Edwin A. Abbott - How To Write Clearly

How to Write Clearly - Edwin Abbott Abbott

“Almost every English boy can be taught to write clearly, so far at least as clearness depends upon the arrangement of words.”

I am neither English, nor a boy but I thought maybe I also can be taught how to write clearly, or at least what passed for clearly in the 19th century. 

It was an interesting book if you can get past its obvious misogyny. Actually, misogyny is not the right word. It is not that Abbott hates women; he just doesn’t acknowledge their existence. In all hundreds of examples used in this book there is only ONE which talks about a woman. (Funnily enough, it is used to explain the concept of bathos). Abbott even excludes female pronouns. One of his rules reads: “Be careful in the use of "he," "it," "they," "these," &c.” 

It is quite ironic coming from a man who wrote Flatland, which among other things is a satire on the discrimination of women. Makes you think: maybe it wasn’t a satire after all?

When it comes to writing Edwin A. Abbott thinks that the biggest threat to it is ambiguity. He trusts very little the intelligence of the reader or helpful context. He provides many helpful rules on how to avoid ambiguity. If you stick to them, you’re sure to never risk another double-entendre ever. Oh, Edwin, Edwin. But the ambiguity is the spice of life!!

I also really enjoyed the ads of other books placed at the end of this digitized edition (apparently they were in the front of the original printed edition). They advertised other books by the publisher, including a few other numbers by Edwin A. Abbott, like ‘English Lessons For English People’. It was initially called ‘English Lessons for Boys’ but the Abbott realised that “it is intended primarily for boys, but, in the present unsatisfactory state of English education, we entertain a hope that it may possibly be found not unfit for some who have passed the age of boyhood; and in this hope we have ventured to give it the title of English Lessons for English People.” For a second there I hoped that maybe he realised that not only boys can learn grammar but that it can also be taught to the fair sex. Sadly, no. He only believed that also grown-up boys could learn grammar and that’s what he meant by ‘people’. 

My favourite ad was for the book titled “How To Parse”. It was beautifully apologetic, because it is rather hard to try to sell someone a book on parsing. After all, “Of all subjects of study, it may be safely admitted that grammar possesses as a rule the fewest attractions for the youthful mind”. It can hardly get more grammatical than parsing. I, however, love parsing. I don’t think the art of parsing is taught at English schools anymore but it is still part of the curriculum in Polish schools. I love parsing because it combines a few of my favourite things: logic, grammar and words. I can parse like no one’s business. I’m gonna go get my geek on and parse some.

Was this all clear enough for ya?