Tone, Or Degrees Of Dignity. Continued
FINE WOOLENS AND WORSTED FABRIKS
ESPECIALLY ADAPTED FOR THE SUIT AND SKIRT TRADE
842 Elridge Street, New York
Messrs. Fishrein & Blintz. Sept. 24, 1909.
Gents: Your esteemed favor of the 23rd inst. to hand, and in reply would say what do you take me for, anyway? Either you would accept the goods as shipped or either I would sue you in the courts. Such suckers like you I wouldn't have no mercy on at all.
LFISHBEIN "Where Quality is Paramount" M. BLINTZ
FISHBEIN & BLINTZ
COSTUMES, DRESSES AND SUITS
450 UNIVERSITY PLACE
Cable Address. Telephone
"Fubblintz. New York" Connection
New York, Sept. 26, 1909. L. Mendelbaum.
Dear Sir: Your favor of the 24th inst. to hand and contents noted, and in reply we beg to state we must say we are surprised. We thought you was a gentleman, Mr. Mendelbaum, as our shipping clerk through mistake sends you back the goods which was intended by us for a different party as you. Please return goods at your earliest convenience and oblige,
FlSHBEIN & BLINTZ.
"WE LEAD, OTHERS FOLLOW"
The A La Mode Store
HARRIS SCHEVRIEN. PROPRIETOR 412 Main Street
Bridgetown, 1/4/10 Dear Friend Marcus: Will be in your city on Wednesday, and if agreeable to you would be pleased to spend Wednesday evening with you as per your suggestion about going to the opera. Hoping business is good in the store. I am
The A La Mode Store Dic. HS/RL. H. Schevrien, Propietor.
The more one studies the details of these remarkable communications, the funnier they seem. They are deliberately exaggerated, but not so much as to make them unrecognizable. Actual letters hardly less absurd are written every day, and not merely by men with "foreign" names.
§ 59. Genuine dignity of language is a hard thing to define, depending as it does on the fitness of the words to the occasion. Majestic words suit with majestic occasions only. Here is a paragraph from one of those fine specimens of bombast which "B. L. T." loves to pillory in his "Line o'Type" column.
Early towards the evening Mr. Harrold was presented with two immense bouquets of flowers. In conclusion a word ought to be said about the people that were present at the concert. It has been five or six years since an audience as was witnessed in the Wysor Grand last night has turned out. In that audience was found the most highly cultured, the most highly refined, the capitalist, and the merchant, and all those who have the interests of the higher life as their chief aim. Richly bedezined women and women sparkling with diamonds and precious stones, together with their companions in more sober attire, made a house that has not been duplicated in Muncie for years in the way of splendor.
It is quite unnecessary to point out the various offences of this paragraph. But permit me the pleasure of cataloguing them. The writer begins by tripping on the skirts of grammar just as he is pressing forward to note the elegant presentation of roses to the singer. "Early towards the evening" is surely not English. "Two immense bouquets" is of doubtful tone, however true it may have been to the facts; size isn't exactly the best thing to emphasize in speaking of bouquets. The writer proceeds to describe the audience. It is "five or six years" since Muncie turned out such an audience; the precision as to date is a slump in dignity, and sets up invidious comparisons. The audience was not seen by the reporter; it was "witnessed." He does not mean that he wrote his name on it to witness to its presence. He means that some loftier word than "seeing" befitted so lofty a seene. We may safely say that it is always high-flown to use "witness" for "see." Then comes the colloquial phrase "turned out," because the writer knows no other. Then that sentence about "the most highly cultured, the most highly refined, the capitalist, and the merchant, and all those who have the interests of the higher life as their chief aim." I really cannot comment adequately on this sentence; it must just soak in. "Richly bedizened women"! Has this writer any sense of the associations of "bedizened"? Is this a word to set near "the interests of the higher life"? Let us be glad that the "companions" were in "more sober attire." All these glories made a house that had not been "duplicated" in Muncie for years. "Duplicated!" - a plain business word in the midst of so much splendor! Well, the effort to list the offences of this paragraph is not much of a pleasure after all. Sensations of disgust are not easily expressed, and people who volunteer to explain jokes are a little tedious.
The tone of the following paragraphs, by the editor of Advertising and Selling, is colloquial, but legitimately so. The writer is recalling his experience with a bombastic person, and the recollection tempts him to approach the opposite extreme of tone. The second sentence, where the fellow's refinement is described as not having "struck in," is not a particularly refined sentence itself, but it is effective. In the second paragraph the adjective "plump" describes a certain kind of word very well, though it may be questioned whether "plump" words are noticeable for the number of their "joints."
We once had the questionable pleasure of writing a booklet for a large man with a very red face and a waistcoat of the most violent and inflammatory nature. He was a somewhat refined product of the East Side, but not refined enough so that it struck in. His booklet was intended to appeal to people of wealth.
When the booklet was completed, it presented, to the mind of the red-faced one, certain grave defects. It was written in plain, honest words - the language of the man in the street. What he wanted was fine, plump, high-sounding words; the more joints in them the better. So, with the aid of the dictionary we went over the copy, changing every short word to the longest possible. Then it filled the soul of the red-faced one with pleasure - and ours with a vast mirth that is with us yet.
What was the matter with him? Simply that he thought that people of wealth and culture used that sort of language.
Slight differences of tone are hard for a man to detect in his own writing. We become habituated to certain mixtures, so that they do not seem to us mixtures. A bit of slang, like the word "graft," becomes so familiar to us that when we desire a more dignified expression it simply refuses to be recollected save with much effort. The other day a poor fellow shot himself deliberately. He left the following brief note:
Darling: I hope everything will be sunshine for you shortly as you certainly are deserving of same. You are the grandest woman in the world and it breaks my heart to leave you, but hope we will meet again.
This is sincerely and simply written, if ever a note was so written. But it shows unconsciously how commercial phrases and slang were ingrained in the man's brain. "Deserving of same" is curt and business-like. "Grandest woman in the world" is slang, though it is straight from the heart, and is the only phrase the poor fellow knew how to write under the circumstances. It was not the grandeur of his beloved that he wished to name, but he made the poor old slang phrase express his meaning after a fashion.
§ 60. There is one matter of low tone which I hesitate to mention. The student, young or old, will pardon its introduction if he is guiltless. I mean the vulgarism aint. Some of us were taught in school this paradigm:
I am not.
thou art not.
he is not.
we are not.
ye are not.
they are not.
Obviously a part of that paradigm is obsolete. And it is not surprising that thousands of boys bred on it substitute in their daily speech this easier one:
they aint The use of this paradigm is not a hanging matter. It is merely the usage of persons who wear mourning at the tips of their fingers. Perhaps this is putting it too severely. There was a time, as one may see in Trollope's novels, when even prime ministers said aint But the time is past, and educated speakers avoid the word scrupulously. In our exercises will be found a paradigm which should be learned by heart.