Monday, December 7, 2015

Unnatural Acts

Why do we encounter so many inexpert emails, articles, ads, books and blog posts?

The fault is not in our stars, but in ourselves, says psycholinguist Steven Pinker in The Sense of Style.

As Darwin observed, for human beings the act of writing, unlike speaking, is unnatural.

While we master the art of conversation as kids, we wrestle for years—decades—to learn to communicate artfully in writing.

Unlike speaking, writing isn't genetically wired. Good prose, in fact, demands that writers commit "unnatural acts," Pinker says.

Those acts begin in a fairy tale.

To communicate well, the writer must make believe she's conversing with someone.

"The key to good style, far more than obeying any list of commandments, is to have a clear conception of the make-believe world in which you're pretending to communicate," Pinker says.

What should your make-believe world look like?

Pinker describes it eight minutes into his delightful 50-minute talk before the Royal Institution, Linguistics, Style and Writing in the 21st Century

Check it out.

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