Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Plain yet Rich, Simple yet Subtle, Graceful yet Strong

"Here are a great many words I have uttered about words -- more than I had meant. The subject is indeed important, as I said at the beginning, not only to writers, but to all of us -- both as readers and as ordinary human beings, who have to think in words, and to talk them, and to write them, at least in our letters. It is important to us, too, as inheritors of our native tongue, which each of us, in his own minute degree, must help to leave better or worse for those that come after us. We may question, indeed, whether style has ever been much improved by books on style. The influence of creative writers, of national history, of social change, surely weighs far more. And no teaching can give talent; yet sometimes, perhaps, it may help to save talent from being wasted. A lot of writing is too confused and obscure; a lot is too wordy; a lot is too peevish or pompous or pretentious; a lot is too lifeless; a lot is too lazy. These are not hopeless faults to cure oneself of, if only one can remember them. If you can remember to pursue clarity, brevity, and courtesy to readers; to be, if not gay, at least good-humoured; never to write a line without considering whether it is really true, whether you have not exaggerated your statement, or its evidence; to shun dead images, and cherish living ones; and to revise unremittingly -- then, though you may not, even so, write well, you are likely at least to write less badly. For, obvious as such precepts are, nine-tenths of the books that are written seem to me to ignore one or more of them.

"The English of [the] future, even if its bounds are ever more widely set, will inevitably differ more and more from ours. That is part of the eternal change of things, and can be accepted without too much regret. But what that English of the hereafter is like, depends, as I have said, in its minute degree on what each of us says each day of our lives. One may hope that it will still be a language plain yet rich, simple yet subtle, graceful yet strong. Whether the effort to keep it so succeeds or fails, I trust that even those who disagree most strongly with all I have said, will yet agree that this effort needs, generation after generation, to be made."
-- F. L. Lucas, Style.
First published in 1955 by Cassell & Co. Ltd. Reprint edition: 2012 by Harriman House Ltd.

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