James Kilpatrick’s “Writer’s Art”

Going through some old papers, I found a column I long ago clipped. Rereading it, I’m not sure why I clipped this one over others, but clip it I did, and it offers an admonition against haste and carelessness. Kilpatrick notes so many faults in the writing he describes that he must have omitted one out of exhaustion. The Midwestern journalist of whom he writes mentioned something Art Buchwald “eluded to.” Apparently “allude” eluded her.Kilpatrick--Writers Art

A Vivid Description

I recently read a landscape description that I found particularly vivid. I can learn from it and thought perhaps others could, too:

“This great tract . . . stretches with apparent indefiniteness over the face of the continent. Level plains of smooth sand—a little rosier than buff, a little paler than salmon—are interrupted only by occasional peaks of rock—black, stark, and shapeless. Rainless storms dance tirelessly over the hot, crisp surface of the ground. The fine sand, driven by the wind, gathers into deep drifts, and silts among the dark rocks of the hills, exactly as snow hangs about an Alpine summit; only it is a fiery snow, such as might fall in hell. The earth burns with the quenchless thirst of ages, and in the steel-blue sky scarcely a cloud obstructs the unrelenting triumph of the sun.”

This is Winston Churchill’s description of northern Sudan. After reading it, I am not personally itching to go to Sudan even apart from its political instability.

I have tried to reproduce the punctuation from the original, though allow for the possibility of my error.

The River Takes a Tree

For years, I’ve taken pictures of the same tree leaning over the Navidad River. The pictures have been at different seasons and different water levels. But this weekend, the tree was gone without a trace. Most my recent picture of it was April 14, so the river took the tree after that. A nearby flood gauge shows that the river peaked shortly after my last photo of the tree.

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Evolution of Language

Bryan Garner offers this Quote of the Day:

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This is the long, twilight struggle between descriptivists and prescriptivists.

Descriptivists, who hold that language is whatever people do from time to time, must win in the end.

But prescriptivists, who hold that language rules should be observed, must fight a never-ending rearguard action, yielding ground slowly and reluctantly.

I am a prescriptivist at heart.