I’ve gone through stages with language.
In junior high school I read novels and high-brow magazines, and wrote lists of the words I didn’t know. There were a lot of them. Common wisdom is that you’ll learn a word if you use it three times. I had no opportunity to use the new words, so I wrote them down, with their definitions, and read on until I reached the next new word, usually about twenty words along. I learned the words so that I could read the books that held, for me, the meaning of life.
In high school and college, I learned that if I used big words, I’d get an “A,” so I used those dictionary words with impunity. I threw around philosophical and psychological terms and speculated about man’s fate, the influence of Hegel on 20th century political movements, and the parameters of tragedy. I picked at and analyzed the phrasing and symbolism of poems, until they were good and dead. That kind of cannibalism also guaranteed top grades.
My first real job had very different standards. As a Job Analyst for a bank (the bank where Edward N Hay worked when he developed the Hay Method of Job Evaluation), I wrote job descriptions. The job descriptions were models of clarity and simplicity. Verbs were capitalized. Vague terminology (process, administer, supervise, manage) was not permitted. Adjectives (complex, simple, difficult) were not permitted. You described the actions and made judgments about skill, problem-solving, and accountability based on the actions, not the words.
For example, to write this blog post:
- OPEN the WordPress window;
- LOG IN, using user name and password;
- CLICK “new post” in the WordPress banner;
- SELECT a subject, based on personal experience, environmental influences, or current concerns;
- DRAFT essay;
- PROOFREAD for grammar, spelling and typos; CORRECT grammar, spelling and typos;
- PUBLISH by clicking “publish post;”
- DRAFT a short introductory (OOPS! adjective! Two adjectives in a row!) post on the Open Group for Bedlam Farm Facebook page;
- LINK to the essay by copying WordPress address bar into Facebook post.
Learning (or relearning) to write those prosaic, factual, functional, simple job descriptions was painful. I had been getting by through adjectives, qualifiers, elaborations and leaps of language and consciousness. Job descriptions trimmed all of that away, and I never really went back to the fancy stuff.
My writing evolution took me from “See Jane run,” through “the ultimate operative synthesis of every gleaming obstacular paradox,” right back around to “See Jane run.”
I am irritated by extra words and extra syllables (it’s use, not utilize). When my Iranian boyfriend went back to Teheran I wouldn’t call him on the phone. There is a very formal, very polite, very wordy form of address in Farsi. I knew about it, and knew that if Ali didn’t answer the phone when I called, I would have to do it, and I couldn’t do it, so I didn’t call. I can’t read art criticism without getting angry. Same thing for literary criticism. Just write or paint, dammit!
In college, I had an English professor who often read paragraphs or poems aloud and concluded by saying “Isn’t this MAHvelous?” I thought she was an idiot. Now I think she was right and I was wrong.
See Jane run?