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concern; fear; misfortune; distress
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Newsletter November 23 - 2005FREE email English course
Dear Friend,

Some people say: «To cut a long story short» (saying something briefly — in a few words) and then go on and on and do the exact opposite. Others have the «knack» (special ability) of «putting a story in a nutshell» (explaining a situation in the shortest number of words). Others again «strike the happy medium» (use exactly the right number of words).

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Some use words that are abstract or flowery or ornate and then there are those that «call a spade a spade» (are very direct and straightforward). It's all a question of style and you can see the differences in some of the greatest writers of the language. No, don't worry I'm not going to talk about Shakespeare again but come nearer to our time with two writers of the last 150 years both masters in the art of description: Charles Dickens (1812-1870) and George Orwell (1903-1950).

Dickens learnt his trade as a writer when he was a journalist and wrote down the details of the speeches in the House of Commons in Parliament. He loved telling a story and in later life he would read his own books aloud to huge audiences and have them eagerly waiting for what happened next. I've taken an extract from «Great Expectations» — the story of a poor young boy who grows up to discover that he will inherit a large sum of money. As a child he meets a strange old lady who was «jilted» (abandoned by the man who was going to marry her) and she lives in her room year after year in the clothes she wanted to wear as a young bride. Dickens describes the scene through the eyes of the boy: It was then that I began to understand that everything in the room had stopped, like the watch and the clock, a long time ago… I glanced at the dressing table again, and saw that the shoe upon it, once white, now yellow had never been worn. I glanced down at the foot from which the shoe was absent, and saw that the silk stocking on it, once white, now yellow, had been trodden ragged). Without the arrest of everything, this standing still of all the pale decayed objects, not even the withered bridal dress on the collapsed form could have looked so like grave-clothes, or the long veil so like a shroud.

George Orwell (real name Eric Blair - no relation to the current UK Prime Minister!) imagines a time in the future when the world is controlled by one supreme dictator. He wrote the book in 1948 and decided to call the novel «1984» — to indicate some arbitrary date in the future. These are the opening lines as we meet the hero, Winston Smith, and immediately the scene is set and we want to go on reading: It was a bright cold day in April and the clocks were striking thirteen. Winston Smith, his chin nuzzled into his breast in an effort to escape the vile wind, slipped quickly through the glass door of Victory Mansions… The hallway smelt of boiled cabbage and old rag mats …Winston made for the stairs. It was no use trying the lift. Even at the best of times it was seldom working …The flat was seven flights up, and Winston, who was thirty-nine and had a varicose ulcer above his right ankle, went slowly… On each landing, opposite the lift shaft the poster with the enormous face gazed from the wall. It was one of those pictures which are so contrived that the eyes follow you about when you move. «BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU», the caption beneath it ran.

All I can hope is that these two small extracts might persuade you to read one or other of these two books and find out what happened next.

Alan Townend

Words, words, words...If you vote
Communicating with you?Don''t bank on it
Read all about itAre you a persuader?
The way you write itNew year resolutions
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