Monday, February 15, 2010

Straight talk: an example (3) – Mark Twain

We writers should occasionally take a small dose of straight talk. Reading or hearing a bit of straight talk can help make us more aware of the evasive diction that constantly besets us.

Here’s a brief example of straight talk from the world-famous straight-talker Mark Twain. This example is from a 1905 pamphlet titled “King Leopold’s Soliloquy.” The pamphlet condemns Leopold II, King of the Belgians, for torturing and murdering 30 million people in central Africa.

“In fourteen years Leopold has deliberately destroyed more lives than have suffered death on all the battlefields of this planet for the past thousand years. In this vast statement I am well within the mark, several millions of lives within the mark. It is curious that the most advanced and most enlightened century of all the centuries the sun has looked upon should have the ghastly distinction of having produced this moldy and piety-mouthing hypocrite, this bloody monster whose mate is not findable in human history anywhere, and whose personality will surely shame hell itself when he arrives there – which will be soon, let us hope and trust.”

The Takeaway: Many of us are startled when we read or hear straight talk. We react this way because we have been habituated to euphemistical, effete, evasive diction. I advise you to occasionally take a small dose of straight talk. By contrast, it will help you remain consciously aware of evasive diction – and therefore less likely to unconsciously absorb and imitate evasive diction.

Disclaimer: The purpose of this blog is to show and explain examples of clear and unclear writing and speech. Accordingly, I select examples for the diction they contain, not the ideas they express. I promote no political position – unless you consider clarity a political position.

LABELS: clear speaking, clear writing, diction, honesty

1 comment:

  1. Ah, the wonderful Mr. Clemens. Who better to turn to for an example of clear writing? And a nice turn of phrase on your part as well: "euphemistical, effete, evasive diction."