A recent road trip afforded my delightful bride of 40 years and I to engage in a pursuit which seldom has had occasion to deliver us such fruitful reward: we listened to an audible book on tape. The book by our great fortune and which is the point of this dubious commentary on writing style was called “Pride and Prejudice” by the remarkable novelist of the early nineteenth century, Miss Jane Austen.
The point, if you have not yet adequately secured it, is that listening for hours to the witty, insightful and delightful dialog of Miss Austen, I’ve noticed, has had quite an influence on my writing style. Writing, as one of the best books on the subject taught in its title, is thinking. Because of living in the manor homes of late eighteenth century or early nineteenth century England for so many passing hours, I have discovered to my surprise, chagrin and sometimes embarrassment, that my very thoughts, silent though they be, are charged with the timbre and nuances of a language that seems long buried by the hurry, passions and banal expressions of the language of our day which seems to so eagerly descend into the sewers which had likely not been serving those romantic homes.
OK, enough of that (although I’m finding it difficult to stop it.)
The point is this: we are influence by what and who we surround ourselves with. Our own thinking styles, which translates into how we write, is strongly influenced by what else we are reading and the conversations we are listening to and engaged in. See, Miss Austen would never have allowed that dangling preposition.
This is nothing new. But I read recently how the very vulgar, uncivil and impolite discourse which so troubles our Internets (see, I can’t stop it even if I try), is contributing to the general distrust in each other, in governments, in corporations and almost everything else. Maybe distrust is another word for dislike. Maybe, the kind of interaction (Austen would have said intercourse, but I think that use of such a word today would be considered impolite and uncivil) that characterizes nearly all discussions is degrading all of us. When I compare the elevation of civility in that day, compared to its degradation today, I can only be glad that Miss Austen is not here to witness it.
I am fascinated by the subject of writing style and how it has changed. Having recently produced a video training series on the subject, I have found myself urging the government writers to whom it was addressed to lower their bar, to become far more informal, to understand and micmic the very familiar, personal and even flippant language that dominates all writing–and especially that found on the the Internets.
I don’t regret that advice–because it is necessary. I only regret that it is necessary.