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WORDS FAIL ME PDF

Wednesday, May 8, 2019


Words fail me: what everyone who writes should know about writing/by Patricia T. O'Conner p. cm. Includes index. ISBN ISBN Editorial Reviews. myavr.info Review. Patricia T. O'Conner's Words Fail Me is written in the same lighthearted tone as her snappy grammar guide, Woe Is I. "O'Conner uses her playful sense of humor to help us swallow with a laugh the rules that schoolmarms once forced down students' throats.-The New York Times .


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Words fail me: what everyone who writes should know about writing. Read more · Without Fail · Read more · Without Fail. Read more · Without Fail · Read more. Words fail me: what everyone who writes should know about writing. Home · Words fail me: what everyone who writes should know about writing. Browse and Read Words Fail Me. Words Fail Me. Change your habit to hang or waste the time to only chat with your friends. It is done by your everyday, don't.

Take another example. The penalty for that is twenty pounds or a broken neck. This proves, if it needs proving, how very little natural gift words have for being useful.

If we insist on forcing them against their nature to be useful, we see to our cost how they mislead us, how they fool us, how they land us a crack on the head.

We have been so often fooled in this way by words, they have so often proved that they hate being useful, that it is their nature not to express one simple statement but a thousand possibilities — they have done this so often that at last, happily, we are beginning to face the fact. We are beginning to invent another language — a language perfectly and beautifully adapted to express useful statements, a language of signs.

There is one great living master of this language to whom we are all indebted, that anonymous writer — whether man, woman or disembodied spirit nobody knows — who describes hotels in the Michelin Guide.

He wants to tell us that one hotel is moderate, another good, and a third the best in the place. How does he do it? Not with words; words would at once bring into being shrubberies and billiard tables, men and women, the moon rising and the long splash of the summer sea — all good things, but all here beside the point.

He sticks to signs; one gable; two gables; three gables. That is all he says and all he needs to say. Baedeker carries the sign language still further into the sublime realms of art.

When he wishes to say that a picture is good, he uses one star; if very good, two stars; when, in his opinion, it is a work of transcendent genius, three black stars shine on the page, and that is all.

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So with a handful of stars and daggers the whole of art criticism, the whole of literary criticism could be reduced to the size of a sixpenny bit — there are moments when one could wish it. But this suggests that in time to come writers will have two languages at their service; one for fact, one for fiction.

When the biographer has to convey a useful and necessary fact, as, for example, that Oliver Smith went to college and took a third in the year , he will say so with a hollow 0 on top of the figure five. Words, then, are not useful. Let us now enquire into their other quality, their positive quality, that is, their power to tell the truth. But to consider each separately would take too long.

Let us then simplify and assert that since the only test of truth is length of life, and since words survive the chops and changes of time longer than any other substance, therefore they are the truest.

Buildings fall; even the earth perishes. What was yesterday a cornfield is to-day a bungalow. But words, if properly used, seem able to live for ever. What, then, we may ask next, is the proper use of words? Not, so we have said, to make a useful statement; for a useful statement is a statement that can mean only one thing.

And it is the nature of words to mean many things.

Words fail me: what everyone who writes should know about writing

Thus one sentence of the simplest kind rouses the imagination, the memory, the eye and the ear — all combine in reading it. But they combine — they combine unconsciously together.

The moment we single out and emphasize the suggestions as we have done here they become unreal; and we, too, become unreal — specialists, word mongers, phrase finders, not readers.

In reading we have to allow the sunken meanings to remain sunken, suggested, not stated; lapsing and flowing into each other like reeds on the bed of a river. But the words in that sentence Passing Russell Square-are of course very rudimentary words.

They show no trace of the strange, of the diabolical power which words possess when they are not tapped out by a typewriter but come fresh from a human brain — the power that is to suggest the writer; his character, his appearance, his wife, his family, his house — even the cat on the hearthrug.

Why words do this, how they do it, how to prevent them from doing it nobody knows.

No writer presumably wishes to impose his own miserable character, his own private secrets and vices upon the reader. But has any writer, who is not a typewriter, succeeded in being wholly impersonal? Always, inevitably, we know them as well as their books. Such is the suggestive power of words that they will often make a bad book into a very lovable human being, and a good book into a man whom we can hardly tolerate in the room.

But this suggests that in time to come writers will have two languages at their service; one for fact, one for fiction.

Frequently bought together

When the biographer has to convey a useful and necessary fact, as, for example, that Oliver Smith went to college and took a third in the year , he will say so with a hollow 0 on top of the figure five. Words, then, are not useful. Let us now enquire into their other quality, their positive quality, that is, their power to tell the truth. But to consider each separately would take too long. Let us then simplify and assert that since the only test of truth is length of life, and since words survive the chops and changes of time longer than any other substance, therefore they are the truest.

Buildings fall; even the earth perishes. What was yesterday a cornfield is to-day a bungalow. But words, if properly used, seem able to live for ever.

What, then, we may ask next, is the proper use of words? Not, so we have said, to make a useful statement; for a useful statement is a statement that can mean only one thing. And it is the nature of words to mean many things. Thus one sentence of the simplest kind rouses the imagination, the memory, the eye and the ear — all combine in reading it.

But they combine — they combine unconsciously together. The moment we single out and emphasize the suggestions as we have done here they become unreal; and we, too, become unreal — specialists, word mongers, phrase finders, not readers.

In reading we have to allow the sunken meanings to remain sunken, suggested, not stated; lapsing and flowing into each other like reeds on the bed of a river. But the words in that sentence Passing Russell Square-are of course very rudimentary words. They show no trace of the strange, of the diabolical power which words possess when they are not tapped out by a typewriter but come fresh from a human brain — the power that is to suggest the writer; his character, his appearance, his wife, his family, his house — even the cat on the hearthrug.

Why words do this, how they do it, how to prevent them from doing it nobody knows. No writer presumably wishes to impose his own miserable character, his own private secrets and vices upon the reader. But has any writer, who is not a typewriter, succeeded in being wholly impersonal? Always, inevitably, we know them as well as their books.

Such is the suggestive power of words that they will often make a bad book into a very lovable human being, and a good book into a man whom we can hardly tolerate in the room. That is one reason why our judgments of living writers are so wildly erratic.

Only after the writer is dead do his words to some extent become disinfected, purified of the accidents of the living body. Now, this power of suggestion is one of the most mysterious properties of words. Everyone who has ever written a sentence must be conscious or half-conscious of it.

Words, English words, are full of echoes, of memories, of associations — naturally. And that is one of the chief difficulties in writing them today — that they are so stored with meanings, with memories, that they have contracted so many famous marriages.

In the old days, of course, when English was a new language, writers could invent new words and use them. Nowadays it is easy enough to invent new words — they spring to the lips whenever we see a new sight or feel a new sensation — but we cannot use them because the language is old.

You cannot use a brand new word in an old language because of the very obvious yet mysterious fact that a word is not a single and separate entity, but part of other words. It is not a word indeed until it is part of a sentence.

In order to use new words properly you would have to invent a new language; and that, though no doubt we shall come to it, is not at the moment our business. Our business is to see what we can do with the English language as it is. How can we combine the old words in new orders so that they survive, so that they create beauty, so that they tell the truth?

That is the question. And the person who could answer that question would deserve whatever crown of glory the world has to offer.

Not on our professors; not on our reviewers; not on our writers; but on words. It is words that are to blame. They are the wildest, freest, most irresponsible, most unteachable of all things.

The only surviving recording of Virginia Woolf

Of course, you can catch them and sort them and place them in alphabetical order in dictionaries. But words do not live in dictionaries; they live in the mind. If you want proof of this, consider how often in moments of emotion when we most need words we find none. Yet there is the dictionary; there at our disposal are some half-a-million words all in alphabetical order. But can we use them? No, because words do not live in dictionaries, they live in the mind.

Look again at the dictionary. There beyond a doubt lie plays more splendid than Antony and Cleopatra; poems more lovely than the Ode to a Nightingale; novels beside which Pride and Prejudice or David Copperfield are the crude bunglings of amateurs.

It is only a question of finding the right words and putting them in the right order. But we cannot do it because they do not live in dictionaries; they live in the mind. And how do they live in the mind? Variously and strangely, much as human beings live, by ranging hither and thither, by falling in love, and mating together. It is true that they are much less bound by ceremony and convention than we are. Royal words mate with commoners. English words marry French words, German words, Indian words, Negro words, if they have a fancy.

For she has gone a-roving, a-roving fair maid. Thus to lay down any laws for such irreclaimable vagabonds is worse than useless. A few trifling rules of grammar and spelling are all the constraint we can put on them.Thus to lay down any laws for such irreclaimable vagabonds is worse than useless.

Undoubtedly they like us to think, and they like us to feel, before we use them; but they also like us to pause; to become unconscious.

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Royal words mate with commoners. How does he do it? Nowadays it is easy enough to invent new words — they spring to the lips whenever we see a new sight or feel a new sensation — but we cannot use them because the language is old.

That is one reason why our judgments of living writers are so wildly erratic. So with a handful of stars and daggers the whole of art criticism, the whole of literary criticism could be reduced to the size of a sixpenny bit — there are moments when one could wish it. This proves, if it needs proving, how very little natural gift words have for being useful.

Now we know little that is certain about words, but this we do know — words never make anything that is useful; and words are the only things that tell the truth and nothing but the truth.

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