How to write – Eastern style

Far from being a scold regarding features of grammar, spelling, and word choice, I welcome innovation in rhetoric and style. More and more, though, I feel like an elderly English aristocrat bemoaning the downfall of letters in the realm. 99% of what I read in reputable texts is fine. My favorite linguist, John McWhorter, regularly uses “begs the question” in a sense other than the original, but I just accept that most people do not study a phrase which makes perfect sense as “raise a question” even though it means to embed the sought for (Lt. petere = beg) answer in the question itself.
Nevertheless and notwithstanding, I would love to see massive amounts of reading of solid English writing jammed down the throats of our young, like the pap mommy birds spit into their fledglings’ mouths. Once the young had absorbed the basics of style and manner in syntax, word choice, rhetorical devices, and loosened up a bit on the spelling angle (an American obsession), then branching out and incorporating more contemporary language is fine. But that begs the question of just what “basic” means.
To me, basic English style (not to be confused with Basic English) comes well after Pepys and the Founding Fathers but a bit before William Borroughs and Kanye West. Some wrote in a NYT essay on high poetry that anyone who doesn’t recognize that the next great poetry will come out of rap does not understand poetry. The future is upon us and we embrace it, but we love it so much more when we also love what went before.


  1. Wes Groleau says:

    And good reading at an early age—as advanced as they are capable of enjoying.  I have my doubts about rap though.  Some of it is good, but most rappers have ZERO concept of meter, and they seem to think that actually saying something is far less important than having lots of words that rhyme.

    1. Pat Barrett says:

      “Some of it is good.” Same with Russian literature, European classical music, Baroque architecture, Persian miniatures, and Urdu ghazals. When you say they lack meter, are you speaking of meter as in anapest and caesura, etc.? I think if you analyze “good rap”, you’ll find structure, if that is what you mean; but if you want a direct parallel to Shakespeare’s sonnets, that’s just inappropriate. It is what causes so many art forms to be denigrated b/c they are not “classical” until they are recognized as great. Back was not appreciated for a very long time. “having lots of words that rhyme” sounds like what poetasters do.

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