Re: I am Tech Writer

Subject: Re: I am Tech Writer
From: "Wayne J. Douglass" <wayned -at- VERITY -dot- COM>
Date: Fri, 7 Feb 1997 13:05:26 -0800

At 02:59 PM 2/7/97 -0500, Pete Kloppenburg wrote:

>I think you've misread my sentence. I think that the word "writer" is in
>fact nice, and concrete, and anglo-saxon. But the logic of equating these
>three adjectives escapes you simply because it is not there. I did not
>mean to equate them, only to list them. I think to equate the words
>simply because they appear together in a sentence approaches
>the "post hoc ergo propter hoc" fallacy. (Now THERE'S a latinate
>phrase for you!)
>On the other hand, yes, latinate words tend to be more abstract than
>anglo-saxon words. This is an entirely unprovable statement, of course,
>but many people do believe it, and there is circumstantial evidence to
>support the notion.
>For instance, anglo-saxon words are the oldest words in English,
>and as such have taken on rich, deep, broad meanings. Hemingway
>preferred them for that reason. I think for the native English speaker,
>they tend to be friendlier, less stuffy than their latinate equivalents.
>Latinate words, on the other hand, came into the language in very
>particular ways. Either they came in through French by way of the
>Norman invasion of England, or they were imported directly from Latin
>by academics and the clergy. Either way, latinate words tended to
>pick up upper-class, bookish meanings. Most particularly bookish,
>because every time you need to invent a word for some concept
>nobody thought up before, you go to the Latin, splice together
>some morphemes, and shazam! You've got yourself a brand
>new word with a very narrow meaning which typically refers to
>something you couldn't point to in the real world if your life
>depended on it. Hence, more abstract.
>So I would say latinate words are not more abstract per se,
>but they do tend to be.
I don't know what to say. On the one hand, I'm accused of putting words into
Pete's mouth; on the other, Pete makes the very argument I presumably

My point then and now is that there is nothing inherently abstract about
*words* - regardless of their derivation. Words are, after all, only sounds
that are arbitrarily linked to a concept. In my universe, "abstract" refers
to ideas, "concrete" to things. Thus, the fine Anglo-Saxon verb "to write"
is no more or less abstract than the French verb "ecrire" or the Latin verb
"scribere." As interesting as the appeal to the history of the English
language, the inequities of the class system, and the creation of new words
from Latin and Greek prefixes and suffixes may be, it is irrelevant.

--Wayne Douglass

Verity, Inc. Email: wayned -at- verity -dot- com
894 Ross Drive Telephone: 408-542-2139
Sunnyvale, CA 94089 Facsimile: 408-542-2040
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