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· Some Simple Secrets of Longevity ·

I've always been a sucker for long sentences. This doesn't mean that I'm overly obsessed by them. Even short ones do have their place. I think I prefer them. You might, too.

But a long sentence — one able to rise to the complicated challenge of a new journey — merits clear regard if without sacrificing speed it happily sweeps us along over the last bumpy road toward home, like riding with John Wayne as he pulls into Dodge City, gets down, casually ambles over to get a bourbon, and says, "Howdy, boys. What do y'all do here for fun?" I mean old Texas tumbleweeds really do roll.

I got to thinking as much Thursday in view of the wide stretch of ocean reaching in long relief westward from the south-facing windows of my house. You might recall my description of my Thanksgiving dinner: "We're all a happily diverse bunch," I said, describing my guests at length. Stripped of add-ons, here's what I actually said — "We're all a happily diverse bunch, with Tom, Nancy, and Savvy; Seppo and Rick; Pirjo; Tracy with Katri, Brett and Kaycey; Smart and Soulful; Suave; Matt and Marsha; and Stylish."

Now in thinking about that sentence, I suddenly recalled the secret — grammatically — of its construction, this in a classic British sentence by Sir Herbert Read:

Sentences in their variety run from simplicity to complexity, a progression not necessarily reflected in length: a long sentence may be extremely simple in construction — indeed must be simple if it is to convey its sense easily. Quoted in Joseph M. Williams, Style: Ten Lessons in Clarity and Grace, 7th ed., New York: Longman, 2002, 135.

What Read has in mind, really, is the stuffy old grammatical saw about simple, compound, and complex sentences, tempered by this helpful rhetorical tip, "Keep It Simple, Stupid."

I mean — returning to my Thanksgiving post — it turns on just five simple sentences, here ellipitcally stripped for easy reading:

We're expecting old friends and family for dinner.

We're all a happily diverse bunch.

This is nothing like the first Thanksgiving.

So is this report.

Do have a Happy Thanksgiving!

William Bradford had three others:

And besides waterfowl there was great store of wild turkeys.

Besides they had about a peck a meal a week to a person.

Which made many afterwards write so largely of their plenty.

Bradford's last sentence is but a fragment, of course, and brings me to the logical reason for today's post: to say happy birthday to my own older brother Styleshort, who turned seventy last Sunday.

He hasn't as yet made his own longevity disreputable by any untimely persistence in it.

And I hope I haven't either.


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