Author Topic: A letter from a bereaved German widower  (Read 10102 times)

Joe Carillo

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A letter from a bereaved German widower
« on: September 24, 2020, 03:02:37 AM »
In 2008 or almost 12-and-a-half years ago, I received a letter from Germany from someone who identified himself as an avid reader of this column; he gave his name but I won’t identify him now to respect his privacy.

He said he highly appreciated my book English Plain and Simple and collected my weekly columns in the Times, but he took issue with my book’s title, saying that it “seems faulty and is likely to be misunderstood.”

He continued: “I have consulted several dictionaries, among them the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary of Current English by A.S. Hornby (Oxford University Press: 1974), and I found that the expression ‘plain’ is congruent to ‘simple.’ There is therefore no difference between these two sentences: ‘The student’s English is plain.’ ‘The student’s English is simple.’ The words “plain” and “simple” mean the same thing, so to use both in the same phrase is pure pleonasm. And by doing this, you missed to ‘kill’ one adjective, contrary to Mark Twain’s strong admonition against it (‘When you catch an adjective, kill it.’).”

I thanked the German letter-writer for his compliment about my columns and my book but made this defense of my choice of the title English Plain and Simple:

“Yes, there are some obvious overlaps in the meanings of the words ‘plain’ and ‘simple,’ but I don’t think my use of both for my book’s title constitutes a pleonasm. A pleonasm is the use of more words than necessary to convey the same sense, as in “a lovely and beautiful woman” and “the rich and wealthy businessman.” They are pleonasms because the adjective pairs “lovely” and “beautiful” and “rich” and “wealthy” are each practically exact synonyms.

“The adjectives ‘plain’ and ‘simple’ may look synonymous as well, but they have many different shades of meaning. For my book’s title, I used ‘plain’ to mean uncomplicated and uncluttered, and ‘simple’ to mean clear and easy to understand, so their joint use in modifying ‘English’ doesn’t constitute a pleonasm but simply an emphatic expression.”

I then assured him that I was by no means offended by his comments, and I expressed my appreciation to him for “opening my eyes to other aspects of English that I still need to write about to help learners use the language better.”

I didn’t hear from that German letter-writer after that exchange, but purely by chance, I came across information on the web sometime in December 2018 that he had written several books in banking and finance in Germany.

Then last August 15, he wrote me for the second time and reminded me of that letter he wrote in 2008.  He told me that he had actually contested my view that “plain and simple” are not synonyms (The Manila Times, Opinion, “Shadow of meaning,” June 21, 2008)—I must say that I didn’t know that he had done so—but this time he said: “I concede your arguments are more convincing.”

He continued: “I purchased all your books and kept hundreds of articles on file. Go on writing books on stylistic nuances of English. It is my firm belief you are a Praeceptor filipiniensis (eminent teacher) the country should be proud of. Even a smattering of Latin matters.

“Let me express my esteem for your articles by offering  to buy 10 copies of English Plain and Simple, not for delivering to Germany but as donation to the Filipino education sector. It is up to you to choose what school or institution might become recipients. You will be fully paid in advance.”

Sorrowfully he then confided to me, “With my deceased outstanding Filipina spouse I consummated a blissful marriage for over  40 years,” and made an earnest personal request for help that I must admit I couldn’t possibly provide.

(Next: Constructing the perfect tenses in the passive voice)    October 1, 2020

This essay, 2,012th of the series, appeared in the column “English Plain and Simple” by Jose A. Carillo in the Campus Press section of the September 24, 2020 Internet edition of The Manila Times,© 2020 by the Manila Times Publishing Corp. All rights reserved.

Read this online in The Manila Times:
“A letter from a bereaved German widower”

« Last Edit: September 24, 2020, 08:24:20 AM by Joe Carillo »