Of all the losing battles in which I have taken part, one of the most annoying, because I am reminded of it daily, is the struggle to preserve the English language or – as my high school math teacher put it – to speak United States.
Like so many things in our culture, the decline of language is not primarily due to less educated Americans. In fact, rappers and hip hop artists are among the few who still care about how words sound, the value of metaphor, and saying something different for a change. The damage has been primarily done by the business world, lawyers, advertising agencies and academics who have an insidious affection for cliches, abstractions and obfusacation.
As an editor I struggle as best I can, but I admit, for example, to letting many corporate capitals remain in the middle of words simply because their prevalence wears me out.
Still, for the benefit of any who still would like to treat our language with at least as much respect as we do other endangered creatures, here are a few suggestions:
– Capital letters belong to things that you can find on a globe, on an office door, or in a telephone book. They do not belong on words just because you like them or think them important.
– The intrusion of capital letters in the middle of words may have been cute the first time it was tried, but now it just makes a lot things harder to read. Capitals belong only at the beginning of words or in a string of initials. And your third grade teacher was correct: words do have spaces between them.
– As a wise teacher once said, one is allowed only three exclamation points in one’s life. Use them with care.
– Do not put the initials of something in parentheses after you have written its full name. This slows down, and perhaps insults, the reader. Consider you and your readers to be brighter than the attorneys who came up with this awful idea.
– Just because you’re mentioning a corporation, you do not have to put LLC or Inc after its name. Among other things, these trailers have the odd affect of making a business’ legal status seem more important that what it does.
– To describe itself, each ethnic groups gets just one word of its own choosing and no hyphens.
– Avoid any words created at the Harvard Business School or similar institutions.
– Avoid any words used by the bar association but not in the local bar.
– Being opaque is not intellectual. In fact, if you’re going to bother to write something at all, it’s a kind of dumb way to go about it.
– Cliches don’t inspire. They are the literary equivalent of airport security announcements. When you hear them, you just wish they’d be over.
– Avoid vague words – like transparency or accountability – that are overused and under-defined.
– Read everything you write aloud. If you stumble or bore yourself, write something different.