Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Dickens on Our Tyranny Over Words

From David Copperfield, Chapter LII ("I Assist at an Explosion"), in which Mr. Micawber is expatiating on the various villainies of Uriah Heep in his genially orotund way:

Again, Mr. Micawber had a relish in this formal piling up of words, which, however ludicrously displayed in his case, was, I must say, not at all peculiar to him. I have observed it, in the course of my life, in numbers of men. It seems to me to be a general rule. In the taking of legal oaths, for instance, deponents seem to enjoy themselves mightily when they come to several good words in succession, for the expression of one idea; as, that they utterly detest, abominate, and abjure, or so forth; and the old anathemas were made relishing on the same principle. We talk about the tyranny of words; we are fond of having a large superfluous establishment of words to wait upon us on great occasions; we think it looks important, and sounds well. As we are not particular about the meaning of our liveries on state occasions, if they be but fine and numerous enough, so the meaning or necessity of our words is a secondary consideration, if there be but a great parade of them. And as individuals get into trouble by making too great a show of liveries, or as slaves when they are too numerous rise against their masters, so I think I could mention a nation that has got into many great difficulties, and will get into many greater, from maintaining too large a retinue of words.

Noted not so much for the substance, with which I cannot quite agree. Our own difficulties have absolutely nothing to do with a little too much gusto in an unnecessarily expansive vocabulary. And there is some irony in Dickens offering this sentiment at the close of a book in excess of 800 pages. But though the substance of the criticism is common enough (indeed, all too common today--one hears something like this complaint about academic writing all the time), one rarely hears it expressed so well. 

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DeGirolami, Marc | Permalink