Academic journal article ETC.: A Review of General Semantics

E-Prime: Speaking Crisply

Academic journal article ETC.: A Review of General Semantics

E-Prime: Speaking Crisply

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

In the fall of 1969 the New York Society for General Semantics invited me to present a talk on E-Prime (English without any form of the verb to be). (1) Of course, it occurred to me that I should give it in E-Prime. In other words, to speak in E-Prime. I had initially planned to tell the people attending the presentation at the beginning that I intended to try this. I regret that I have to admit this, but I chickened out about alerting the audience as to m intentions, although I did make the effort to give my talk in E-Prime. Naturally, the new York Society folks listened for precisely this kind of attempt, without needing any warning from me. I have believed from the beginning that any reasonably alert individual can write in E-Prime without any big fanfare. (Mini-lesson: In order to write in E-Prime, just do not employ any form of the verb to be, and avoid "is-English" sentence structures to prevent an excessive use of the various linking verbs.) But I recognize that speaking in E-Prime requires a much higher level of linguistic sensitivity, determination, etc. In addition to other problems, what I have called "Social Is-isness" can rise up and repeatedly slap one in the chops. This means that standard social formulas (e.g., "What day is today?" "How are you?" "This is Ed," "What time is it?" etc.) will keep those non-E-Prime grooves, or neural networks, etc. functioning in the cortex when trying to speak in E-Prime. If you need it, please check reference (2) for the epistemological reasons behind this E-Prime business.

Almost twenty years later, my now friend and colleague Dr. E. W. Kellogg III presented a delightful and well-grounded discussion of his experiences in learning to speak in E-Prime, with suggestions that could help other who wished to accomplish this. (3) At present, very few people have chosen to try to speak routinely, daily, in E-Prime. I would guess perhaps five or six but this may consist of an excessively pessimistic estimate. For those wishing to try seriously to write and speak in E-Prime, I also suggest a careful study of references (4) and (5).

Make no mistake: we deal here with interesting, difficult, and important issues. Since Hobbes in 1651 (relative to English), and even earlier, since Lycophron in 370? B.C.E. (relative to greek), extremely clever, intelligent, productive, and creative people have had volumes to say about why we should stop placing so much reliance on the static verb to be in our dynamic universe. (See Note 1.) But why hasn't anyone other than the writer asked how frequently do we in fact employ this increasingly disreputable verb in our writings? How frequently in our oral speech? I understand that Aristotle refused to count the teeth in people's mouths, and therefore continued to his death to believe erroneously that men have more teeth than women. I see this attitude reflected in the fact so few seem to have any interest in how often we tend to use to be. Let us now pursue this intriguing problem, empirically. (See Note 2.)

2. The Matter of Crispness

In the initial paper describing E-Prime (E'), I included the following definitional semantic equation:

E' = E - e

where E represents the one to two million "words" (depending on how one chooses to define "word") of English, and e represents the conjugated forms of to be. (1) Despite the fact that the late Dr. Samuel Bois thought highly enough of E-Prime to mention it in his book, The Art of Awareness (6), and even invited me to share his podium to discuss this development at a General Semantics conference in 1965, on one unfortunate occasion the simple equation given above appeared in print incorrectly as:

E' [not equal to] E - e

which probably mystified some readers. I suspect that most of those readers held me responsible. I understand that subsequent editions of that book will have the equation corrected.

Some years later I defined the Crispness Index (C. …

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