Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Clickbait is sheer humbug

An instance in which the precision and clarity of the writing (and sad continued state of the English language) means that the word "modern" has not become dated:
... modern writing at its worst does not consist in picking out words for the sake of their meaning and inventing images in order to make the meaning clearer. It consists in gumming together long strips of words which have already been set in order by someone else, and making the results presentable by sheer humbug.
This ancient criticism from Orwell's Politics and the English Language applies today. A robot can make plausible spammy content titles,just by using formulas and "long strips of words which have already been set in order by someone else." We should call clickbait "sheer humbug". (Although I advocate the adoption of this formulaic phrase, I am aware that such encouragement and behavior is exactly what Orwell rails against. A self-aware twinkle in my phrase-adopting eye.)

I'm rereading Infinite Jest as a way to purge such language from my mind, whether by frightening it away or by overwriting those parts of memory. If truly "The great enemy of clear language is insincerity", then Infinite Jest, for all its meandering ,difficult sentences and apparent lack of clarity, is overwhelmingly, achingly sincere. And in each style-separated section, DFW does convey something very particular and clear. It's just the kind of clarity that lets you see the many layers of sediment lying beneath the lens and the still water. I really like this book (and Orwell).

This post's theme word is snowclone, "a hackneyed sentence structure." Denigrating overused sentences is the new rock and roll... psych! Snowclone'd.

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