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THE PARTS OF SPEECH [ ? ]
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PLAIN ENGLISH WRITING : 9 Tips to Write Better Plain English Material : Complexity and Pomposity in Poor Writing : Drop the Officialese, and Write in Plain English : How to Recognize Passive Voice : How to Replace Jargon and Legalese : How to Start Writing in Plain English : View all articles

The Act of Communication in Plain English Writing

The Act of Communication in Plain English WritingAct of Communication: When you communicate, you take an idea that's in your head and you put it into another's head through words. This "act" might seem like a trivial thing, simply because it's so ordinary and so routine, but it happens to be the noblest thing that man does that animals can't—the very thing that makes man unique—makes him king in the animal world.

Animals communicate, that's true. But not like you and I do; not anything like we do.

Your dog may be able to tell you when he's hungry, but not when he isn't. Nor can he tell you he isn't hungry if he is; or is hungry if he's not. Nor can he tell you to take back the canned dog food with the fish meal in it and bring him instead some ground round with kidney roll on the side.

Nor can animals leave their talk and experiences recorded in histories and literature for their children and their children's children to read and study, to find out what mistakes older generations made and to set about building a better world. Animals live only on their individual experiences of today; they do not live on the recorded cumulative experiences of animals throughout history as men do.

As Einstein said, the uniqueness of man—the superiority of man in the world of animals—lies not only in his ability to perceive ideas but to perceive that he perceives; and to transfer his ideas and perceptions to other men's minds through words.

E. A. Stauffen pointed out the beauty and power in an Act of Communication between one person and another. He said:

"When we exchange ideas through words, we are in the realm of the immaterial—a realm where no other material thing may follow. We can see this easily enough.

The more we share material things by dividing them, the smaller and smaller these things become, until they are too small to be divided any more. The opposite happens when we share our immaterial ideas through words."

See how these differ:

Say you have $100 and you meet 100 men who are hungry; and you give each man $1 for food. Then say each man takes his dollar and buys lunch and eats it. What has happened in all of this?

Well, let's see. You no longer have your $100; you now have nothing. Each of your 100 men no longer has his $1, and his food is gone, too. That is the way with material things.

But what happens if you have one idea and meet 100 mentally hungry men? You, of course, give them your idea, but don't lose it by giving it, like you lost your $100 when you gave it away. Also, the 100 men whom you gave your idea to can, in turn, give it away—and still keep it—to any number of other people. And these people can in turn give it away yet keep it; add to it and subtract from it to make it a more perfect idea—one which, if it's great enough, will go on for centuries, perhaps forever.

Therefore, when you use words to put an idea that's in your mind into another person's mind—when you perform this Act of Communication— you are doing the noblest work of a writer. And such a noble work should never be carelessly nor slovenly done. For your ideas and your words are as much a part of your human nature as your breath, your blood, or your brain.

And that, we think, is what Huxley had in mind when he said that words are never mere matters, or what the poets had in mind when they said that words are the measure of man.

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PLAIN ENGLISH WRITING : 9 Tips to Write Better Plain English Material : Complexity and Pomposity in Poor Writing : Drop the Officialese, and Write in Plain English : How to Recognize Passive Voice : How to Replace Jargon and Legalese : How to Start Writing in Plain English : View all articles





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