Friday, April 20, 2007

Exquisite English

I have the good fortune of knowing an emeritus professor of English, whose e-mail messages — in lyrically beautiful prose — are always such a delight to receive. The following (names changed/deleted to protect the guilty) is elegant and precise without being verbose or bombastic — the last often the mark of an immature writer. Who says ephemeral, electronic communication has to be in a degraded form of English?

My dear _______,

Is it true that the space bar gets more use than any other key on the board? Certainly in this cybercafé the space bars often seem defective, and the other day I sent a message that turned out to consist of a single enormous word! I say this by way of prefatory apology for any eccentricities in this letter, or any more than usual.

So you are, in a sense, a free man until 12 January, I think you said. This is a vacation of astounding dimensions, though I know not a vacation in the literal sense of emptiness as far as you are concerned. Still, a change is said to be as good as a rest, and I hope you will find some satisfaction in getting back to writing.

All continues well here. Firoz is away in Delhi for a couple of days on business. Last weekend we were at his house on the beach, which seems a thousand miles away from the hurly-burly of Bombay though it is only twenty or thirty. The gardener’s wife cooks plain but wholesome food, we sit and watch the grass grow, and walk on the beach early in the morning and towards sunset, it being too hot to venture far in the middle of the day. My tour of Sri Lanka is now confirmed, departing on 22nd, and I look forward to it very much. I am going with a Hindu friend, Viswa, a devout fellow who gives me insights into religious culture that I would certainly not get from my less godly friends!

No need to reply to this, of course.

Yours ever,


Michirure said...

Wow.. I think it will take me many years of 'training' to get to that standard of writing.. But short cuts are actually encouraged for writing emails, isn't it? At least that's how Sadako put it.. LOL..

The Grammar Terrorist said...

I think it's down to how fast you type. If you touch-type (as I do) and aren't used to abbreviations, then it's much faster typing everything in full. Furthermore, space is not normally an issue.

Texting (oops, sms-ing), however, is completely different, because with only 160 characters to play with, brevity is of the essence.

lovelyloey said...

Wow. I think my jaw just dropped. That's a work of art.

Yes, I agree that if time and space is not a constraint, it is possible to type sentences in full. So it largely depends on personal choice. (Although sometimes I must learn not to judge professors who use emoticons in emails no matter how much it tickles me.)

The Grammar Terrorist said...

Thought you'd enjoy this! A simple e-mail; nonetheless a fine piece of literature. I got it about five years ago, and I think my friend would be horrified that (i) I still have it; (ii) I've put it on the web.

His style is literary without being pompous. Apart from expressions like 'prefaratory apology' (which really is about the most efficient way you could express that idea), it is English pure and simple. The alliteration between 'hurly-burly' and 'twenty or thirty' rings softly in my ears each time I read it.

Notably, the vocabulary in this message is largely Germanic -- which, unlike the more sophisticated Latinate/Greek, speaks directly to the soul. Churchill was well aware of the power of 'native' English (read 'Germanic') vocabulary, and used it to great effect in his speeches.

The Grammar Terrorist said...

Oops, 'prefatory'.