Page images


Language form is associated with ideas by three acts: that of the memory, of the imagination, and of the judgment. The memory associates the word with the idea; the imagination realizes the idea in imagery; and the judgment decides from the context as to the fitting idea. These acts require, respectively, language to be Familiar, Concrete, and Precise.

Familiarity. — Economy of memory in the act of interpretation requires the use of words that, in the process of interpretation, have passed into identity in consciousness with the idea which they express. These consist of such words as have become familiar by their intimate association with the experience of life. Unfamiliar words may be inferred from the context, but this requires extra labor from the reader. The mind of the reader should pass directly and unconsciously to the content of the word. One strange word in a sentence renders useless all the others, puzzling not only the memory in trying to call up its meaning but also the imagination and judgment in their effort to organize the ideas.

The vocabulary with which any one is familiar differs from that used by any other, and is small when compared with the whole vocabulary in general use. The writer or speaker cannot adapt his words to the special limitation of each individual addressed, but must assume familiarity with the words in current use. In addressing a special audience, special adaptation can be made; but in addressing the general public, he is at

liberty to use only words that are at present used everywhere by intelligent and educated writers.

That quality of a word which gives it a right to usage in the language is called Purity. Purity in an English discourse means that there are no words in it that have not the sanction of contemporary literary usage. A violation of Purity is called a Barbarism; and the word in which the violation occurs might be called a Barbarian, because it is outside the kingdom of English. A Barbarism may be committed by using a word from either of the two following classes: (1) those not in the language at present — Barbarism in Time; (2) those not in general use over the territory in which the language is spoken — Barbarism in Place.

1. Barbarisms in Time are of two classes: (a) those that have passed partly or wholly out of use — rare and obsolete words; (6) new words which have gained only a partial currency in the language.

Language has life and growth. A word is born; it flourishes; it dies. Language is constantly absorbing and assimilating new elements and casting off the worn out and useless. Growth of ideas is constantly rendering old words useless and new ones necessary. The greater the vital activity, the larger the class of new words that have gained only a partial hold upon the language, and of old words that are dropping out because rarely used. These transitional words constitute the two classes in which Barbarisms in Time may be committed.

a. Obsolete words are those which, having a good standing in one age, are no longer used, because the · ideas themselves have no place in men's thoughts, or because superseded by some fitter expression. Through this process, the author of one age becomes unintelligible to the readers of the next. This is not only because the words themselves have ceased to be used, but because the grammatical forms have become obsolete; as, en, the plural ending used by Chaucer and contemporary writers. Words are sometimes obsolete in only some of their meanings, as in the word scantling (not plentiful, small). Almost any page of the older English writers or of the dictionary will furnish abundant illustrations of all varieties of obsolete and obsolescent words. The following may suffice: eke, wist, twain, scarce-fire, sickerness, silentiary, tumultuate, revoke (to recollect), revile (reproach), erst, yea, verily, choures, veyne, beholden, afeared, obleeged, withouten, otherwhere, ycleped, whilom.

The use of obsolete words is allowable in poetry and in certain kinds of fiction. When fiction attempts to present an earlier age, the words of that age, though not used at present, are a means of giving verisimilitude to the story.

b. The growth of new words is more rapid than one would suspect. What is a barbarism in one age is pure English in the next. Every year a multitude of cant phrases, slang and colloquial expressions, and ephemeral words spring up to meet some temporary purpose, and then die, unless it happen, which is seldom, that one of them can survive on the ground of real need. Every one has observed the phenomenon of a word coming into life, struggling for existence, and giving way under some fitter form of expression, or making good its own claim to a place in the language. Says Genung: “The wretched word enthuse seems to be fighting for a place in standard usage, and as yet no one can tell what the sequel will be; at present it is a word to be shunned. A few years ago the word telegram was new and much talked of; but it filled a needed place in the language and soon came to be used by all. The invention of the telephone brought with it the suggestion of a corre. sponding word "telephem '; but it is doubtful whether this will ever become current."

The writer is not prohibited from the use of new words, for some one must use them, even coin them.

them. Since language was made for man, and not man for language, an author has a right to coin words when some new juncture of thought has no fitting form of expression already. But the ordinary writer will seldom meet with such a juncture, and may well leave to commanding genius the coining of such circulating media as the race needs. The only rule is to beware of new words. “Be not the first by whom the new are tried.” The law of purity simply forbids the use of vulgar substitutes for good expressions already in current use. The following given by A. S. Hill are good examples of the class to be avoided:

“ He availed of, instead of availed himself of an opportunity; how does he like? for like it; how do you like ? for like them; a steal for a theft; Lord Salisbury's wander through Europe; the case was referred; he deeded me the land; the skatorial phenomenon; Speaker Randall's retiracy; clothes laundried at short notice; walkist, agriculturist, educationalist, speculatist, and the like; Bsuicided yesterday; the house was burglarized; since the issuance (for issue) of the President's order; the conferment of a degree; his letter of declinature; cablegram, reportorial, managerial, confliction (for conflict); in course (for of course); tasty (for tasteful); he was fatigued by the difficult climb; L- was extradited; dispeace; informational; to juxtapose. Firstly, illy, are used for first, ill, in apparent ignorance of the fact that, being adverbs already, they do not require the adverbial termination ly. On yesterday, come around (for come round, in the sense of revive or recover), are similar errors.”

2. Barbarisms in Place are of two classes: (a) those words not belonging to the territory in which the language is spoken — foreign words; (b) those belonging only to a part of the territory in which the language is spoken — provincial words.

No abuse of language is more prominent than barbarisms in foreign and provincial words. The illiterate class are more given to the latter; but the former is most frequently committed by persons of literary attainments. In a few pages of a literary work these are found: a madam and a felo-do-se; the principle of esse quam videri; the rule of shunning tanquam scopulum and insolem verbum; malaprop picturesqueness; tempora; mutantura; their beaux esprits; the metier of a professional talker; during the bravuras and tours de force of the great musical arts; etc. The following are less offensive because more frequently used: They have reached the ne plus ultra, — He is subject to ennui, He is a connoisseur in art, — She belongs to the élite,

– The entertainment went off with éclat, She made her début last evening.

These are offensive to good taste and are violations of the law of economy in style. All foreign expressions

« PreviousContinue »