I’ve tried, but can’t come close to matching this work of word-smithing: writing a whole column without depending upon any form of the verb ‘to be’. I read this years ago, and was referred to it again recently. It is classic.
[I tried to think of an economical way of expressing the sentiment of those last three words in e-Prime, and could not do it. Who can help me? Anyone?]
4 thoughts on “E-Prime”
Ha! That's fascinating…. I think it illustrates very well why philosophers should keep their hands off of language! I suppose, if you wanted to follow the spirit of E-Prime, your last sentence should be something like, "It continues to exert a classic influence." This doesn't make any attribution of immutability…. However, I think this point highlights one of the conceptual problems of E-Prime, which the article alludes to, but I think is actually quite insurmountable: what E-Prime really has a problem with is predication in general. How can you assert something about something without implying that the assertion has lasting validity or immutability? This runs through the entire structure of language, and is not conveyed simply through words like "to be" or even "seem" or "appear." For instance, in the sentence above, "It continues to assert a lasting influence," most of the sentence is quite semantically vacuous, except for the adjective "classic," which implies a condition that semanticists, I think, would have to take issue with. So that's why I say, those people are weirdos who should go live with other weirdos and talk however they want to, and leave the rest of us alone 🙂
You're a hoot, Jeremy! I'd hate to encounter you in serious debate on the opposing side! But you know, we are both weirdos of a sort in the fact that we even read the article to begin with….I think the e-prime idea is a fun thing, like a math problem, which means nothing in the real world. You express philosophically what good writers know to be true from the get-go. Rule #17, is it, of Professor Strunk: "Omit needless words." E-prime, of course, is a help with rule #11: "The active voice is to be used." Oops. Use the active voice.
Actually, though the author claims to have used E-Prime throughout the article, he uses "will" and "I'll" which is the future tense of the verb "to be".It is classic? The article exudes its own temporal continuity.Language is, and has always been a living thing. (There, that should have E-Primers rolling their eyes.) The whole thing reminds me that the fictional Klingon language was originally conceived (prior to E-prime's ascendance) as a language which had no verb "to be". Then in one of the movies, the main Klingon character has to recite Hamlet's "To be or not to be" speech in Klingon and the whole language got a philosophical update.When I was in High School, we were actually taught to use passive voice. Now it's an error caught even by word processors.Pity the poor English teachers.On the other hand, God comes declaring that foremost among living beings, He himself is the great "I am." Reason enough to keep the verb of existence around for a while yet.
It shows exceptional quality as an example.-ge
Comments are closed.