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The obscurity....Part VI. From technical terms.
But this, I imagine, is also an extreme. If the parenthesis be short, and if it be introduced in a proper place, it will not in the least hurt the clearness, and may add both to the vivacity and to the energy of the sentence. Others again, have carried their dislike to the parenthesis only so far as to lay aside the hooks by which it is commonly distinguished, and to use commas in their place. But this is not avoiding the fault, if it be a fault, it is only endeavouring to commit it so as to escape discovery, and may therefore be more justly denominated a corruption in writing than an improvement. Punctuation, it will readily be acknowledged, is of considerable assistance to the reading and pronunciation. No part of a sentence requires to be distinguished by the manner of pronouncing it, more than a parenthesis; and consequently, no part of a sentence ought to be more distinctly marked in the pointing.
PART VI. From technical terms.
ANOTHER Source of darkness in composing, is the in judicious introduction of technical words and phrases, as in the following passage:
Tack to the larboard, and stand off to sea,
* Dryden's Æneid.
What an absurd profusion, in an epic poem too, of terms which scarce any but seamen understand! In strict propriety, technical words should not be considered as belonging to the language; because not in current use, nor understood by the generality even of readers. They are but the peculiar dialect of a particular class. When those of that class only are addressed, as in treatises on the principles of their art, it is admitted, that the use of such terms may be not only convenient, but even necessary. It is allowable also in ridicule, if used sparingly, as in comedy and romance.
PART VII....From long Sentences.
THE last cause of obscurity I shall take notice of, is very long sentences. This rarely fails to be conjoined with some of the other faults before mentioned. The two subsequent quotations from two eminent writers, will serve sufficiently to exemplify more than one of them. The first is from Bolingbroke's Philosophy" If we are so, contrary to all appearances
(for they denote plainly one single system, all the parts of which are so intimately connected, and dependent one on another, that the whole begins, proceeds, and ends together) this union of a body and a soul must be magical indeed, as Doctor Cudworth "calls it, so magical, that the hypothesis serves to no 66 purpose in philosophy, whatever it may do in theo
logy; and is still less comprehensible, than the hy
The obscurity.... Part VII. From long sentences.
pothesis which assumes, that although our idea of "thought be not included in, the idea of matter or body, as the idea of figure is, for instance, in that of "limited extension; yet the faculty of thinking, in "all the modes of thought, may have been superadded
by Omnipotence, to certain systems of matter: "which it is not less than blasphemy to deny; though "divines and philosophers, who deny it in terms, may "be cited; and which, whether it be true or no, will "never be proved false by a little metaphysical jargon about essences, and attributes, and modes *." The other quotation is from Swift's letter to the Lord High Treasurer, containing a proposal for correcting, improving, and ascertaining the English tongue: "To "this succeeded that licentiousness which entered with
the Restoration, and from infecting our religion and "morals, fell to corrupt our language, (which last was "not like to be much improved by those who at that "time made up the court of king Charles the Second; "either such who had followed him in his banish"ment; or who had been altogether conversant in "the dialect of those fanatic times; or young men "who had been educated in the same company) so "that the court (which used to be the standard of propriety and correctness of speech) was then (and, "I think, hath ever since continued) the worst "school in England for that accomplishment; and so "will remain, till better care be taken in the educa
* Essay i. Sect. 2.
"tion of our young nobility, that they may set out in"to the world with some foundation of literature, in "order to qualify them for patterns of politeness." There are, indeed, cases in which even a long period will not create obscurity. When this happens, it may almost always be remarked, that all the principal members of the period are similar in their structure," and would constitute so many distinct sentences, if they were not united by their reference to some com mon clause in the beginning or the end.
SECT. II....The double Meaning.
It was observed, that perspicuity might be violat ed, not only by obscurity, but also by double meaning. The fault in this case is not that the sentence conveys darkly or imperfectly the author's meaning, but that it conveys also some other meaning, which is not the author's. His words are susceptible of more than one interpretation. When this happens, it is al-. ways occasioned, either by using some expression which is equivocal; that is, hath more meanings than one affixed to it; or, by ranging the words in such an order, that the construction is rendered equivocal, or made to exhibit different senses. To the former, for distinction's sake, I shall assign the name of equivocation; to the latter, I shall appropriate that of ambi guity.
The double meaning.... Part I. Equivocation
I BEGIN With the first. When the word equivocation denotes, as in common language it generally denotes, the use of an equivocal word or phrase, or other ambiguity, with an intention to deceive, it doth not differ essentially from a lie. This offence falls under the reproof of the moralist, not the censure of the rhetorician. Again, when the word denotes, as agreeably to etymology it may denote, that exercise of wit which consists in the playful use of any term or phrase in different senses, and is denominated pun, it is amenable indeed to the tribunal of criticism, but cannot be regarded as a violation of the laws of perspicuity. It is neither with the liar nor with the punster that I am concerned at present. The only species of equivocation that comes under reprehension here, is that which takes place, when an author undesignedly employs an expression susceptible of a sense different from the sense he intends to convey by it.
In order to avoid this fault, no writer or speaker can think of disusing all the homonymous terms of the language, or all such as have more than one signification. To attempt this in any tongue, ancient or modern, would be to attempt the annihilation of the greater part of the language; for, in every language, the words strictly univocal will be found to be the smaller number. But it must be admitted, as a rule