資訊處   4.12.2011

388

 
《中大通訊》第388期 > Style Speaks > Precision in Diction

Precision in Diction

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The nineteenth-century American critic Ambrose Bierce has left an exquisite little book entitled Write It Right: A Little Blacklist of Literary Faults, which is still in print over 100 years after its first publication. The author’s aim is to teach precision in writing—‘Good writing is clear thinking made visible’ and his lexicographical purity and astuteness can be seen in the following examples.


  • unique

    Bierce insists on the uniqueness of this word, which takes no qualifier whatsoever. Therefore, he advises us to shun constructions such as ‘very unique’ or ‘the most unique’.

  • climb down
    Bierce just says curtly: ‘In climbing one ascends.’

  • honeymoon
    Bierce’s view on this: ‘Moon here means month, so it’s incorrect to say, “a week’s honeymoon,” or, “Their honeymoon lasted a year.”
’

But Bierce’s caution is still relevant today, as in the following examples:


  • née
    Bierce reminds us that ‘Mrs. Jones, née Lucy Smith’ is contrary to common sense as, in his words, ‘She could hardly have been christened at birth.’ The correct usage is ‘Mrs. Jones, née Smith’.

  • continually/continuously

    The fine difference between these two words is pointed out by Bierce: ‘What is done continually is not done all the time, but continuous action is without interruption. A loquacious fellow, who nevertheless finds time to eat and sleep, is continually talking; but a great river flows continuously.’


Editor
www.iso.cuhk.edu.hk/english/features/style-speaks/index.html

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