The Urge for Going

Living With Style (Rule Nine): Don't Be Breezy

"9. Do not affect a breezy manner."

("An Approach to Style," in The Elements of Style, by Strunk and White)

Pomposity and longwindedness is not limited to attorneys who employ an oxymoron like "brief" to describe a lengthy and sometimes verbose collection of words to make a few points.  That's what education can do for you.

And yet attorneys do often deserve that description.  Once, during a phone conversation with a fellow advocate, I fell asleep.  I awoke, some minutes later.  He was still rattling on and never missed me.

Writing, like speech, should never draw attention to self, should be as spare as necessary to convey the point.  E.B. White says it well: "The breezy style is often the work of the egocentric, the person who imagines that everything that comes to mind is of general interest and that uninhibited prose creates high spirits and carries the day."  Back then (1957), he was right in saying that "[t]he volume of writing is enormous, these days, and much of it has a sort of windiness about it. . . ."  So much written, so little said.  These days, with the advent of social networking, we might say the same about the largely empty bytes one reads.  What you just ate, watched, or clearly remarked is of doubtful interest.  Give me 140 characters I will remember.  How many can do that?

Scripture advises us to "let another praise us," another way of saying (as White does), that we write (and speak) well by "staying out of the act."  I'll add that when we are in the act, it must be when we become a particular for the universal, as when a friend tweeted "I am sitting in the dark by my window watching traffic pass," and it wasn't just her but me watching life go by while I sit in the darkness or quietness of a moment of sorrow, loss, or thought, wrapped in a cocoon while the world rushes by at its normal business .  My life stops, momentarily, and I see what has passed and imagine what will come.  Those are words worth spending, calm not breezy, full of humanity.

Avoid breezy people and prose.  Don't spend a precious word, spoken or written, unless it is is "to encourage one another and build one another up" (I Thess. 5:11).  After all, "[a] man finds joy in giving an apt reply --- and how good is a timely word!" (Prov. 15:23).

[The foregoing is a part of a little (as yet, unfinished) series based on E.B. White's "An Approach to Style," the fifth chapter of Strunk and White's classic work, The Elements of Style.  I found his guide to "style" relevant not only to writing but to life in general, as well as consistent, though not explicitly, with Scripture.  To read more in that series, go here.]