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H.W. Fowler (1858–1933).  The King’s English, 2nd ed.  1908.

Part II

STYLE



53. ANTICS


A small selection must suffice. Straining after the dignified, the unusual, the poignant, the high-flown, the picturesque, the striking, often turns out badly. It is not worth while to attain any of these aims at the cost of being unnatural.


  1. Use of stiff, full-dress, literary, or out-of-the-way words.

    And in no direction was the slightest concern evinced.—Times.

    The majority display scant anxiety for news.—Times.

    ...treating his characters on broader lines, occupying himself with more elemental emotions and types, and forsaking altogether his almost meticulous analysis of motive and temperament.—Westminster Gazette. (We recommend to this reviewer a more meticulous use of the dictionary)

    And most probably he is voted a fool for not doing as many men in similar positions are doing—viz., making up for a lack of principle by an abundance of bawbees easily extracted from a large class of contractors who are only too willing...—Times.

    It is Victor Hugo's people, the motives on which they act, the means they take to carry out their objects, their relations to one another, that strike us as so monumentally droll.—Times.

    Nothing definite has been decided upon as to the exact date of the visits, the venue of the visits, the...—Times.


  2. Pretentious circumlocution.

    That life was brought to a close in November 1567, at an age, probably, not far from the one fixed by the sacred writer as the term of human existence.—Prescott.

    She skated extremely badly, but with an enjoyment that was almost pathetic, in consideration of the persistence of 'frequent fall'.—E. F. Benson.

    The question of an extension of the Zemstvos to the southwest provinces is believed to be under consideration. It is understood that the visit of General Kleigels to St. Petersburg is not unconnected therewith.—Times.


  3. Poetic phraseology, especially the Carlylese superlative. Almost any page of Milton's prose will show whence Carlyle had this; but it is most offensive in ordinary modern writing.

    A period when, as she puts it, men and women of fashion 'tried not to be themselves, yet never so successfully displayed the naked hearts of them'.—Times.

    The last week in February was harnessing her seven bright steeds in shining tandem in the silent courtyard of the time to be.—The Lamp.

    Our enveloping movements since some days prove successful, and fiercest battle is now proceeding.—Times.

    The unhappy man persuades himself that he has in truth become a new creature, of the wonderfullest symmetry.—Carlyle.


  4. Patronizing superiority expressed by describing simple things in long words.

    The skating-rink, where happy folk all day slide with set purpose on the elusive material, and with great content perform mystic evolutions of the most complicated order.—E. F. Benson.


  5. The determined picturesque.

    Across the street blank shutters flung back the gaslight in cold smears.—Kipling.

    The outflung white water at the foot of a homeward-bound Chinaman not a hundred yards away, and her shadow-slashed rope-purfled sails bulging sideways like insolent cheeks.—Kipling.

    An under-carry of grey woolly spindrift of a slaty colour flung itself noiselessly in the opposite direction, a little above the tree tops.—Crockett.

    Then for a space the ground was more clayey, and a carpet of green water-weeds were combed and waved by the woven ropes of water.—E. F. Benson.

    At some distance off, in Winchester probably, which pricked the blue haze of heat with dim spires, a church bell came muffled and languid.—E. F. Benson.

    A carriage drive lay in long curves like a flicked whip lash, surmounting terrace after terrace set with nugatory nudities.—E. F. Benson.


  6. Recherché epithets.

    Perhaps both Milton and Beethoven would live in our memories as writers of idylls, had not a brusque infirmity dreadfully shut them off from their fellow men.—Times.

    The high canorous note of the north-easter.—Stevenson.

    By specious and clamant exceptions.—Stevenson.


  7. Formal antithesis or parallel. This particular form of artificiality is perhaps too much out of fashion to be dangerous at present. The great storehouse of it is in Macaulay.

    He had neither the qualities which make dulness respectable, nor the qualities which make libertinism attractive.—Macaulay.

    The first two kings of the House of Hanover had neither those hereditary rights which have often supplied the place of merit, nor those personal qualities which have often supplied the defect of title.—Macaulay.

    But he was indolent and dissolute, and had early impaired a fine estate with the dice-box, and a fine constitution with the bottle.—Macaulay.

    The disclosure of the stores of Greek literature had wrought the revolution of the Renascence. The disclosure of the older mass of Hebrew literature wrought the revolution of the Reformation.—J. R. Green.


  8. Author's self-consciousness.

    'You mean it is,' she said—'about Bertie'. Charlie made the noise usually written 'Pshaw'.—E. F. Benson.


  9. Intrusive smartness—another form of self-consciousness.

    Round her lay piles of press notices, which stripped the American variety of the English language bare of epithets.—E. F. Benson.

    Income-tax payers are always treated to the fine words which butter no parsnips, and are always assured that it is really a danger to the State to go on skinning them in time of peace to such an extent as to leave little integument to remove in time of war.—Times.

    Yet in the relentless city, where no one may pause for a moment unless he wishes to be left behind in the great universal race for gold which begins as soon as a child can walk, and ceases not until he is long past walking, the climbing of the thermometer into the nineties is an acrobatic feat which concerns the thermometer only, and at the junction of Sixth Avenue and Broadway there was no slackening in the tides of the affairs of men.—E. F. Benson.


54. MISCELLANEOUS TYPES OF JOURNALESE


Mr. Lionel Phillips maintained that it was impossible to introduce white unskilled labour on a large scale as a payable proposition without lowering the position of the white man.—Times.


How labour can be a proposition, and how a proposition can be payable it is not easy to say. The sentence seems to mean: 'to introduce ... labour on a large scale and make it pay'. This is what comes of a fondness for abstracts.

They have not hitherto discovered the formula for the intelligent use of our unrivalled resources for the satisfaction of our security.—Times.


This perhaps means: 'They have not yet discovered how our unrivalled resources may be made to ensure our safety'.

An attempt to efface the ill-effects of the Czar's refusal to see the workmen has been made by the grant of an interview by the Czar at Tsarkoe Selo to a body of workmen officially selected to represent the masses.—Spectator.

The powerful and convincing article on the question of War Office administration as it affects the Volunteers to be found in this month's National.—Spectator.

The Russian Government is at last face to face with the greatest crisis of the war, in the shape of the fact that the Siberian railway...—Spectator.

No year passes now without evidence of the truth of the statement that the work of government is becoming increasingly difficult.—Spectator.

It has taken a leading part in protesting against the Congo State's treatment of natives controlled by it, and in procuring the pressure which the House of Commons has put upon our Government with a view to international insistence on fulfilment of the obligations entered upon by the Congo Government as regards native rights.—Times.

The outcome of a desire to convince the Government of the expediency of granting the return recently ordered by the House with regard to the names,...—Times.

In default of information of the result of the deliberations which it has been stated the Imperial Defence Committee have been engaged in...—Times.

The volunteer does not volunteer to be compelled to suffer long, filthy, and neglected illnesses and too often death, yet such was South Africa on a vast scale, and is inevitable in war under the present official indifference.—Times.


55. SOMEWHAT, &C.


Indulgence in qualifying adverbs, as perhaps, possibly, probably, rather, a little, somewhat, amounts with English journalists to a disease; the intemperate orgy of moderation is renewed every morning. As somewhat is rapidly swallowing up the rest, we shall almost confine our attention to it; and it is useless to deprecate the use without copious illustration. Examples will be classified under headings, though these are not quite mutually exclusive.


  1. Somewhat clearly illogical.

    A number of questions to the Prime Minister have been put upon the paper with the object of eliciting information as to the personnel of the proposed Royal Commission and the scope of their inquiry. These are now somewhat belated in view of the official announcement made this morning.—Times. (The announcement contained both the list of members and the full reference)

    Thrills which gave him rather a unique pleasure.—Hutton.

    Russian despatches are somewhat inconsistent, one of them stating that there is no change in the position of the armies, while another says that the Japanese advance continues.—Times.

    Being faint with hunger I was somewhat in a listless condition bordering on stupor.—Corelli.


    In the light of these, it would be hard to say what full belatedness, inconsistency, and listlessness may be.

  2. Somewhat with essentially emphatic words.

    We may call a thing dirty, or filthy; if we choose the latter, we mean to be emphatic; it is absurd to use the emphatic word and take away its emphasis with somewhat, when we might use the gentler word by itself.

    A member of the Legislative Council is allowed now to speak in Dutch if he cannot express himself clearly in English; under the proposed arrangement he will be able to decide for himself in which medium he can express himself the more clearly. Surely a somewhat infinitesimal point.—Times.

    Thirdly, it is rather agonizing at times to the philologist.—Times.

    The distances at which the movements are being conducted receive a somewhat startling illustration from the statement that...—Times.

    Under these circumstances it is somewhat extraordinary to endeavour to save the Government from blame.—Times.

    In various evidently 'well-informed' journals the somewhat amazing proposition is set up that...—Times.

    But unfortunately the word 'duties' got accidentally substituted for 'bounties' in two places, and made the utterance somewhat unintelligible to the general reader.—Times.

    The songs are sung by students to the accompaniment of a somewhat agonizing band.—Times.

    There is a mysterious man-killing orchid, a great Eastern jewel of State, and many other properties, some of them a little well worn, suitable for the staging of a tale of mystery.—Spectator.


    Some of the instances in these two classes would be defended as humorous under-statement. But if this hackneyed trick is an example of the national humour, we had better cease making reflections on German want of humour.

  3. Somewhat shyly announcing an epigrammatic or well-chosen phrase.

    There is a very pretty problem awaiting the decision of Prince Bülow, and one which is entirely worthy of his somewhat acrobatic diplomacy.—Times.

    Gaston engaged in a controversy on the origin of evil, which terminated by his somewhat abruptly quitting his Alma Mater.—Beaconsfield.

    Why even Tennyson became an amateur milkman to somewhat conceal and excuse the shame and degradation of writing verse.—Corelli.

    The virtuous but somewhat unpleasing type of the Roman nation.—Times.

    The sight of these soldiers and sailors sitting round camp-fires in the midst of the snow in fashionable thoroughfares, transforming the city into an armed camp, is somewhat weird.—Times.

    While Mary was trying to decipher these somewhat mystic lines.—S. Ferrier.


  4. Somewhat conveying a sneer.

    It is somewhat strange that any one connected with this institution should be so unfamiliar with its regulations.—Times.

    ...that the conclusion arrived at by the shortest route is to be accepted—a somewhat extravagant doctrine, according to which...—Balfour.

    But very few points of general interest have been elicited in any quarter by these somewhat academic reflections.—Times.

    This somewhat glowing advertisement of the new loan.—Times.


  5. The genuine somewhat, merely tame, timid, undecided, conciliatory, or polite.

    It is somewhat pitiful to see the efforts of a foreign State directed, not to the pursuit of its own aims by legitimate means, but to the gratification of personal hostility to a great public servant of France.—Times.

    I am certain that the clergy themselves only too gladly acquiesce in this somewhat illogical division of labour.—Times.

    This, no doubt, is what Professor Ray Lankester is driving at in his somewhat intemperate onslaught.—Times.

    The rather mysterious visit of S. Tittoni, the Italian Foreign Minister, to Germany.—Times.

    These are of rather remarkable promise; the head shows an unusual power of realizing character under a purely ideal conception.—Times.

    The rather finely conceived statuette called 'The Human Task' by Mr. Oliver Wheatley.—Times.

    It is somewhat the fashion to say that in these days...—Times.

    A letter from one whose learning and experience entitle him to be heard, conceived, as I think, in a spirit of somewhat exaggerated pessimism.—Times.

    The statement made by the writer is somewhat open to doubt.—Times.

    I have read with much interest the letters on the subject of hush-money, especially as they account to me somewhat for the difficulties I have experienced.—Times.

    It would be valuable if he would somewhat expand his ideas regarding local defence by Volunteers.—Times.

    Sir,—I have been somewhat interested in the recent correspondence in your columns.—Times.

    So many persons of undoubted integrity believe in 'dowsing' that he is a somewhat rash man who summarily dismisses the matter.—Times.

    Sir Francis Bertie, whose dislike of unnecessary publicity is somewhat pronounced.—Times.


    It is not too much to say that any one who hopes to write well had better begin by abjuring somewhat altogether.

    We cannot tell whether this long list will have a dissuasive effect, or will be referred to foolish individual prejudice against an unoffending word. But on the first assumption we should like to add that a not less dissuasive collection might easily be made of the intensifier distinctly than of the qualifier somewhat. The use meant is that seen in:

    The effect as the procession careers through the streets of Berlin is described as distinctly interesting.


    Distinctly gives the patronizing interest, as somewhat gives the contemptuous indifference, with which a superior person is to be conceived surveying life; and context too often reveals that the superiority is imaginary.


56. CLUMSY PATCHING


When a writer detects a fault in what he has written or thought of writing, his best course is to recast the whole sentence. The next best is to leave it alone. The worst is to patch it in such a way that the reader has his attention drawn, works out the original version, and condemns his author for carelessness aggravated by too low an estimate of his own intelligence.

Numerous allegations, too, were made of prejudiced treatment measured out against motorists by rural magistrates.—Times. (avoidance of the jingle in meted out to motorists)

No crew proved to be of the very highest class; but this, perhaps, led the racing to be on the whole close and exciting.—Times. (avoidance of the jingle in led to the racing being)

The Lord Mayor last night entertained the Judges to a banquet at the Mansion House.—Times. (avoidance of double at)

The occupants talked, inspected the cars of one another, interchanged tales of...—Times. (avoidance, in grammatical pusillanimity, of one another's cars)

...who have only themselves in view by breaking through it.—Richardson. (avoidance of double in)

He nodded, as one who would say, 'I have already thought of that'.—Crockett. (avoidance of the archaism, which however is the only natural form, as who should say)

It is now practically certain that the crews of Nebogatoff's squadron were in a state of mutiny, and that this is the explanation for the surrender of these vessels.—Times. (avoidance of double of)

And for the first time after twenty years the Whigs saw themselves again in power.—J. R. Green. (Avoidance of double for; if after had been originally intended, we should have had at last instead of for the first time)

And oppressive laws forced even these few with scant exceptions to profess Protestantism.—J. R. Green. (To avoid the repetition of few the affected word scant has been admitted)

Given competition, any line would vie with the others in mirrors and gilded furniture; but if there is none, why spend a penny? Not a passenger the less will travel because the mode of transit is bestial.—E. F. Benson. (To avoid the overdone word beastly—which however happens to be the right one here; bestial describes character or conduct)

There is, indeed, a kind of timorous atheism in the man who dares not trust God to render all efforts to interpret his Word—and what is criticism but interpretation?—work together for good.—Spectator. (Render is substituted for make because make efforts might be taken as complete without the work together that is due. Unfortunately, to render efforts work together is not even English at all)


57. OMISSION OF THE CONJUNCTION 'THAT'


This is quite legitimate, but often unpleasant. It is partly a matter of idiom, as, I presume you know, but I assume that you know; partly of avoiding false scent, as in the sixth example below, where scheme might be object to discover. In particular it is undesirable to omit that when a long clause or phrase intervenes between it and the subject and verb it introduces, as in the first four examples.

And it is to be hoped, as the tree-planting season has arrived, Stepney will now put its scheme in hand.—Times.

Sir,—We notice in a leading article in your issue to-day on the subject of the carriage of Australian mails you imply that the increased price demanded by the Orient Pacific Line was due to...—Times.

Lord Balfour ... moved that it is necessary, before the constituencies are asked to determine upon the desirability of such conference, they should be informed first...—Times.

Lord Spencer held that it was impossible with regard to a question which had broken up the Government and disturbed the country they could go into a conference which...—Times.

If the Australian is to be convinced that is an unreasonable wish, it will not be by arguments about taxation.—Times.

I think he would discover the scheme unfolded and explained in them is a perfectly intelligible and comprehensive one.—Times.

It is not till He cometh the ideal will be seen.—Times.

And it is only by faith the evils you mention as productive of war can be cast out of our hearts.—Times.

I do not wish it to be understood that I consider all those who applied for work during the past two winters and who are now seeking employment are impostors.—Times.

I assume Turkey would require such a cash payment of at least £500,000.—Times.

Tawno leaped into the saddle, where he really looked like Gunnar of Hlitharend, save and except the complexion of Gunnar was florid, whereas that of Tawno was of nearly Mulatto darkness.—Borrow.


In some of these the motive is obvious, to avoid one that-clause depending on another; the end was good, but the means bad; a more thorough recasting was called for.

58. MEANINGLESS 'WHILE'


While, originally temporal, has a legitimate use also in contrasts. The further colourless use of it, whether with verb or with participle, as a mere elegant variation for and is very characteristic of journalese, and much to be deprecated.

Of its value there can be no question. The editor's article on 'Constitutions', for example, and that of Mr. W. Wyse on 'Law' both well repay most careful study; while when Sir R. Jebb writes on 'Literature', Dr. Henry Jackson on 'Philosophy', or Professor Waldstein on 'Sculpture', their contributions must be regarded as authoritative.—Spectator.

The fireman was killed on the spot, and the driver as well as the guard of the passenger train was slightly injured; while the up-line was blocked for some time with débris from broken trucks of the goods train.—Times.

The deer on the island took some interest in the proceeding, while the peacocks on the lawn screamed at the right time.—Birmingham Daily Post.

It cannot be contended that it is more profitable to convey a passenger the twenty-four miles to Yarmouth for payment than to accept the same payment without performing the service; while, if the company wish to discourage the use of cheap week-end tickets, why issue them at all?—Times.


59. COMMERCIALISMS


Certain uses of such, the same, and other words, redolent of commerce and the law, should be reserved for commercial and legal contexts. Anent, which has been noticed in Part I, is a legalism of this kind. In the Brontë instances quoted, a twang of flippancy will be observed; the other writers are probably unconscious.

This gentleman's state of mind was very harrowing, and I was glad when he wound up his exposition of the same.—C. Brontë.

The present was no occasion for showy array; my dun mist crape would suffice, and I sought the same in the great oak wardrobe in the dormitory.—C. Brontë.

There are certain books that almost defy classification, and this volume ... is one of such.—Daily Telegraph.

I am pleased to read the correspondence in your paper, and hope that good will be the result of the same.—Daily Telegraph.

The man who has approached nearest to the teaching of the Master, and carried the same to its logical and practical conclusion is General Booth.—Daily Telegraph.

Do I believe that by not having had the hands of a bishop laid upon my head I cannot engage in the outward and visible commemoration of the Lord's Supper as not being fit to receive the same?—Daily Telegraph.

But do the great majority of people let their belief in the hereafter affect their conduct with regard to the same. I think not.—Daily Telegraph.

Let us hope, Sir, that it may be possible in your own interests to continue the same till the subject has had a good innings.—Daily Telegraph.

I believe, and have believed since, a tiny child, made miserable by the loss of a shilling, I prayed my Heavenly Father to help me to recover the same.—Daily Telegraph.


It is of course possible, in this connexion, that the Prayer Book is responsible for 'the same'.

If I am refused the Sacrament I do not believe that I shall have less chance of entering the Kingdom of God than if I received such Sacrament.—Daily Telegraph.

But when it comes to us following his life and example, in all its intricate details, all will, I think, agree that such is impossible.—Daily Telegraph.

An appeal to philanthropy is hardly necessary, the grounds for such being so self-evident.—Times.

...such a desire it should be the purpose of a Unionist Government to foster; but such will not be attained under the present regime in Dublin.—Times.

...regaling themselves on half-pints at the said village hostelries.—Borrow.

Having read with much interest the letters re 'believe only' now appearing in the Daily Telegraph...—Daily Telegraph.

He ruined himself and family by his continued experiments for the benefit of the British nation.—Times.


60. PET PHRASES


Vivid writers must be careful not to repeat any conspicuous phrase so soon that a reader of ordinary memory has not had time to forget it before it invites his attention again. Whatever its merits, to use it twice (unless deliberately and with point) is much worse than never to have thought of it. The pages below are those of Green's Short History (1875).

The temper of the first [King George] was that of a gentleman usher. p. 704.

Bute was a mere court favourite, with the abilities of a gentleman usher. p. 742.

'For weeks', laughs Horace Walpole, 'it rained gold boxes'. p. 729.

'We are forced to ask every morning what victory there is', laughed Horace Walpole. p. 737.


The two following passages occur on pp. 6 and 81 of The Bride of Lammermoor (Standard Edition).

In short, Dick Tinto's friends feared that he had acted like the animal called the sloth, which, having eaten up the last green leaf upon the tree where it has established itself, ends by tumbling down from the top, and dying of inanition.

'...but as for us, Caleb's excuses become longer as his diet turns more spare, and I fear we shall realise the stories they tell of the sloth: we have almost eaten up the last green leaf on the plant, and have nothing left for it but to drop from the tree and break our necks.'


61. 'ALSO' AS CONJUNCTION; AND '&C.'


Also is an adverb; the use of it as a conjunction is slovenly, if not illiterate.

We are giving these explanations gently as friends, also patiently as becomes neighbours.—Times.

'Special' is a much overworked word, it being used to mean great in degree, also peculiar in kind.—R. G. White.

Mr. Sonnenschein's volume will show by parallel passages Shakespeare's obligations to the ancients, also the obligations of modern writers to Shakespeare.—Times.


The use of &c., except in business communications and such contexts, has often the same sort of illiterate effect. This is very common, but one example must suffice.

There are others with faults of temper, &c., evident enough, beside whom we live content, as if the air about them did us good.—C. Brontë.


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