Essays Æsthetical eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 190 pages of information about Essays Æsthetical.

We have here noted a score of the errors prevalent in written and spoken speech—­some of them perversions or corruptions, countenanced even by eminent writers; some, misapplications that weaken and disfigure the style of him who adopts them; and some, downright vulgarisms—­that is, phrases that come from below, and are thrust into clean company with the odors of slang about them.  These last are often a device for giving piquancy to style.  Against such abuses we should be the more heedful, because, from the convenience of some of them, they get so incorporated into daily speech as not to be readily distinguishable from their healthy neighbors, clinging for generations to tongues and pens.  Of this tenacity there is a notable exemplification in a passage of Boswell, written nearly a hundred years ago.  Dr. Johnson found fault with Boswell for using the phrase to make money:  “Don’t you see the impropriety of it?  To make money is to coin it:  you should say get money.”  Johnson, adds Boswell, “was jealous of infractions upon the genuine English language, and prompt to repress colloquial barbarisms; such as pledging myself, for undertaking; line for department or branch, as the civil line, the banking line.  He was particularly indignant against the almost universal use of the word idea in the sense of notion or opinion, when it is clear that idea can only signify something of which an image can be formed in the mind.  We may have an idea or image of a mountain, a tree, a building, but we surely cannot have an idea or image of an argument or proposition.  Yet we hear the sages of the law ’delivering their ideas upon the question under consideration;’ and the first speakers of Parliament ’entirely coinciding in the idea which has been ably stated by an honorable member.’”

Whether or not the word idea may be properly used in a deeper or grander sense than that stated by Dr. Johnson, there is no doubt that he justly condemned its use in the cases cited by him, and in similar ones.  All the four phrases make money, pledge, line, and idea, whereupon sentence of guilty was passed by the great lexicographer, are still at large, and, if it be not a bull to say so, more at large to-day than in the last century, since the area of their currency has been extended to America, Australia, and the Pacific Islands.



    [8] From Putnam’s Monthly, 1857.

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