words that express them as clear, accurate, and attractive as possible
Purpose of Reduction—to increase clarity and ease of reading
Types of Revision
Revision by Reduction—Eliminate words that don’t add meaning
Revision by Microreduction—replace a longer word with a shorter word where reasonable; use the simplest word that will make your point
Places to Revise
Redundancy—repetitiveness, superfluity, and excess
Tautology—saying the same thing that’s already been said; she wrote her own autobiography.
Pleonasm—having extra words that may be deleted without changing the meaning or the structure of the sentence
Verbosity—containing an excessive number of words
Prolixity—a form of verbosity; the mention of things not worth mentioning
Circumlocution—a form of verbosity; saying things the long way around, to talk around the subject; evasion
Repetition—when unwarranted, redundant
Proportion—the relative proportion (of words, space) given to various points
Position—(put important ideas or words near the end, next best place is near the beginning of the sentence, paragraph, article, story); put the emphasized word in the last position of the sentence and proceed it by a comma
Repetition—(of ideas, words, phrases, letter sounds—alliteration)
Diction—choice of words and phrases in speaking and writing; (Sentence, paragraph, and chapter length—contrast for emphasis)
Word Order—putting the adjective after the noun (normally occurs before)
Pauses—create by putting the idea in the middle of the sentence and surrounding it by commas; “however,” “for example”
Humor—establishes a report with the reader; brings topic to their attention
Irony—a figure of speech used for humor and for emphasis, achieving its effect by saying just the opposite of what is true
Exclamation Point—do not use; inappropriate for formal writing
Passive Voice—when you can’t identify who is performing the action of the sentence. Mistakes were made. Who made them?
Abstraction—opposite of concrete; stated without reference to a specific substance; impersonal
Euphemism—obscures reality; substituting a mild, indirect, or vague term for one considered harsh, blunt, or offensive
Intensives—overuse of adverbs and adjectives; means nouns and verbs are not strong enough
Worn Words—clichés, catchwords, hackneyed expressions, trite words and expressions, slang, colloquialisms, and obscenities
Hyperbole—a figure of speech in which exaggeration is used for emphasis: “This book weighs a ton.” Easily overused.
Examples of Deadwood
a type of
seemed as though
Examples of Pleonasm
The reason is because —>because
Based on the fact that —>because
Due to the fact that —> because
In as much as —> because
In the neighborhood of —> about
With reference to —> about
Of the order of magnitude of —> about
Despite the fact that —> although
In the very near future —> soon
At this time —> now
Disappear from sight —> disappear
For the purpose of providing —> provide
Perform an analysis of —> analyze
Often Idle Nonworking Words
Of (when an adverb)
There (often promotes the use of the passive voice)
Today’s post is about the part of Elocutio called Ornament (which is my favorite part). And it just happens to fall on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, which is fitting because Martin Luther King, Jr. was quite eloquent.
In honor of him, I am including a link to his “I Have a Dream” speech, one of the most eloquent speeches of all time.
The category of Ornament can be broken down into two categories: Schemes and Tropes.
Schemes are a figures of speech that change the ordinary arrangement of words in the sentence’s structure.
Tropes are words, phrases, even images used for artistic effect; a change in the general meaning of words.
accumulation: Accumulating arguments in a concise forceful manner. adnomination: Repetition of words with the same root word. alliteration: Series of words that begin with the same consonant. adynaton: hyperbole taken to such extreme lengths insinuating a complete impossibility. anacoluthon: Transposition of clauses to achieve an unnatural order of a sentence. anadiplosis: Repetition of a word at the end of a clause and then at the beginning of its succeeding clause. anaphora: Repetition of the same word or group of words in a paragraph. anastrophe: Changing the object, subject and verb order in a clause. anticlimax: An abrupt descent (either deliberate or unintended) on the part of a speaker or writer from the dignity of idea which he appeared to be aiming at. antanaclasis: Repetition of a single word, but with different meanings. anthimeria: Transformation of a word of a certain word class to another word class. antimetabole: A sentence consisting of the repetition of words in successive clauses, in reverse order. antirrhesis: Disproving an opponents argument. antistrophe: Repetition of the same word or group of words in a paragraph in the end of sentences. antithesis: Juxtaposition of opposing or contrasting ideas. aphorismus: Statement that calls into question the definition of a word. aposiopesis: Breaking off or pausing speech for dramatic or emotional effect. apposition: Placing of two statements side by side, in which the second defines the first. assonance: Repetition of vowel sounds. asteismus: Mocking answer or humorous answer that plays on a word. asterismos: Beginning a segment of speech with an exclamation of a word. asyndeton: Omission of conjunctions between related clauses. cacophony: Words producing a harsh sound.
cataphora: Co-reference of one expression with another expression which follows it, in which the latter defines the first. (example: If you need one, there’s a towel in the top drawer.) classification: Linking a proper noun and a common noun with an article chiasmus: Two or more clauses are related to each other through a reversal of structures in order to make a larger point climax: Arrangement of words in order of increasing importance commoratio: Repetition of an idea, re-worded conduplicatio: Repetition of a key word conversion (word formation): An unaltered transformation of a word of one word class into another word class consonance: Repetition of consonant sounds, most commonly within a short passage of verse dubitatio: Expressing doubt and uncertainty about oneself dystmesis: A synonym for tmesis ellipsis: Omission of words elision: Exclusion of a letter from a word or phrase enallage: Wording ignoring grammatical rules or conventions enjambment: Incomplete syntax at the end of lines in poetry enthymeme: An informal syllogism epanalepsis: Ending sentences with how they begin. “Book ends” epanodos: Word repetition. epistrophe: (also known as antistrophe) Repetition of the same word or group of words at the end of successive clauses. The counterpart of anaphora epizeuxis: Repetition of a single word, with no other words in between euphony: Opposite of cacophony, i.e. pleasant sounding
half rhyme: Partially rhyming words hendiadys: Use of two nouns to express an idea when it normally would consist of an adjective and a noun hendiatris: Use of three nouns to express one idea homeoptoton: ending the last parts of words with the same syllable or letter. homographs: Words we write identically but which have a differing meaning homoioteleuton: Multiple words with the same ending homonyms: Words that are identical with each other in pronunciation and spelling, but different in meaning homophones: Words that are identical with each other in pronunciation, but different in meaning homeoteleuton: Words with the same ending hypallage: A transferred epitaph from a conventional choice of wording. hyperbaton: Two ordinary associated words are detached. The term may also be used more generally for all different figures of speech which transpose natural word order in sentences. hyperbole: Exaggeration of a statement hypozeuxis: Every clause having its own independent subject and predicate hysteron proteron: The inversion of the usual temporal or causal order between two elements isocolon: Use of parallel structures of the same length in successive clauses internal rhyme: Using two or more rhyming words in the same sentence kenning: Using a compound word neologism to form a metonym merism: Referring to a whole by enumerating some of its parts mimesis: Imitation of a person’s speech or writing onomatopoeia: Word that imitates a real sound (e.g. tick-tock or boom) paradiastole: Repetition of the disjunctive pair “neither” and “nor” parallelism: The use of similar structures in two or more clauses paraprosdokian: Unexpected ending or truncation of a clause parenthesis: A parenthetical entry paroemion: Alliteration in which every word in a sentence or phrase begins with the same letter parrhesia: Speaking openly or boldly, in a situation where it is unexpected (i.e. politics) pleonasm: The use of additional words than are needed to express meaning polyptoton: Repetition of words derived from the same root polysyndeton: Close repetition of conjunctions pun: When a word or phrase is used in two(or more) different senses rhythm: A synonym for parallelism sibilance: Repetition of letter ‘s’, it is a form of alliteration sine dicendo: An inherently superfluous statement, the truth-value of which can easily be taken for granted (e.g. ‘It’s always in the last place you look.’) solecism: Trespassing grammatical and syntactical rules spoonerism: Switching place of syllables within two words in a sentence yielding amusement superlative: Declaring something the best within its class i.e. the ugliest, the most precious synathroesmus: Agglomeration of adjectives to describe something or someone syncope: Omission of parts of a word or phrase symploce: Simultaneous use of anaphora and epistrophe: the repetition of the same word or group of words at the beginning and the end of successive clauses synchysis: Words that are intentionally scattered to create perplexment synesis: Agreement of words according to the sense, and not the grammatical form synecdoche: Referring to a part by its whole or vice versa synonymia: Use of two or more synonyms in the same clause or sentence tautology: Redundancy due to superfluous qualification; saying the same thing twice tmesis: Insertions of content within a compound word zeugma: The using of one verb for two or more actions
accismus: expressing the want of something by denying it allegory: Extended metaphor in which a symbolic story is told allusion: Covert reference to another work of literature or art ambiguity: Phrasing which can have two meanings anacoenosis: Posing a question to an audience, often with the implication that it shares a common interest with the speaker analogy: A comparison anapodoton: Leaving a common known saying unfinished antanaclasis: A form of pun in which a word is repeated in two different senses anthimeria: Transformating a word’s word class
anthropomorphism: Ascribing human characteristics to something that is not human, such as an animal or a god (see zoomorphism) antimetabole: Repetition of words in successive clauses, but in switched order antiphrasis: A name or a phrase used ironically. antistasis: Repetition of a word in a different sense. antonomasia: Substitution of a proper name for a phrase or vice versa aphorism: Briefly phrased, easily memorable statement of a truth or opinion, an adage apologia: Justifying one’s actions aporia: Faked or sincere puzzled questioning apophasis: (Invoking) an idea by denying its (invocation) appositive: Insertion of a parenthetical entry apostrophe: Directing the attention away from the audience to an absent third party, often in the form of a personified abstraction or inanimate object. archaism: Use of an obsolete, archaic, word (a word used in olden language, e.g. Shakespeare’s language) auxesis: Form of hyperbole, in which a more important sounding word is used in place of a more descriptive term bathos: Pompous speech with a ludicrously mundane worded anti-climax burlesque metaphor: An amusing, overstated or grotesque comparison or examplification. catachresis: Blatant misuse of words or phrases. categoria: Candidly revealing an opponent’s weakness cliché: Overused phrase or theme circumlocution: Talking around a topic by substituting or adding words, as in euphemism or periphrasis commiseration: Evoking pity in the audience congeries: Accumulation of synonymous or different words or phrases together forming a single message correctio: Linguistic device used for correcting one’s mistakes, a form of which is epanorthosis dehortatio: discouraging advice given with seeming sagacity denominatio: Another word for metonymy diatyposis: The act of giving counsel double negative: Grammar construction that can be used as an expression and it is the repetition of negative words dirimens copulatio: Juxtaposition of two ideas with a similar message distinctio: Defining or specifying the meaning of a word or phrase you use dysphemism: Substitution of a harsher, more offensive, or more disagreeable term for another. Opposite of euphemism dubitatio: Expressing doubt over one’s ability to hold speeches, or doubt over other ability ekphrasis: Lively describing something you see, often a painting epanorthosis: Immediate and emphatic self-correction, often following a slip of the tongue encomium: A speech consisting of praise; a eulogy enumeratio: A sort of amplification and accumulation in which specific aspects are added up to make a point epicrisis: Mentioning a saying and then commenting on it epiplexis: Rhetorical question displaying disapproval or debunks epitrope: Initially pretending to agree with an opposing debater or invite one to do something erotema: Synonym for rhetorical question erotesis: Rhetorical question expressing approvement or refusal of belief in euphemism: Substitution of a less offensive or more agreeable term for another grandiloquence: Pompous speech exclamation: A loud calling or crying out humor: Provoking laughter and providing amusement hyperbaton: Words that naturally belong together are separated from each other for emphasis or effect hyperbole: Use of exaggerated terms for emphasis hypocatastasis: An implication or declaration of resemblance that does not directly name both terms hypophora: Answering one’s own rhetorical question at length hysteron proteron: Reversal of anticipated order of events; a form of hyperbaton innuendo: Having a hidden meaning in a sentence that makes sense whether it is detected or not invective: The act of insulting inversion: A reversal of normal word order, especially the placement of a verb ahead of the subject (subject-verb inversion). imperative sentence: The urging to do something irony: Use of word in a way that conveys a meaning opposite to its usual meaning kataphora: Repetition of a cohesive device at the end litotes: Emphasizing the magnitude of a statement by denying its opposite malapropism: Using a word through confusion with a word that sounds similar meiosis: Use of understatement, usually to diminish the importance of something merism: Referring to a whole by enumerating some of its parts metalepsis: Figurative speech is used in a new context metaphor: Figurative language metonymy: A thing or concept is called not by its own name but rather by the name of something associated in meaning with that thing or concept neologism: The use of a word or term that has recently been created, or has been in use for a short time. Opposite of archaism non sequitur: Statement that bears no relationship to the context preceding occupatio: Mentioning something by reportedly not mentioning it onomatopoeia: Words that sound like their meaning oxymoron: Using two terms together, that normally contradict each other par’hyponoian: Replacing in a phrase or text a second part, that would have been logically expected. parable: Extended metaphor told as an anecdote to illustrate or teach a moral lesson paradiastole: Making a euphemism out of what usually is considered adversive paradox: Use of apparently contradictory ideas to point out some underlying truth paradiastole: Extenuating a vice in order to flatter or soothe paraprosdokian: Phrase in which the latter part causes a rethinking or reframing of the beginning paralipsis: Drawing attention to something while pretending to pass it over parody: Humoristic imitation paronomasia: Pun, in which similar sounding words but words having a different meaning are used pathetic fallacy: Ascribing human conduct and feelings to nature periphrasis: A synonym for circumlocution personification/prosopopoeia/anthropomorphism: Attributing or applying human qualities to inanimate objects, animals, or natural phenomena pleonasm: The use of more words than is necessary for clear expression praeteritio: Another word for paralipsis procatalepsis: Refuting anticipated objections as part of the main argument proslepsis: Extreme form of paralipsis in which the speaker provides great detail while feigning to pass over a topic prothesis: Adding a syllable to the beginning of a word proverb: Succinct or pithy, often metaphorical, expression of wisdom commonly believed to be true pun: Play on words that will have two meanings
rhetorical question: Asking a question as a way of asserting something. Asking a question which already has the answer hidden in it. Or asking a question not for the sake of getting an answer but for asserting something (or as in a poem for creating a poetic effect) satire: Humoristic criticism of society sensory detail imagery: sight, sound, taste, touch, smell sesquipedalianism: use of long and obscure words simile: Comparison between two things using like or as snowclone: Alteration of cliché or phrasal template style: how information is presented superlative: Saying that something is the best of something or has the most of some quality, e.g. the ugliest, the most precious etc. syllepsis: The use of a word in its figurative and literal sense at the same time or where a single word is used in relation to two other parts of a sentence although the word grammatically or logically applies to only one syncatabasis (condescension, accommodation): adaptation of style to the level of the audience synchoresis: A concession made for the purpose of retorting with greater force. synecdoche: Form of metonymy, referring to a part by its whole, or a whole by its part synesthesia: Description of one kind of sense impression by using words that normally describe another. tautology: Superfluous repetition of the same sense in different words Example: The children gathered in a round circle
transferred epithet: A synonym for hypallage. truism: a self-evident statement tricolon diminuens: Combination of three elements, each decreasing in size tricolon crescens: Combination of three elements, each increasing in size verbal paradox: Paradox specified to language zeugma: Use of a single verb to describe two or more actions zoomorphism: Applying animal characteristics to humans or gods
Many thanks to YouTube and to Wikipedia for supplying the content that has made this post possible. I will be modifying and linking to this post over the next few so stay tuned!
Elocutio, or ornament, is the canon of rhetoric concerned with the correct deployment and usage of words.
There are three traditional levels of style:
Plain (attenuata or subtile)
Middle (mediocris or robusta)
High (florida or gravis)
The four elements necessary to achieve good style are:
Correctness (purity)—words are current and adhere to grammatical rules
Clearness—words are used in their ordinary, everyday senses (meaning “shines through” like light through a window)
Appropriateness—the writing fits the given situation
Elocutio (Ornament)—extraordinary or unusual use of language; divided into three broad categories
Elocutio is broken down into three categories:
Figures of speech—any artful patterning or arrangement of language; four fundamental categories of change govern the formation of all figures of speech: addition, omission, transposition, and permutation; there are over 184 different figures of speech; the aim is to use language inventively to accentuate the effect of what is being said; figures of speech are divided into two main categories: schemes (shape; change the ordinary of expected pattern of words) and tropes (turn; change the general meaning of words)
Figures of thought—artful presentations of ideas, feelings, and concepts, thought that departs from ordinary patterns of argument
Tropes—artful substitution of one term for another
There are a lot of commonly misused words. I’m only going to share the ones that I have trouble with, or that I have trouble explaining. 🙂
Allusion / Illusion—An “allusion” is an indirect reference. (The speaker made an allusion to the scary movie.)
An “illusion” is something that misleads or deceives. (The ghost turned out to be an illusion.)
Among / Between—Use “among” when comparing more than two elements. (The food was divided among the people.) “Between” is used with two elements. (She had to choose between the dog and the cat.)
Can / May—”Can” indicates an ability to do something. (I can do it if you show me how.)
“May” means to be allowed. (You may do it after I’m finished.)
Connotation / Denotation—”Connotation” refers to the implied meaning of something. It is the baggage that comes with the word. “Denotation” is the actual meaning of the word.
Emigrate / Immigrate—”Emigrate” is used with the country that someone is moving from. (I emigrated from Japan.) “Immigrate” is used with the country that someone is moving to. (I immigrated to Australia.)
Fewer / Less—”Fewer” means smaller in number and is used with countable items. (My yard has fewer orange trees than yours.) “Less” indicates a reduction in matters of degree, value, or amount. (I can pick my oranges in less time than you.)
Lay / Lie—”Lay” means to put something down. (He lays the place mat on the table.) “Lie” means to recline. (She lies down on the sofa to relax.)
Passed / Past—”Passed” is the past tense of the verb “pass.” (Grandma passed the corn to Billy.)
“Past” should be used when referring to time or distance. (Thecorn flew past Billy and landed on my lap.)