Sunday, August 02, 2009

The Role of Luck in
Good English Usage

'English usage is sometimes more than mere taste, judgment and education--sometimes it's sheer luck, like getting across the street.'
--E.B. White. You can review earlier mentions of the immortal essayist and widely acknowledged writer's writer here.


At 12:26 AM, Blogger Pat Washington said...

Well, that's true, I suppose. But I don't know enough to fathom if it's also true about other languages.

And what does he really mean by English usage (I'm assuming "good" English usage - whatever that is)being sheer luck?

English usage is changing all the time. I find it fascinating. But I was somewhat amazed (and not really in a good way) when I found "conversate" in the dictionary.

At 3:15 AM, Blogger Jim Murdoch said...

I hate sweeping statements like that. They sound cleverer than what they are and make me feel stupid for not getting them. An example or two would make his "point" far better.

Oh, I enjoyed the post on unnecessary quotation marks and so I thought I'd include a couple of my own here. (Ah, but are they really unnecessary?)

At 5:13 AM, Anonymous Mr. Bluster said...

Maybe White would benefit from gratuitous quotation marks sprinkled into his quote:

"English usage" is sometimes more than "mere" taste, judgment and "education"--sometimes it's "sheer" luck, like getting across the "street."

At 8:20 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Pat, English usage is indeed constantly changing, and respected writers such as White help usher in those changes. One change I hope we don't recognize is "conversate." Egads. Jim, you're right that examples would have helped out that quote greatly. I should have included some for him. And Bluster, awfully good to see you back here today. We've missed you. Do you think our friend Madchen still stops by, even if she never comments anymore? I sure hope so.

At 10:34 PM, Blogger Maria said...

I just re-read White's timeless essay, "Once More to the Lake," which is often anthologized in freshman composition texts. Its language is lush and beautiful. I'd just amend his formal phrase: "English usage" to "Getting the right word..."
because that's what I think he meant here.

At 8:03 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

I don't think I know that essay, Maria, but you nicely summon all his writing with that description of lush and beautiful. There's something about his writing that's simply more powerful than just about anyone's. And of course a big part of that was that he was indeed the king of good word choice.


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