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The Use Of Words

( Originally Published 1912 )



To develop a vocabulary and style suited to argumentation, carefully read and study the great controversial writers. Accustomed to think logically, they have formed certain habits of lucid expression that may be followed to great

advantage. Among such books, are to be recommended Cardinal Newman's "Gram-mar of Assent," James B. Mozley's "On Miracles," L. A. Lambert's "Tactics of Infidels," Horace Bushnell's "Vicarious Sacrifice," and such oratorial literature as Webster's "Reply to Hayne," and the "Lincoln-Douglas Debates."

The student of argumentation must aim at perspicuity, and for this reason he should train himself to choose the right word and put it in the right place. Any, thing less than this will not do. Thought is the important thing ; language is only the medium through which it must shine clearly. This is why the student of English is cautioned to use as much as possible short, strong, pure, Saxon words; he should speak in the language of the people, and leave word-painting to the professional orator. Content yourself with simple words.

Newman somewhere acknowledges his indebtedness to one of his preceptors for teaching him to weigh his words, to be cautious in statements, and to obviate mistakes by anticipation.

If speaking is thinking aloud, let the student be careful about the words in which he habitually thinks. He should learn to distinguish between words of almost similar meaning. Precision can best be acquired by a close study of synonyms. For example:

Argue, dispute. We argue in order to make clear; we dispute to refute an opponent. The first may comprize a simple statement or elucidation; the second always presupposes opposition to some per-son. In argument we reason, in dispute we contend.

Enough, sufficient. A man has enough if his desires are satisfied, but it may not be sufficient for all his needs. If a man has what is necessary, what will adequately serve the aim proposed, he is said to have sufficient. A miser may have what is sufficient, yet not have enough.

Completed, finished. When everything is done that needs to be done, a thing is said to be complete. When a person has done all he intended to do, he is said to have finished his work.

Apt, likely. The first means suitable, or fitted; the second means probable, promising, or worthy of belief. Likely is often confused with liable. "He is liable to be there," is manifestly incorrect, as the word means accountable, responsible, and more particularly answerable to law.

Seen, appear. The first has to do with the mind, and requires reflection or comparison, while the second is said of things external. You can say that the sun will appear in the heavens, but you can not say it will be seen there. Seen has to do with our judgment, appear with our senses.

Veracity, truth. One is properly applied to persons, the other to things. Men speak the truth, and are known for their veracity. It is a pleonasm to say, "A man of truth and veracity."

Continual, continuous. The former means repeatedly, the. latter means uninterruptedly. There may be continual rains, while the roar of the street may be continuous. When a thing is repeated in rapid succession it is spoken of as continual; but only that which is protracted and held together can be continuous.

Transpire, happen. The first is properly used in the sense of being made public; the second means come to pass. Secrets transpire; accidents happen. Do not confuse chance with these words. "If you should chance to meet him" is incorrect. Chance means fortune, luck, contingency.

Disregard, neglect. The first means in-difference, the second failure to act. We disregard warnings and advice; we neglect duties and obligations. One may be intentional, the other merely oversight.

Partially, partly. A thing done with bias is partially done, a thing done in part is partly done. There should be no difficulty in discriminating between these words, yet they are often confused.

Invent, discover. The first means to design, devise, or produce for the first time, with the mind or imagination. The second has reference rather to things which existed before, but remained unknown. We can invent a lie, but we discover the truth.

Artist, artizan. To the first belong painters, sculptors, musicians, actors; to the second belong carpenters, blacksmiths, workmen. One follows an art, the other a mechanical trade.

Delicious, delightful. The first refers particularly to the pleasures of taste and smell; the second to material or spiritual objects. We speak of a delicious dish, or a delightful holiday.

Much, many. These words are often confused by careless speakers. Much means great in quantity; many means a large number.

If, whether. We employ if in the sense of allowing, or supposing something; we say whether meaning which of two, or to suggest the idea of an alternative.

It is an interesting and helpful study to trace out the differences between words of almost similar meanings, and to learn to discriminate closely and accurately in their use. The following list is suggestive for comparisons and may easily be augmented :

Acquire, attain.
Agree, coincide.
Bravery, valor.
Civil, polite.
Desire, entreat.
Deadly, deathly.
Disapprove, dislike.
Follow, succeed.
Gracious, benignant.
Harangue, address.
Harshness, acrimony.
Hesitate, demur.
Ignorant, illiterate.
Impetuous, vehement.
Justify, exculpate.
Laborious, assiduous.
Lavish, profuse.
Maintain, assert.
Malice, rancor.
Mediate, intercede.
Necessary, expedient.
Obdurate, callous.
Obstreperous, turbulent.
Occult, latent.
Panegyric, encomium.
Patient, enduring.
Possible, practicable.
Plenteous, ample.
Primary, original.
Ratio, proportion.
Reconcile, conciliate.
Research, scrutiny.
Scurrilous, insolent.
Seek, explore.
Tired, harassed.
Transcend, surpass.
Urge, incite.
Velocity, celerity.
Weighty, onerous.
Wisdom, prudence.
Yielding, submissive.
Zealous, fervent.

The student of argument will find it helpful also to make lists of words that have a particular bearing upon his study. The meaning of each should be clearly understood and fixt in the memory. He may begin with groups like these :

Reason, argue, discuss, debate, dispute, wrangle, agitate, contend, controvert.

Intellect, mind, understanding, reason, thinking, principle, intuition, instinct, conception, judgment.

Inquiry, research, analysis, examination, investigation, review, scrutiny.

Thought, reflection, cogitation, consideration, study, meditation, abstraction, speculation, deliberation, contemplation.

Evidence, facts, premises, grounds, proof, testimony.

Unreasonable, illogical, false, unsound, invalid, untenable, inconclusive, fallacious, groundless, evasive, irrelevant, flimsy, loose, vague.

Probable, likely, plausible, reasonable, specious, ostensible, presumable, credible, apparent, verisimilitude.

Possible, practicable, feasible, achieve-able, compatible, conceivable. '

Certain, sure, well-founded, assured, in-fallible, certitude, ascertained, positive, definite, absolute, indisputable, conclusive.

Accurate, definite, precise, exact, just, correct, right, tangible.

Assent, agree, accede, concur, accord, yield, acquiesce, acknowledge, admit.

Dissent, contradict, protest, repudiate, deny, oppose, rebut.

Suppose, assume, conjecture, divine, surmise, suspect, presume, fancy, believe.

Explain, define, construe, interpret, illustrate, unfold, expound, exemplify.

Truthful, sincere, candid, frank, unreserved, trustworthy, scrupulous, candid, open, veracious.

Concise, terse, brief, short, laconic, compact, pithy, exact, trenchant, succinct, epigrammatic, crisp, pregnant.

One must look intensely at words, seek to know their inner meaning, and so master them that he can bend them to his will. A vocabulary depends upon the company one keeps, not only that of books but of people. The words we habitually use are a faithful index of our thoughts. To speak clearly we must think clearly, and there can be no nobility of utterance where there is not sincerity of heart.



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