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· The A & P of Style: Location, Location, Location ·

At a wedding reception recently, I chanced to converse with a young man studying to become a paramedic in Alaska. When told he needed an A & P course (Anatomy and Physiology II) unavailable at home, I remarked slyly that a radiologist friend's med-school teacher in Iowa City, Iowa, was seen last selling real estate in Washington. After smiling, he warmed to my point, that A & P had perfectly served my friend because, using X-ray, CAT, or MRI technology, his is an art of precise location.

In a way, if you think about it, so is style's. Adjusted to the real estate of sentences, the old slogan of "Location, Location, Location" nicely fits. After all, Jonathan Swift once defined style as "proper words in proper places," and the coordinating axes of grammar, rhetoric, and logic triply apply. Here, we might say, the larger "A & P" of style finds its proper dwelling, though I wouldn't want to get very Heideggerian about it — tomographically, geographically, or topologically.

Which is why I thought today to share a brief passage from the Scot Hugh Blair. You may recall him as the author of Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Letters (1783). Skilled in the craft of exacting stylistic analysis, Blair took special interest — in Lectures XX through XXIII — in the work of Joseph Addison. As I've already noted Addison, I thought today to focus on the last paragraph of Lecture XX, wherein Blair happily marks a contrast between Addison's two fine concluding sentences and a poorly-styled alternative. It's clearly a matter of location.

Noting Spectator #411, Blair observes Addison's happy ending:

I have in this paper, by way of introduction, settled the notion of those pleasures of the imagination, which are the subject of my present undertaking, and endeavored, by several considerations, to recommend to my readers the pursuit of those pleasures; I shall, in my next paper, examine the several sources from whence these pleasures are derived.

Then adding his analysis, Blair continues: · Hugh Blair ·

These two concluding sentences afford examples of the proper collocation of circumstances in a period. I formerly showed that it is often a matter of difficulty to dispose of them in such a manner as that they shall not embarrass the principal subject of the sentence. In the sentences before us, several of these incidental circumstances necessarily come in — By way of introduction — by several considerations — in this paper — in the next paper. All which are with great propriety managed by our author. It will be found, upon trial, that there were no other parts of the sentence, in which they could have been placed to equal advantage. Had he said, for instance, "I have settled the notion (rather, the meaning) of those pleasures of the imagination, which are the subject of my present undertaking, by way of introduction, in this paper, and endeavored to recommend the pursuit of those pleasures to my readers, by several considerations," we must be sensible that the sentence, thus clogged with circumstances in the wrong place, would neither have been so neat nor so clear, as it is by the present construction. Hugh Blair, Lecture XX, Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Letters, Edward P. J. Corbett, Classical Rhetoric for the Modern Student, 4th ed., New York: Oxford, 1999, 458-459.

Which helps me now to the ever-trivial moral of my story: to wit, that if you ever find yourself in the "wrong place," well, Move, Unclog Those Arteries, and, of course — if possible — Get Some Style.


"Get some style," says the redoubtable Styles. But, isn't style a matter of taste? What's stylish to you may not be to me, and vice versa. What, exactly, do you mean by that suggestion?

Posted by loretta markle on March 21, 2004 07:21 PM

I doubt I can answer your question exactly; I'm afraid I'm just not Swift enough.

But you might see Sister Miriam Joseph's fine distinction in The Trivium: The Liberal Arts of Logic, Grammar, and Rhetoric, between "categorematic" and "syncategorematic" words (p. 47 ff.). In defining with them "Rules for Substituting Equivalent Symbols," she explains how formal verbal equivalency "makes possible a variety of styles within the same language and provides means to improve style" (p. 72).

I'm sorry I can't be more specific, but I hope you might at least like the redoubtable Sister Miriam's "savoir-faire."

Posted by Styles on March 21, 2004 09:47 PM

I could not complete the "URL" because I don't know what to put in that square. I am practically computer illiterate, so please bear with me. This is a very interesting site and I look forward to exploring it further.


Posted by Liz on June 3, 2005 12:13 PM

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