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A rather fantastic use, or misuse, of a particular adverb appears at present to be coming into fashion, especially among such of the occasionally indevout female sex as write "best sellers." It is the employment of "too” at the beginning of a sentence. “Too, he was considered to be the handsomest member of the group.” “Too, she longed for the restfulness of the old home atmosphere." It is surely bad enough to begin an independent sentence with “however"; to give the same prominence to “too” is to take intolerable liberties with an inoffensive word. To find an equally grotesque misuse of the word, one has to recall the complimentary terms in which the three Highlanders referred to the liquor proffered them by their laird: “ 'Tis the best whiskey," declared Sandy, "I never drank in all my born days.”—“So did I, neither," commented Aleck. And Jock corroborated both statements with, “Neither did I, too."
“I haven't smoked all morning,” said a cleric recently. “Neither have I,” replied one of his hearers, but all the same I've enjoyed two cigars since breakfast.” “I haven't all morning had a smoke,” was the first speaker's meaning. "Dean Sullivan spoke of the suggestion that the Pope's proposals for peace might be rejected with absolute contempt.” The meaning here is probably that the Dean spoke with absolute contempt of the suggestion mentioned; but the position of the modifying phrase seems to imply that the Pope's proposals might be contemptuously rejected. "I never expect to be a bishop,” modestly affirms Father Byrnes. His presumable meaning is not what his phrase
ology indicates: that, although he habitually thinks a good deal about the episcopal dignity, he does not ever admit the probability of his eventually wearing the purple. What he really intends to say is: "I have never expected, nor do I now expect, to be a bishop,” or, more briefly, “I do not believe that I shall ever be a bishop.” Some examples of the misplacement of “only” have already been given. The editors of the Standard Dictionary make a statement which should prove an effective substitute for numberless other examples: "Some years ago a critic showed that, by the principles of permutation, a short paragraph of a noted English writer, containing several onlys, might have any one of about five thousand meanings.”
This chapter, however, has already grown to an inordinate length, and it must, therefore, even at the cost of symmetry and rounded-out completeness, be brought to a speedy conclusion. Needless to say, there are dozens of other linguistic rubrics of which no mention has been made in the preceding paragraphs-rules relating to such qualities of a sentence as unity, force, ease, and harmony; and, even with respect to clearness, what has been said is suggestive rather than in any sense exhaustive. A full treatise, not a mere chapter of a book, would be needed for the adequate discussion of words and sentences, even if little or no space were accorded to those larger structures of language in composition, the paragraph, the chapter, and the discourse or the book as a whole. Despite its manifold deficiencies, however, this essay will serve its essential purpose if it revives in even
few readers their possibly waning interest in the art of writing and stimulates them to exercise additional care in the expression of their thought.
One other reflection is scarcely omissible. Clerical critics who deride attention to the minor points in the rubrics of English, like those who scoff at the little things in the rubrics properly so called, are unmistakably at fault. The slipshod, slovenly writer or speaker who brands any discrimination in the choice of words as purism, and pooh-poohs all care about placing words, phrases, and clauses in their proper positions as undue punctiliousness, is as illogical as he is apt to be overbearing. “After all, one must credit one's hearers or readers with some degree of intelligence,” is a statement the truth of which no one is likely to call in question, but its truth does not furnish a valid excuse for obscurity or ambiguity in the sentences addressed to such readers or hearers.
Common sense, not less than grammar or rhetoric, demands that the meaning of one's sentences not only may be, but must be, understood. The reason is clear, at least to all who have studied the philosophy of style, and especially to those who are familiar with Herbert Spencer's admirable discussion of the economy of attention. The gist of that discussion is contained in the following brief paragraph: “A reader or listener has at each moment but a limited amount of mental power available. To recognize and interpret the symbols presented to him requires part of this power; to arrange and combine the images suggested requires a further part; and only that part which remains can be used for realizing the thought conveyed. Hence, the more time and attention it takes to receive and understand each sentence, the less time and attention can be given to the contained idea; and the less vividly will that idea be conceived.” It will perhaps be admitted by the readers of this book that the concluding words of the quotation constitute a fairly complete justification of this whole chapter.
A CLERICAL CLUB - NIGHT
The flute and the psaltery make a sweet melody, but a pleasant tongue is above them both.-Ecclus.: 2, 21.
Misce stultitiam conciliis brevem,
Dulce est desipere in loco.
Conversation should be pleasant without scurrility, witty without affectation, free without indecency, learned without conceitedness, novel without falsehood.-Shakespeare.
THE "HE August meeting of the Dors Club1 was
unusually well attended, partly because the July meeting had been postponed in consequence of the recent death of the Ordinary of the diocese, and partly because several out-of-town members had come to Anyopolis for the Eucharistic Congress. The Club's quarters for the evening had been established in Dean O'Reilly's spacious study and smoking-room; and the Dean's vivacious assistant, Father Lavers, was just passing around the cigars for the initial smoke when a chorus of welcoming voices greeted the entrance of the association's president emeritus, Father John Regan. Thereafter: Dean O'Reilly. Welcome, Father John: you're
well come indeed. I was beginning to fear I wouldn't have your help to-night in restraining the exuberance of some of our high-strung fellow-Dorsites here. Hogan and Dempsey, to say nothing of these younger chaps, McGarrigle,
1 An association of priests mentioned in one of the author's previous volumes, "Clerical Colloquies."