20.422 being of the plain style

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Sun, 28 Jan 2007 10:00:52 +0000

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 20, No. 422.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

   [1] From: "William Cole" <w.cole_at_moreheadstate.edu> (34)
         Subject: Re: 20.416 being of the plain style

   [2] From: Lynda Williams <lynda_at_okalrel.org> (25)
         Subject: Re: 20.416 being of the plain style

         Date: Sun, 28 Jan 2007 09:48:36 +0000
         From: "William Cole" <w.cole_at_moreheadstate.edu>
         Subject: Re: 20.416 being of the plain style

Since we are collecting references on this subject of 'plainness' in
language, I'll recommend Hugh Kenner, "Science, Axel and Punning" (the
appendix to his _The Mechanic Muse_ [New York: Oxford UP, 1987]
115-131). Beginning with Thomas Sprat's longing for the "Primitive
Purity and Shortness" of language, in which we expressed "so many /
Things/, in almost in an equal Number of /Words/," Kenner traces the
thread of scientific plainness as it informed literary language from
Swift to Joyce. Of course, Kenner ends with the conclusion that "there
are no plain words." It's a good read in Kenner's inimitable style
(indeed I recommend the whole volume, the other essays of which discuss
technology's intersection with and impact on modernist literature).

One related thought, I've been toying with for a while now. It strikes
me that the contemporary exhortations regarding web standards and
accessibility are founded, uncritically, on the same faith that language
is at its best
when it is most plain. HTML, for example, assumes that linguistic
structures are simple and hierarchical (to say nothing of the fact that
it has no way of even expressing the existence of figurative or
rhetorical structures). And to follow the tangent a bit further, I've
also been uneasy with the central accessibility tenet that one must
separate structure from presentation, which seems to assume that meaning
resides solely in the 'pure' form of plain text, while typography,
layout, etc. are expendable decoration. (This last thought is not meant
in any way to undermine the importance of accessible web design, just to
express my concern that current practice may be founded on a debatable
understanding of written language.)


Bill Cole

William Cole <w.cole_at_moreheadstate.edu>
Instructional Technology Director, College of Education
Morehead State University
407 Ginger Hall || (606) 783-9326
         Date: Sun, 28 Jan 2007 09:52:45 +0000
         From: Lynda Williams <lynda_at_okalrel.org>
         Subject: Re: 20.416 being of the plain style
On Fri, 26 Jan 2007 08:13:20 +0000, willard_at_LISTS.VILLAGE.VIRGINIA.EDU
  > Willard wrote :
  >> Rather I want to ask, how are they being? How do we make sense of
  >> their restrictive statements, > indeed all statements designed to
  >> delimit language (or anything else) in such a fashion as to make
  >> a science of it possible?
  > ..
Not sure if I'm entirely "on topic" here but in the intersection of
figurative language and the science of language category -- I saw an
article in this month's DISCOVER Magazine that gets at the
neurological mechanisms of metaphor. Article is "Jaron's World" What
light through yonder window breaks? It is a new theory of metaphors,
and it may illuminate the nature of meaning. by Jaron Lanier.
Fascinating and chilling.
   Lynda Williams, SF Author (http://www.okalrel.org)
   All About Amel fansite (http://www.allamel.co.nr)
   (seeking art work for Kaleidoscope Illustration project)
   2006/7 Righteous Anger: Book #2 ORU Saga
   (from Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing)
   2007 (ETA) ORU Anthology #2 Personal Combat
   (from Windstorm Creative Fandom Press imprint)
   2006 "Harpy" in MYTHSPRING
   (from Red Deer Press edited by Julie E. Czerneda)
Received on Sun Jan 28 2007 - 05:17:53 EST

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