Wisdom about writing: “Do it so it will be understood by a reasonably educated 14-year-old.”

Barney Collier passes along these quotes sent to him by his late friend Edwin Marger, a “country lawyer” in Jasper, Georgia, via Houston Street in Manhattan:

“I have always been convinced that abuse of words has been the great instrument of sophistry and chicanery, of party, faction, and division of society.”
—John Adams (1735-1826); Letter to J.H. Tiffany, 31 March 1819

“…exaggerated turns of speech conceal mediocre affections: as if the fullness of the soul might not sometimes overflow in the emptiest of metaphors, since no one, ever, can give the exact measurements of his needs, nor of his conceptions, nor of his sufferings, and the human word is like a cracked cauldron upon which we beat out melodies fit for making bears dance when we are trying to move the stars to pity.
—Gustave Flaubert (1821-1880); Madame Bovary, 1857

“If names be not correct, language is not in accordance with the truth of things. If language be not in accordance with the truth of things, affairs cannot be carried on to success. When affairs cannot be carried on to success, proprieties and music will not flourish. When proprieties and music do not flourish, punishments will not be properly awarded. When punishments are not properly awarded, the people do not know how to move hand or foot. Therefore, a superior man considers it necessary that the names he uses may be spoken appropriately, and also that what he speaks may be carried out appropriately. What the superior man requires is just that in his words there may be nothing incorrect.
—Confucius (551-479 BC); Analects, Book XIII, Chapter 3

“Write all your briefs so that they can be entirely understood by a reasonably educated 14-year-old. Judges will sincerely thank you for it and your reputation in courtrooms will soar.”
—Edwin Marger (1928-2016 AD); Private email.

“…we should have a great many fewer disputes in the world, if words were taken for what they are, the signs of our ideas only; and not for things themselves.”
—John Locke (1632-1704); An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, 1690, Book III, Chapter X “Of the Abuse of Words”

“As the language of the face is universal, so ’tis very comprehensive; no laconism can reach it; ’tis the short-hand of the mind, and crowds a great deal in a little room”.
—Jeremy Collier (1650-1726) “Physiognomy”

“I am always sorry when any language is lost, because languages are the pedigree of nations.”—Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) 18 September 1773

“Language is the archives of history…. Language is fossil poetry.”
—Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) “The Poet”

“Correct English is the slang of prigs who write history and essays. And the strongest slang of all is the slang of poets.”
—George Eliot (1819-1880) Middlemarch, 1871-1872

“No man means all he says, and yet very few say all they mean, for words are slippery and thought is viscous.”
—Henry Brooks Adams (1838-1918). The Education of Henry Adams, 1907

“Even if you do learn to speak correct English, who are you going to talk it to?”
—Clarence Seward Darrow (1857-1938). Reprinted from etc.: A Review of General Semantics
Volime 1, Number 1, August 1943

“The contradiction so puzzling to the ordinary way of thinking comes from the fact that we have to use language to communicate our inner experience which in its very nature transcends linguistics.”
—Daisetsu Teitaro Suzuki (1870-1966).  “The Basis of Buddhist Philosophy”

“Language serves not only to express thoughts, but to make possible thoughts which could not exist without it.”
—Bertrand Russell (1872-1970). Basic Writings of Bertrand Russell, 1961

“The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.”
—Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951). Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, 1921

“…a whole world picture is wedded to the use of the transitive verb and the actor-action scheme that goes with it — that if we spoke a different language we would perceive a different world.”
—Friedrich Waismann (1896—1959). “Analytic-Synthetic V” Analysis, Number 13, 1952

“We dissect nature along lines laid down by our native language…. Language is not simply a reporting device for experience but a defining framework for it.”
—Benjamin Whorf (1897-1941). “Thinking in Primitive Communities”

“Effective writing is a human necessity in anything resembling a democratic culture, and this becomes increasingly true as the culture becomes increasingly complex. If the effective use of language cannot be taught, or if it is not to be taught to a far greater extent than it has been, we may well have occasion to despair of the grand experiment dreamed by Voltaire, championed by Washington and Franklin, and cherished by the American people through many generations. And if we must despair of that, then truly, even if you do learn to speak correct English, it may well not seem to matter very much “who you talk it to.” For when the people cannot adequately speak or write their language, there arise strong men to speak and write it for them — and “at” them.”
—Wendell Johnson (1906-1965). “You Can’t Write Writing”

“I personally think we developed language because of our deep inner need to complain.”
—Jane Wagner (b.1935). “The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe”, 1986

“…language is a virus from Outer Space.”
—Laurie Anderson (b.1947). “New York Social Life” 1981

“Grammar is not a vice (though excessive picking at it can be). And nonstandard words/grammar can be used to good effect — but no one can do that without knowing how they’re deviating.”
—Randy Clark. Posted to soc.motss 14 November 1991

“Hear and understand: not what goes into the mouth defiles a man, but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man.”
—Bible, Matthew 15:10-11. The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha

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