Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Mark Twain on Word Repetition

IWC welcomes this week's guest blogger, Mark Twain. He wrote this post in Vienna on May 6, 1898.

I do not find that the repetition of an important word a few times--say three or four times--in a paragraph, troubles my ear if clearness of meaning is best secured thereby. But tautological repetition which has no justifying object, but merely exposes the fact that the writer's balance at the vocabulary bank has run short and that he is too lazy to replenish it from the thesaurus--that is another matter. It makes me feel like calling the writer to account. It makes me want to remind him that he is not treating himself and his calling with right respect; and--incidentally--that he is not treating me with proper reverence. At breakfast, this morning, a member of the family read aloud an interesting review of a new book about Mr. Gladstone in which the reviewer used the strong adjective "delightful" thirteen times. Thirteen times in a short review, not a long one. In five of the cases the word was distinctly the right one, the exact one, the best one our language can furnish, therefore it made no discord; but in the remaining cases it was out of tune. It sharped or flatted, one or the other, every time, and was as unpleasantly noticeable as is a false note in music. I looked in the thesaurus, and under a single head I found four words which would replace with true notes the false ones uttered by four of the misused "delightfuls;" and of course if I had hunted under related heads for an hour and made an exhaustive search I should have found right words, to a shade, wherewith to replace the remaining delinquents.

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The portrait was taken by A.F. Bradley around 1907, three years before Samuel Clemens' death.

Mark Twain's "post" is from page 119 of Autobiography of Mark Twain, Vol. 1, edited by Harriet Elinor Smith and published by the University of California Press in 2010.

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