Of all the wonderful holidays we celebrate, I’m sure everyone is bushed from all of the festivities surrounding National Grammar Day. Well put down the horn blowers, beads, libations and cake for a moment if you can.
Let me be clear: YOU SHOULD WRITE IT LIKE YOU SAY IT. I enjoy reading things that are conversational. And I’m glad to say that noted grammarian Roy Peter Clark agrees with me.
He offered some tips via a Poynter Institute News University Webinar and during a chat on improving your writing.
I decided to share some of the resources for getting your writing right.
Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer by Roy Peter Clark: Covers adverbs, descriptive phrases and it has “50 indispensable, memorable, and usable tools,” according to its book description.
Clark’s sequel is The Glamour of Grammar, which goes more into the elements of language.
The Elements of Style, the classic style manual, is now its fourth edition. I will always carry my Strunk & White’s with me.
While we have all “adopted the emoticonic and acronymic language of texting” as Clark says, there is still room to improve.
From the Webinar, Clark says to do four things:
1. Match your language to your community. If you’re a soccer mom you may say something differently from when you’re hanging out with your fellow Philadelphia natives.
2. Order words for emphasis. He gave this example: “The queen, my lord, is dead NOT “The queen is dead, my lord.” “All humor is predicated on this,” Clark says. “We use that last location as a punch.”
3. Language Ladder of Abstraction: Rhetorical grammar helps us move up and down the ladder of language. At the top are idea words and abstract thoughts. Then at the bottomof the ladder are concrete, specific, ideas and concepts. Clark says that effective writers move up and down the ladder. but sometimes get stuck in a danger zone. He says that at the middle are words that are jargon, bureaucratic, vague and fuzzy. These words tend to keep the reader on the outside — so we should try not to use them.
4. Using Word Associations: Rhetorical grammar helps us take advantage of word association. Look up the word “nude” in the dictionary and the definition is: NAKED. Then look up “naked” and the definition is NUDE. Suggests they are synonyms. But they couldn’t be more different. “Nude” connotes confidence and class, even artistic integrity, Clark says. But “naked” connotes vulnerability. Denotation conveys literal meaning, while connotation adds the weight of associations, he says.
Clark says that a growing knowledge of these language strategies will help writers live a life inside the English language; improve the quality of your reading, writing and speaking and help you become a better student, teacher, worker and citizen.
Happy writing everyone!
- Style Guides Keep Our Grammar from Being a Hot Mess (fillingmypatchofsky.com)
- National Grammar Day 2013: Ten More Grammar Myths, Debunked (proswrite.com)