Thursday, February 9, 2012

A movie scene about circumlocution

In the motion picture Love and Death on Long Island (1997), Giles De’Ath (John Hurt) is riding in a London taxicab and smoking a cigarette. The driver notices the smoke and says, “No smoking, guv, thanks very much.”

Giles says, “I beg your pardon?”

Indicating a sign in the front of the taxicab, the driver replies, “It says, ‘No smoking.’ ”

Giles reads the sign and says patiently, “No, it says, ‘Thank you for not smoking.’ As I am smoking, I don’t expect to be thanked.” He continues to smoke.

The Takeaway: You have the right to use circumlocutions. Your readers have the right to interpret them literally.

Update, Saturday, February 11, 2012: I am grateful to Cheryl Stephens for pointing out that the above Takeaway is itself circumlocutory. I hereby add:

When writing instructions, signs and other utilitarian matter, avoid circumlocution.

See disclaimer.

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