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Newsletter February 15 - 2005FREE email English course
Dear Friend,

I sometimes wonder what we'd do without Shakespeare. I certainly can't do without him when it comes to choosing a suitable phrase or expression and the heading above is taken from his play, Hamlet when Polonius, an adviser to the king asks: «What do you read, my lord?»

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And Hamlet, enigmatically replies: «Words, words, words.» But then it is the placing of the words that counts, the order in which you use them and what effect you want to make upon your listener or your reader.

But I want to talk about the written word and there is no shortage of people to tell you the best way to write. The message that comes from all of them is to write clearly and above all prefer the shorter word to the longer one. Two well known advocates of this recommendation are the Fowler brothers who compiled the «King's English», a handbook published in the early part of the 20th century and later George Orwell, creator of «Animal Farm» and «1984», who some 20 years later gave his advice on the best way to write. Of course this word write can take on different forms when it is used together with prepositions. You can «write up» a story if you're a reporter on a newspaper describing what you've witnessed. If you «write away/off for something», you've seen an advertisement in a newspaper and want to buy the product and are asking the advertiser to send it to you and you hope they will «write back» (reply). As a police officer you «write down» in a notebook details of an incident you have seen.. If you are not satisfied with the wording in a contract, you could possibly «write in» (include) additional features to suit you. Again we ask people to «write in« (send in) comments or questions on the ESL Forums on english-test.net. Finally when we «write off» someone or something, we are dismissing them as unimportant.

But what about the process of writing? We have other words for this activity. If it's a note to someone and it's quite informal, we «scribble» this and our handwriting is not very careful and if it's very casual and almost illegible, we use the word «scrawl». When you are given a phone number or the date and time of a meeting, you jot down or note the information on a scrap of paper. If the subject matter is serious and we need to prepare before we write, we often «draft/write an outline of» a letter so that we can check and examine it before sending it off. Some people «pen» a letter to a newspaper referring to days before word processing. If it's a very serious matter, then we «create» or «compose» a work of fiction.

Not only are there different words for the business of writing but there are also special words for the end product. A student is asked to write an «essay» on a set subject — some fifty years ago this was referred to as a «composition». A journalist has to write an «article» for a newspaper or magazine. You often hear a newspaper reader ask of another: 'Have you read that «piece» in the Times today about the Prime Minister?' If it's something factual and gives a description of what for example a committee has been discussing they write a «report». If you have experienced something unusual, you may be asked to write an «account» for your local newspaper. In the world of fiction you write a «novel» if it's long and a «story» if it's short. Again in the days before the internet and emails we used to write «letters».

And that's about all I have to say about the matter in this letter. Following the advice given me by the Fowlers and George Orwell I'll avoid using the long word «conclusion» and simply say that's the «end».

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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