Today I want to take a stand on the side of charming, elegant, sophisticated writing; the type of writing that is almost poetic in its intricate nuances and implications….How about an example….
A young friend recently showed me an antique book that he treasures very much. It was printed around 1869 and is entitled; “CASSELL’S HOUSEHOLD GUIDE OF EVERY DEPARTMENT OF PRACTICAL LIFE: BEING A COMPLETE ENCYCLOPAEDIA TO DOMESTIC AND SOCIAL ECONOMY” VOL 3
Knowing my penchant for flowery, convoluted words and sentences, he brought the book over, knowing I would love it. I do! I want to steal it from him.
While the book’s information is mostly outdated, to the point of bring ridiculous in some parts, it is still beautifully written and a glowing testament to the depth and elasticity of the English language.
It covers a myriad of subjects and gives advice to the middle;e and upper British class woman about how to run a home. The subjects range from ‘Butter -making and preserving’, to ‘The Economical Uses of the Chestnut’ and even ‘Insanity, the Treatment of..’ [ the treatment being that a man should “realise his disease is a form of selfishness.”]
Page 50 of this extraordinary book tells the “Mistress of the House….the union of the qualities which constitute a good wife and mother is never so complete as when combined with knowledge of housekeeping…no one has so direct an interest in herself in effecting pecuniary economies and preserving her household in happiness and health. It is to be deplored that many excellent wives fall short of the full measure of their value, simply from deficiency of practical knowledge…a duty on the part of the mistress is the receiving of company, a matter of inclination as well as of duty, provided the husband’s income is adequate…In case the income is insufficient for these requirements, it is a great question whether any attempts to appear better off than one really is, is not more injurious to a man’s social position than if he renounced all pretensions to imitate the easy circumstances of his wealthier associates.”
YES, the content is outrageous. But it is also musical in its linguistic flow and sophistication.
Why don’t we speak like this anymore? Because we can say the same thing in 20 words or less and in shorter syllables, but why settle for minimising our vocabulary and comprehension? Why not enhance and broaden it? Surely it’s better to be well spoken?
As a teacher I can see half a dozen lessons based on this one excerpt… Language, spelling, vocabulary [look up the meaning of the words..’pecuniary,’ ‘deplored’, ‘inclination,’ ‘renounce’ ‘pretension’]
A lesson in Women’s Rights and Roles, also employment in the 18-19-20th centuries, Social Classes and their life-styles… The list goes on and on…
Some may say this is past and unnecessary but we can’t fully understand life and history if we don’t understand the past.
I wish we all could still speak like this. It shows that conversation and the proper use of wording was really an art. I think the next few generations will lose all of this if we don’t keep it alive. Yes, life goes on without flowery, extravagant language, but it will be a less fascinating if everyone speaks more colloquially.
I watched an interview on T.V. today with a major Hollywood actress and she must have used the word ‘like’ 9 times in her short reply about her child..’Yeah, my daughter is like, so full of energy, she’s like, all over the place and like, I’m exhausted and I ask her to like, just sit down and she’s like,”No Mummy, I wanna like, dance….” On and on with limited, simple, repetitive words, like, who wants to listen to that?????
My son is at university and he was appalled recently when the winner of a story writing competition there read his work out to the audience. The story was full of gratuitous sex scenes and swear words where the one word in particular was used as an adjective repeatedly. His work was racist and chauvinistic. The grammar was terrible and the vocabulary limited. When my son queried why this story won above others, he was told that the writer was expressing himself honestly.
Sure he was, but if he had a few more words up his sleeve, he might have honestly been better to listen to!
That IS a matter of opinion ofcourse, but it brings me back to the point that with a little more effort [and perhaps a Thesaurus,] we could make day to day conversation and writing, a better, more diverse, stimulating array of the interchange of knowledge.
What do you think? Make the comparison..