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Style is the manner of expression. Its mechanical elements are words, sentences, and paragraphs. As these may be dealt with in an infinite variety of ways, style is as diversified as the minds that produce it; indeed, more so, for the same person may vary his style according to the nature of the subject with which he is dealing. Besides, every writer puts his individuality into his composition and thereby gives his style a peculiarity of its own. The excellences of style, so far at least as they may be acquired, depend largely on a judicious and cultured choice of words and on the correct and graceful form of sentences and paragraphs. The first of these will be studied under the head of Diction, and the latter under the heads of Formation of Sentences and Construction of Paragraphs.
Importance. - To be able to clothe one's thoughts in appropriate words is an accomplishment that every young person should labor to possess. Language is the dress in which the mind shows itself to the outside world; and, as neat and seemly clothing renders the body more graceful, so choice and refined speech adorns and beautifies the mind. Other things being equal, the person who has the largest stock of words to choose from will be able to select the aptest words and to frame the happiest expressions. To every person, therefore, who wishes to become either a speaker or a writer, the possession of a pure and wide vocabulary and an accurate knowledge of the exact signification of words is of the highest importance.
Means. - In the effort to attain such a knowledge and command of language, the following means will be found helpful :
1. Listening to good speakers.
4. Translating with accuracy from other languages.
8. Employing in conversation and composition the vocabulary acquired.
Diction is that part of Style which deals with the choice and use of words.
Qualities. — Since the wording of any composition must be pure, correctly used, and precise, Diction is conveniently studied under : 1. Purity; 2. Propriety; 3. Precision.
Purity consists in the use of such words, forms, and constructions as are justified by the practice of the best writers.
Standard of Purity. - In the choice of language, we must be guided by two principles. First, we must select such words, forms, and constructions as are familiar to the great body of educated people ; secondly, we must employ only such as are sanctioned by good usage, – that is, by reputable, national, and present usage : reputable, that of the majority of the best writers and speakers, as opposed to that of the uncultivated ; national, as opposed to local, professional, or foreign; present, as opposed to obsolete or transient.
Errors in Purity may be dealt with under: (1) Violations of Rhetorical Purity, (2) Violations of Grammatical Purity.
Rhetorical Purity forbids the use of such words, constructions, and forms of expression as are foreign, obsolete, new, or low.
Grammatical Purity demands attention to the established rules of Syntax.
Foreign words that are not fully domesticated should be rejected, when it is possible to find pure English words that adequately express the meaning. Some foreign words have been so long in use that they have become familiar to ordinary readers, while others express the idea intended more accurately than any native word. They are such as ennui, nom de plume, fiat, ignoramus, quorum, incognito, and anathema. Such words as these may be used sparingly, but many of the words that are found in newspapers and other corrupters of our language should be peremptorily rejected. Do not venture to use such words as émeute, politesse, dernier ressort, n'importe, nous verrons.
Obsolete words are such as were once current in the language, but are now fallen into disuse. No absolute rule can be given to determine when a word has become so far obsolete that it can be no longer used; but it may be taken for granted that when words are unintelligible to ordinary readers, the only safe course in prose is to select others in their stead. Such words as erst, whilom, wist, behest, and irks, add dignity to poetic diction, but in prose are to be carefully eschewed.
New Words. — From a variety of sources new words are being continually introduced into the language. Some of these, such as those required to unfold the principles of a new science, have from the first a recognized standing ; some, being used only in conversation and in newspapers, soon disappear forever, while others rise to respectability and become thoroughly established in the language. The rule to follow in regard to the latter class is, not to use them. Do not say deputize for commission, effectuate for effect, eventuate for end.
Low Words. - There is a large class of words that are much used in conversation, and that are continually struggling for a place in the written language. As they are generally brief, and frequently used, they are felt to be very expressive. This, no doubt, accounts for the fact that many of them have risen to colloquial
respectability, while some have become recognized as a part of our written vocabulary, e.g. mob, cab, bus.
Social Meanings. - One kind of slang consists in using thoroughly established words with a “social” meaning. Thus people say "jolly," "plucky,” “ dodge,” and such like. Others fancy themselves clever when they speak of “the rosy,” “the fragrant weed,” or “the governor," while others from sheer laziness, that prevents their taking the trouble to select the right word, fall into the habit of using some slang expression in a great variety of meanings. With them everything is “immense,” “ beastly,"
stunning,” “nasty,” “jolly,” “ splendid,” or “just lovely."
Besides these, there is another kind of slang peculiar to almost every business or profession. The student is “plucked,” the business man is “ busted,” and the tradesman is "gone up." And when
of them die, they are How to Find what is Good Usage. — It is not to be expected that young persons can know whether words have all the marks of good usage or not. The common way of determining is to refer to the dictionary. It is the duty of the lexicographer to find out these points and to record them for our guidance, so that it is customary to regard all words found in the dictionary as of recognized authority, unless the contrary is stated.
A barbarism is an expression the use of which violates the rule that in language good usage is reputable, national, and present.
A solecism is a violation of the laws of Syntax.
Divided Usage. — As the usage of good writers is not by any means uniform, no one of them is to be followed absolutely.
DIRECTION. — Correct all violations of Purity in the following sentences.
PART I. 1. He succeeded in enthusing the company. 2. He wired him as soon as the office opened in the morning. 3. The demagogue tendeth more to words than to works. 4. He told me a long rigmarole about what happened. 5. I go where likes me best.
6. I wot not which to admire most, his délicatesse, his candidness, or his amiableness.
7. Thou needest not pretend to be from France, for thy speech bewrayeth thee.
8. Any one can see with half an eye that he has got the blues. 9. He is in the swim with the other politicians. 10. This change of fortune has almost transmogrified him.
11. The king soon found reason to repent him of provoking these dangerous enemies.
12. I opine that any gentleman who devotes his time to the beaux arts and belles lettres enjoys the highest agréments of life.
13. He remarked en passant that his friend had much esprit de corps.
14. I confess that I was unmitigatedly disappointed with Mr. Proctor's lecture on Tuesday evening.
15. He has a tendency to talk nonsense occasionally, or something very like blague.
16. They have taken a journey out West for the purpose of recuperating their health.
17. Several circumstances seem to militate against that idea. 18. Everything may not be so saturated with couleur de rose.
19. He seems to be a harum scarum sort of a mortal, who takes great delight in doing outré things.
20. The temptation to run a toll-gate seerns to be irresistible to a bicycler.