You Got Style
· Pointed Takes on Style Delineated ·
April 13, 2004
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· Good, Better, Best ·
With those words, I have long asked my English students to pass critical judgment on three short passages included below. A colleague years ago introduced me to the helpful classroom exercise, and my mother — everyone should have one so judicious — to my chosen criteria: "Good, Better, Best," she said: "Never let it rest, till your good is better and your better best."
Good, Better, Best Since La Rochefoucauld once remarked that "everyone complains of his memory, none of his judgment," my students typically disagree on their styleful choices, but after brief discussion they come at last to some agreeable consensus. Today I thought to share my exercise. You might even be willing to share your own opinions:
Naturally, Mom — paleo-matriarch that she was — could have nixed my final pronoun here, but she might also have overlooked, I think, such obviously politically-incorrect behavior. Of course, I'll leave that substantive judgment to you. It's judicious style I'm after now.Permalink
Nice exercise, Styles. I struggle with saying passage 3 is "good," [I might say "adequate"] but in relation to #3, I can easily say #2 is better and #1 is best.
I'll be using "good, better, best" and "bad, worse, worst" tomorrow in Linguistics to illustrate one of the few forms of inflection in English — comparison in adjectives.
Thanks, John, for your comment. I concur totally with your assessment. My trick is making students see the three passages as a small "set." #1 is "best" because it's, as it were, in the "middle," giving access to adjacent "low" and "high" styles. #2 is of course fine, but, as you sense, #3 is even "inadequate" because it is so substantively empty.
Today my students are busy rewriting #3 — trying to substitute decent "characters" and "actions" for its heavily-nominalized passives. I'll see how they do tomorrow.
Unless you are younger than you seem, Styles, I doubt that your mother could have seriously objected to the use of the word he as a neutral singular pronoun. It's politically incorrect, you say? To whom? For what?
Let's bring back brevity, clarity, and — here and there — tradition. Thanks for doing your part!
To someone so aspirantly attuned to a generation of strong women named Clara, Thelma, Selma, and Anna, I'll just say this.
They were — don't you think? — a real sisterhood. Often making their way in the world alone, they as often changed it.
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