Clichés About Dogs That Have a Strong Basis in Reality

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While I generally (although not dogmatically) think you should avoid using clichés, some of them are accurate. Since we got a puppy, I can confirm the utility and accuracy of the following phrases:

  • Nipping at your heels
  • Let sleeping dogs lie
  • Follow you around like a puppy
  • Don’t bite the hand that feeds you
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Apologies for Length

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Often misattributed to Mark Twain, on the theory that everything witty can be plausibly attributed to him, this is a good thought to keep in mind: “I’m sorry about the length of this letter; I didn’t have time to write you a shorter one.” There are lots of variants, but a good summary of the phrase in English, attributing it as a translation from Pascal, is here.

Dorothy Parker on Strunk & White

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“If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second-greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first-greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.”

-Dorothy Parker, quoted in The New York Times, The Elements of Style’ Turns 50, April 21, 2009 (minor typographical corrections added).

While I disagree with Parker about The Elements of Style itself, it’s a funny line, and there is something useful to take away from it. More on Strunk & White later.

James Baldwin on Writers

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Any writer, I suppose, feels that the world into which he was born is nothing less than a conspiracy against the cultivation of his talent—which attitude certainly has a great deal to support it. On the other hand, it is only because the world looks on his talent with such a frightening indifference that the artist is compelled to make his talent important.

-James Baldwin, Notes of a Native Son, Autobiographical Notes (1955)

Chandler on Hammett

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“And there are still quite a few people around who say that Hammett did not write detective stories at all, merely hardboiled chronicles of mean streets with a perfunctory mystery element dropped in like the olive in a martini. These are the flustered old ladies–of both sexes (or no sex) and almost all ages–who like their murders scented with magnolia blossoms and do not care to be reminded that murder is an act of infinite cruelty, even if the perpetrators sometimes look like playboys or college professors or nice motherly women with softly graying hair.”

-Raymond Chandler, The Simple Art of Murder

From George Orwell

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“The inflated style itself is a kind of euphemism. A mass of Latin words falls upon the facts like soft snow, blurring the outline and covering up all the details. The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink.”

-George Orwell, Politics and the English Language.

If you have never read this essay, the whole thing is here. Go read it now.

Christopher Lasch on Initialism

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“In accordance with the principle that good writing must always oppose the bureaucratic debasement of language, it is a good idea, wherever possible, to refer to the names of governmental agencies, voluntary associations, and other organizations by their full name, not by their initials. The widespread use of initials tends either to lend suspect purposes a spurious air of importance and dignity or, as in the now almost mandatory resort to acronyms in naming organizations, agencies, and weapons systems . . . to make remote bureaucratic agencies or deadly systems of destruction seem folksy, cute, and accessible. Good writing should resist such designs, although there are obvious limits beyond which it is not possible to avoid initials.”
– Christopher Lasch, Plain Style: a Guide to Written English, 69–70 (2002)