Using Words Well


We who have the greatest message in the world (the message of Christ crucified) ought to be the clearest communicators. Therefore, it is important to think about how we use words.

It has been said that the difference between having a robust vocabulary and improving our usage of it is like the difference between purchasing a piano and knowing how to actually play it. Possessing the instrument of language does not guarantee that we will be able to produce music. Reading great works of literature will certainly give us the requisite linguistic tools. But to refine our skill with these tools, we will need to heed the advice of the late Jacques Barzun:

What a fuss over a word! Yes, but let me say it again: the price of learning to use words is the development of an acute self-consciousness. Nor is it enough to pay attention to words only when you face the task of writing—that is like playing the violin only on the night of the concert. You must attend to words when you read, when you speak, when others speak. Words must become ever present in your waking life, an incessant concern, like color and design if the graphic arts matter to you, or pitch and rhythm if it is music, or speed and form if it is athletics. Words, in short, must be there, not unseen and unheard, as they probably are and have been up to now.

I can’t help but think that a post on the proper use of language by a Long Island paisano is in some sense an apologetic for the veracity of the resurrection. 



Jacques Barzun, Simple and Direct: A Rhetoric for Writers. (New York: Harper Collins, 2001), 9.

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