Photo and Commentary ©2019 by Maylan Schurch
Friday, August 30, 2019
The cover of the above volume is a shiny one, but I don’t think it’s quite shiny enough to reflect the scowl I almost certainly had on my face as I was taking this photo.
Because, can you spot the book’s purpose? The Well-spoken Thesaurus, no doubt from the best of motives, sees as its life mission to bring people over from the “dunce” category (see the disconsolate figure crouched on the stool with the pointed conical hat?) into the “well-spoken” group (symbolized by the confident-looking man in the suit).
My response to this book’s premise can be summed up in two crisp words, neither of which (in the phrase I’ll be using) would show up as a good example within its pages: Oh yeah????
This past Tuesday morning at 9:20 a.m. I stood in front of a good-sized group of 7th and 8th graders, my assignment being to speak to them about the importance of good writing.
And if I had clothed my remarks in phrases like the ones in the right column, I would have had them dozing within 45 seconds. And I’m a guy with a couple of masters’ degrees and a bunch of published writing under my belt.
But I knew better. Back when I was an impressionable college student, I came upon a book which rapidly became one of my most prized possessions. It was called The Art of Plain Talk, by Rudolf Flesch. I gather that it’s in the public domain, because online I found that exact book as a readable PDF, and I will include the link below.
Flesch’s main point was that in our desperate desire to dodge the dunce-cap, we tend to write in ways we think are intellectual. We lengthen our sentences and make them more complicated. We use multisyllabic words (like “multisyllabic”) when simpler words would do. And in doing so, we fog up any meaning we’re trying to get across. (True, there’s a time for more formal speech, but that formal speech had better be simple and direct. The writing of C. S. Lewis is a perfect example.)
So, the simpler the better. Back when I was in seminary learning Greek, my teacher started us with the book of John. Its Greek is simple, while Paul’s is educated and dense. Both these books are inspired by God, and are profitable to read, but even Paul’s friend Peter had to admit that the former Pharisee’s writing was sometimes tough going. “His letters contain some things that are hard to understand,” Peter said, “which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.” (2 Peter 3:16 NIV)
There’s another 3:16 (in the Gospel of John) which is clear as a bell. Simple Greek words, translated into—and memorized in—hundreds, maybe thousands, of world languages and dialects, tell the story which has warmed hearts for centuries:
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.
Here’s the link to Rudof Flesch’s masterpiece (keep in mind that it was written first in the 1940s as I remember, so some of the writing is a bit dated):