Question Everything

To craft a compelling paper takes time, patience, and a lot of wine. Or is that how one crafts a well-rounded argument with another person? Perhaps they are bedmates in the grand scheme of things. I have learned the value of research and analyzing the world around me. Still, I would never consider myself a scholar on any one subject. Technology and discovery changes and evolves. The grey matter betwixt our ears scrambles to keep up. In that, ‘question everything’ has become my mantra. In this day of fake news and people who have lost the art of critical thinking, I have to find different perspectives. Is one source the definitive answer or there other points of view to bring more clarity to the subject? The elements of the rhetorical situation are a solid basis for most writing. This I know well—even fear to some point. Each generation has a new landscape to travel. Each person has the ability to change history for the better or worse. To question the treasure map thrust into their hands. Whether Google or the local library, the chance to learn and continue learning is at their fingertips—should they chose to do so.

We have rules in scholarly writing, however. For example, the format of main point, three sub points, and summary brought back the horrors of keyhole layout during my misspent high school years. I languished for hours trying to come up with three simple elements to state my case. All the research in the world on my subject matter did nothing to belay the deep-seed fears that form of writing brought me. I scoffed and tried to reassure my freaked-out mind that this was a cake walk and all I needed to do was put pen to paper. Nothing is as easy as that or we’d all be laureates out of kindergarten. Part of me still wants to practice the art of the master thespian and explain the woes of writing to the wanderer passing by my door. Please! I plead unto thee! Shake me from this foul beast that dost to claw at my wits! The fact remains that I and I alone have to complete the task and bury the fear behind the wood shed.

My mood lightened as I dug deeper into rhetorical analysis when a familiar friend jumped from the pages to assure me that I hadn’t lost all hope. The essential ‘who, what, where, how, and why’ are a cornerstone, in my opinion, to all types of writing. Perhaps these words stuck out in my mind because I remember them vividly from my English teachers in high school. Those formative years weren’t all a ball of emo misery after all. I relied on those five words for my professional writing. They shined like a beacon in my dark abyss. Sometimes when I’m mired in my mind as it goes off like a cat in a field of butterflies, they are the compass that steers me back on course. So I connected with this fundamental design. Come to me, my darlings, and we shall conquer all.

I realized another important element: Debating is an art form. It can transcend into a mutual respect yet not quite for the resolution of the argument. It could also delve into the madding depths of crass name-calling or alternate facts. The story of the senator and the parent comes to mind from chapter two of Everything You Need to Know about College Writing. The exigence of the situation is the senator touting the merits of going to war. A parent, who has lost a child to this purgatory road, could use an emotional plea to persuade this public official into seeing the tragedy that comes along with his decision. On the other side, the parent could attack his character and perhaps the fact that the cost of life has no bearing on his corrupt soul. One is of reason, one is of heartbreaking emotion. Neither could sway. With that in mind when I searched for something current to base my rhetorical triangle on, I chose a subject that I had read about before. The difference this time was that I picked an article written by someone well-versed in law. I wanted that deeper understanding beyond reading the sterile jargon of the emolument clause I had previously encountered. Zephyr Teachout brought out the human element, along with the sorted history that birthed the clause, in her article in the Washington post titled Trump is getting payments from foreign governments. We have no idea what they are.

With reaffirmed knowledge at hand, I can move forward with this course and the ones to come. There will always be another perspective to our notions. I feel it’s our duty to quest for them. No matter what my accomplishments may be, I am not beyond my capacity to learn. The years do not make us wiser nor does the mileage. I wouldn’t be seeking my degree after all these years if I thought so. Analyze why someone might be striking out on the path they choose or what they could be seeking. Engage for a deeper understanding. How we craft our words will be the way we argue our points—whether in paper form or verbally. The phrase ‘knowledge is power’ only equates if we choose our words carefully and not allow our emotions to rollercoaster. Life has no shortage of doubts and forks in the road. The more we observe, the more the art of persuasion can influence our thinking. We’re mere pups when we come out of high school with big ideals and aspirations. The world is our ocean and we the pirates to plunder it. Question everything.

 

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Research Junkie

Research is a wonderful tool for a writer, no matter if you’re word wrestling a term paper or writing a potential best-selling fiction novel. Factual evidence plays a part in either story or should. We are living in a world of pictures with words slapped on them that are peddled as the truth. The reality of alternative facts used as a hot button phrase to spin a false narrative into a factual baseline. Even numeric statistics can be skewed and strong convictions can sway someone from questioning a statement—even when that statement is proven completely false. We have to make a concerted effort to weed through the muck of misinformation and refute it with a solid counter. Several paths will take us on our journey to knowledge. We must but step forward and ask for claims to be supported with citations from credible sources. Good journalism, it would seem, is a rare commodity.

As a writer, I love the prospect of researching a topic—sometimes to the point of burning days on one particular oddity for a story. I understand the value of not relying one source for information. For example, I’ve bought books written by experts on guns that go into depth on the mechanics and what type of ammunition each type would use. What I couldn’t get from reading was how to hold a gun or the distinct sound one makes when fired. Sure, I could ask law enforcement or one of my military friends but that gives me their perspective. How could I write with emotion with someone else’s words? My solution was to ask a friend to take me out to the firing range. Through that, I felt the deadly power pulsing in that little piece of constructed metal bits. Each buck as the bullet discharged from the 9mm or the impact to my shoulder when the shotgun shell hurled at top speed through the barrel. With this information gathering, I can be confident in inserting this knowledge into any future novel.

On the other side, deciding on the exact audience I want to capture is a little more tenuous. I’ve written in several genres. I could take the approach that most people might be like me and read more than just one type of fiction. However, that would be a big assumption based on nothing but shaking the magical eight ball of faux wisdom. When I read an article online, I honestly can’t pinpoint the intended audience. I know I’m part of the key because I clicked the link and was engaged. So I could rationalize that people of like mind would also enjoy the article. That still gives me little to go on. Presumption isn’t a very good virtue. It’s a fallacy we carry in our pocket.

Still we must learn the art of research to succeed in college. Every subject employs the tactic in one form or another. Our teachings go beyond the textbook. By using multiple sources, distinguishing fact from falsehood will be easier to spot. This isn’t going to convince everyone to your side of the line. An impassioned plea could stir emotion. That human element is a strong ally. Martin Luther King Jr.’s I Have a Dream speech, for example. In the end, supporting your argument with facts—whether by expert opinion or diligent research—will be the cornerstone to the validity of your statements. Think of The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare. Petruchio claims that the sun is the moon yet Katherine rebukes his claim. This is a test of wills between the two would-be lovers and while the statement of Petruchio is false in every sense of the word he expects Katherine to see it as truth. These are the circumstances we could find ourselves embroiled in today if a conscious effort is not made to question one’s reasoning. To ask why someone believes their opinion is rational and all knowing. We are the seekers of knowledge. Otherwise, we wouldn’t grasp debt and sleepless nights like a newborn.

Coup D’etat of the English Language

English is a demanding language to master. Our sloth-like mannerisms can make the poetic appear as a jumbled mass of words. Long involved sentences with no sense of direction except to fill the void on a blank sheet of paper rule the writing community. College students painstakingly try to weave a tale to reach a magical essay word count. Authors struggle to breathe life into their characters without describing in painstaking detail the contents of their shoe carousel. We overthink what we’ve written. Are we in tune with what we’re furiously typing minutes from a deadline? Are we slinging webs of word mastery or planting pretty jargon that we have no clue of its true usage just to make us feel smart? In George Orwell’s Politics and the English Language, he attempts to analyze how the English language has lost its grace and has strayed on the path to verbose words for no other meaning but to make the appearance that one is a learned scholar. While written in 1946, his words echo with truth in modern times.

Merriam Webster expands and contradicts its official dictionary of the English language to include newly minted words and mourn the passing of others. Some new ones are perhaps bastardized versions of some long involved ancient word utilizing every letter in the alphabet. Dialects borrow from one another and lay the foundation. Languages evolve as civilization does the same but not necessarily in a positive direction. This is referenced in Orwell’s essay with the passage “Underneath this lies the half-conscious belief that language is a natural growth and not an instrument which we shape for our own purposes”. We are more likely to form a ‘new’ word through speech than on paper. A misspelled word on paper is just that. An enunciation error could give birth to some horribly deformed viral phrase. We’ve sprinkled magic fairy dust on that fly buffet because our pride demands it. As Orwell bemoans the use of overindulged words in 1946, his outcry for minimalistic tendencies has gone far beyond what he could have imagined in our modern age. We’ve crucified our language as if the twenty-six letters afforded to us is too much to slap together for cohesive words. Linguistics is a lost art to the three letter terms such as ‘LOL’ or ‘OMG’. Perhaps today he’d reevaluate his assessment on using a more complex vocabulary considering the bastardization of the coveted English language today.

Orwell’s use of the word “politics” in his title is two-fold. This highlights how those in the political area toss lengthy sentences and words around like a tornado rending trees from the ground. It also is the definition, but not the first one we think, of the word ‘politics’. The two that he could be referring to are as follows:

  1. The assumptions or principles relating to or inherent in a sphere, theory, or thing, especially when concerned with power and status in a society.
  2. Activities within an organization that are aimed at improving someone’s status or position and are typically considered to be devious or divisive.

Even with this knowledge, and his argument that a more concise language needs to be used, he himself overindulges in superfluous words to make his statement. It is almost as if he, too, suffered from a word count syndrome and enlisted the dictionary of metaphors and best forgotten words to fulfill his need. While there is truth to his assessment, making a point to simplify and to fail to execute just that is a bit disingenuous. He could, in truth, be verbally jousting for the sake of doing just that. What better way to prove a point than to use the very thing you argue against in your essay? Perhaps the real point is to know when simplifying better makes your point or if a broader language set is needed to reach your audience. His example of the translation of Ecclesiastes into modern English reminds me of an exercise my tenth grade English teacher had us perform. Armed with a dictionary and not much else in an internet-less age, we had to translate Beowulf into something our generation could understand. I attempted this assignment three times to get the correct word usage. In the end, like Orwell stresses, I comprehended the words I was not only modernizing but used the correct ones in the translation. Simplifying was the key and not overthinking what had to be done.

Through all the counterintuitive methods to state his point, in the end Orwell tells us simple ways to edit our want for long and tedious words. How we can shorten a sentence and still get our point across or express our opinions without sounding too clinical? He gives us six pointed ways to avoid making our point look like a billion Scrabble pieces on the floor and yet the last point is to not be afraid to break those rules. So even though he strayed from the very thing he warned against, he fulfilled his main point of how to better craft the written word. There will never be a true blueprint to how to achieve perfection. The world will ever change our language. One phrase in Politics and the English Language gives us warning to the folly of English— “but if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt”. We might never fully master the English language but we cannot allow it to master us.