|[a] Clutter RF|
I will be posting the manuscript that I have provisionally entitled Styling Culture on Round and Square during the autumn and into the winter. As you will quickly see, it is meant to be a grammar book for the anthropologist of American English. It has its prescriptive elements, to be sure (this is all explained in the introduction to the series), but it is meant far more powerfully to be a genuinely useful guide to the culture wars surrounding grammar and usage. In particular, I have great venom for both the annoying critics who always seem to be correcting people and (this is important) for the "good guys" who tell you that it doesn't matter.
They're both wrong, and they will hurt you if you listen to them. I'm here to help you, so read on.
a. lots of/a lot of There are
b. pretty (much) This is a weak phrase with almost no meaning, and is
c. alright “All right” is
d. a couple of “A few,” “several”—let your mind run. This phrase won’t work unless you’re just talkin’.
e. amongst Just write “among," and use Standard American English in your writing.
g. oftentimes How about just writing “often?” Never start a sentence with it, though (12p).
h. society thinks What does that even mean? Who is “society,” and how does it think?
i. quite a bit Wordy, clunky, colloquial.
j. their culture Be precise with general terms such as this. You cannot “go to a culture,” for instance.
k. till Please use “until”
l. like “Such as” would be far more acceptable in cases
m. (author) says Authors usually write; unless you are quoting speech, avoid phrases such as “Hegel says.”
n. talked about Writers do not “talk about” things (in their texts); they write them.
o. sort of (like) Highly problematic. It is
p. kind of (like) Equally problematic. It is
q. kids If you are referring to children (not goats), please say so.
r. nowadays One need not say “nowadays” or “this point in time” to refer to the present with precision.
s. you Do not refer to your audience as “you.” Aim for a larger readership (even on a term paper).
t. awhile This is far too colloquial for academic writing.
u. thru Through.
v. those guys The Mongols (for example) were not “those guys” fighting the Chinese in the Song dynasty.
w. practically There is
x. decent This is not a very useful substitute for “good.” There is a
y. in lieu of Know what lieu means (look it up). The phrase does not mean “in light of.”
x. plenty of There are
z. was all about Genghis Khan wasn’t “all about” conquest. Try to be more specific.
|[b] Sloppy Zhou RF|
I once heard a triathlon coach say one of the most prescient things I have ever heard. "Most people," he said, "get it all wrong while training. They go too hard on their easy days and not hard enough on the hard days." Perfect. We can turn those lines quite effectively toward writing issues, too. Think about it this way:
Most people give too little attention to their "ordinary" writing and too much
attention (and worry) to their "required" writing.
|[d] Essay-ers RF|
I have a solution, and we will conclude with it today. Start reading essays. No, I do not mean "articles" (newspaper, journal, or otherwise). Start reading essays. The dictionary definition of "essay" is commonly pointed out by writing teachers, but it never gets old, which is why I am mentioning it here. The basic idea of "assay/essay" is to make or give a try. It's very meaning is tied to experiment, practice. Reading more essays will help you to see precisely the way that skilled writers can be informal...yet not sloppy, wordy, clunky, or cluttered. I have a brief list of essayists worth reading, but you can find great examples in any work of essay collections (such as The Best American Essays of 2010) and books with similar titles. I am wary of mentioning too many names, but too few is equally problematic. Let me just say that you could do worse than reading E.B. White, George Orwell, Margaret Atwood, and John McPhee.
And then there is Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592). He "invented" the essay. You should buy his complete essays and read one of them before bed (or with breakfast) every day. No one has ever examined his life in prose as beautifully as Montaigne. If you have never heard of him, you are in for a life-changing experience. If you have, but have not read him, same thing. And if you have read The Essays (Les Essais), read them again. And again...
|[e] Assay RF|
...because there is one last thing for today. Start thinking of yourself as an essayist. It will change every bit of your writing, including your "formal" or "required" work. Once you start thinking of ways to communicate to real readers—conveying real, and powerful, thoughts and emotions along the way—you will never again be able to write the kind of colloquial, sloppy phrases that occupy the list above. It will change you forever, and you will become an e-mail and Facebook essayist, as well as a superior writer of "formal" prose. You see, Montaigne would have been a blogger, and he would have had a Facebook page (I have a hunch). It is simply that he would have been the best blogger and social media writer...ever.
Be like Michel, and just write it...over and over. Read more; write more. Repeat.
|[f] Michel de Montaigne RF|
Exaggerated and Inadvertently Pointed Language