Diction - Purity - Propriety - Precision.
Purity of style consists in using words which are reputable, national
and present, which means that the words are in current use by the best
authorities, that they are used throughout the nation and not confined to
one particular part, and that they are words in constant use at the
There are two guiding principles in the choice of words,--good use
and good taste. Good use tells us whether a word is right or wrong;
good taste, whether it is adapted to our purpose or not.
A word that is obsolete or too new to have gained a place in the
language, or that is a provincialism, should not be used.
Here are the Ten Commandments of English style:
(1) Do not use foreign words.
(2) Do not use a long word when a short one will serve your purpose.
Fire is much better than conflagration.
(3) Do not use technical words, or those understood only by specialists
in their respective lines, except when you are writing especially for
(4) Do not use slang.
(5) Do not use provincialisms, as "I guess" for "I think"; "I reckon" for
"I know," etc.
(6) Do not in writing prose, use poetical or antiquated words: as "lore,
e'er, morn, yea, nay, verily, peradventure."
(7) Do not use trite and hackneyed words and expressions; as, "on the
job," "up and in"; "down and out."
(8) Do not use newspaper words which have not established a place in the
language as "to bugle"; "to suicide," etc.
(9) Do not use ungrammatical words and forms; as, "I ain't;" "he don't."
(10) Do not use ambiguous words or phrases; as--"He showed me all about
Trite words, similes and metaphors which have become hackneyed and worn
out should be allowed to rest in the oblivion of past usage. Such
expressions and phrases as "Sweet sixteen" "the Almighty dollar," "Uncle
Sam," "On the fence," "The Glorious Fourth," "Young America," "The lords
of creation," "The rising generation," "The weaker sex," "The weaker
vessel," "Sweetness long drawn out" and "chief cook and bottle washer,"
should be put on the shelf as they are utterly worn out from too much
Some of the old similes which have outlived their usefulness and should
be pensioned off, are "Sweet as sugar," "Bold as a lion," "Strong as an
ox," "Quick as a flash," "Cold as ice," "Stiff as a poker," "White as
snow," "Busy as a bee," "Pale as a ghost," "Rich as Croesus," "Cross as a
bear" and a great many more far too numerous to mention.
Be as original as possible in the use of expression. Don't follow in the
old rut but try and strike out for yourself. This does not mean that you
should try to set the style, or do anything outlandish or out of the way,
or be an innovator on the prevailing custom. In order to be original
there is no necessity for you to introduce something novel or establish a
precedent. The probability is you are not fit to do either, by education
or talent. While following the style of those who are acknowledged
leaders you can be original in your language. Try and clothe an idea
different from what it has been clothed and better. If you are speaking
or writing of dancing don't talk or write about "tripping the light
fantastic toe." It is over two hundred years since Milton expressed it
that way in "L'Allegro." You're not a Milton and besides over a million
have stolen it from Milton until it is now no longer worth stealing.
Don't resurrect obsolete words such as whilom, yclept, wis, etc.,
and be careful in regard to obsolescent words, that is, words that are at
the present time gradually passing from use such as quoth, trow,
betwixt, amongst, froward, etc.
And beware of new words. Be original in the construction and arrangement
of your language, but don't try to originate words. Leave that to the
Masters of language, and don't be the first to try such words, wait until
the chemists of speech have tested them and passed upon their merits.
Quintilian said--"Prefer the oldest of the new and the newest of the
old." Pope put this in rhyme and it still holds good:
In words, as fashions, the same rule will hold, Alike fantastic, if too
new or old: Be not the first by whom the new are tried, Nor yet the last
to lay the old aside.