Favourite quote #4 (from T.S. Eliot)

TS Eliot 2                                        “[…] And every phrase
And sentence that is right (where every word is at home,
Taking its place to support the others,
The word neither diffident nor ostentatious,
An easy commerce of the old and the new,
The common word exact without vulgarity,
The formal word precise but not pedantic,
The complete consort dancing together)
                    – From “Little Gidding” (T.S. Eliot)


The purpose of language is communication. It may seem an obvious statement, but I can remember my schooldays and I know that this insight was far from clear to me then. In our English class we had to learn two new words each day from a vocabulary list, and were then encouraged to use them in sentences. It is of course important to develop your lexicon, and so it was a worthy task, but the result was that I spent a large part of my high school career making use of overblown terminology and phraseology for the sake of it – a bid, at the end of the day, to impress. So instead of talking about a large plate of spaghetti, I would write pompously about a prodigious plate of spaghetti. (Feel free to smile at my expense!)

I had completely missed the point. Sometimes the simple or “common word” is all that is required to perfectly convey your meaning. You only need to grab hold of the thesaurus when the well-known word does not provide the exact meaning or nuance you desire, or when you have an artistic agenda that requires you think of things such as alliteration, connotation and rhythm in order to better communicate tone, mood and other subtleties.

Similarly, you only need to write complex sentences when competent expression cannot be made within the confines of a simpler one. Forced, cumbersome or pedantic language appeals to no one. This is not to say that you should not still pay attention to the poetry of your language, as the dull and the clichéd have no power to move the reader. But wherever possible it is best to remove all ‘unnecessaries’ such as superfluous words and simplify obfuscating* text.

Grammar is there so we can all understand one another, and the finer points of grammar help eliminate any ambiguity. Moreover the English language has a rich vocabulary so one can speak with effortless clarity on many things. Knowing these things means you can communicate clearly and effectively whatever you want (well, almost). But as reflected in Eliot’s poem, when you have learned the mechanics of a language you can take communication that much further by stepping into the happy world of the writer, where you are able to play with and string together words, phrases and sentences that you leave “dancing together” on the page.

* ‘Obfuscate’ means to obscure or darken a matter, so I’m talking about phrases that serve to cloak the meaning rather than illuminate it. This could at first seem an ironic word choice except that it communicates precisely what I want.

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