The Able Writer: A Rhetoric and Handbook
I am a linguist. During more than thirty-five years as a university professor, I have spent most of my time teaching English grammar to future teachers. My research interests have focused on discourse analysis, the teaching of grammar, and language variation (including study of the particular characteristics of formal written style in English). It had never occurred to me to write a book about rhetoric and composition in English until I was actually asked to do so by the senior college English editor at what was then Harper & Row, Publishers (now Harper Collins).
Harper & Row had recently acquired Thomas Y. Crowell Company, which had published my book, Modern English Linguistics: A Structural and Transformational Grammar . That book was selling well, and so was at least one composition text (from another publisher) written by another linguist. The editor at Harper & Row had concluded that there was a market for such books, and they wanted to compete. I said, "Why not," and began work.
The book I produced was The Able Writer: A Rhetoric and Handbook. It was designed to be used either as a textbook in a college composition course or as a reference for writers. Because I am a linguist, it focuses on language as the stuff of writing (the way pigments are the stuff of painting, and wood and stone are the stuff of sculpture). Even when discussing pre-writing (the discovery phase of rhetoric) or planning and organization, The Able Writer constantly focuses on examples of texts that result from a certain discovery activity or planning process. In talking about outlines, it walks the reader through the process of creating one. In talking about organization, it provides and analyzes numerous texts that embody the various organizational principles.
Most of the book focuses on the revision phase of the writing process: how the writer molds and reshapes paragraphs, sentences, words, and even spelling and punctuation to make the language reflect exactly what the writer wants to communicate to a particular audience. In the years since I wrote The Able Writer, my younger daughter has become an artist, and I have watched in awe as certain of her paintings have become totally transformed by just the kind of creative reworking that I am here alluding to.
In recent years, there has been a movement in the field of composition away from the concrete stuff of language toward more abstract concerns such as self expression and even philosophically or politically defined models of the writing process. I have no problem with such developments as long as they do not diminish the writer's sensitivity to concrete language. Words and sentences and paragraphs should almost feel like clay in the writer's hands. The Able Writer is for teachers and students (and professionals learning on their own) who love the feel of language, who hear phrases reverberating in their brains, who carry their essays around with them and read and reread them, and who never feel that they are "finished."
I would also like to think that The Able Writer is an especially coherent and personal book. In the six years that I worked on it, I tried especially hard to make its various parts flow smoothly together. And I feel that I put a great deal of myself into it. Possibly because I was stretching the limits of my field of specialization in writing it, it became as much a portrait of my consciousness as it is a description of the writing and revision process. Whether that enhances the book's usefulness is up to the reader to judge!
Following this paragraph, you will find a list of the chapters in The Able Writer. Some of them are linked to sections later in this document that describe the content of the chapter (and perhaps preceding and following chapters) and that present sample texts from The Able Writer itself. I hope you enjoy the samples.
Beside the name of each chapter is a link to a pdf version of the chapter that is readable with Adobe Acrobat Reader. You, of course, have my permission to open and read these full versions of each chapter. You also have my permission to print one hard copy for your own use. If however, you would like to print multiple copies to distribute to others, e.g., your students, then I request that you obtain my permission in advance. You can do so by e-mail or by sending a letter to my mailing address: 4652 Larkwood Drive, Virginia Beach, VA 23464, U.S.A. Whatever level of encounter you have with my work, please let me hear your reactions to it. Thank you for your interest.
I have also included a pdf version of the Instructor's Manual , which contains a sample syllabus, sample writing assignments, comments on how I teach each chapter, and answers to the exercises.
John P. Broderick
Chapter Two: Ideas [Chapter One defined language as linguists do, focusing on the interconnections among its various levels: discourse, sentence, word, and sound/spelling. It then defined the particular style of formal written communication that this book treats, labeling it "edited English." Chapter Two is essentially a diversion before the actual tasks of planning and writing are addressed. Its focus is pre-writing (what classical rhetoricians called "invention"). It talks about ideas and alerts students to the differences between creative ideas and worn-out ideas. It then describes several activities that can be used to stimulate creative thinking and to probe the rich store of concrete experiences that define each writer's life. Activities such as free association, existential sentences, question word exercises, and scrambled perception exercises are described and exemplified, and practiced. There is then a discussion, with extensive examples, of the writer's notebook as a place to do the creativity exercises and as a device to stimulate creative thinking. Here is one small section from Chapter Two (pp. 38 - 40):]
This activity calls on you to gather new raw material for ideas and to combine the material in original ways. It aims to help you sharpen your senses: to see, hear, touch, smell, and taste more actively, that is, to notice more about what is going on around you. And it combines practice in sharpening sense awareness with a conscious withholding of your mind's inclination to categorize.
Here are some examples of how it works: Turn the sound off when you are viewing a television show; tell yourself that it is not a television show at all, and then watch. Watch every movement, every gesture, every aspect of every scene. Make notes about what you are seeing if there is time, but above all start noticing. Force yourself to do this for five full minutes. Then, and only then, try to create a written interpretation of the sights you have observed. Or try closing your eyes at a sporting event and telling yourself that it is not an athletic event. Force yourself for five full minutes to listen to everything, to notice every sound. Then, and only then, try to write an interpretation of the sounds you have just heard. You can do the same with the other senses. Close your eyes and feel, smell, or taste an object, but do so attentively, and do not draw conclusions about what your senses are experiencing until you have given them several minutes to send raw data to your brain.
Whenever you can, practice viewing familiar people, objects, and situations as though they were wholly different from what they are. Look at a service station attendant and say to yourself, "This is not a service station attendant; who is it, then?" Look at a tree and say to yourself, "This is not a tree; what then might it be?" Observe the dinner hour in a college cafeteria and tell yourself, "This is not a meal; what then might it be?" In each case the question will force you to see, to hear, to feel, to smell, and even to taste things you might otherwise not even notice. You might see indications of gracefulness in the way the service station attendant washes your windshield. You might see indications of intelligence in the way the tree turns its leaves awayfrom the wind or gently lowers its outer branches as a squirrel scampers along them. You may see ritual in the college cafeteria. Write descriptions of such perceptions--on the spot. Describe the college dinner hour as if it were indeed a religious ceremony, seeing the servers as priests or priestesses, the trash as offerings to a god, the food as the god's response to the offerings. The possibilities are endless. When such perception games are done, you can then recall that the person is, after all, a service station attendant; the object is, after all, a tree; the situation is, after all, a college cafeteria at meal time. But you will, in each case, have enriched the content of a category and possibly discovered some wholly new predications.
The key to the scrambled perception technique is to withhold judgment while at the same time forcing your senses consciously to handle as much raw perceptual data as possible. This technique can be practiced at any time and in any place. And it can serve your needs when you are preparing to write about a variety of subjects. Here are just a few suggestions for becoming more familiar with the technique:
(1) Pour ink on a folded page and press the fold together to make an ink blot. Study the ink blot. Write several separate descriptions of the shapes in the ink blot.
(2) Hold any picture upside down--a photograph, a magazine, a newspaper. Describe in great detail the shapes and arrangements in the picture. Turn it right side up. Have you discovered anything about what's in the picture that you did not notice before?
(3) Stand on your head and describe what you see. Listen as you look. Do the sounds in the situation seem any different when the world is upside-down?
(4) Close your eyes and feel the furniture in your room, the faces of your friends, the plants around you. Have a friend give you an unknown object to feel. When you open your eyes to see what it is, ask yourself whether you learned anything new about it by playing the game.
Chapter Three: Organization [The four major sections of this chapter are (1) Audience, (2) Purpose, (3) Plan, and (4) Outlining. The sub-sections under Audience are "Your Reader" and "Your Role as Writer." Under Purpose, the distinction between exposition and argument is discussed and numerous sub-types of each are exemplified. The major sub-sections under Plan are "Description," "Narration," "Definition," "Deduction," and "Induction." Various sub-types of each are exemplified. Under Outlining, the entire process, from free-association diagrams on a note pad or blackboard through the technical details of enumerating the headings are exemplified step by step. Here is brief sample text from Chapter Three (pp. 45 - 46):]
In the discussion of written vs. spoken styles in Chapter One, I said that the great challenge of written style is the impossibility of interaction between the writer and the reader. Unlike a listener, a reader cannot interrupt to ask for clarification. Furthermore, conversations usually take place between people whose roles are well defined from the social context in which the conversation takes place. Your special challenge as a writer is (1) to fix your reader so firmly in mind that you see in advance any need for clarification the reader may have and (2) to make your role so clear in the way you write that the lack of conversational context does not weaken communication.
The first question to ask yourself is, Who is my reader? Sometimes you write for yourself, in a diary or in your writer's notebook, but when you write edited English you are usually writing for someone else. Ask yourself, Is it someone I know or someone I do not know? Then ask, How well do I know my reader? Answers to such questions determine how much information you should include and how you should express it. Other related questions are, Is my reader friendly to me? Is my reader friendly to my views?
Suppose you need to write a letter about the physical conditions of the house you live in. (Your ultimate purpose is to obtain help.) If you are writing to a close friend who has visited it several times you might begin like this:
The seals on the living room window are leaking air. I have badgered the builder about fixing them. I don't know if he'll ever get around to it. I'm really bugged?
But if you are writing to the local Better Business Bureau, your letter might begin something like this:
I live in a two-year-old house that is equipped with double-paned weather-proof windows. The seals on the living room window are leaking air. I have asked the builder four times to repair it, but he has not yet done so.
Notice that the second version, written to people whom you do not know, contains more information and does not reveal that the situation has you emotionally upset. You want to build your case on facts so that they will support your cause.
When you sit down to write, the lens of your imagination must bring the image of your reader into sharp focus, and you must keep the resulting picture firmly in mind throughout the whole process of planning and writing.
You are a twenty-two-year-old college graduate (choose your own field). You are also the single parent of a two-year-old child. You have sought employment for one whole year since graduating from college but have failed to find any. You want help in finding a job. Pick any audience from the list below; then write a letter in which your audience is clearly focused throughout.
(1) Your federal congressman
(2) The president of your local Chamber of Commerce
(3) A local newspaper
(4) An uncle who owns a business but with whom you have not gotten a long in the past
(5) Your best friend from college, who is doing well and who has many contacts
Be prepared to discuss how your audience determined both what you wrote in the letter and how you wrote it.
Chapter Four: Paragraphs [In the section on outlining in Chapter Three, an outline of an essay is developed. In this chapter, its various paragraphs are drafted and revised. The major headings of Chapter Four are (1) Unity: One Idea and (2) Coherence. The sub-sections under Unity are "The topic sentence states the idea," "Other sentences develop the idea," and "One organizational plan controls development." The sub-sections under Coherence are "Repetition of key words and ideas," "Use of transitional expressions, " Use of parallel grammatical structure," and "Consistency (of pronoun reference, tense and mood, and voice)." Here are several pages from the beginning of the section on Coherence in Chapter Four (pp. 97 -100):]
The first three chapters of this book prepared you to write. This chapter and those that follow treat drafting and revising. As you read and write your way through the following chapters, you will probably find it easier to apply principles of paragraph structure, sentence structure, word choice, spelling, and punctuation as you revise your earlier drafts. But the more opportunities you give yourself to practice, the more you will incorporate many of these principles even in your early drafts. For now, plan to revise. Much of the discouragement felt by inexperienced writers comes from failure to realize that good writing takes work. If you know this and learn to use the writer's tools, you will even come to find pleasure in the work.
We saw earlier that edited English is addressed to an audience that is not intimately familiar with you or your topic, and that, like all written English, it is addressed to an audience that is absent. For these reasons, it must supply sufficient detail to familiarize the reader with the information it is trying to convey, and it must carefully and coherently make up for the lack of conversational interaction by anticipating and addressing any questions the reader might be expected to have. The structural device that has developed in our culture to fulfill these special requirements of edited English is the paragraph.
A paragraph can consist of one sentence or a hundred sentences, though most are between five and ten sentences long. The first line of a paragraph is usually indented, although some writers and book designers ignore this convention. No matter, because neither length nor visual appearance defines the paragraph. The paragraph is defined by its content: all of its sentences must treat one idea and do so coherently. In this chapter we will look closely at these two defining features of the paragraph: unity and coherence
Language exists to convey ideas from one mind to another mind. In spoken conversation we use each sentence as a tool to convey a relatively specific piece of information to our listener. Suppose you say to me,
What do you want?
Your sentence gets me to think about wanting. And then suppose I answer,
I want a book.
The words I want in my sentence do not tell you anything new: you know I am there, because you just asked me a question, and you have wanting on your mind because you just asked me a question about wanting. The new idea in my sentence is conveyed by the word book. Notice that the central idea in both your question and my answer is expressed in the last word (want in your question, book in my answer). And if you read the question and the answer aloud, you will also notice that the last word in each is pronounced relatively louder than all of the other words in the sentence. Want in your question and book in my answer are clearly spoken more loudly than the other words in their sentences, even though they may not be "loud" in any absolute sense. And it was no accident that my answer actually overlapped with your question. Most conversations, in fact, tend to form a chain: You forge a link; I hook into your link and then add a link of my own;you hook into that and add another; and so on. A graphic representation of this process is given below. The capitalized word represents the new idea the speaker wishes to impress on the listener's mind; notice that it is pronounced louder and comes toward the end of the sentence.
You: What do you WANT?
Me: I want a BOOK.
You: A book on what SUBJECT?
Me: The subject doesn't MATTER.
You: If it doesn't matter,try THIS.
In a conversation we often rely more heavily on loudness than on word order to forge the links in our chain of coherence. for instance, I could easily have answered your opening question above by saying,
A BOOK is what I want.
Here, the words I want, which link my answer to your question, actually occur at the end of the sentence, and the word book, which represents the new link I am forging in the information chain, actually occurs at the beginning of the sentence, but BOOK is still pronounced louder, in fact especially louder, so show that it is the new information.
For communication to flow from your mind to my mind, you have to link some part of your sentence to something already on my mind and then you have to get me to connect it with the new idea your sentence expresses. In conversational interaction you get your clues about what is on my mind from what you just heard me say. You then refer to that with words you generally pronounce softly and place toward the beginning of your sentence. The new idea you want to impress upon my mind you then express in words you pronounce loudly and generally place toward the end of your sentence.
Written sentences must also come linked in a coherent chain if communication is to flow between your mind and your reader's. But as a writer, you cannot easily signal the linking process with soft and loud pronunciation the way you can as a speaker. Thus, word order in written sentences plays an even more important role in forging the chain of coherence: The link with ideas already on the reader's mind comes early in the sentence; your new idea comes later. This is why it is often said that the end of the sentence is the position of emphasis, the place to put matter you want the reader to remember. Furthermore, as a writer, you must forge all the links in the chain without the reader's help. There are no clues, as in conversational interaction, about what is going on in your reader's mind. This is why the paragraph is so important in edited English: You need several sentences to treat one idea adequately enough to be sure the reader gets the message, you need unified paragraphs to help the reader see exactly what that idea is, and you need a very tight chain of coherence among the sentences of a paragraph to assure that the reader understands how the various aspects of the idea interrelate. Let us now look at some specific steps you should take to give your paragraphs this kind of coherence.
The chain of coherence in a conversation may be represented like this:
. . . . . . . _________________
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .__________________
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .___________________
In a written paragraph, however, the chain of coherence is probably best represented like this:
Lines in the above diagrams represent sentences. In a conversation, the sentences alternate between one speaker and another. In a written paragraph, all the sentences are by the writer. Here is an example. Suppose you want to impress on me the idea that politicians are crooks. You might do so in a conversation as follows:
You: Politicians are CROOKS.
Me: . . . .They are NOT.
You: . . . . They EARN TOO MUCH.
Me: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . High pay doesn't PROVE ANYTHING.
You: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .It is . . . . . . . . .proof because they DON'T WORK.
To make the same point effectively in a written paragraph, you would probably do better as follows (words in italics at the end of each sentence represent that sentence's new contribution to the developing idea):
Politicians are crooks.
. . . . . . . . .A criminal t akes money without working for it.
Politicians . . . . . . . . . take money without working for it too.
Their . . . . . . . crimes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .aren't obvious , but
Politicians and . crooks . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . certainly behave alike.
Notice that the sentences in the written paragraph tend to link up over and over again with the first sentence (the topic sentence), thus reminding the reader constantly just what the paragraph is about: Politicians is repeated twice and referred to once by a pronoun; crooks is repeated once and its idea is evoked two other times, once by criminal and once by crimes . You might even find it helpful to think of a paragraph as a web of coherence rather than as merely a chain. When you write paragraphs, do not bore your reader with needless repetition, but do work to use repetition to show your reader exactly how each sentence in the paragraph interrelates with the topic sentence.
Chapter Seven: Sentence Repair [Chapter Seven is the third of three chapters on grammar. The first of the three, Chapter Five (Sentence Grammar), was an overview of grammar: parts of speech, sentence types (affirmative, negative; declarative, interrogative, imperative) sentence functions (subject, direct object, etc.) and other issues such as the difference between grammatical form and grammatical function. Chapter Six (Sentence Strategy) sought to use some of the insights from the sentence combining tradition to give students practice in varying and controlling sentence structure. This chapter, Chapter Seven (Sentence Repair) directly addresses the typical problems writers have with the special grammar requirements of edited English style: fragments, splices, and run-ons; agreement between subjects and predicates and between pronouns and antecedents; placement of modifiers; case in pronouns; overuse of passives; and faulty parallelism. Here is the opening paragraph of Chapter Seven: Sentence Repair (p. 165) followed by the section on placement of modifiers from later in the chapter (pp. 172-174):]
All English varieties&endash;standard and vernacular, written and spoken, careful and casual&endash;structure sentences according to the principles discussed in the last two chapters. But each variety has some special structural features of its own. Certain vernacular dialects use right as an intensifier of adjectives (That's a right nice tie you're wearing). Edited English limits it to use with adverbs (The committee wishes to have the report right now). Casual style readily allows the objective form of the pronoun to function as a predicate nominative (The person who called yesterday was her). Edited English requires that the subject form of the pronouns function as predicate nominatives (The person who called yesterday was she). This chapter closely examines such special requirements of edited English in sentence structure. It focuses on issues that you probably will not have most trouble with because, in these matters, edited English differs from most spoken styles and informal written styles. This chapter emphasizes matters that have a general application to sentence structure. Matters that depend on special needs of particular words (such as the difference between lie and lay) are treated in the usage glossary in the Appendix (pp.329-340).
The freedom you have to move around both groups and clauses in sentences can sometimes get you into trouble. A noun or verb modifier sometimes expresses the central idea of a sentence and thus sounds best toward the end of the sentence. Or the modified word itself may express the new idea and appear at the end, but its modifier may make a nice transitional expression at the beginning. Such needs of coherence are important, but do not let them confuse the basic message of the sentence. Always make sure that the modified word is in fact expressed in the sentence and placed as close as possible to its modifiers. The italicized gerundive, participial, and infinitive phrases in the following sentences are called dangling modifiers because the word each modifies is not even expressed in the sentence:
Standing in line, the rain was drenching.
Exhausted from the climb, the mountain was conquered.
To get into college, a high school diploma is necessary.
How would you rephrase these sentences to express the word modified by the introductory phrases? Think about it before you read the following suggested revisions:
Standing in line, we were drenched by the rain.
Exhausted from the climb, I had conquered the mountain.
To get into college, an applicant needs a high school diploma.
The italicized words in the following sentences are called misplaced modifiers because they are not close enough to the word they modify to make their role clear:
The Nigerian ambassador only speaks English at press conferences.
Give me all applications from foreign firms that were filed on time.
If read literally, the first sentence above states that the Nigerian ambassador spends all day every day speaking English at press conferences. The writer of the sentence probably did not mean to assert that. Rather, one of the following two meanings was probably intended. Only should be placed to show which of these two was meant:
The Nigerian ambassador speaks only English at press conferences.
The Nigerian ambassador speaks English only at press conferences.
Try rephrasing the other sentence to make the reference of the italicized modifier clear. Think about it before you read the following suggested revisions:
Give me all applications that were filed on time from foreign firms.
Notice that applications is modified by a clause (italicized) and a phrase (from foreign firms). Moving the clause before the phrase does not completely solve the problem, because the reader might now think that from foreign firms modifies time. Here is a more drastic revision that seems to work better:
Give me all foreign applications that were filed on time.
The italicized word in the following sentence is called a squinting modifier because it is next to two words either of which it might relate to logically:
Swimming often helps your heart.
Do not read the following revisions until you have thought of two rewordings of the sentence, each of which makes one of the possible functions of often clear. The problem is not so easy to solve as it may seem. The one meaning expresses the idea that a lot of swimming helps your heart. The other expresses the idea that (any amount of) swimming can often help your heart. Moving often either to the very beginning or to the very end emphasizes the second meaning:
Often, swimming helps your heart.
Swimming helps your heart often.
To relate the idea of often only to swimming, a comma can help:
Swimming often, helps your heart.
Or a complete rewording may be needed:
A lot of swimming can help your heart.
The placement of modifiers is a complex and subtle problem in edited English. Many of the problems just illustrated do not occur in spoken English because pauses and loudness often clarify relationships not expressed in the word order. You must become sensitive to this problem and work out any deficiencies in clarity, especially when you are revising a paper.
Identify the problem with placement of modifiers in the following sentences (dangling, misplaced, or squinting), and then rewrite the sentences to resolve the problem:
(1) The former president has not even granted one interview to the press.
(2) John said today to buy a new dish.
(3) To write an effective paragraph, it should be unified and coherent.
(4) Delighted by the victory, the trophy was proudly accepted.
(5) While drinking a glass of wine, a cat sat on the guest's lap.
(6) Rewriting the paper, it received an A.
(7) The pilot of the plane radioed the tower having engine trouble.
Chapter Eight: Words [Chapter Eight focuses on the effective use of words in edited English, sometimes called "diction." It discusses, with extensive examples, the history of English vocabulary and various processes of word formation. It then treats the meanings of words under the following headings: Concrete and Abstract Meanings, Literal and Figurative Meanings, and Denotation and Connotation. The chapter concludes with a discussion of the social impact of words including: regionalisms, colloquialisms, slang, taboo words and euphemisms, and gobbledygook and wordiness. Here are the sections from Chapter Eight (pp. 189-193) that talk about figurative words and expressions and what a writer needs to do to control their use in edited English:]
The literal meaning of a word is it ordinary meaning, the one everybody uses, often unthinkingly. A figurative meaning is out of the ordinary; like a figure or drawing, it attracts a reader's attention and thus tends to be more forceful and dramatic. Below is a list, with examples, of some "figures of speech." It begins with the most dramatic of the figures, metaphor, and ends the allusion, a type of meaning that many do not consider dramatic enough even to qualify as a figurative (I include it anyway)
Metaphor. The figurative force or drama is created by transferring a word from what it ordinarily designates to something entirely new, thus creating an implied comparison or analogy. The transfer may be quite explicit, as in the sentence Politicians are worms, where the word worms does not designate a small boneless, limbless, creeping creature at all but a certain group of humans (albeit ones with certain worm-like qualities). The transfer may also be implicit, as in the sentence His life flickered precariously, but his spirit still blazed brightly, where flicker and blaze--verbs usually describing fire--are transferred to a person, thus forcefully dramatizing the person's fight with death by creating an implied comparison of the idea of life with the idea of fire.
Simile. The force and drama of a simile are similar to metaphor; the only difference is that the comparison is expressed explicitly by the words like or as:
Politicians are like worms.
His life flickered as does a flame, but his spirit blazed as brightly as a fire.
Oxymoron. Here, the dramatic effect results from joining two contradictory terms (and thereby forcing the reader to look for new depths of meaning in each term). The phrase cruel kindness in the following sentence is an example:
The professor's cruel kindness in giving me an F taught me that I needed to study.
Here are some other examples: brilliant stupidity, roaring silence, impoverished wealth, make haste slowly, be conspicuous by your absence.
Hyperbole. Here, the dramatic effect results from exaggerated over statement, as in I could eat a horse, or This typewriter weighs a ton. The ordinary meanings of horse and ton are not literally intended.
Metonymy. Here, the meaning of a word is dramatically extended to cover some closely related idea that it does not literally designate. In the sentence He lost his job because he could not give up the bottle, the word bottle does not literally designate a glass container, but figuratively designates the contents of that container (alcoholic beverage) and even the habit of drinking too much of it. In the sentence Washington has raised taxes, the word Washington does not literally designate the city, but rather designates figuratively the people in that city who make up the federal government.
Allusion. This may be considered figurative when a word, or phrase, or even a whole sentence, adds force or drama to a discourse by referring indirectly to something else beyond the literal. If a student writes in an appeal to the faculty, We students must have life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, the last seven words, in addition to their literal meanings, have a figurative force because they allude to the Declaration of Independence and all the principles of freedom treated in that document. If strikers demand of management their daily bread, then these words, in addition to their literal meanings (enough bread for each day), allude dramatically to ideas contained in the Lord's Prayer.
Here are a few guidelines, with examples, that can help you to use figurative meanings effectively when you write.
1. Be sure that you, and your intended ideas, are firmly in control of any figurative meanings your words express; do not let them control you. This sounds easy, but it is not, for the English language has very many worn-out figures of speech (worn-out metaphors are even called dead metaphors). And these seem to have a tendency to appear on their own. Here for example are some sentences from an early draft of the first paragraph of this chapter. I have italicized the figurative language:
This chapter looks closer at English vocabulary: where words come from, how they communicate meaning, how they affect people, how they work together in sentences. And the next chapter looks at dictionaries, focusing on how to use them efficiently to learn more about words.
When I wrote that passage, I did notice that the word looks and focusing were used figuratively when transferred to the word chapter. That is, a chapter is simply a collection of words on a page; it does not literally have eyes to look with or lenses to focus. But the figure did dramatize and clarify what was going to happen in this chapter by having the reader think of the chapter as if it were a person with eyes. I must confess, however, that I used the figurative expression work together without realizing it. It is transferred to words; by saying that words work together, I had the reader think about words as things or people capable of working. I'm not sorry that I used thatparticular implied metaphor. But if I had paid more attention to what I was doing, I might have used the metaphor more effectively by building on it in the following way:
This chapter looks at why we employ certain words for certain purposes, how they get the job done, how they affect people, and how they work together in sentences.
The revised sentence uses the transfer more effectively, by forcefully impressing on the reader the idea that words are like workers: If we hire them, and give them the right working conditions, they will do more for us than we tell them to do. (In revising the sentence, I considered changing affect people to sell our ideas to our audience, but I decided that would be overdoing it.)
2. Try to create new figurative meanings whenever they strengthen your purpose and plan, and always prefer fresh figures to ready-made ones. Read your drafts at least once to scrutinize your figurative language. Then make changes such as the one I illustrated above. If you discover that an unintended figure of speech does not contribute to your purpose, remove it. But think about it. Even very worn-out figures can be given new life if you lend them the help of your imagination. Here are some examples of some really worn-out expressions (in italics) that were given such help by very imaginative writers:
Baldwin occasionally stumbles over the truth, but he always hastily picks himself up and hurries on as if nothing had happened. -- WINSTON CHURCHILL
You don't tall a man he's in the twilight of his life when he thinks it's mid afternoon. -- Line from a television situation comedy
Kennedy won by an eyelash and some thought it was a false eyelash. -- HOWARD K. SMITH
I don't want to be thrown off the track by every nutshell and mosquito's wing that falls on the rails. -- HENRY DAVID THOREAU
3. Do not overuse figurative language, and, even more important, do not mix several figures when writing about one topic. Here is a passage that (comically) illustrates this problem:
We've got talent here, but we obviously need some shoring up in several positions depth-wise. This year we have to do a lot of weeding out and see what cream comes to the top. -- Quoted in the Spokane Spokesman-Review
All the italicized words transfer meanings to a business or organization. But how can it be a building that needs shoring up, and at the same time be something with depth, and a garden or yard needing weeding, and also cow's milk waiting to settle! The figurative language does not add force or drama; it adds only confusion.
a. Identify all of the figurative expressions you can in each of the following passages. Label them using the six figures of speech discussed above. Evaluate the effectiveness of the figurativelanguage in each passage.
In Pirandello's plays, the bait of appearance masks the hook of reality, but the mysterious fish of life is never caught. --T. E. KALEM in Time, November 14, 1977
Their great love, in which she lived completely immersed, seemed to be ebbing away, like the water of a river that was sinking into its own bed; and she saw the mud at the bottom. --GUSTAVE FLAUBERT, Madame Bovary
Arcadio had seen her many times working in her parent's small food store but he had never taken a good look at her because she had that rare virtue of never existing except at the opportune moment. But from that day on he huddled like a cat in the warmth of her armpit. --GABRIEL GARCIA MARQUEZ, One Hundred Years of Solitude
The author's polished images evoke whole landscapes and interiors. But on occasion they leave his characters as rigid as snapshots. Like the subjects of most candid portraits, the characters sometimes appear as unfocused, refugees wrenched by the camera from the context of their lives. The stop-and-start chapters abort their growth and development; some are simply dropped or disappear inexplicably for hundreds of pages. --Adapted from a review by Paul Gray in Time, September 29, 1975
b. For each of the figures of speech listed below, find or invent two sentences containing a word or expression that illustrates the figure. Identify the word or expression and justify your claim about the figure of speech it represents.
Chapter Eleven: Punctuation [Chapter Ten treated not only spelling, but also capitalization, and abbreviation. Chapter Eleven covers English punctuation in detail. The following introduction to English punctuation and discussion of the period is a slight revision of Chapter Eleven (pp. 257-259) of THE ABLE WRITER.]
The treatments of paragraph structure, basic English grammar, sentence repair, word choice, and spelling in chapters four through ten have focused on the revision process, because conscious application of the principles of paragraph structure, sentence structure, diction, and spelling most commonly takes place as you revise earlier drafts of papers. But punctuation is not a level of language structure in the same sense. Its principles apply at all levels. Often, a given mark of punctuation can play a meaningful role on more than one level. The semicolon, for instance, can operate in paragraph structure; it does so when it closely connects two independent clauses (as it just did in this sentence). The semicolon can also do the job of a comma in sentence structure: joining a series of clauses, independent or dependent; joining a series of phrases, of any type; or joining a series of words when one or more of the items in any such series requires internal commas (as in this sentence).
I would like to be able to organize this chapter to treat paragraph&endash;level punctuation, then sentence&endash;level, and finally word&endash;level punctuation. You would gain greater insight into the overall patterns of English punctuation if I did. But such an approach would require the uses of the semicolon to be treated in two separate places in the chapter, and uses of the period to be treated in three separate places. This would make the chapter very difficult to use. My compromise is to treat all uses of a given mark of punctuation together, but to arrange the uses according to the hierarchy of language structure: marks of punctuation whose uses are primarily on the paragraph and sentence levels are treated before those whose uses are primarily on the word level. And, in the sections treating each mark of punctuation, the several uses are ordered from higher to lower levels of language structure.
1a. Use a period after a complete sentence that makes a statement or gives a command.
The sun is the center of the solar system.
The more he exercises, the weaker he seems to get.
Do your assignments on time.
Please help us control pollution.
1b. Use a period after carefully chosen sentence fragments that play an important role in an essay.
Are today's youth as dedicated to democracy as their forebears? Without a doubt.
Be very cautious about putting periods after fragments. And begin to do so only when you have gained a thorough feel for sentence structure and have no problems with sentence recognition such as those discussed in Chapter Seven of this book.
1c. Use a period after an indirect question or after a question that is intended as a suggestion and does not therefore require an answer.
Harold wondered why William's fleet had not sailed.
The people want to know whether taxes will come down.
May we ask that you arrive on time.
1d. Use three periods (ellipsis dots) to show that one or more words have been omitted in quoted material. (If the omission follows a complete sentence, a period should precede the three ellipsis dots.)
Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation . . . dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. &endash;ABRAHAM LINCOLN
I am thankful that the good God created us all ignorant. . . . &endash;MARK TWAIN
1e. Use an entire line of periods (ellipsis dots) to show the omission of one or more lines when quoting the text of a poem:
The innocent brightness of a new&endash;born day
Is lovely yet;
. . . . . . . . . .
To me the meanest flower that blows can give
Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.
1f. Use a period after numbers and letters in outlines, but not those enclosed in parentheses.
I. Problems caused by machinery
A. Affecting the owner
B. Affecting society as a whole: pollution
II. Problems caused by people
The above sample is a part of the outline developed in Chapter Three of this book. If the paper had been longer, and further divisions were needed under I.A.1.a., they would appear in parentheses without periods: (1), (2), etc. And divisions under those would be small letters in parentheses without periods: (a), (b), etc.
1g. Use periods in abbreviations, but remember that many common abbreviations appear without periods. Let your dictionary guide you.
Mr., Mrs., Ms.
etc., i.e., e.g.
Refer to the section on abbreviation elsewhere in this chapter for additional information on when to abbreviate and when not to abbreviate words and expressions.
1h. Use a period to separate integers from decimals:
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