Geode Editorial Services

Book Dip: More Fowler | June 3, 2007

First, in response to readers’ requests for an example of an inversion, here is one from Fowler:

Little by little are these poor people being hemmed in & ground down by their cruel masters.

And, since he cross-referenced to Elegant Variation in that entry, here is an excerpt:

It is the second-rate writers, those intent rather on expressing themselves prettily than on conveying their meaning clearly, & still more those whose notions of style are based on a few misleading rules of thumb, that are chiefly open to the allurements of elegant variation. . . . There are few literary faults so widely prevalent, & this book will not have been written in vain if the present article should heal any sufferer of his infirmity.

The fatal influence is the advice given to young writers never to use the same word twice in a sentence–or within 20 lines or other limit. . . . The writer, far from carelessly repeating a word in a different application, has carefully not repeated it in a similar application; the effect is to set readers wondering what the significance of the change is, only to conclude disappointedly that it has none:– The Bohemian Diet will be the second Parliament to elect women deputies, for Sweden already has several lady deputies.

Boiled down, it’s the cliche of a foolish consistency, etc. Don’t be slavish to your English teachers’ admonitions, kids! Your writing will come out tentative and stilted.

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