Monday, April 30, 2007

On Writing Well. Zinsser. Significant Sentences. Continued.

Significant Sentences: On Writing Well. William Zinsser. Continued.

"Consider all the prepositions that are routinely draped onto verbs that don't need any help: head up; free up; face up to; we no longer head committees, we head them up; we don't face problems any more; we face up to them when we can free up a few minutes." p. 14.

"Take the adjective 'personal,' as in 'personal friend of mine,' 'his personal feeling,' or 'her personal physician'...typical of the word that can be eliminated nine times out of ten." p. 14.

"Clutter is the ponderous euphemism that turns a slum into a 'depressed socioeconomic area,' a salesman into a 'marketing representative,' a dumb kid into an 'underachiever' and garbage collector into 'waste disposal personnel.' " p. 16.

"Clutter from inter-office memos: 'The trend to mosaic communication is reducing the meaningfulness of concern about whether or not demographic segments differ in their tolerance of periodicity.' " p. 16.

"Clutter from the computer world: 'We are offering functional digital programming options that have built-in parallel reciprocal capabilities with compatible third-generation contingencies and hardware.' " p. 16.

"Clutter from the Pentagon: 'Invasion = 'reinforced protective reaction strike' ...need for 'credible second-strike capacity' and 'counterforce deterrence.' " p. 16.

Orwell: "In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible." p. 16.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

On Writing Well. Significant Sentences.

Significant Sentences: On Writing Well: An Informal Guide to Writing Nonfiction.
William Zinsser
Second Edition.
New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1980.

"Jargon is swamping the language." p. viii.

"Much of what is written in everyday American life is cold, pompous and impenetrable." p. viii.

"Good writing has an aliveness that keeps the reader reading from one paragraph to the next." p. 5.

"Clutter is the disease of American writing...a society strangling in unnecessary words, circular constructions, pompous frills and meaningless jargon." p. 7.

"Our national tendency is to inflate and thereby sound important." p. 7.

"...every long word that could be a short word, every adverb which carries the same meaning that is already in the verb, every passive construction that leaves the reader unsure of who is doing what...." p. 7.

"[The reader] is a person with an attention span of about twenty seconds...assailed on every side by forces competing for his time by newspapers and magazines, by television and radio and stereo, by his wife and children and pets, by his house and yard and all the gadgets that he has bought to keep them spruce, and by that most potent of competitors, sleep." p. 9.

"Good writing doesn't come naturally." p. 12.

"A clear sentence is no accident." p. 13.

To be continued.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Walden. Significant Sentences. Concluded..

Significant Sentences. Walden. Concluded.

"...for all the motions of a squirrel, even in the most solitary recesses of the forest, imply spectators as much as those of a dancing girl...." p. 540.

"I once had a sparrow alight upon my shoulder for a moment while I was hoeing in a village garden, and I felt that I was more distinguished by that circumstance than I should have been by any epaulet I could have worn." p. 541.

"The perch swallows the grub-worm, the pickerel swallows the perch, and the fisherman swallows the pickerel; and so all the chinks in the scale of being are filled." p. 548.

"The night is the winter, the morning and evening are the spring and fall and the noon is the summer." p. 562.

"...the symbol of perpetual youth, the grass-blade....: p. 570.

"In a pleasant spring morning all men's sins are forgiven." p. 573.

"We need the tonic of wildness." p. 575.

"I left the woods for as good a reason as I went there: Perhaps it seemed to me that I had several more lives to live and could not spare any more time for that one." p. 579.

"I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected...." p. 580.

" this part of the world it is considered a ground for complaint if a man's writings admit of more than one interpretation." p. 581.

"Say what you have to say, not what you ought." p. 583.

"The fault-finder will find faults even in Paradise." p. 583.

"Things do not change; we change." p. 583.

"Men are all on a committee of arrangements, and hourly expect a speech from somebody." p. 584.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Walden. Significant Sentences. Continued.

Significant Sentences. Walden. Thoreau. Continued.

"...for I was rich, if not in money, in sunny hours and summer days, and spent them lavishly." p. 475.

"Several pretty large logs may still be seen lying on the bottom, where owing to the undulations of the surface, they look like huge water snakes in motion." p. 481.

"Instead of calling on some scholar, I paid many a visit to particular trees...." p. 483.

"He [the young man] goes thither [to the forest] at first as a hunter and fisher, until at last, if he has the seeds of a better life in him, he distinguishes his proper object, as a poet or naturalist it may be, and leaves the gun and fish-pole behind." p. 492.

"If the day and the night are such that you greet them with joy, and life emits a fragrance like flowers and sweet-scented herbs...that is your success." p. 495.

"...who does not prefer to be intoxicated by the air he breathes?" p. 495.

"You only need sit still long enough in some attractive spot in the woods that all its inhabitants may exhibit themselves to you by turns." p. 505.

"Every man looks at his wood-pile with a kind of affection." p. 522.

"You can always see a face in the fire." p. 524.

Fire as metaphor: "What but my hopes shot upward e'er so bright/ What but my fortunes sunk so low in night?" p. 525.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Walden. Significant sentences. Continued.

Significant Sentences. Walden. Thoreau. Continued.

"...books....are as dull as their readers." p. 408.

"How many a man has dated a new era in his life from the reading of a book." p. 408.

"...three-o'clock-in-the-morning courage, which Bonaparte thought was the rarest." p. 417.

"However intense my experience, I am conscious of the presence and criticism of a part of me, which, as it were, is not a part of me, but spectator, sharing no experience, but taking note of it." p. 429.

"...let me have a draught of undiluted morning air...." p. 432.

"He interested me because he was so quiet and solitary and so happy withal; a well of good humor and contentment." p. 438.

"In physical endurance and contentment he was cousin to the pine and the rock." p. 439.

"He had been instructed only i that innocent and ineffectual way in which the Catholic priests teach the aborigines, by which the pupil is never educated to the degree of consciousness, but only to the degree of trust and reverence, and a child is not made a man, but kept a child." p. 439.

"...reformers, the greatest bores of all...." p. 445.

"Shall I not rejoice also at the abundance of the weeds whose seeds are the granary of the birds?" p. 455.

"In the warm evenings I frequently sat in the boat playing the flute, and saw the perch, which I seemed to have charmed, hovering around me, and the moon traveling over the ribbed bottom, which was strewed with the wrecks of the forest." p. 462.

"A lake is earth's eye, looking into which the beholder measures the depth of his own nature." p. 471.

"In such a day, in September or October, Walden is a perfect forest mirror...." p. 473.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Walden. Significant Sentences. Continued.

Significant Sentences: Walden. Thoreau. (Continued)

"I am wont to think that men are not so much the keepers of herds as herds are the keepers of men." p. 367.

"For my greatest skill has been to want but little." p. 377.

"If I knew for a certainty that a man was coming to my house with the conscious design for doing me good, I should run for my life...." p. 381.

"For a man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone." p. 387.

"To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts." p. 394.

"I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived." p. 294.

"Our life is frittered away by detail." p. 395.

"...all news, as it is called, is gossip, and they who edit and read it are old women over their tea." p. 397.

" which I seriously think a ready wit might write a twelvemonth or twelve years beforehand with sufficient accuracy." p. 397.

"For what are the classics but the noblest recorded thoughts of man?" p. 403.

"Books must be read as deliberately and reservedly as they were written." p. 403.

"...and soar but little higher in our intellectual flights than the columns of the daily paper." p. 408.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Significant Sentences: Walden.

Significant Sentences: Walden, or, Life in the Woods
Henry David Thoreau
New York: Literary Classics of the United States, Inc.
1854 (1985).

Summary from Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia. 1987, p. 1041:
Convinced that ‘the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation,’ Thoreau lived alone in a cabin at Walden Pond, outside Concord, New Hampshire, from 1845 to 1847. His aim was to ‘front only the essential facts of life,’ to emancipate himself from slavery to material possessions. After giving these reasons for his experiment, Thoreau goes on to describe his observations and habits at Walden Pond, where he watched the seasons unfold. He does not encourage everyone to live in the woods, but rather, urges that life be simplified so that its meaning may become clear.

Writing. “I, on my side, require of every writer, first or last, a simple and sincere account of his own life.” p. 325.

Humanity. “He has no time to be anything but a machine.” p. 327.

Slave Driver. “It is hard to have a Southern overseer; it is worse to have a Northern one; but worst of all when you are the slave driver of yourself.” p. 328.

Fate. “What a man thinks of himself, that it is which determines…his fate.” p. 329.

“…unconscious despair is concealed even under what are called the games and amusements of mankind.” p. 329.

Today’s Truth. “What everybody echoes or in silence passes by as true today may turn out to be a falsehood tomorrow.” p. 329.

“What old people say you cannot do you try and find that you can.” p. 329.

“…life is an experiment….” p. 330.

“But man’s capacities have never been measured; nor are we to judge of what we can do by any precedents, so little has been tried.” p. 330.

Generations. “One generation abandons the enterprises of another like stranded vessels.” p. 331.

True Knowledge. “Confucius said, ‘To know that we know what we know, and that we do not know what we do not know, that is true knowledge.’ ” p. 331.

“The necessaries of life for man in this climate may, accurately enough, be distributed under several heads of food, shelter, clothing and fuel, for not till we have secured these are we prepared to entertain the true problems of life with freedom and a prospect of success.” p. 332.

Luxuries. “Most of the luxuries, and many of the so-called comforts of life, are not only not indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind.” p. 334.

Irony. “And when the farmer has got his house, he may not be the richer but the poorer for it, and it be for the house that has got him.” p. 349.

Spring. “They were pleasant spring days in which the winter of man’s discontent was thawing as well as the earth.” p. 355.

To be continued.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Significant Sentences: Only Yesterday (concluded)

Significant Sentences: Only Yesterday. Frederick Lewis Allen. History of the 1920s.

"Millions of men and women turned to Hoover because they thought Smith would make the White House a branch office of the Vatican, or turned to Smith because they wished to strike at religious intolerance...." p. 213.

"Meanwhile, one heard, the future of American industry was to be assured by the application of a distinctly modern principle...increased consumption.... If we all would only spend more and more freely, the smoke would belch from every factory chimney, and dividends would mount.". p. 220.

"The Big Bull Market was dead. Billions of dollars' worth of profits--and paper profits--had disappeared. The grocer, the window-cleaner, and the seamstress had lost their capital. In every town there were families which had suddenly dropped from showy affluence into debt. Investors who had dreamed of retiring to live on their fortunes now found themselves back once more at the very beginning of the long road to riches. Day by day, the newspapers printed the grim reports of suicides." p. 241.

"Prosperity is more than an economic condition; it is a state of mind. The Big Bull Market had been more than the climax of a business cycle; it had been the climax of a cycle in American mass thinking and mass emotion. There was hardly a man or woman in the country whose attitude toward life had not been affected by it in some degree and was not now affected by the sudden and brutal shattering of hope." p. 242.

"The self-generating effect of the depression itself: Each bankruptcy, each suspension of payment...affected other concerns, until it seemed almost as if the business world were a set of features ready to knock one another over as they fell; each employee thrown out of work decreased the potential buying power of the country." p. 245.

"The great American public was just as susceptible to fads as ever. Since the panicky autumn of 1929, millions of radios had resounded every evening at seven o'clock with the voices of Freeman F. Gosden and Charles J. Correll, better known as Amos 'n' Andy: 'I's regusted' and 'Check and double check' had made their way into the common speech.... There were almost 30,000 miniature golf courses in operation, representing an investment of $125,000,k000, and many of them were earning 300 percent a month." p. 252.

"Soon the mists of distance would soften the outlines of the nineteen-twenties and men and women, looking over the pages of a book such as this, would smile at the memory--of those charming, crazy days when the radio was a thrilling novelty, and girls wore bobbed hair and knee-length skirts and a transatlantic flier became a god overnight [Lindbergh], and common stocks were about to bring us all to lavish utopia.... They would talk about the good old days." p. 255.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Only Yesterday (continued). Significant Sentences.

Significant Sentences. Only Yesterday. Frederick Lewis Allen. History of the 1920s.

"...they were discovering [that] the transmutation of love [into something too easy and too biological] had robbed the loveliest passages of life of their poetry and their meaning." p. 169.

"They believed also, these intellectuals, in scientific truth and the scientific method--and science not only took their God away from them entirely, or reduced Him to a principle of order in the universe or a figment of the mind conjured up to meet a psychological need, but also reduced man, as Krutch pointed out in The Modern Temper, to a creature for whose ideas of right and wrong there is no transcendental authority. No longer was it possible to say with any positiveness, 'This is right or this is wrong'; an act which was considered right in Wisconsin might be (according to the ethnologists) considered wrong in Borneo, and even in Wisconsin; its merits seemed to be a matter of highly fallible human opinion. The certainty had departed from life. And what was worse still, it had departed from science itself.... Einstein and the quantum theory introduced new uncertainties and new doubts." p. 170.

"As Charles Metz had clearly showed in his excellent history of the first ten years of the Prohibition experiment, the forces behind the Amendment were closely organized; the forces opposed to the Amendment were hardly organized at all." p. 174.

"In 1926, the O'Banians, still unrepentant despite the loss of their leader, introduced another novelty in gang warfare. In broad daylight, while the streets of Cicero were alive with traffic, they raked Al Capone's headquarters with machine gun fire from eight touring cars. The cars proceeded down the crowded street outside the Hawthorne Hotel in solemn line, the first one firing blank cartridges to disperse the innocent citizenry and to draw the Capone forces to the doors and windows, while from the succeeding cars, which followed a block behind, flowed a steady rattle of bullets, spraying the hotel and the adjoining buildings up and one might play the hose upon one's garden....and Scarface Al himself remained in safety, flat on the floor of the Hotel Hawthorne Restaurant." 185.

"The word 'racket' in the general sense of an occupation which produced easy money...." p. 188.

"But the basic principle was fairly uniform: the racket was a scheme for collecting cash from businessmen to protect them from damage, and it prospered because the victim soon learned that if he did not pay, his shop would be bombed, or his trucks wrecked, or he himself might be shot in cold blood--and never a chance to appeal to the authorities for aid, because the authorities were frightened or fixed." p. 189.

To be continued.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Only Yesterday (continued). Signficant Sentences.

Significant Sentences: Only Yesterday: History of the 1920s.

"...a newly class-conscious group, the intellectuals of the country--the 'civilized minority'...were ready to take up with the latest ideas. They may be roughly...defined as the men and women who had heard of James Joyce, Proust, Cezanne, Jung, Bertrand Russell, John Dewey...Eugene O'Neill...who looked down on the movies but revered Charlie Chaplin as a great artist, could talk about relativity even if they could not understand it, knew a few of the leading complexes by name, collected early American furniture, had ideas about Progressive Education.... Few in numbers though they were, they were highly vocal and their influence not merely dominated American literature but filtered down to affect by slow degrees the thought of the entire country. " p. 161.

"...Sinclair Lewis...brought out Main Street in October 1920, and Babbitt some two years later. The effect of these two books was overwhelming. In two volumes of merciless literary photography and searing satire, Lewis revealed the ugliness of the American small town, the cultural poverty of its life, the tyranny of its mass prejudice, and the blatant vulgarity...of the booster. There were other things which he failed to reveal...but his books were all the more widely devoured for their very one-sidedness." p. 162.

"[Mencken] brought to his offensive against the low-brows an unparalleled vocabulary of invective. He pelted his enemies with words and phrases like mountebank, charlatan, swindler, numskull, swine, withch-burner, homo boobiens and imbecile." 164.

"In any cafe in Paris one might find an American expatriate thanking his stars that he was free from standardization at last, oblivious of the fact that there was no more standardized insitituion even in the land of automobiles and the radio than the French sidewalk cafe." p. 168.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Signficant Sentences. Only Yesterday. Frederick Lewis Allen. Continued.

History of the 1920s (continued).

The policy of the Coolidge administration let well enough alone. p. 130.

...he [Coolidge] exhibited an unruffled and altogether convincing calm. p. 130.

Mass production was not confined to automobiles; there was mass production in news and ideas as well. p. 133.

The national mind had become as never before an instrument upon which a few men could play..... They discovered--the daily tabloids were daily teaching them--that the public tended to become excited about one thing at a time. p. 134.

The prestige of science was colossal. The man in the street and the woman in the kitchen, confronted on every hand with new machines and devices which they owed to the laboratory, were ready to believe that science could accomplish almost anything. p. 140.

...a new dictum from Albert Einstein was now front-page stuff even though practically nobody could understand it. p. 140.

The word 'science' had become a shibboleth. To preface a statement with 'science teaches us' was enough to silence argument. p. 141.

Something that people needed, if they were to live at peace with themselves and with the world, was missing from their lives. And all at once Lindbergh provided it. Romance, chivalry, self-dedication--here they were embodied in a modern Galahad for a generation that had forsworn Galahads. Lindbergh did not accept the moving-picture offers that came his way, he did not sell testimonials, he did not boast, did not get himself involved in scandal, conducted himself with unerring taste--and was handsome and brave withal.... One of the things which had endeared Lindbergh to his admirers had been his indifference both to easy money and to applause. p. 156.

(To be continued)

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Only Yesterday. Frederick Lewis Allen. Continued.

Significant Sentences. Ironic view of the 1920s.

Radio penetrating every third home in the country; giant broadcasting stations with nationwide hookups; tenement-house roofs covered with forests of antennae.p. 117.

The war had impoverished Europe and hardly damaged the United States at all; when peace came the Americans found themselves the economic masters of the world...had developed mass production to a new point of mechanical and managerial efficiency. p. 118.

Prosperity was assisted too, by two new stimulants...each of which mortgaged the future but kept the factories roaring: installment buying...and stock-market speculation. p. 119.

...the public was in a mood to forgive every sin committed in the holy name of business. p. 120.

By far the most famous of these dramatic advertisements of the Post-war Decade was the long series in which the awful results of halitosis were set forth through the depiction of a gallery of unfortunates whose closest friends would not tell them. p. 123.

Almost the most remarkable thing about Coolidge Prosperity was Calvin Coolidge. He was a meager-looking man, a Vermonter with a hatchet face, tight lips, and the expression, as William Allen White remarked, of one 'looking down his nose to locate the evil smell which seemed forever to affront him.' ...In private he could be garrulous, but in public he was as silent as a cake of ice. p. 128.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Only Yesterday. Frederick Lewis Allen. Continued.

Significant Sentences. Ironic view of the 1920s.

Walter Lippmann: If you start with the belief that love is the pleasure of the moment, is it really surprising that it yields only a momentary pleasure? p. 85.

The nation is spiritually tired. p. 88.

Harding: I can't make a damn thing out of this tax problem. I listen to one side and they seem right, and then--God!--I talk to the other side and they seem just as right, and here I am where I started. I know somewhere there is a book that will give me the truth, but hell, I couldn't read the book. I know somewhere there is an economist who knows the truth, but I don't know where to find him and haven't the sense to know him and trust him when I find him. God! What a job! p. 89.

But the harshest condemnation on the part of the press and the public was reserved, not for those who had defrauded the government, but for those who insisted on bringing the facts to light. Senators Walsh and Wheeler [were referred to as]: "The Montana scandal mongers," "assassins of character," the "Democratic lynching-bee," "poison-tongued partisanship, pure malice, and twittering hysteria," "contemptible and disgusting." p. 109.

The automobile came even before the tub! And as it came, it changed the face of America. Villages which had once prospered because they were "on the railroad" languished with economic anemia; villages on Route 61 blossomed with garages, filling stations, hot-dog stands, chicken-dinner restaurants, tearooms, tourists' rests, camp sites and affluence. The interurban trolley perished or survived only as a pathetic anachronism. Railroad after railroad gave up its branch lines, or saw its revenues slowly dwindling under the competition of mammoth interurban buses and trucks snorting along six-lane concrete highways. p. 115.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Only Yesterday. Frederick Lewis Allen. Continued.

Significant Sentences. Ironic view of the 1920s.

Each of these diverse influence--the post-war disillusion, the new status of women, the Freudian gospel, the automobile, prohibition, the sex and confession magazines, and the movies--had its part in bringing about the revolution. Each of them, as an influence, was played upon by all the others; none of them could alone have changed to any great degree the folkways of America; together, their force was irresistible. p. 72.

Of far greater social significance, however, was the fact that men and women were drinking together. Among well-to-do people the serving of cocktails before dinner became almost socially obligatory.... The late afternoon cocktail party became a new American institution. p. 77.

It was better to be modern--everybody wanted to be modern--and sophisticated, and smart, to smash the conventions and to be devastatingly frank. And with a cocktail glass in one's hand it was easy at least to be frank. p. 79.

Along with the new frankness in conversation went a new frankness in books and the theater. p. 79.

The divorce rate...continued its steady increase: for every 100 marriages there were 8.8 divorces in 1910, 13.4 divorces in 1920 and 16.5 divorces in 1928--almost one divorce for every six marriages. There was a corresponding decline in the amount of disgrace accompanying divorce. p. 81.

Another result of the revolution was that manners became not merely different, but--for a few years--unmannerly. It was no mere coincidence that during this decade hostesses--even at small parties--found that their guests couldn't be bothered to speak to them on arrival or departure; that 'gate-crashing' at dances became an accepted practice; that thousands of men and women made a point of not getting to dinners within half an hour of the appointed time lest they seem insufficient blase; that house parties of flappers and their wide-trousered swains left burning cigarettes on the mahogany tables, scattered ashes light-heartedly on the rugs, took the porch cushion out in the boats and left them there to be rained one; or that men and women who had had--as the old phrase went-- 'advantages' and considered themselves highly civilized, absorbed a few cocktails and straightaway turned a dinner party into a boisterous rout.... p. 84.

...there was many a case of husband and wife experimenting with the new freedom and suddenly finding that there was dynamite in it which wrecked that mutual confidence and esteem without which marriage--even for the sake of their children--could not be endured. p. 85.