Words are like leaves; and where they most abound,
Much fruit of sense beneath is rarely found.
- Alexander Pope
It happens in every profession, that temptation to overwhelm an audience with all the words one has ever heard on a given topic, whether or not anyone other than the speakers inner circle understands what those words mean.
In theological circles this practice is known as pulpitese, and leads to such elongated, phrases as, justified freely by his grace through redemption in Christ Jesus, set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood... for the remission of sins (Romans 3:24-25).
These and other words from the King James Version of the Bible, though once considered eloquent and beloved, provide ample proof that translations of the Bible newer than 4-5 centuries old are justified.
Writers have an ese problem, too, which forces one of my editors to limit my sentences to 30 words. Dont send me any of those "Pauline sentences, he says good-naturedly, meaning something like St. Pauls statement to the Romans quoted above.
Since Im seldom at a loss for words, I have to work hard to meet his expectations.
Its also good discipline to practice what most writing instructors call the economy of words.
After spending the last few years researching our communitys past, I can only wish those who wrote the books Im studying now had had the same editors and instructors I did.
Long sentences? Even with my grace allowance of 35-40 words, I dont come close to those who filled their writing with sentences so long I lose their train of thought way before the end.
Ill spare you the complete example, but the following is a portion of the 153-word sentence printed in the October 12, 1774, issue of The Georgia Gazette (forerunner of The Augusta Chronicle), which author Charles C. Jones Jr., included in his Memorial History of Augusta, Georgia.
In fairness to both the newspaper and Mr. Jones, this sentence is a quote from certain inhabitants of the parish of St. Paul (later, Richmond and Columbia County), or dissidents who had been barred from attending a meeting of pro-revolutionary Georgians:
We... think it incumbent upon us in this public manner to declare our dissent from, and disapprobation of certain resolutions published... as it is there said, at a general meeting of the inhabitants of this province, though we are credibly informed that the said meeting, so far from being general, was not even numerous, and that one of our representatives, whom we had provided with a protest... to any resolutions expressive of disaffection or disrespect to our most gracious king... having also been told by some gentlemen coming from the place of meeting, that they had been refused admittance.
You can read the entire sentence on page 60 of Jones book, though I assure you the sentence is no clearer with all the words left in.
Judging by the response to my Christmas Carol quiz a few months ago, there are plenty of you who enjoy word games. So, to end this treatise on wordiness Im including a list of Pedantic Proverbs which, if not disguised by such flowery language, you would recognize right away. Correct translations, and the names of those who decoded them, be published in a future column.
1. The most superlative assortment of ideas, qualities, and substances that constitute our existence are available to be granted without recompense.
2. Affectionate and nurturing heartfelt attachment from one party to another is the primary moving force that creates the axial rotation of this planet.
3. One is questioned as to what can compare with the surprisingly special phenomenon of one period of light between dawn and nightfall that occurs during the sixth 30-day span of the Gregorian calendar.
4. If one chooses to flavor the female member of the Anatidae family with a bearnaise dressing, one must also use the same piquant liquid condiment for her male counterpart.
5. The exercise of an attitude of prudent chariness is the more desirable element of the expression of bold and courageous bravery.
6. It is not considered wise to place the sum total of ones ovoid food products into a solitary interwoven pannier.
7. The act of visual appreciation of a given set of circumstances engenders in us a confident mental state that is disposed towards crediting the situation with veracity.
(From Official Pencil and Word Games, February, 2001.)
(Barbara Seaborn is a local free-lance writer. E-mail comments - and puzzle answers - to seabara@aol. com)
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