05 April 2015

Snippets from Pinker on style, Prologue + Ch1

I'm reading Steven Pinker's The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century and thought I'd use this space to record some snippets of special interest. Page numbers refer to the Allen Land/Penguin hardback edition (ISBN 978-1-846-14550-6).

Most of the snippets quoted apply as much to good technical journalism and its translation, a genre that should "put a premium on clarity and coherence" as Pinker says.




p6: Today ... we have an understanding of grammatical phenomena which goes well beyond the traditional taxonomies based on crude analogies with Latin.

p7: My focus is on nonfiction, particularly genres that put a premium on clarity and coherence.

pp8-9: Style still matters. First, it ensures that writers will get their message across ...
Second, style earns trust.
Style, last but not least, adds beauty to the world. To a literate reader, a crisp sentence, an arresting metaphor, a witty aside, an elegant turn of phrase are among life's greatest pleasures.

p14: ... snatched from the brink of cliché ...
Parallel wording is a powerful trope.
Powerful writing can flip the way the world is perceived ...

p16: Good writing is understood with the mind's eye.

p20: ... zeugma: the intentional juxtaposition of different senses of a single word.

p21: The deliberate use of surprising transitions -- colons, dashes, block quotations -- is one of the hallmarks of lively prose.
... plodding ...
Killjoy style manuals tell writers to avoid alliteration, but good prose is enlivened with moments of poety ...

p22: ... a skilled writer can enliven her and sometimes electrify her prose with the judicious insertion of a surprising word ...
... distinguish sprightly prose from mush ...

p26: ... expressed in pleasingly parallel syntax ...
... fresh wording and concrete imagery over familiar verbiage and abstract summary; an attention to the reader's vantage point and the target of their gaze ...


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Glossary. Too little research.

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