Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Because is a Great Word

On the bus ride home, Miryam and I were fading in and out of conversation. The bus was freezing, we were in the front seat, and, of course, most of our conversations had to be whispered. At one point, I turned to her and let her know something I had just figured out.

"Y'know, you shouldn't start your sentences with, 'because.'"
"Oh, no; I didn't. Did I?"
"Yes," Miryam said. "You did."

This exchange led me to wonder, of course, why it's uncommon after a period of silence for someone to begin a thought with, "because." People don't just sit with their minds blank until they're spoken to again, they sit in thought. I know that my thought processes must be boring to anyone outside of my brain, so I spare them that. It happens though, when I have reached a conclusive idea, that I find myself interested in sharing it. And so I do.

For example, imagine yourself sitting beside me. We talk. We stop talking. Five minutes later, I say, "Because my parents will obviously be taking the camera with them to Israel. What am I going to do then--buy a disposable one?" Do you understand what I mean? Yes. Can you figure out where I'm coming from? Yes. Is it necessary to explain how I've arrived at that statement? Nah, it'd just be superfluous.

To quote rule 17 (under Elementary Principles of Composition) of The Elements of Style, "Omit needless words." This rule applies both to writing and conversation. As a matter of fact, sometimes I think that my natural ability to eliminate superfluous words, sentences, or sometimes even paragraphs from my speech is what makes me a genius.

When I was younger, my Hebrew teachers were under the impression that I was, perhaps, a super-intelligent being. One year, after noticing that my grades on Ivrit quizzes averaged somewhere in the 20's, my teacher suggested to my parents that they have me tested to assess my learning strengths and weaknesses. I did very well on all the tests but one: the associations test.

The associations test was one in which the tester said a word and I was to tell her what popped into my head. She said, "tree;" I said, "street." She said, "lamp;" I said, "homework." All this wasn't because I didn't know that the words I should have said were, "leaves" and "light (or desk)," but because I assumed she got that.
My brain upon hearing the word tree: Trees have leaves which die in the Fall and fall everywhere but are raked when they're on lawns, so really there are only leaves in the street. "Street."
My brain upon hearing the word lamp: I never use lamps unless I'm at my desk, in which case it'd have to be one of the rare times I'd be doing my homework. "Homework."

And so on and so forth.

4 original thoughts out there

Blogger George said...

makes sense to me

Wednesday, August 17, 2005 4:33:00 AM  
Anonymous Ian said...

I disagree with Elements of Style. In writing, yes, unnecesary words should be eliminated, but in speech I don't agree that they always should be. Unnecessary thoughts should be cut out, but extra words can sometimes add to the clarity of a statement. The great oratory tradition of years gone by is slipping away and increasingly phrasing is used to shorten verbal contact. For example...
Wow! that dress is really quite fetching and complements your figure quite well. VERSUS That's sooo fetch! Perhaps if English had some great and juicy adjectives such as Yiddish has we could get away with minimalism, but even in that case, we would be wise to use them if we had them!

Wednesday, August 24, 2005 2:10:00 PM  
Blogger BrownsvilleGirl said...

Funny you should say that Ian, allow me to explain: The idea of eliminating words is not so that details should be lost, or that crucial words should be omitted, it's so that meaning is relayed as efficiently as possible.
Y'know, we read an essay by Orwell in my Essay Workshop I class called On Politics and Language (I think) about how convaluted language relays no information and that a simple sentence does it. Anyway, I forgot my point because my head's in a million places right now.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005 2:57:00 PM  
Anonymous Ian said...

I see what your saying, but I don't always agree that meaning SHOULD be relayed efficiently in all cases. The "how are you" of days gone by has been replaced with "wuzup" which is difficult to respond to with anything other than "not much." "How are you" leaves open many more options (your health, your family, the trouble your cows are giving you etc). I guess what I'm trying to say is that people should take the time to really talk to the people around them instead of spitting out the necessary information in its most concentrated form. I've noticed that very secluded people often do this, like for example a farmer in Montana who hasn't seen another person in hours or maybe even days. They savor personal contact instead of making it efficient.

Friday, August 26, 2005 1:06:00 PM  

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