If you can’t improve your health, improve your writing

 

Hypertextbook.com says that an average educated person knows about 20,000 words and uses about 2,000 words in a week. Most sources say that the English language contains between 600,000 to over 1 million words depending upon how you count.  (Thank you, Captain Obvious.)  Not only do most of us use less than 3% of available words, we employ them poorly.  And when I say “we,” I mean “me, myself and I.”

As a charter member of the Failed Writers Society, I recognize my repetitive, trite speech and writing patterns especially when I come across informative reading matter.

A recent article from The New Yorker entitled Alone in the Alps by James Lasdin described the connection between the Via Alpina trail in Europe and its rich culture as follows:

“That sense of multiplicity is still strong. The Rockies may offer wilder wilderness, but you don’t experience the pleasure of sharp cultural variegation as you move from place to place…   It’s there […] in the freshly incomprehensible road signs, which is Slovenia are clotted with consonant clusters, as if vowels were an indulgence.”

This description of a consonant-rich Eastern European language is the best I’ve come across since a Car Talk episode called Vowels to Bosniahttp://www.cartalk.com/content/vowels-bosnia

So what’s the connection between not improving your health and improving your writing? Well, if nothing else, not improving your heath will give you less time to improve your epitaph* when that inevitable day comes.

[*Dr. Language Guy wishes to point out that he word “epitaph” comes from the Latin epitaphium, which, in turn, comes from the Greek epitaphion, meaning “over or at a tomb.”  This is derived as epi (“on” or “over”) + taph(os) (“tomb”).]

Here are some better examples.

In a London cemetery:

Here lies Ann Mann,

Who lived an old maid

But died an old Mann

Dec. 8, 1767

 In a Ribblesford, England cemetery:

The children of Israel wanted bread;

And the Lord sent them manna.

Old clerk Wallace wanted a wife,

And the Devil sent him Anna.

In Boot Hill, Tombstone, Arizona:                          

Here lays Butch,

We planted him raw.

He was quick on the trigger,

But slow on the draw.

 Also in Boot Hill:                          

Here lies Lester Moore

Four slugs from a 44

No Les

No more.

 Of a hanged sheep thief, in Lame, Ireland:

Here lies the body

Of Thomas Kemp

Who lived by wool

But died by hemp.*

 * A witticism from Cervantes’ Don Quixote states:  “One does not speak of hemp in the house of the hanged.”

A lawyer’s epitaph in England:

 Sir John Strange

Here lies an honest lawyer,

And that is Strange.

 In Newbury, England (1742):

 Tom Smith is dead, and here he lies,

Nobody laughs and nobody cries;

Where his soul’s gone, or how it fares,

Nobody knows, and nobody cares.

 In a Welland, Ontario cemetery:

Here lies all that remains of old Aunt Charlotte,

Born a virgin, died a harlot.

For sixteen years she kept her virginity,

A marvelous thing for this vicinity.

 

And finally, in Hollywood Forever cemetery:

Improveyourwriting

 

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24 responses to “If you can’t improve your health, improve your writing

  1. An old favorite that my mother said was a series of Burma Shave signs:

    Here lies the body of John O’Day,
    Who died defending his right of way.
    He was right, dead right, as he sped along,
    But he’s just as dead as if he’d been wrong.

    Burma Shave

  2. I got a giggle from the Strange epitaph. I hope someone writes an equally strange one for me when the time comes!

  3. I guess I should start thinking of my epitaph. After all, it would kind of be my final blog post.

  4. If celebrities were to write their own obits, I can think of two who will need multiple headstones: George Will and Bill Clinton. Anyone remember Gary Cooper? His would likely read, “Yup, it’s me.”

  5. John Strange epitaph is my favorite. Because of the mention of the old west, you may enjoy this bit of history and headstones. https://afrankangle.wordpress.com/2016/03/13/on-the-headstones-story/

  6. Love the epitaphs. I’m not witty enough to write one for myself, but then I hope to end up written in the winds of the Rockies.

  7. Actually, the Rockies are rife with language curiosities. In the middle of Colorado, there’s a town called Buena Vista. Now, I know your educated mind just said out loud to itself “bway-nah-VEE-stah,” because you’ve heard of Mexico and Spanish and maybe retained just enough of the latter from high school to pronounce it without getting dirty looks in a tapas bar.

    Not so in Colorado. Even the mayor of the damned town says, on camera, “byoo-nah-VISS-stah.” Because really, really white people.

  8. After seeing those epitaphs, I’m even more determined to have a natural burial and grow into a tree. Of course, someone could still inscribe my bark, I suppose. Guess I better become a tree with sharp bristles to keep those inscribers away.

  9. I’ve heard it suggested that ‘the elderly’ should write their own obituaries and their own epitaphs (assuming they wish to be buried in the ground) to ensure that what is said about them after they’re gone is what they hope to have remembered and repeated. A sound idea, indeed.

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