This summer, I read The Loom of Language by Frederick Bodmer.
Years ago, I read Lingua Latina, by Hans Orberg. I was discouraged with Latin and ready to quit. Orberg’s book showed up at the right time. Were it not for his book, I would not be a Latin teacher today. More about that another time. I guess what I am trying to say is this: Lingua Latina had a profound effect.
For a long time, no other book has had the same effect on me.
Until this summer.
I will write much about The Loom of Language in the days ahead.
It is a fascinating book. Its pages contain much to learn about human language. But, that is not what this post is about.
Hidden inside The Loom of Language, is a short section about writing. I was not expecting this in a book about linguistics. Yet, there it is on page 170.
“The Hard Craft of Good Writing”
Oh, what an appropriate title.
Writing is hard.
In one of my favorite books on writing, The War of Art, Stephen Pressfield spends page after page verifying the previous sentence. Writing is hard.
People often talk about writing. “He is a good writer.” “I enjoy her writing.” “They know the secrets to good writing.”
We hear this all the time. But, if you are like me, you wonder… what are the secrets? How do you learn to write well? What does that even mean?
Frederick Bodmer to the rescue!
On page 171 of his book, Bodmer lists the rules of good writing! I don’t know about you, but, I’ve been looking for this list.
In his words, the important principles of good writing are:
1. The condensation of participial expressions. Shorten the sun having arisen, to after sunrise.
2. The elimination of impersonal formulae. (Someone please tell American bureaucrats about this one.)
3. The translation of the roundabout passive into the direct or active form. Instead of, it will be seen from the forgoing figures, substitute, the forgoing figures will show you.
4. The cutting of circumlocutions for which a single particle suffices. Why use, during the time that, instead of plain old, when? Change, at an earlier date, to previously.
5. The rejection of the particle the, unless absolutely necessary. We can strike out four inessential articles of the following sentence: If the war goes on, the social services will be cut, the income tax will rise, and the prices of commodities will soar.
Best of all, Bodmer reminds us:
“Brilliant writing may be a gift, but the power to write simple, lucid, and compelling English lies within the power of any intelligent person who has grown up to speak it.”
Listen to Frederick Bodmer and you may just learn to write well.