Monday, August 15, 2011

Specious writing

Specious writing is writing that appears to be plausible but contains one or more fallacies.

Examples of specious writing

The American historian and economist Thomas E. “Tom” Woods, Jr., wrote an article criticizing portions of the book The American Search for Opportunity, 1865-1913, by the American historian Walter LaFeber.

Here are two passages from the article:

“LaFeber notes that between 1897 and 1904 (but really 1899 and 1902) ‘the greatest corporate merger movement in the nation’s history occurred.’ He chooses to omit the central point that most of these mergers failed. By leaving that out, LaFeber leaves us to imagine these great behemoths growing without limit, suffocating the poor consumer until the wise hand of government brings relief.” (Emphasis in original article.)

In this case, it is the omission of a material fact that makes the language specious.

“Andrew Carnegie, LaFeber tells us, ‘later admitted that he used the 1873 to 1875 depression years to buy cheaply and save 25 percent of his costs.’ Note the choice of the word ‘admitted,’ as if buying cheaply and keeping costs low were some kind of conspiracy against the public.”

In this case, it is the use of a loaded word that makes the language specious.

The Takeaway: Specious writing (whether intentional or unintentional) can attract embarrassingly accurate criticism. Unless you intend to be specious, seek the help of an intelligent editor who can keep you out of trouble.

See disclaimer.

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