06 June, 2005

Plea 1

An excerpt from an email I sent my father this morning: "Could you tell me a little bit about Histrionic Personality Disorder? A friend had mentioned she thought she suffered from it and asked me to do some reading. I would tend to agree, except that I find it's easy to fit anyone to any disorder; I hear people of my generation overdiagnose themselves and each other quite often."

If anyone has any comments on HPD or overdiagnises, I'd be happy to hear about them, but that isn't what I want to discuss in this essay. What I want to discuss is subtlety of language. Reread that last phrase - the one after the semicolon. It took me a second as well. My original meaning was "I hear my friends doing this," not, "I hear that my friends do this." After writing and rereading the sentence, I thought about changing it to add clarity, but I realized that I in fact wanted to imply both meanings.

Having noticed this, I have several questions:

  • Is this an example of very good or very bad writing? I love the fact that I can say two things with one sentence, but there are those who argue in favor of clarity, which this decidedly is not. (See also two of my favorite parts of music theory: “pivot chord” and “pivot note.”)
  • Would anyone else have noticed this sentence if I had put it in some widely-read journal? Is it appropriate or boastful to publicly dissect my own sentence in this way?
  • Do other people choose their words this carefully? (Note that I did not initially choose my words here, but rather noticed them afterwards.) Do I overanalyze what others say? On the other hand, maybe I miss subtlety.

Admission 1

On the train back from Chicago, I read a passage from a David Sedaris book that got me thinking. I had just had a conversation with Luciana wherein she revealed that my correcting her grammar bothered her. I pointed out that I truly did not do it in order to make myself appear or feel superior, but, rather, because I thought she would want to learn (or already knew, but had simply slipped up). Sedaris was comparing his repeated and unsuccessful cleanings of his sister’s apartment to a missionary proffering Jesus to worshipers of Tiki Gods. This makes me think I am perhaps proselytizing a more formal manner of speaking English. (Wait a second: is the object of proselytize the subject matter or the person whom you are trying to convince? That is, am I "proselytizing a ... manner of speaking" or am I "proselytizing Luciana in favor of a ... manner of speaking"?)

Perhaps now is the time to start making an effort to no longer correct people’s grammar. (Note that I’ve always thought the no-splitting-your-infinitives rule is bogus since it stems from English teachers analyzing Latin, in which such a rule is moot.) As if the fact that it bugs people weren't a good enough reason.