Tuesday, July 05, 2011

How To Craft The Perfect Sentence, Part 14

by CWK

Tell the Truth

Here is an excerpt from Chesterton's Manalive:
"What a lie!" cried Michael, advancing on her with brightening eyes. 
"I'm all for lies in an ordinary way; but don't you see that to-night they won't do? 
We've wandered into a world of facts, old girl. 
That grass growing, and that sun going down, and that cab at the door, are facts. You used to torment and excuse yourself by saying I was after your money, and didn't really love you. But if I stood here now and told you I didn't love you-- you wouldn't believe me: for truth is in this garden to-night."

Chesterton's character wanders into the world of facts, truth, and reality. It's a lovely world. 

This may seem like silly advice: tell the truth. Don't as Dickinson urges, tell it slant. Tell the truth! Tell the simple, homely truth. Follow the example of ‘the teacher’ in Ecclesiastes, who could say, “that which was written was upright, even words of truth.”

“Telling the truth,” means, especially, taking care not to exaggerate.

We exaggerate when we misuse terms like, “best, greatest, most important, always, excellent, very good, amazing, unbelievable, hate, love, etc.”

C.S. Lewis reminds us to avoid ‘word inflation’... “Don’t use words too big for the subject. Don’t say ‘infinitely’ when you mean ‘very’; otherwise you’ll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite (Letters of C.S. Lewis, 271).”

This lesson was brought home to me several years ago. I had taken to using the word ‘great’ to describe everything under the sun. One day, a friend asked me about a particular meeting I’d just attended. I responded, “It was great.” He offered this rebuke, “You know, EVERYTHING can’t be great.”

John Stott’s advice is sound, “We have to beware of exaggerations and be sparing in our use of superlatives. Too liberal a supply of these devalues the currency... When struggling to communicate some message to our listeners, we shall search for simple words which they can understand, vivid words which will help them visualize what we are saying, and honest words which tell the plan truth without exaggeration (Between Two Worlds, 234-235).”

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