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Rosie Right

Our language and how it works.

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According to the Associated Press, the survey showed that states spend a quarter of a billion dollars a year on remedial writing. Heaven knows how much this bureaucratic writing costs those of us who try to fill in those government forms. As one respondent said: "If there are tax policy directives or guidelines that filers don't quite get — and the tax staff reviewers don't get either — that creates a financial mess." That sentence should be written without an if.

The commission's first report (2003) emphasized the need to teach writing in the classrooms, and the second, "Writing: A Ticket to Work … Or a Ticket Out" (2004), surveyed business writing.

Perhaps academic writing should be next. The journal Philosophy and Literature, published by Johns Hopkins University, once organized a contest for bad writing, and many of the winners were academics. The judges looked for "stylistically lamentable" writing. Below is one of the winners.

"It is the moment of non-construction, disclosing the absentation of actuality from the concept in part through its invitation to emphasize, in reading, the helplessness — rather than the will to power — of its fall into conceptuality."

All of us give more leeway to people who are speaking instead of writing, but it is here that some of the most amusing examples of usage can be found. Consider the following strange statements that were included in "Vocabula Bound," a collection of essays on the English language from The Vocabula Review:

"This is a great day for France!" — President Richard Nixon, while attending French President Charles de Gaulle's funeral.

"I have opinions of my own — strong opinions — but I don't always agree with them." — George Herbert Walker Bush.

"The streets are safe in Philadelphia. It's the people who make them unsafe."

— Philadelphia Mayor Frank Rizzo.



Let Rosie hear from you by mail (Style Weekly, 1707 Summit Ave., Richmond, 23230); by e-mail rozanne.epps@styleweekly.com; or by telephone (804-358-0825).

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