Thursday, October 24, 2013

Straight talk: an example (21) – Joseph Sobran

We writers need to read a little straight talk now and then. By contrast, it makes us more aware of the evasive diction (sample here) that besets us every day, so we won’t unconsciously imitate evasive diction.

An example of straight talk

The late American columnist Joseph Sobran (pictured) was widely known as a man who wrote what he believed and believed what he wrote. Here, from a column titled “Language in Rubble,” is a representative sample of Mr. Sobran’s incisive-but-gentlemanly style:
At times like this, we need clear, spare, specific language that acknowledges what we are really talking about, the kind of prose that made writers like Ernest Hemingway and George Orwell, both unsentimental war correspondents as well as novelists, so useful, invigorating, and even in a way consoling to read. Even today, when you read them, you know you aren’t reading dated propaganda. Good reporters still, as ever, avoid the false, loaded language of politicians. This always irritates partisans, who suspect objectivity of being disloyal and treasonous. The more we kill, the more we seem to demand euphemism.

You don’t have to be neutral in order to be honest. You merely have to describe what you see and stick to what you really know. You must ruthlessly suppress anything that smacks of wishful thinking, letting the details do the talking even when they hurt your own side. Good writing should be calm, even cold, something the reader can trust amid all the shooting and shouting.
The Takeaway: We are often startled by straight talk. We react this way because we have become habituated to evasive, pussyfooting, sniveling diction (more samples here). I advise you to occasionally read, listen to, or view some straight talk. It doesn’t matter whether you agree or disagree with the statements – what matters is the way the statements are expressed. A little dose of straight talk helps you become less likely to passively absorb and unconsciously imitate evasive diction.

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