Re: Sloppy writing, sloppy thinking?

Subject: Re: Sloppy writing, sloppy thinking?
From: "Michael West" <mbwest -at- removebigpond -dot- net -dot- au>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 29 May 2003 20:08:03 +1000

I wonder if this is a put-on, or if
I'm just getting jaded in my old age.

"Chris" wrote:
> I want to tell you about how style indicates that the subject about
> which you're writing is something about which you probably haven't
> really thought sifficiently before you started writing. If you start
> writing that way, while you're writing you might look like you're
> actually trying to figure out what is is you think about the subject
> before you know what you think about it. Is it thinking out loud, or is
> it just an open struggle to keep your writing a reflection of what the
> topic is about, and not meander into territory in which you're more
> comfortable?
> At the same time, it's certainly possible to write what some people
> would call correct sentences. You might even have a paragraph that is
> totally correct, or even all (or most, let's say) of them could be
> correct. The importance of correctly written sentences and paragraphs
> cannot be understated. They are the hallmark of good writing, and
> indicate that you have a solid grasp of the written word.

In the thread you're responding to, not much was said
about "correct" sentences. The phrase that started
it off had to do with "perfectly intelligible" language
that was also "ambiguous and potentially misleading."
Sentences can be "correct" and still be wordy, circular,
non-sequitor, and all sorts of other not-so-intelligible
things. I think of a "perfectly intelligible" sentence as
one that, upon first reading, leaves me with no doubts
as to the intended meaning.

> Wasn't it
> Aristotle who said that he has never thought fully on a subject until he
> has written on it?

No. The following is usually attributed to William Faulkner,

"I never know what I think about something
until I read what I've written on it."

> Many philosophers have weighed in on the value of clear writing. I
> suppose that's because philosophy depends so heavily on the written
> word. It could be argued that before the written word there was no
> philosophy per se, only religion and tradition.

Could it? I seem to recall that Socrates conducted his
teaching in spoken dialogues rather than written treatises.
I mean, I recall *reading* that that's what he did. I was
too young to notice.

> In that sense, one can
> leap to the argument that without writing the overwhelming bulk of
> technology in our society would have never occurred, and could not
> possibly stand today. So while writing can be viewed as a mental
> prosthetic, it's clear that humanity has achieved many wonderful things
> as a result. In other words, Socrates was wrong.

About what?

> I hope I have made myself perfectly clear.

Well, not perfectly perhaps.

> I would now like to present a loose quote of Donald Rumsfeld - a man
> entrusted with shocking and awesome force. (Sorry, I don't have the
> source at hand, but believe me - this isn't far off the mark.)
> "There are the knowns and the unknowns. Among the unknowns there are
> the known unknowns and the unknown unknowns. It's the unknown unknowns
> we know we really don't know much about."

I like it.

Michael West
Melbourne, Australia


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