By Tommy Clarkson from the February 2013 Edition
But not always is our communications of the sorry nature. In fact, English has such capacity for potential greatness of thought and experience expression. However, all too often it is abused, misused or simply massacred by intellectual laziness!
Recently for my birthday, Patty gave me the E-Book, “The Man Who Saved the Union” by H.W. Brands. Its focus was that of “Ulysses Grant, in war and peace”. For one who enjoys both history and the effective use of words, you may rest assured that it was doubly enjoyed!
It is of that latter, “effective use of words” about which we focus herein.
Why, one but can but wonder, have we so “dumbed down” the way we communicate? Why even broadcast “news personalities” have been heard to stumble on-air, “U’hhhh, like, ya’ know. . ” with the print medium only slightly better in articulation of thought..
What happened to a sense of personal pride in our effective use of the English language? When did we stop using the “correct” word in lieu of vanilla, bland and sometimes patently senseless utterances, acronyms or mere mumbles?
The lexis of our language is packed with potential use but too seldom do we, today, dip into this refreshingly deep well of words. Accordingly, but a few of these have been drawn from this recently savored tome that are derived from an array of individuals in the mid 1800’s. I speak of great words, like: denouement, sanguinary, celerity, extirpation, comity, excoriated, palliated, asperities, scions and wroth, all regularly and correctly used, during that period.
I recount their use by not only our country’s leaders but, often, simple soldiers, laborers or merchants. These were “regular folks” who well used, in their proper context of both written and verbal usage, descriptive and appropriate words.. Sure, you and I may know the meaning and use of some – or all – of these examples, but when last did we effectively employ them (or others of their ilk) in our communications with others?
But beyond that, 150 years ago, it is my contention that entire thoughts were often almost musical in their clarity, beauty and applicable use.
(One has but to re-read Lincoln’s, 272 word, Gettysburg Address to well understand.)
Noted early in the book was this brief but superlative example of this economy or words which well states a thought: “Such a great pack of knaves never went unhung.” Doesn’t that just say it all?
Or then there is the description of one of the most famous infantry attacks of the Civil War that was conducted at the climax of the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863? This is how Union soldier Frank Haskell, of the Second Corps, described General George Edward
Pickett’s Charge of 12,000 men against General George
G. Meade’s Union positions on Seminary Ridge: “Every eye could see his legions, an overwhelming, resistless tide of an ocean of armed men, sweeping upon us . . . a sloping forest of flashing steel . . . magnificent, grim, irresistible (while) the jostling, swaying lines on either side boil and roar and dash their flamy spray (like) the hostile billows of a fiery ocean. Individuality is drowned in a sea of clamor, and timid men, breathing the sea of the multitude, are brave. The frequent dead and wounded lie where they stagger and fall; there is no humanity for them now, and none can be spared to care for them. ”
Is that not well described so as to conjure horrid images of battle? When teaching young writers, I encourage them to
“paint a picture” with their words. In my opinion, the afore cited well accomplishes that objective!
In yet another example is this direction by a leader on the conduct of their actions, “To you we look . . .in the fullest confidence to curb any reckless disregard if law – to steady passions and evil propensities that foment discord and mischief, and to give peace and prosperity to all portions of our beloved country.”
Or this, in description of a particularly offensive person,
“He was possessed of irascible temper and was naturally disputatious.” That’s so much better than simply saying “He’s a real jerk!”
But on a more somber side is the recognition of the terrible cost in Americans lives wrought by this war which lead to 620.000, or more, deaths. In 1864, during a period of less than sixty mid-year days – in federal troops alone – 61,315, died. General Sherman sadly lamented with almost calloused candor, “I begin to regard the death and mangling of a couple thousand men as a small affair, a kind of a morning dash and it may be well that we become so hardened.” Of this period, another said, “The fright of July segued into the angst of August.” Historians and political scientists of intellect have observed that those of our period have not the remotest of concepts of that which consists of the true carnage and horror of war.
No intent to revel in the bloodshed or butchery of conflict is intended by the preceding, but rather a wish to share how eloquently those, of that time, described that which they experienced, lived, and survived.
And in one last observation comes this quote observed of Congress but barely post-bellum, “(Its) measures . . . were politically expedient and fiscally imprudent.” Does that remind you of any other – more current – time, period, activity and political body?
I close with three words taken from this reading of “The Man Who Saved the Union”. The experience “conduces to confirm” my long held belief that we do not write nor speak nearly as well as we are capable. We need to work on that!
Tommy Clarkson is a bit of a renaissance man. He’s lived and worked in locales as disparate as the 1.2 square mile island of Kwajalein to war-torn Iraq, from aboard he and Patty’s boat berthed out of Sea Bright, NJ to Thailand, Germany, Hawaii and Viet Nam; He’s taught classes and courses on creative writing and mass communications from the elementary grades to graduate level; He’s spoken to a wide array of meetings, conferences and assemblages on topics as varied as Buddhism, strategic marketing and tropical plants; In the latter category he and Patty’s recently book, “The Civilized Jungle” – written for the lay gardener – has been heralded as “the best tropical plant book in the last ten years”; And, according to Trip Advisor, their spectacular tropical creation - Ola Brisa Gardens – is the “Number One Tour destination in Manzanillo”.
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