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Teaching writing through general semantics and general semantics through writing: a stylistic approach.


The poet Jeffrey Skinner (1988, p. 65) muses that "Words rise and the sky accepts them, makes no comment." The sky may be able to afford accepting words without comment. However, Skinner adds that "The news, that blunt instrument, chants Now, now." Unlike the uncritically receptive sky, human beings risk peril when they are uncritically receptive. In their technologically mediated ecosystems, people risk peril with mass and Internet media chanting "now" (especially in an election or leap year!) when they fail to assess their verbal environments with semantic care. The robust idea of this paper is that a reciprocal relationship exists between the philosophy of general semantics and techniques of verbal expression in general and writing in particular.

The paper focuses on writing in particular yet applies to verbal expression in general. While writing can be improved through general semantics, general semantics can be comprehended through writing. More specifically, someone knowledgeable of general semantics can teach writing by applying principles and techniques of general semantics while general semantics can be taught through the writing techniques it advances. In this paper, it is explained how several concepts from general semantics can be used to teach writing and verbal expression in general; it is also explained how general semantics theory can be taught by applying several concepts that address the improvement of writing in particular and verbal expression in general. The mutual benefit is like a braiding that increases the strength of each individual strand. The reciprocal advantage of teaching writing through general semantics and general semantics through writing becomes further clarified through didactic illustrations of general semantics and writing.

Cicero propounded that speech gives facility to writing while writing gives precision to speech. Especially relevant to journalism, the theme of this paper follows: that verbal expression in general and writing in particular can improve by applying general semantics concepts while an understanding of the concepts of general semantics can be improved by applying its language techniques to verbal expression in general and writing in particular. With the conciseness of Cicero as a guide, general semantics improves writing, and writing elucidates general semantics. While the focus in this paper is on journalism due to its practicality as a mode of public and civic communicative discourse, all verbal expression--poetry included--is encompassed. Discourse ranging from journalism to poetry, in short, can benefit.

Strate and Winslow (2010) explain that poetry presents a "way of obtaining education and enlightenment, a means of altering and raising, one's consciousness" (p. 436). Furthermore, with technology "increasingly calling our very humanity into question," it should be remembered that being human is weaved into linguistic and symbolic forms and that "poetry, as the highest form of language, is the medium that makes us the most human of all" (p. 437). With an idea from Strate and Winslow as a lead, significant differences exist "between poetry appearing in print and spoken word poetry." Since poetry preceded the "invention of writing," major differences occur between "poetry that is a product of oral composition within an oral tradition, and poetry that is composed with the aid of writing" (p. 435). Since modern journalism has many printed and oral mediated forms with their unique technological differences, even though oral discourse is not ruled out, the emphasis here is on writing.

In the lore of literature on writing style, a number of principles typically surface. Five tend to repeat. These fabulous five include relevance, accuracy, clarity, conciseness, and effectiveness. The authors who respect these five stylistic goals are numerous (Baker, 1977; Bourhis et al, 2003; Condon & Butler, 1997; Crow & Helmstetter, 2002; Diggs-Brown & Glou, 2004; Harris, 2006; Hodges et al, 2001; Provost, 1985; Strunk & White, 1979; Turabian, 1982; Williams, 1985; Wolcott & Legg, 1998; Zinsser, 1990).

The general semantics approach to writing style taken here relates to the views of Baker (1977) on style and Harris (2006) on rewriting. Baker's (1977, p. 1) maintains that style is "not for the gifted only." Everyone "already has a style." In writing, style constitutes one's own voice: that is, "speaking the common language uncommonly well." A related idea is found from a deep and broad premise of general semantics. Levinson (2007) notes that general semantics helps us to view the familiar in an unfamiliar way. Baker adds that style involves the "ordinary materials of this world so posed and perfected as to stand out from the landscape and compel a second look." His approach to writing style is practical. Since the "stylistic side of writing is, in fact, the only side that can be analyzed and learned," Baker holds that the "stylistic approach is the practical approach" and it teaches writers "some things to do and not to do" (Baker, p. 1). General semantics is used to inform verbal expression in general and writing in particular and vice-versa. As for Harris (2006), the notion of rewriting constitutes his orienting principle. He wants writers to imagine themselves as "rewriting--as drawing from, commenting on, adding to the work of others." Harris goes so far as to assert that creativity "has its roots in the work of others--in response, reuse, and rewriting" (p. 2). Rewriting entails revising. Revising involves rethinking a text so that it becomes "more nuanced, precise, suggestive, and interesting" (p. 98). General semantics is therefore drawn from to enhance writing by rewriting a text inspired by general semantics.

Thesis and Structure

The big idea or thesis of this paper is that general semantics contributes in a practical way to learning about language and thought through writing style. Several principles of general semantics are used as independent variables in learning how to write--or rewrite--in a style that enhances relevance, accuracy, clarity, conciseness, and effectiveness. The dependent variables are the outcomes following each manipulation of the stylistic independent variables. The manipulations of the stylistic variables have been used in the researcher's communication classes and can be used in any context designed to teach linguistic and semantic dimensions of meaning.

The principles of general semantics useful for learning about language by writing or learning by doing that are covered in this paper and structured in this order include: (1) English Prime; (2) extensional language techniques (including indexing, dating, plurals, quantifying, and qualifying); (3) abstraction (including dead-level abstracting); (4) statements that constitute reports more than inferences and judgments; and, (5) snarl and purr words. These principles and concepts from general semantics function to deconstruct discourse in general and reconstruct it in the image and likeness of the philosophical ideals of general semantics. Writing and its style then become rewriting, as advanced by Harris, through the theoretical constructs of general semantics.

Independent Variables for Stylistic Manipulation

English Prime (E')

English Prime (or E-Prime or E') refers to English without any form of the verb "to be." In a sense, E-Prime is "is-less" English. The verb "to be" and its various uses of "is" can cause neurolinguistic difficulties resulting in the confounding of semantic reactions General semanticists need not desire to undo the poetry of English as in the line from Shakespeare, "To be or not to be, that is the question." General semanticists need not wish to undo the theology of the Old Testament where God (YHWH) says to Moses, "I am that I am." General semanticists do wish to call attention to the neurolinguistic consequences of using mindlessly "is-oriented" English rather than "is-less" English since the "verb 'to be' occurs in English as it does in the Indo-European languages" (Korzybski, 2000, p. 750).

Therefore, E-Prime has its counterparts in any language with a "to be" form. In Italian (Danesi, 1997), "essere" serves as the English "to be" form of the verb. All of its conjugated forms would have to be dropped in Italian Prime (or I-Prime). In Spanish (Zayas-Bazan, Bacon, & Fernandez, 1997), two forms of the verb "to be" occur. "Ser" and "estar" divide and extend what the verb "to be" encompasses in English. All of their many conjugated forms would have to be dropped and the explicit and implicit meanings of both forms of the Spanish "to be" would generate, in Spanish Prime (or S-Prime), numerous substitutions For now, the focus remains on English only and using "is-less" English to avoid the scientific pitfalls inherent in the "to be" form of the verb.

General semantics notes several problematic uses of the word "is" and the cognitive and logical advantages that follow from eliminating "is" and other forms of "to be." One major semantic distortion leading to unsane thinking pertains to the "is" of identify. Since Korzybski (2000) completely rejected the "is" of identity, this "is" constitutes the semantic problem that will be featured here since the focus in this paper pertains to the linguistic and rhetorical struggles encountered when writing without the verb "to be." Other confusion arises from the divergent uses, and misuses, of the "to be" form of the verb.

Korzybski (2000) highlights semantic problems resulting from the lack of discrimination among the "is" of identity (e.g., "the apple is a fruit"), predication (e.g., "the apple is red"), existence (e.g., "I am"), and its use as an auxiliary verb (e.g., "Smith is coming") (p. 750). Yet, in particular, he eschews the "use of the 'is' of identity entirely, because identity is never found in this world" (p. 93). In short, the "is" of identity creates havoc with human semantic reactions because "any 'identity' is structurally false to fact"; furthermore, it underlies the "two-valued, too primitive, too restricted, and structurally fallacious A 'logic'" (p. 202). Significantly, the two forms of "to be" in English that Korzbyski finds especially troublesome include: the "is" of identify and the "is" of predication (Korzybski, 2000; Strate, 2010). For practical purposes of style and writing in English, while all "to be" forms should be eliminated in E-Prime, the "is" of identity and predication should especially be avoided (or minimized) to increase neuro-linguistic hygiene (Dawes, 2010).

The confusion of the multiple uses of "is" in English empowers language users, faultily, to assert that "A is A" when "A is not A." To say, "Obama is a Democrat" identifies him inextricably with a label that does not tell people everything about him. Obama becomes identified with a generic noun of higher abstraction. The "is" of identity oversimplifies, stereotypes, and distorts Obama; it restricts him to a label and gives the illusion that much has been stated when little has been stated. The map created through the "is" of identify constitutes a significant distortion of reality. Since a "map may have a structure similar or dissimilar to the structure of the territory," a "map is not the territory" (p. 750).

To illustrate the divergent forms of expression with their diverse consequential meanings, two paragraphs follow: one using the verb "to be" and one in English Prime. The goal will be to give an account of the same content but in two varied forms of discourse. The content itself will become noticeably different due to the radical removal of the "to be" form of the verb. The three paragraphs will cover Korzybski's view on general semantics. The first paragraph quotes Korzybski and illustrates his use of English with the "to be" form used. The second paragraph demonstrates a close rendition in English Prime (E) of Korzybski's quoted paragraph. The third paragraph manifests a radical restatement of Korzybski's original paragraph.

I. Incidentally, since Korzybski did not capitalize the "a" in "Aristotle," his choice will be respected here. In his regular English paragraph using "to be" forms of the verb, and the "to be" forms will be underlined for emphasis, Korzybski (2000) explains general semantics accordingly:
  The non-aristotelian system presented here has - turned out to be a
  strictly empirical science . ... General semantics is not any
  'philosophy', or 'psychology', or 'logic', in the ordinary sense. It
  is a new extensional discipline which explains and trains us how to
  use our nervous systems most efficiently. It is not a medical
  science, but like bacteriology, it is indispensable for medicine in
  general, and for psychiatry, mental hygiene, and education in
  particular. In brief, it is the formulation of a new non-aristotelian
  system of orientation which affects every branch of science and life.
  The separate issues involved are not entirely new; their
  methodological formulation as a system which is workable, teachable
  and so elementary that it can be applied by children, is entirely new
  (pp. xxxviii-xxxix).

II. Written in English Prime, the rendition of the above paragraph that follows demonstrates how Korzybski's thought becomes translated with the "to be" verb deleted. Rather than depart from his formulation with a radical restatement, the rendition aims to stay close to Korzybski's actual statement:
  The non-aristotelian system presented here has resulted in a strictly
  empirical science. ... General semantics does not encompass any
  'philosophy', or 'psychology', or 'logic', in the ordinary sense. As a
  new extensional discipline, general semantics explains and trains us
  how to use our nervous systems most efficiently. Although not a
  medical science, general semantics, like bacteriology, remains
  indispensible for medicine in general, and for psychiatry, mental
  hygiene, and education in particular. In brief, general semantics
  embodies the formulation of a new non-aristotelian system of
  orientation which affects every branch of science and life. While the
  separate issues involved cannot Claim to entail entirely new aspects,
  their methodological formulation as a workable and teachable system,
  sufficiently elementary for application by children, would constitute
  something entirely new.

III. The second rendition of Korzybski's paragraph attempts only to retain the meaning of his statement. In fact, it translates his paragraph into English Prime with little effort to stay close to his words. The second English Prime stylistic rendition follows:
  The non-aristotelian system presented here resulted in a strictly
  empirical science. General semantics does not encompass philosophy,
  psychology, or logic in a conventional sense. As a new extensional
  discipline, general semantics teaches how to use the human nervous
  systems efficiently. Although not a medical science, general
  semantics, like bacteriology remains indispensible for medicine in
  general and for psychiatry, mental hygiene, and education in
  particular. In brief, it embodies the formulation of a new
  non-aristotelian system of orientation affecting every branch of
  science and life. While it cannot claim novelty in all aspects of its
  formulation, general 'semantics can assert to advance a workable,
  teachable, elementary, systemic, and entirely new methodology.

Alternative renditions of Korzybski's paragraph can of course be delivered. The point of moving away from an "is-oriented" account to an "is-less" account might be apparent immediately in some respects. The writer is forced to think in terms other than "is" and other "to be" forms. The inconvenience of this can stress any writer. The exercise, however, compels the writer to increase the use of active verbs and avoids the distorting affect of the "is" of identity and the "is" of predication. From the perspective of practical stylistics, writers would clearly benefit from the wisdom of rewriting (Harris, 2006): that is, of reducing the habit of lazily using various "to be" verb forms when active verb and alternative expressions would enliven the discourse and increase its accuracy. The mapping of the "is-less" world can reflect the world more closely and truly than the mapping of the "is-oriented" world. Stylistically, a writer wishing to improve an account of the world may simply reduce, not necessarily eliminate, the use of "is-oriented" English and increase the use of "is-less" English. Clearly, Korzybski did not write in English Prime as a norm. The value though of English Prime becomes comprehensible through the exercise of writing in it to learn all the linguistic transformations that must occur to accomplish this not so simple, yet philosophically beneficial, feat.

Extensional Language Devices

According to Hayakawa (1979), while dictionaries deal with the intensional or verbal meanings of utterances, the extensional or fact-minded meanings of utterances circumscribe "the events, the situations in the outside world--not words--that words are about" (p. 3). Utterances may have extensional and/or intensional meanings. Utterances using such terms as unicorn and id lack extensional meaning. To embody extensionality in writing, general semantics provides extensional language devices that add empirical verifiability and precision to verbal expression. General semantics calls attention traditionally to a number of extensional language devices or strategies of language that focus attention on the extensional meaning: dating, indexing, operational definitions, ostensive definitions, quotes, hyphens, plurals, quantifying terms, and qualifying terms. Several will be demonstrated here to inspire writing: namely, dating and indexing, operational and ostensive definitions, quantifying and qualifying terms, and plurals (Strate, 2010). The extensional strategies of language concretize the referents of discourse.

To illustrate, dating puts a time on people to whom a communicator refers. One can date in this way: "Lucy Liu of 1992 is not Lucy Liu of 2012." Indexing is indexical and points to the reality that no two entities enjoy identify. One can index in this way: "The reporter Ronald Reagan is not the US President Ronald Reagan." An operational definition specifies operations that result in the item defined. One can operationalize in this way: "A rich American is someone who shows a bank surplus, after taxes and after paying off all debts in 2012, of one million US dollars or more." An ostensive definition points people directly to an object of reference. One can provide ostensive definitions in this way: "When you get to the top of Mt. Fuji in December, the cold and white stuff you see all around you is snow." Quantifying translates qualities into numbers. One can quantify in this way: "The rugby player from New South Wales measures 180 centimeters in height and 85 kilograms in weight." Qualifying stipulates conditions to make statements sensible. One can qualify in this way: "At this time and measured by current medical technologies, to the best of our knowledge we believe the Senator suffered a contre coup from the snowmobile collision."

With the selected extensional devices clarified, samples of discourse without and with the devices follow. Discourse without the extensional techniques comes first:
  Mike Wallace explained that The Stealers lost the Superbowl Game due
  to good interception throughout the game from The Packers.
  Interception means stealing the ball from the other team. The
  Stealers' coach failed to coach them on interception, and consequently
  they lost to The Packers. Interception played a significant role in
  that game.
  Discourse with some extensional devices follows:
  Mike Wallace, a 25 year old female Beach, ND (dating and indexing) fan
  of The Stealers, the American football team from Pittsburgh, expressed
  her opinion on the game humbly yet honestly (qualifying terms) on 7
  February 2011 that The Stealers lost the Superbowl XLV Game on 6
  February 2011 in Dallas. There were at least two causes (plurals)
  behind the loss of The Stealers to The Packers: l) The inability of
  The Stealers to have optimal teamwork, and 2) the ability of The
  Packers to intercept the ball. Interception means in this context
  that when a football player goes out to catch a pass from the
  quarterback, while he is trying to catch the pass, a player from the
  other team catches it instead and claims it for the opposing team
  (operational definition). In the last Superbowl Game, as Mike the
  female fan calculated, there were three interceptions made by The
  Packers and zero interceptions (quantifying terms) made by The

The second paragraph manifests comparatively higher portions of extensionality than the first paragraph. Verifiable information in paragraph two replaces intensional information in paragraph 1.

Abstracting: High-Level, Low-Level, and Dead-Level

General semantics instructs language users to avoid especially dead-level abstracting when communicating. While dead-level abstracting is especially risky when it restricts itself to high-level abstraction, there is little joy in reading or listening to someone's low-level, dead-level abstracting. Although a low-level abstractor stays close to the phenomenal world of verifiable events and actions, general semantics advises a blend of high-level and low-level abstraction as a wise and intelligible choice between the two extremes. In terms of practical style, general semantics advocates, metaphorically speaking, a marriage of heaven and earth. In effect, the advice is to have an extensional orientation and stay close to Mother Earth even though one may appreciate Father Sky. The goal becomes the rewriting of dead-level abstracting at high or low levels so that a readable and comprehensible confluence of discourse levels occurs.

High-level abstracting draws from the top of Hayakawa's (1972) Ladder of Abstraction while low-level abstracting draws from the bottom. At the bottom are words, traditionally called concrete nouns, that name specific referents like "Bessie the Cow" and "Sparky the Dog." Toward the top of the Abstraction Ladder are words, traditionally called abstract nouns, that name huge classes of events that conceivably subsume the low-level terms of "Bessie" and "Sparky" with words like "life forms" or "entities." The scariest stylistic option may truly be, practically speaking, dead-level abstracting which occurs when an abstractor stays exclusively at the bottom or top of the Abstraction Ladder. A dead-level abstractor might make statements with words exclusively from the top of the Ladder: for example, "The essence of anxiety is ultimately to transcend existence." Drawing from the bottom of the Ladder, a dead-level abstractor might say: "While drinking coffee in a caf on Rodeo Drive in Los Angeles, one real housewife from Beverly Hills told a second real housewife from Beverly Hills: 'You should open a pawn shop in Malibu in the next four months'; and, the second housewife from Beverly Hills replied: 'I will if you finance me entirely.'"

Two paragraphs follow. The first is written exclusively in high-level abstraction since this is the more formidable and elusive style of dead-level abstracting in general semantics and a style frequently in need of clarification in college composition classes, and a second paragraph written with a blend of abstraction levels that joins heaven to earth. The high-abstraction paragraph comes first:
  The exploitation of aesthetically provocative women in commercially
  promotional mediated endeavors has escalated with the enhancement of
  capacities of videographers. Computerization of videography
  transcends all utilizations of mediation invented in the contemporary
  global community. Victimization of human graphic objects appears to
  be inevitably irreversible. The unsuspecting and deluded subjects of
  the exploitation exit the studios with monetary compensation that is
  ludicrous when compared with the benefits derived by their exploiters.

The second paragraph demonstrates a blending of high-level and low-level abstractions that is, a blend of concrete and abstract words. Based on the first paragraph, the paragraph uniting the abstract with the concrete comes next:
  Videographers in 2011 are so technically advanced that they can
  sexually exploit women in ads with a subtlety that defies detection.
  Computer graphics have made much of this exploitation possible in the
  modern world. Reversing the tendency to turn women into victims of
  sexual exploitation in ads seems unlikely. Women sexually exploited in
  ads earn about one dollar for every twenty dollars their exploiters

Reports over Inferences and Judgments

General semantics distinguishes reports, inferences, and judgments. From a general semantics perspective, all have their place. Wisdom derives from distinguishing the three and using them intelligently. Drawing from Hayakawa's (1972) distinctions, a report is a statement or proposition that can be proven true or false. In short, a report is a fact which is a descriptive statement about reality or about truth. Granting that these events are being directly noted by an observer, the following statements would be reports: "Right now, snow is falling all around the White House" and "The setting sun at this moment is shining on the west side of the Golden Gate Bridge."

Frequently confused with reports or statements of fact, an inference is a statement about what is not known based on what is known. An inference then is an assumption or speculation and runs the higher risk of being faulty. A person viewing only the driver's side of a truck might say: "The truck is red on the driver's side." This would be a report that can be verified as true or not. Because of commercial considerations, the same truck might be red on the driver's side but green on the passenger's side. Since the person only saw the driver's side, to say the truck was red entirely would be an inference--and in this case, a faulty inference since it can be proven to be false by viewing the passenger side of the truck. In the material world, inferences frequently deal with probabilities. The probabilities can be slight to almost certain. The probability that most vehicles are painted one color makes the inference highly probably in most cases that a truck observed as being red on the driver's side will likely be red on the passenger's side. However, since inferences in the material world are not certain, they requiring testing, observation, and verification.

A judgment is a statement that expresses emotions, attitudes, emotions, evaluations, assessments, and values. The following statements communicate judgments: "The Realto Bridge in Venice is beautiful"; "Crocodiles are ugly"; and, "Dictators are evil." Judgments frequently tell people about the state of the language user; they are, in a sense, autobiographical statements. Without operationalizing these judgments and converting them to reports, they tell people more about the message source than about the Realto Bridge, crocodiles, and dictators. In other words, the message source judges the Realto Bridge as beautiful, crocodiles as ugly, and dictators as evil.

General semantics prefers to distinguish carefully between fact and inference because the differences between these two statements are frequently unrecognized and can be abused. Judgments can also be misperceived as statements of facts. Some may fail to note the value laden words that compose judgmental statements. One written exercise that may assist writers and speakers entails rewriting texts to become descriptive and verifiable reports. Judgments or value statements and inferences become reported as such, but they are not and should not masquerade as reports.

A paragraph consisting of reports as free of judgments and inferences as semantically operable follows:
  On July 19 of this year at noon, the temperature in Venice, Italy
  reached 30 degrees centigrade. The sun shined in a cloudless sky with
  winds ranging from 15 to 20 kilometers per hour. At San Marco Square,
  it was announced that a hundred singers from eight countries and eight
  language origins were about to begin a 75 minute musical and cultural
  program. The singers situated themselves in a circle around the
  center of the square. For one hour and fifteen minutes, they sang to
  a crowd, estimated by officials, to be approximately a thousand
  people. The officials noted to the audience that the songs were from
  eight countries. The audience listened to eight songs sung in eight
  languages. Officials announced that the countries from which the songs
  originated were Italy, France, Spain, the United States, Germany, The
  Netherlands, Greece, and Japan. The languages heard in the songs were
  Italian, French, Spanish, English, German, Dutch, Greek, and Japanese.
  When the singers finished their songs, the audience applauded for two
  minutes and fifteen seconds. Twenty minutes after the program, San
  Marco Square was cleared of all pedestrians for an hour by Venetian
  police. The Mayor of Venice informed all the people in San Marco
  Square through microphones that maintenance crews had to clean the
  Square and thanked everyone for their cooperation in leaving the

When inferences and judgments are excluded sufficiently from discourse, any statement can be proven true or false. Each report should be able to stand on its own and be verified or falsified. Care must be taken to report rather than infer. To report that "officials noted to the audience that the songs were from eight countries" eliminates the statement about the unknown uttered on the basis of the known; that is, it eliminates an inferential statement. Since nothing is declared about the professionalism of the singers, a reporter announcing that the singers were professional would be making an inference perhaps guessed at due to the reporter's favorably judged quality of the singing. The statement made no reference to the singers being professional: "it was announced that a hundred singers from eight countries and eight language origins were about to begin. ..."

Snarl and Purr Words

The final writing exercise to be practiced originates in snarl and purr words. Snarl and Purr Words represent judgmental statements about the speaker or writer rather than about something in the external or extensional world outside the message source. Loaded language can frequently embody the norm. To dishonor someone as a "filthy dog" would typically constitute a snarl, and to honor someone as "sparkling angel" would typically constitute a purr. Hayakawa (1972) cautions language users not to dismiss snarls and purrs but to "allocate the meaning correctly" so that a statement that snarls or purrs a judgment gets interpreted accurately. For example, to exclaim that "She's the sweetest puppy in the world!" must be understood in the most ordinary of English contexts "as a revelation of the speaker's state of mind, and not as a revelation of facts about the girl." The language used declares something about himself or herself, not the puppy. Identifying the purr provides the grounds for translating or rewriting the purr. Animal snarls and purrs become transformed through human linguistic processing into words that snarl and purr. Snarl and purr words are semantic equivalents of purrs and snarls. They reveal the state of the organism toward a referent. Hayakawa proposes this question as a logical segue to a snarl or purr: "Why do you feel as you do?" (p. 41).

To proceed with semantic wisdom, a purr or snarl message might be rewritten as a report to make it verifiable or, as Hayakawa suggests, as a pronouncement about the condition of the messenger. To snarl at a CEO one dislikes with a label like "demon" or to purr over a CEO one likes with a label like "angel" would reveal the message source's negative or positive feelings and emotions about the CEO. If the messenger wishes to convert the snarl or purred judgment into report, statements of fact would have to be generated so that the statement could be verified as true, false, or even indeterminate. Rather than exclaim that "CEO Alpha is a tyrant" or that "CEO Omega is a saint," the messenger might declare that "CEO Alpha has sold over 50 million US dollars worth of weaponry illegally to the XYZ Group, a group classified by the FBI and CIA as having ties to terrorism, in 2012" or that "CEO Omega of ABC Company has served concurrently in 2012 as a model citizen for a reputable US magazine." The snarling and purring judgments uncover the message source's attitude toward the CEOs while the judgments rewritten as verifiable reports point to events that can be confirmed or disconfirmed through observation and experience.

Dramatic differences between the two types of discourse follow. Language exploiting snarl and purr words can be readily recognized. Two paragraphs will be used to illustrate significant differences. The first will be a relatively high snarl paragraph, the second a comparatively neutral language report. The language used for illustration is but modestly loaded. Profane and slurr terms have been avoided. Using similar content in the form of a tale of two police encounters, both examples follow. The first embodies the snarly paragraph:
  Your psycho-husband was speeding last night when I was with him on the
  way to that filthy Nebula Casino and got an outrageous fine from a
  scary cop for going more than 30 mph over the posted speed limit on
  some rickety secondary road. But that wasn't all. The lousy cop
  slapped more charges on your idiot husband for having a taillight that
  didn't work and for having an obstructed view through his windshield
  because he had a bunch of stupid and ugly trinkets hanging from his
  rearview mirror. Your husband is a geek and a jerk, but the cop was
  like Rambo on steroids. If he had a guard dog with him, he would have
  unleashed the beast on both of us. I'm only glad the bullying cop
  didn't beat us both with his club, mace us, or pistol whip us. Your
  brainless husband and the cop should both be behind bars.

  The content without the snarl words will now be delivered for

  A police officer fined your husband $300 for speeding 30 mph over the
  posted limit on a secondary road when I was with your husband on his
  way to the Nebula Casino. The officer gave him additional fines for
  having a taillight that didn't work and for having an obstructed view
  through his windshield resulting from items hanging from his rearview
  mirror. The police officer advised your husband to respect the speed
  limits, fix the taillight, and remove the visual obstructions from the
  rearview mirror.

It becomes clear that both tales paint essentially different pictures. The snarly paragraph would have numerous negative consequences if uttered in formal contexts. The neutralized paragraph might appear in formal contexts without the emotion laden tone of the snarled paragraph.

Suggestions for Future Research

Given the accent in this study on stylistic benefits of rewriting that may flow from the extensional orientation of general semantics, future attention might focus on empirically measuring and stylistically assessing independent variables against their outcomes on selected dependent variables. The fabulous five criterion variables may serve as the readability or intelligibility outcomes. However, entirely different variables related to human comprehension and influence may be generated. Historically, style books advance syntactic and diction strategies that lack scientific and statistical support. General semantics also would strengthen its position on advancing extensionally oriented stylistic devices with additional empirical and statistical support. While some studies providing empirical data related to style have surfaced, many more studies are called for to increase confidence in writers that traditional literary style books and general semantics principles have data backing their advice.


In this study, the potential for general semantics to be learned from writing and writing from general semantics has optimistically been demonstrated. The power of general semantics to provide a perspective for deconstructing diverse instances of discourse has been illustrated in this paper. The principles of rewriting that language stylists advocate seem to gain support from general semantics. Thus, the five practical stylistic goals of relevance, accuracy, clarity, conciseness, and effectiveness seem to gain value when writers integrate general semantics principles stylistically into verbal expression. In this study, a selection of general semantics concepts served in principle as independent variables with the dependent variables being the five desirable stylistic features of discourse. The overriding interest of this study has been to elucidate how instructors can teach writing through general semantics and general semantics through writing. Perhaps, this paper has taken a step in this efficient direction.


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Richard Fiordo, Professor of Communication at the University of North Dakota, studied general semantics with S.I. Hayakawa and Richard Dettering at San Francisco State College. Slogging in the Global Society: Cultural, Political, and Geographical Aspects is his latest book with co-editor Dr. T. Dumova. In higher education in the United States and Canada, he has served as a teacher and administrator. Contact: An earlier version of this paper was presented in October 2011 at the Annual Conference for the Institute for General Semantics in New York City.
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Author:Fiordo, Richard
Publication:ETC.: A Review of General Semantics
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2012
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