I acquired a copy of Writing and Thinking
by Norman Foerster and J.M. Steadman, jr published by Houghton Mifflin Company of Boston in 1941
. The original was published
and this is the revised edition. The book is quite a complete guide to writing English and it delves into the grammar
in very great detail. The exercises are ones I would not enjoy yet a common image of that era is University
students sweating away at a desk in the library perfecting their grammar.
The goods bits of this book are mostly in the style guide as giving it a detailed read reveals how the American English language has evolved in past 60 years. Especially since the authors try to stand in the way of change:
In some rare cases, a slang word has been found to fill a real need and has become legitimatized. Such words are mob, cab, van, buncomb. But the great majority of slang words disappear within a very short period. (p. 290)
Beyond wondering what a buncomb
is, good English is also upheld to the toughest standard
The third and most important test of good English is that of reputable use. To be reputable, a word must have the sanction of the best writers and speakers. The classes of words that violate the principle of reputable use are vulgarisms (or "illiteracies"), improprieties, and some slang. (p. 286)
I offer up a selection from a list of trite
expressions with my comments aimed at underlining how the language has changed and where it has not. First, triteness defined:
Trite or hackneyed expressions are like coins that have been rubbed smooth through excessive use. It is by no means easy to avoid such expressions and to substitute for them fresh equivalents, for our very familiarity with these stake words and phrases causes them to occur to us more quickly than others that are less common but more effective (p.299)
abreast of the times: Ah when it was enough to keep up. Nowadays you have to be ahead
arms of Morpheus: Who is Morpheus and what am I doing in his arms? (Yes, I looked him up on E2)
cheap as dirt: Have you visited Home Depot lately?
feathered songsters: Obviously birds, but I have not run across this expression in my reading.
he-man: I wonder if this meant then what it means now?
ugly as a mud fence: doesn't that conjure up an image!
After all is said, if you run across this book I would recommend it for two kinds of people: first, for those who are interested in how language and writing style has evolved; second, for those who may find the local university or college undergraduate style guide incomplete or too simplistic. Foerster and Steadman have a definite goal for this book which is to educate students to write clearly yet with a style that invigorates the reader.