‘Vigorous writing is concise’

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Years ago when the Internet was developing, I wondered what impact it would have on young writers in reference to spelling and proper usage.

I haven’t heard any complaints, but I am retired. I don’t have much contact with English teachers or with editors.

I have read some of the “self-published” books, and I have seen major errors and poor word usage, but I haven’t heard much squawking.

I retired as a journalism teacher at Auburn University in 2000, but I haven’t heard any complaints from faculty or students in reference to spelling or grammar.

But when I started to write a column on this subject tonight I realized I have not talked with faculty or students about how young people are using the language.

It is my hope that I will hear something about this.

The use of the language comes to my mind when I see writing on the television screen that is supposed to be the dialogue of the actors. Some of it is good, and some of it is so awful that you wonder if the networks are aware of just how bad it is. The spelling is awful. Often the letter “u” is used for “you.”  One night, on the David Letterman Show, I saw a “y” used for a “why.”

I figure that part of the problem with these late night talk shows has to do with the lack of a script. They are paying stage hands who don’t know a thing about spelling to type what is being said “live” on TV.

I should add that I haven’t heard any complaints about this practice.

When you consider, however, the amount of money the networks are paying the talk show hosts and their guests, I think some consideration should be made for the correct spelling of the “talk.”

Most of the “script dialogue” on regular shows appears to be done correctly.

There are so many things to consider when you study the language.

The New York Times prefers to use periods when writing F.B.I. The Associated Press does not – FBI.

There are differences in several areas on questions such as this.

It’s not just The New York Times and The Associated Press. There are different practices involving journalism departments and English departments.

There will always be disagreements on punctuation, usage and definition.

It may be that the only point on which editors and writers might agree is this one so beautifully made by William Strunk Jr. in his book, The Elements of Style:

“Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make the sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.”

Gillis Morgan is an associate professor emeritus of journalism at Auburn University and an award-winning columnist. He can be reached at morgarg7@aol.com 

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