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SUPERSTITIONS: The Seven Nevers. (adapted from Trimble, Writing With Style) (expanded by Robert Lynch)

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Presentation on theme: "SUPERSTITIONS: The Seven Nevers. (adapted from Trimble, Writing With Style) (expanded by Robert Lynch)"— Presentation transcript:

1 SUPERSTITIONS: The Seven Nevers

2 (adapted from Trimble, Writing With Style) (expanded by Robert Lynch)

3 Student writers often are confused and struggle because they have internalized a set of “rules” which are really more superstition than rule. These superstitions are often perpetuated by well meaning but over zealous writing instructors.


5 Rationale “The many English teachers who still teach this superstition do so, apparently, for one or more of the following reasons: (a) they were taught it themselves at an impressionable age and have never since thought to question its legitimacy; (b) they hope to discourage anything smacking of informality in student writing, perhaps in part because what informality they have seen in student prose has tended to read like banal cafeteria chatter; (c) they can use this rule as an expedient way of forcing students to move beyond simple sentences ("The government's new program is long overdue") to compound one ("The government's new program is long overdue, but implementing it will be difficult").” “The fact remains, though that and and but are perfectly valid ways of beginning a sentence. You see it done all the time by professional writers, and often to great effect."

6 Example: "But this does not account wholly of the silence. Another event intervened. In the face of mounting failure of policy abroad, support for it collapsed at home. Not a total collapse; not for very long at least. Rather, it was a most selective event, and it occurred where it was least expected. The foreign policy elites, thinking, themselves perhaps a shade more liberal, more advanced in their views than possibly they were, were more than alert to the thunder on the right. At times they seemed almost to long for it as if it would have confining effect on the liberation of those being attacked. And in truth, something of this sort occurred in the course of the Korean War. But not this time.... " (Moynihan, Daniel P. "How Much Does Freedom Matter?" Atlantic, July 1975, p. 23

7 Caveat: “I should caution you though, to use the and and but sentence with restraint. Just because it's legitimate doesn't mean that it can't grow tiresome” (Trimble).


9 Rationale and Caveat “Contractions are best used in moderation. When your ear tells you that the rhythm of a particular sentence seems to require a contraction, go ahead and use it without apology. Its perfectly acceptable in a "General English" style. (In fact, it's hard to write in such a style without using occasional contractions.) But where a contraction is not required, its best not to use one, for to do so is to risk overweighting your style on the side of colloquialness” (Trimble).

10 Example: "This world lives so much in us and upon us, so greatly affects our thoughts and our souls that I can't help thinking of it as having a political character." (Bellow, Saul. Critical Inquiry. Autumn, 1975, p.2).

11 Note: Notice that this is done by a Nobel Prize winning author in a rather sophisticated journal intended for English faculty.


13 Rationale “The alternatives, of course, are never to refer to him at all or else to refer to him as "the reader." The first alternative is frequently difficult and nearly always bad psychology, for it contributes to what critic Wayne Booth has termed the "pedant's stance."... The second alternative is equally bad psychology because it is so utterly depersonalizing and stuffy. What reader wants to be addressed as ‘the reader?’”(Trimble)

14 Example: "It is as notable an example of parliamentary fencing as you can find anywhere." ("Book Reviews," The New England Quarterly. December, 1970. 647.)

15 Caveat: “I only want to add to his remark the caution that while you is widely used, it can be overused. If you don't need to say you, don't. If you need to, say it without embarrassment exactly as you would in conversation” (Trimble).


17 Rationale “The alternatives recall those just described under Rule #3 either you practice complete self-effacement, in which case you disappear altogether from your prose, or else you attempt the closest thing to it, self- transcendence, in which case you elect to become either an objectification of yourself (the writer) or something more than yourself (the royal we)” (Trimble).

18 Example: "The world of lyric, I will suggest, is part feeling and part form." (Duffey, Bernard I. "The Experimental Lyric in Modern Poetry: Eliot, Pound, Williams," Journal of Modern Literature, 3.5, 1085)

19 Note and Caveat: Again you might note that this is within a journal written by and for English faculty. The real danger with using this personal pronoun has to do with its overuse. Immature writers tend to overuse it contributing not only to monotomy but lack of sentence variety. This superstition is so widespread that you might want to consider audience before using “I” in your other classes.


21 Rationale: Perhaps it was Winston Churchill who delivered the coup de grace to this superstition. When the old statesman had his attention called to a final preposition lurking in his prose, he exploded with: "This is the type of arrant pedantry, up with which I shall not put.“


23 Rationale: “The principle here, rationally enough, is that words that are logically related should remain together forming a unit of syntax. Since the infinitive form of a verb requires the preposition to plus a verb, as in ‘to complain’ it seems logical that they should remain together” (Trimble).

24 Example: However, "Splitting an infinitive is often not only natural but desirable," (Harcourt College Handbook, 264. Examples: For her to never complain seems unreal. I wished to properly understand programming.


26 Rationale: “Generally this rule is sound. What makes it so offensive is the dogmatic ‘Never.” Basically there are three situations in essay-writing that can occasion a one-sentence paragraph: (a) when you wish to emphasize a crucial point that might otherwise be buried, (b) when you wish to dramatize a transition from one stage in your argument to the next; and (c) when instinct tells you that your reader is tiring and would appreciate a mental rest-station” (Trimble).

27 Examples "It is proper to trace the continuity of moral analysis from Jane Austen to George Eliot, but we can do this intelligently only if we recognize what else is happening in this literary development: a recognition of other kinds of people, other kinds of country, other kinds of action on which a moral emphasis must be brought to bear" (Williams, Raymond. "The Knowable Community in George Eliot's Novels." Novel: A Forum on Fiction. Spring, 1969, 256).

28 "Few programs in the history of astronomy have attempted so much." (Astronomy, March, 1986, 10). "Part of G.I. Joe's success can be traced to a national mood in which war toys are beginning to look visible to an industry that has for some years been wary of them" (Harper's, April 1983).

29 Caveat: “The one-sentence paragraph is a valuable device. You can italicize with it, vary your pace with it, lighten your prose texture with it, signpost your argument with it. But it's also a potentially dangerous device. Be sure you don't overdo your dramatics. Also, be sure your sentence is strong enough to stand up under the extra attention it is bound to receive when set off by itself. Houseplants wilt in direct sun; so, in a manner of speaking, do many sentences” (Trimble).

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