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怎样写出靠谱的英文?— 英文写作圣经On Writing Well 精华摘选

时间:2011-01-11 14:31:04  来源:  作者:

纽约时报评价On Writing Well 是一本指导英文写作的圣经,任何想让要自己文章简洁的人都应该没事拿出来读一读,膜拜膜拜。

Library Journal 说,在这本书里,你可以看到“A love and respect for the language is evident on every page.”

读这本书的时候,我随时都把William Zinsser这个小老头恪守的标准和我写好的personal statement交叉对比,每每不禁面红耳赤,内牛满面。咱申请的是新闻专业,未来这两年好歹也得写出几箩筐的英文。但是按照现在的水准,我每一行每一段都可以被轰至渣。不过庆幸我手头有这本书,还一口气把它看完了。作者对Cliché和Clutter由衷且无时无刻地表达鄙视之情,以至于我现在看到这俩词就虎躯一震。

这本书适合谁看?如果你想提高自己英文写作的水准,特别是挖掘自己的风格; 如果你即将去米国读研究生,未来两年经常要面对一茬一茬的各种paper; 如果你以后是一个英文写作从业者,经常要写news release & report. 这本书就是你的圣经。作者对写作标准的严苛和尊敬,作者的智慧和幽默感让我随时流着哈喇子拿出各种颜色的笔圈点勾画。这种经典看一遍是绝对不够的,我认为有些句子是完全可以打印出来,贴在自己的写作台上,时时鞭策警示自己。这样才能多写出一些人类看得懂的句子,少留下一些Cliché和Clutter,让自己看到脸红。

以下的笔记摘选自本书第一章Principles和第二章Methods. 这两章的篇幅只占全书的三分之一,但信息量非常之大,看完你就知道了。

摘选的内容包括:


Simplicity & Clutter 怎样把文章写的简洁
Style 风格只有把“人”写出来,才会有自己的风格
The audience 你的文章为谁而写
Words 措辞怎样的用词会把你的文章搞坏,什么又是好的措辞
Unity 整体性如何写出牛逼的开头和结尾,怎么寻找素材
Bits & Pieces 动词,副词,形容词,缩写,that/which等等用法


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1. Simplicity & Clutter

怎么样把文章写简洁?

Zinsser痛恨兜圈子,任何模棱两可的措辞,表意不明的句子在他看来都是灾难。他对简洁如此执着,以至于Zinsser这个名字成了文风简洁的代名词。美国有些老师会让学生Zinsser一下他们的文章,Zinsser成了一个清除文中clutter的动词。

什么是所谓的clutter呢? 放到中文语境里,遍地都是,比如说“有关部门”,比如说“某某领导高度重视.” 比如说胡版2011年新年贺词的全部。

美版:
Clutter is the disease of American writing. We are a society strangling in unnecessary words, circular constructions, pompous frills and meaningless jargon.

Fighting clutter is like fighting weeds—the writer is always slightly behind. New varieties sprout overnight, and by noon they are part of American speech. Consider what President Nixon's aide John Dean accomplished in just one day of testimony on television during the Watergate hearings. The next day everyone in America was saying "at this point in time" instead of "now."

Take the adjective “personal,” as in “a personal friend of mine,” “his personal feeling.” It’s typical of hundreds of words that can be eliminated. The personal friend has come into the language to distinguish him or her from the business friend, thereby debasing both language and friendship. Someone’s feeling is that person’s personal feeling­—that’s what “his” means. Friends are friends, the rest is clutter.

Clutter is the ponderous euphemism that turns a slum into a depressed socioeconomic area, garbage collectors into waste disposal personnel and the town dump into the volume reduction unit.

Clutter is the official language used by corporations to hide their mistakes. When General Motors had a plant shutdown, that was a “volume-related production-schedule adjustment.” When an Air Force missile crashed, it “impacted with the ground prematurely.” Companies that go belly-up have “a negative cash-flow position.”

“Experiencing” is one of the worst clutters. Instead of “it is raining”, there is no way to say “At the present time we are experiencing precipitation.” Even your dentist will ask if you are experiencing any pain. If he had his own kid in the chair he would say,” Does it hurt?”

The point of raising these examples is to serve notice that clutter is the enemy. Beware, then, of the long word that's no better than the short word: "assistance"(help), "numerous" (many), "facilitate" (ease), "individual"(man or woman), "remainder" (rest), "initial" (first), "implement"(do), "sufficient" (enough), "attempt" (try), "referred to as"(called) and hundreds more. Beware of all the slippery new fad words: paradigm and parameter, prioritize and potentialize. They are all weeds that will smother what you write.

How can the rest of us achieve such enviable freedom from clutter? The answer is to clear our heads of clutter. Clear thinking becomes clear writing; one can't exist without the other. It'simpossible for a muddy thinker to write good English. He may get away with it for a paragraph or two, but soon the reader will be lost, and there's no sin so grave, for the reader will not easily be lured back.

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