Grammatically Unimpeachable and Stylistically Extravagant

Roger Cohen in the New York Times pined nostalgically for a time when elegant stylistic forays and purple passages were abundant. It wasn’t that long ago.

The character E.K. Hornbeck (meant to represent H.L. Mencken) in the play INHERIT THE WIND, said so wonderfully: “I do lovable things for which people hate me,  and hateful things for which they love me. I am the friend of enemies and the enemy of friends. I am both poles and the Equator, with no temperate zones in between.”  Once upon a time, a scant few decades ago, the theater going public not only could imbibe the nuances of such word play as they heard these sentences being uttered, they rejoiced in it too.

Even in reaction to sentences laden with too much excess and embroidery, Mark Twain could cause us a twitter (in a more venerable sense of the word) by enjoining us to “Eschew surplusage.”  What made that of course so amusing is that he used the very thing which he was advising us to “eschew”. But then Twain could do that so artfully precisely because he was such a master of the language.

Professionals take heed, global consultants in particular beware. Facility with language, albeit perhaps less vintage language — the ability to make points crisply yes, but compellingly as well, is a critical way to differentiate our value, to project our ideas, to broadcast our brand.

When companies write such tortured English as “deploy our intellectual capital and proprietary technologies synergistically across geographies and value domains to achieve competitive advantage” or outright sap like “we will win through empowering our people, serving our customers and teamwork” there is good reason to be bullish. If you can simplify prose and vivify it at the same time, you’ll find yourself without much by way of competition in this regard.

You might disagree, pointing to the fact that some poets even have opted to be grammatically dubious like E.E. Cummings. But remember,  the impact he achieved while doing so, came from his deep knowledge of and deft touch with the language…it was a deliberate “pattern interrupt” not someone ignorantly careening through the language.

Thoughts worth sharing are a precondition to adding value. But then being able to convey them in a way that lands with your chosen audience is almost as critical. In this age of anodyne inanities and bloviating braggadocio, anyone who thinks clearly, communicates clearly and perhaps memorably, will find themselves with an enormous advantage, globally and even locally. There’s no reason you shouldn’t join their ranks.

Immerse yourself in the speeches, the writing, of masters of the language, and you’ll get ever more attuned to the cadences and rhythms of language, and the luminous potential of the right words employed at the right time.

A wonderful example of this was a writer who suggested that since we are unable to predict so much of what happens, including our prosperity when it comes, then when we encounter good fortune, the only fitting response is not skyrocketing self-regard, but grateful service.

Language is an extraordinary gift. Why not respond to it with grateful study and put that gift to use in valuable service of your clients, colleagues, family and friends?