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Talking to the wall.

IT WOULD SEEM that certain upholders of the faith have deemed it necessary to protect us from the insidious influence of a new trend which threat ens to undermine the very core of civilized life. I refer, of course, to that heinous, noxious, baneful, deleterious, mischievous, malicious, and offensive habit that so threatens to destroy our mental acuity -- the practice of E-Prime.

Like the proverbial fool, I naively waltzed into those dangerous quagmires where angels so wisely fear to tread. I wrote many compositions in E-Prime, ranging from articles and essays to short stories, a novella, and a novel-in-progress (if you can call it progress), not to mention a hundred percent E-Prime personal telephone directory. Little did I know of the dangers with which I flirted. I shudder now to think of my close scrape with moral and intellectual ruin. Thankfully, I have seen the light.

At first, when I observed that many who criticized E-Prime most vociferously had not actually indulged in this pernicious and reprehensible activity, I thought of that old saw which goes something like "Don't knock it if you haven't tried it."

After much agonized soul-searching, I realized the error of my ways. Does the pious person sample sin in order to warn us against its dangers? Must one experiment with radioactive waste or suicide in order to claim the authority to warn us against such evils? Must a doctor contract a deadly disease in order to cure it?

And so began my tortuous wrestling with the E-Prime question -- to do or not to do, whether to suffer the slings and arrows of outraged critics, or in confronting them, add more fuel to the fire.

Unlike Menefee who has Mr. Itchy the cat, or Bourland who consults Schnapps the dog, I had no one to advise me. Our feline Nip refused to get involved in this contentious and controversial matter.

"I will discuss tuna fish. I categorically refuse to talk nonsense," said Nip dogmatically. "Meow."

Like Shirley Valentine, I had to talk to the wall.

"Tell me, Wall," I said. "Have I gone beyond the pale?"

"You could use a little sun," said Wall noncommittally.

"I don't know," I wavered. "I find E-Prime useful in helping me think more clearly."

"You need help," muttered Wall.

"For example, E-Prime won't let me think in the deity mode, so I have to take responsibility for my own conclusions."

"Without the deity mode, we'll have atheists running riot all over the place," warned Wall omninously.

"I must admit, the deity mode helps me impose my prejudices on others. Bigotry needs a strong higher authority."

"Exactly," said Wall. "If you start to quail, think about family values."

"But Wall," I said nervously. "What about this paradigm thing? I heard that we sit on the hedge of a new linguistic paradigm which might solve some problems of identification."

"Never sit on the edge. Sit safely in the middle. Especially if you have a picket fence."

"When you approach a new paradigm, you get a backlash. The clerics refused to look through Galileo's newfangled telescope. They made Galileo recant, but as he did so he stamped his foot and muttered, 'The earth moves."'

"Hemingway said that," said Wall contemptuously.

"Pareto said you decide your position first, then find rational explanations."

"That cuts both ways," said Wall grimly.

"The Swiss dragged their feet over making digital watches and lost much of the market."

"Watchmakers drag their hands," said Wall dourly.

"It seems as if people have forgotten their common goal. They just want to win the debate, whichever side they happen to take," I mumbled sadly.

"The first amendment," said Wall. "Everybody has the constitutional right to badmouth everybody else. Now let me give you some advice. Don't get in a corner. Keep your back to the wall. Look for a window of opportunity opening doors to thresholds of the future while you put a ceiling on innovation and keep a firm foundation of tradition."

"I'll keep my ear to the ground," I replied cautiously.

"Don't use cliches," siad Wall with disgust.

"But E-Prime takes me off 'automatic.' The seeking of alternative structures provides a beneficial exercise in logical awareness because it makes me think hard about what I write."

"You find it hard to think, generally," snorted Wall derisively.

"I must admit that E-Prime doesn't automatically prevent identification or other misevaluations," I said pedantically. "Look at such phrases as the pompous professor or the noble nutcracker."

"...or the literate lunatic..." muttered Wall.

"You can imply identify. Some call this more dangerous because of its insidiousness."

"Do I perceive a glimmer of intelligence in your ramblings?" asked Wall caustically.

"One must remember that intent plays a vital role," I continued philosophically. "If you don't want to deal with problems of identity, E-Prime won't mitigate them. But if you do, E-Prime provides a tool.

I continued hurriedly while I had the chance. "E-Prime helps my writing because it eliminates the passive voice. It makes writing more descriptive because I must use active verbs. It tightens sentences for that same reason. It brings you closer to the level of experiences as you avoid higher abstractions, thus making your writing more extensional..."

"Personally, I could use more long-winged highfalutin abstractions like yours," interrupted Wall. "When people write on me, they usually keep it graphically short. Speaking of writing, I suggest you give up that cheap literary device of talking to animals to make your point."

"Censorship! Animals have a right to free speech," I cried self-righteously. "Only if they do it in E-Prime, of course," I added hastily.

"Ha!" retorted Wall victoriously. "Do you speak in E-Prime?"

"When I avoid 'to be' verbs I do. I can tell you that I'm the only person in the known world who eats in E-Prime."

"How do you do that?"

"I eschew all calorie-loaded to be verbs, not to mention B vitamins, honey and beeswax. However, once a year I use a be-word just to prove I have an open mind."

"Nothing in speech, Became him like the talking of it," recited Wall Shakespearefully.

"Perhaps Menefee's Alfred has the right idea -- eliminate language altogether," I said sarcastically.

"Humor has no place in epistemological discussions," growledl Wall angrily.

"Eliminate humor, too. It encourages avoidance of serious issues."

"You're a nincompoop," said Wall. "That's it."

"Ah," I replied condescendingly. "The insult-of-identity."

"I've had enough, I'm out of here," said Wall in disgust.

"Does that mean you currently undergo the process of departure, or that you intend to leave at some future moment, or that you have actually left?" I asked E-Primefully.

"You figure it out," said Wall.

"Seriously," I said. "A sense of humor would..."

"Traitor!" screamed Wall.

As I crept from the room, the doorknob caught my sleeve and hissed conspiratorially: "It all hinges on..."

Dodging some malevolent passive verbs clogging up the hall, I ran for my epistemological life.
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Article Details
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Author:Johnston, Paul Dennithorne
Publication:ETC.: A Review of General Semantics
Date:Sep 22, 1993
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