About Writing: “Do It So It Will Be Understood by a Reasonably Educated 14-Year Old”

“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

“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)

“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

“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

“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

h/t Barnard Collier

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