Seventy-six: General Discussion about English. Part One
Steve: Hi Jill. Jill: Hi Steve. Steve: You know, I'm sitting here at home in my home office, which is on the second floor of my house. I'm looking out the window and you're sitting in the office. Jill: Also looking out the window. Steve: Also looking out the window. Just as we were getting started you said that you had to go and get a battery; a battery for your computer and so that was a little bit surprising to me because I thought you would always be plugged in. Why would you have to go and get a battery? Jill: Because when I speak to people on Skype I don't do it at my desk because there is a lot of action, a lot of stuff going out of there, so I can't concentrate very well. It's a laptop, so I just brought it in this other room to use without bringing the battery. Steve: How much life does the battery have, typically? Jill: I have no clue because I don't use it without a battery for a long period of time. I think maybe typically they have a couple of hours, but I'm not sure. Steve: You know, I think today we're just going to have a free conversation on whatever we feel like talking about. I hope people will pick up on some of the phrases that we use like I think the word “typically” was used a few times here: typically, normally, usually… Jill: …often. Steve: I mean these words are sort of interchangeable. Different people like different words and so I think even someone who is learning the language, an advanced learner, and I think today our discussion is more for the advanced learners, they'll choose their favorite word or words or expressions in English for different situations. Jill: And it's a good idea also to know synonyms, to know more than one word, because it's redundant if you always use the same word. Sometimes you need to use the same word or a similar word in writing several times over and if you use the same word constantly it doesn't sound as good as using a different word. Steve: It's funny, you know, these are sort of conventions or standard practice in English. We were always taught at school, I think, amongst a few things that I remember from school, was that I was told to not repeat the same word, you know, in close proximity to, you know, a previous usage of the word, so we would tend to go into our thesaurus and find a synonym so that we could use a different word, even though we were expressing the exact same thought. It's funny, you know, I'm reading Tolstoy in Russian now.
He doesn't worry about that at all. Jill: He repeats himself often? Steve: Yeah and I can see that very easily because if I save a word in my WorkDesk at LingQ, all of a sudden six occurrences of the word will light up on the page in the same paragraph sometimes. Here again, something that we consider good practice in English, because we were taught to do this, may or may not be good practice in other languages; but there is no question that in English if you write, you know, we are always taught not to repeat the same word. If we say “typically” the first time then we can say “often” the second time and “usually” the third time so that we don't repeat the word typically. Jill: I mean, it doesn't mean too that you can never use the same word more than once, but, as you mentioned, it's generally not very good to use it within close proximity of another time when you used it. Steve: Right, but that's only because that's a convention; that's what we're taught. Jill: Yeah, but, I feel the same way. When I read something, even my own writing, if I'm sending an email and I use the same word twice in one paragraph or within a few sentences, I don't like the way it sounds. Steve: Oh yeah, I know we don't like it because we were taught that way, so we were taught to not like it. All I'm saying is that when I read now, in Russian for example, Tolstoy didn't go to the same school that we did, so he doesn't worry about it. All I'm saying is that different languages have different conventions. In English we are taught and therefore we become quite sensitive to it and so we don't like it when we see it in our own writing and probably we think less highly of someone who writes that way. Jill: Right. Steve: We're always trying to make sure that we change, you know, “on the other hand”… Jill: …“however”… Steve: …“however” and “furthermore” just to vary it. There's no real reason to do that. I mean some people like pink shirts and some people like blue shirts; both of them are going to keep you warm. Jill: That's right. Steve: So, you know, it works fine, but in English there's no question that we are…I mean, there are a number of things like that. Like I'm sure you were taught at school you're not supposed to begin a sentence with “and”. Jill: Or “but”. Steve: Or but; that is changing and a lot of people begin sentences with “and” and I do and sometimes for emphasis. Jill: Well yeah, that's when I actually do use it now at the beginning of a sentence is more for emphasis. Steve: What I find though is that I tend to get carried away with using “and” because when you are writing you say oh, I'm going to put some emphasis here, I'm going to put some emphasis there and then when I go back and sort of edit what I have written, I remove a lot of “ands”. That, in fact, does clean up the prose and makes it a little tighter. Jill: Yeah. Steve: You know, when I go back and edit something that I have written I remove “most”, “very”, “always”, “only”, all these words that are usually unnecessary and usually weaken what you are saying, you know? If you say, you know, I'm very hungry; I'm hungry.
Yeah, hungry is hungry. Maybe that's not a good example, but I know very often that more adverbs sometimes actually weakens the effect. Jill: I guess it is for emphasis though. If you're not just hungry, you're very hungry or really hungry, it's you're hungrier than just being hungry, but I guess you could choose to use a different word; to say “I'm famished” or “I'm ravenous” or something else instead of using the adverb. Steve: Right, but I find that when I write I'm going to say “very often”. Often when I've used “very”, in fact, the “very” wasn't necessary and it really didn't add anything and it almost…this particular case right now when I said very often. “Very often when I write I use too many adverbs.” “Often when I write I use too many adverbs.” Jill: You're right; you don't need “very”. Steve: You don't need very. There are all kinds of cases and so when I go back in to tighten up what I've written, I look for “most”, “much”, “very”, “all”, “almost”, you know, and normally you don't need them. Jill: Yeah, I would agree with that. Steve: “All people think that”…whatever. “People think”; you don't need “all”. Anyway, it's just a small thing. I find in the same way when I go back I often remove the “ands” that I've used to start sentences with. You know something Jill?
That brought to mind another thing that we were taught at school. You are taught that you're not supposed to end sentences with a preposition. Jill: That's right: on, in, at, etc., Steve: …with. Winston Churchill's famous saying “A preposition is a very bad thing to end a sentence with.” Jill: “With which to end a sentence”. Steve: Well that's right, but nobody writes that even. Jill: No, nobody speaks that way for sure. Steve: But, I think it's funny how some of these things that we learned at school stay with us. Fortunately, some of the things that we learned at school stay with us; otherwise, it would be a waste of time to go to school. But, yeah, this is true.