I speak Arabic, and in Arabic language we have the tendency to speak in general. It is normal to make general statements like, “Iraqis are genial hosts”, “Arabs can’t get along with each other”, or “Arabs do not read (العرب شعب لا يقرأ).” It’s part of our vernacular. But this Arabic natural way of speaking must be modified when converted to English.
I write more or less in a conversational style, and I have to modify statements with words like “some” to avoid generalizing on a topic or a group.
Thus, I did my best to cover my anatomy in my previous blogs. For example, in the blog titled “America’s Religious Test Against Christian Refugees in Saudi Arabia”, I inserted the unnecessary protective word “SOME” four times as shown in following paragraphs:
“I decided to share this episode from my family history to provide a counter point to the recent political debate about giving a religious test to the Syrian refugees. SOME Americans are outraged by the lunacy of the proposal – but it is not a new idea. It has been done before – by America. In this blog, I share one true story from my first cousin’s family and their journey from Iraq to Saudi Arabia after the Iraq-Kuwait war.”
“After the Saudi government realized that there were SOME Iraqi Sunni amidst the other refugees, they separated them into a different area, where they were given added privileges”
“After being ignored for months and months in that hot Saudi desert, on Christmas Eve 1991 SOME people rioted to gain world attention. The Saudi army responded with live bullets and killed a few refugees to gain control of the situation.”
“And they are still in contact with SOME of those Christian refugees from Rafha who got rejected by America.”
The word “SOME” didn’t appear in the spoken version of the story. I injected the word and altered the conversation when I wrote the blog. I wrote all my previous blogs in a similar style. I had to modify the original spoken version of the discourse when I converted it into written English.
Until a few days ago, I came across ”compulsive hedging” while I was reading Steven Pinker’s book “The Sense of Style”. It applies to any writer who hedges his sentences in fear of being criticized by a reader.
Pinker argues that these words are unnecessary, and when a blogger use one of them in sentences, he implies that he is not willing to stand behind what he is saying. Or when he use words like “almost” or “apparently”, he would argue for his positions if things were different but not willing to stand for it as is.
I know the first lesson is to remove all unnecessary words in writing. What matters here is not the word count or the protection against making a general accusation but the logical spirit of the writing. And any unscrupulous reader who cries foul and gives the writer a problem on unhedged statements is showing himself as a perfunctory reader. He will find any excuse to give the blog post a mauling critique.
Pinker’s defense is that a classic writer will count on the common sense and the ordinary charity of the cognizant reader just as in everyday conversation when I make a statement like: “I want to move out of Chicago because it’s a very cold and cloudy city.” Here, nobody will misunderstand it to mean every single day.
Therefore, I decided to restrict the usage of “some” and its sisters and relatives: a few, almost, nearly, partially, relatively, sort of, to a certain degree, to some, from usage in my future blogs because of compulsive hedging.
Here is an example of one of my unhedged statements where I did not use the word “Some”, or similar modifier, to ram its point “Today Putin has become Saint George for Christians and Imam Ali for Shi’a in Iraq, Syria, and Iran.” from another recent blog titled “My Passionate Soliloquy about Putin to the White House”.
Do you agree with compulsive hedging? Or still have SOME reticence?
P.S. I find the blogger Fritz Berggren is a good source on the power of language.
* Click on “Follow” from the lower left corner to follow the story.
* Please take a minute to comment what you think.
* Feel free to share.