Briefly noted — Do I Make Myself Clear? — Harold Evans

If you’ve read in the vast genre of how-to-write books—everything from Steven Pinker’s The Sense of Style to John Trimble’s Writing With Style to Zinsser’s On Writing Well—you’ve already in effect read Do I Make Myself Clear? Why Writing Well Matters. It’s a good book, just not one that advances the art or covers material you’ve not seen covered elsewhere.

It starts with Orwell and “Politics and the English Language,” which indicts “bad English for corrupting thought and slovenly thought for corrupting language,” then goes to say that “eternal vigilance is the price of intelligent literacy.” Problem is that I don’t think we’ve been vigilant and I don’t see signs of increasing literacy—in political terms, if anything we see the opposite. The kinds of people who need to read Do I Make Myself Clear? don’t read and don’t care.

Elsewhere we find that

There is no compulsion to be concise on either the Internet or the profusion of television and radio channels; and in writing of every kind, Twitter apart, we see more words, more speed, less clarity, and less honesty, too, since with “demand media” you never know whether a review of Swan Lake will conceal a hard sell about toenail fungus.

I like a good rant as much as the next guy, but do we know we’re seeing “more words, more speed, less clarity?” How do we know? How would we even measure this? I don’t know. Does “speed” mean speed of writing, speed of reading, both, or neither? I don’t know that either. Knowing is hard.

To be sure, there’s a long history of language exhortations violating the very rules they posit (few of those who decry adverbs and passive voice fail to use both). But it can be interesting to apply the same principles being espoused to the work doing the espousing, to see if it follows its own command.

Links: Typewriters, generational conflict, yoga and Houellebecq, MacBooks, and more!

* Call it a comeback: Typewriters attracting new generation of fans.

* “The Old Are Eating the Young.” And the young don’t realize it and/or aren’t voting appropriately to it.

* “There is no ‘Thucydides Trap,’” on China and many other topics. Here is another piece on similar topics: “Are China and the United States Headed for War?” The answer is “Probably not,” but on the other hand countries have historically done stupid, counterproductive things for no good reason.

* “Nobody Will Make Us Do Yoga: A Conversation with Michel Houellebecq.” As weird and hilarious as you’d like it to be.

* “Air Force budget reveals how much SpaceX undercuts launch prices.” Wow.

* “Mini-review: The 2017 MacBook could actually be your everyday laptop.” I may switch my laptop to one, but I also have an iMac.

* “Why Fathers Leave Their Children,” yet it oddly never mentions financial incentives or child support—a bizarre oversight, even in a short piece.

* “The U.S. has forgotten how to do infrastructure.”

* When pop stars have Instagram, they no longer need record labels.

* Fundamentals in fiction and the question of obligations.

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