Writing style

From Wikiquote
Jump to navigation Jump to search
It does not smack of the desk, or bitten nails
Not so much words, as thunderings
    —St Jerome, on St Paul’s Epistles

In literature, writing style is the manner of expressing thought in language characteristic of an individual, period, school, or nation.

See also:
The Chicago Manual of Style
The Elements of Style
On Writing


  • For diff’rent styles with diff’rent subjects sort,
    As sev’ral garbs with country, town, and court.
  • From the point of view of style, a healthy work of art is one whose style recognizes the beauty of the material it employs, be that material one of words or of bronze, of colour or of ivory, and uses that beauty as a factor in producing the æsthetic effect.
  • I can't listen to anyone unless he attracts me by a charming style or by beauty of theme.
  • Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it—whole-heartedly—and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings.

Classical and Foreign Quotations

Quotes reported in: W. F. H. King, ed., Classical and Foreign Quotations, 3rd ed. (1904), nos. 277, 333, 447, 1760, 1844, 3025; 1978, 2890; 356, 837, 1648, 1843, 1978, 2431; 1979; 2113; 275; 679; 133, 151, 2879; 1355; 2366; 542, 1421, 1975; 1638, 1693; 3075
  • Le style c’est l’homme.
  • The style shows the man.
    • Adespotos
    • Celebrated aphorism, supposed to have been enunciated by Buffon in his no less celebrated Discours de Réception on admission to the French Academy, 25 August 1753. It is one of those numerous cases where one has to record not what the speaker said, so much as what he ought to have said, and the precise form of the phrase is still undetermined. The quotation merely represents the tradition of the vulgar, rejected by the critics in favour either of Le style est de l’homme même, of the Nouvelle Biographie Générale (Didot), s.v. “Buffon”; or of Le style est l’homme même of Richard’s edition of Buffon (Paris, 1842), vol. i. p. 10. The unfortunate circumstance militating against the authenticity of the famous axiom in any shape, is its absence in the official report of the Discours in the Recueil des Harangues prononcées par MM. de l’Académie Françoise (1764, vol. 6, p. 176, 2nd ed.). The passage in question, with the interpolated words in square brackets, is as follows:—
      Ces choses (les connoissances, les faits et les découvertes) sont bors de l’homme, [le style est l’homme méme] le style ne peut done ni s’enlever, ni se transporter, ni s’altérer: s’il est éleve, noble, sublime, l’auteur sera également admiré dans tous les temps.
      Roger Alexandre (Musée de la Conversation, p. 497) appears to vouch for an existing impression (plaquette) of Buffon’s “Address,” printed in the same year (1753), in which the saying is given in the form Le style est l’homme méme; but for this solitary witness to the contrary—which I have been unable to verify—I should have concluded that the phrase was never said at all, and with reason: (1) from its absence in the official publication above mentioned; (2) from its absence in the Correspondance of (J. M. von) Grimm, who, writing within a week of the event (1 September 1753), reports the salient points of the “Discourse” almost verbatim, and yet nowhere makes an allusion to the celebrated mot. Besides, it is hardly imaginable that Buffon, with the extraordinary care that he habitually bestowed upon his published works in the way of accuracy, polish, and effect—his Époques de la Nature was copied and re-copied eleven times before being handed to the printer—would have allowed the official report of his famous “Discourse” to have appeared in print minus the great saying which made its fortune, had he ever said it. Larousse, in his Dictionnaire Universelle (s.v. STYLE), accounts for the quotation as a necessary “deduction” from the passage in question, and I wholly agree with him. The sentence, as usually quoted, was never said at all.
Obscurity of style
  • Ce qui n’est pas clair, n’est pas Français.
  • What is not clear (intelligible) is not French.
    • P. M. Quitard, Dictionnaire des Proverbes (Paris, 1842), p. 410
  • Clarus ob obscuram linguam magis inter inanes
    Quamde graves inter Graios qui vera requirunt:
    Omnia enim stolidi magis admirantur amantque
    Inversis que sub verbis latitantia cernunt.
  • His obscure style took with the shallower pates,
    (Not with the serious Greeks who ask for facts):
    For nothing captivates your dull man more
    Than dark, involved, mysterious verbiage.
  • Decipimur specie recti; brevis esse laboro,
    Obscurus fio.
  • We aim at the ideal, and fail. I try
    To be concise, and end in being obscure.
    • Horace, Ars Poetica 25
    • Cf. J’évite d’étre long, et je deviens obscur.—Boileau, L’Art Poétique 1, 66; and, Crede mihi labor est non levis, esse brevem.—Oweni, Epigrammata i. 168. The latter part of the quotation is said to have been humorously repeated by Thomas Warton on his snuffing owt, when he would have snuffed, his candle.
  • Non liquet.
  • It is not evident.
    • Quintilian 9, 3, 97
    • As a legal formula, it exactly corresponds with the Scotch Not proven, and in this sense is used by Cicero, pro Cluentio 28, 76.
  • Obscuris vera involvens.
  • Cloaking the truth in mystery.
    • Virgil, Aeneid 6, 100
    • The response of the Cumæan Sibyl to Æneas.
  • Cela doit être beau, car je n’y comprends rien.
  • That ought to be fine, for I don’t understand a word of it.
    • Adespotos
    • Said of any obscure, involved statement, designed to impress the public with the extreme cleverness and erudition of the speaker or writer. Quintilian (8, 2, 18) mentions some teacher in philosophy of Livy’s time, who trained his pupils to purposely “darken” their language with a view to this effect. Unde illa scilicet egregia laudatio; Tanto melior; ne ego quidem intellexi—hence that truly remarkable compliment—“Bravo! excellent! Why, I didn’t even understand you myself!”
Ornate style
  • Ornari res ipsa negat, contenta docere.
  • The subject of itself is incompatible with an ornamental style, content if it is able to instruct.
    • Manilius, Astronomica 3, 39
    • Educational or scientific treatises.
  • Verba nitent phaleris, at nullas verba medullas
    Intus habent.
  • The words make a fine show, but they have no pith in them.
    • Palingenius (Pier Angelo Manzolli), Zodiacus Viti, 6, 35
    • Ornate, but feeble poetry. Fine phrases: empty compliments.
      Boileau, in L’ Art Poétique (Chant. 3, 139), has—
      Tous ces pompeux amas d’expressions frivoles
      Sont d’un déclamateur amoureux de paroles.
      All that this pomp of empty phrase affords
      Is the display of one who loves fine words.
Literary style
  • Consuetudinem sermonis vocabo consensum eruditorum; sicut vivendi consensum bonorum.
  • The practice of educated men is the best standard of language, just as the lives of the good are our pattern in morals.
  • Fungar vice cotis, acutum
    Reddere quæ ferrum valet, exsors ipsa secandi.
    Munus et officium, nil scribens ipse, docebo.
  •         Mine be the whetstone’s lot
    Which makes steel sharp, though cut itself will not.
    Although no writer, I may yet impart
    To writing folk the precepts of their art.
  • Ne forçons point notre talent,
    Nous ne ferions rien avec grâce.
  • Don’t force your powers unduly, if you aim at a graceful effect.
  • Occidit miseros crambe repetita magistros.
  • Like warmed-up cabbage served at each repast,
    The repetition kills the wretch at last.
    • Juvenal 7, 154 (tr. William Gifford)
    • Said of recitations which masters had to endure in school.
      First they read the essay sitting,
      Then recite it standing, lastly
      Sing it: sure this everlasting
      Cabbage is enough to kill him.—Shaw.
  • Sæpe stilum vertas, iterum que digna legi sint
    Scripturus; neque te ut miretur turba labores,
    Contentus paucis lectoribus.
  • Oh yes! believe me, you must draw your pen
    Not once or twice, but o’er and o’er again
    Through what you’ve written, if you would entice
    The man that reads you once to read you twice,
    Not making popular applause your cue,
    But looking to fit audience, although few.
    • Horace, Satires 1, 10, 72 (tr. Conington)
  • Sumite materiam vestris, qui scribitis, æquam
    Viribus, et versate diu quid ferre recusent,
    Quid valeant humeri. Cui lecta potenter erit res,
    Nec facundia deseret hunc, nec lucidus ordo.
  • Good authors, take a brother bard’s advice:
    Ponder your subject o’er not once or twice,
    And oft and oft consider if the weight
    You hope to lift be, or be not too great.
    Let but our theme be equal to our powers,
    Choice language, clear arrangement, both are ours.
    • Horace, Ars Poetica 38 (tr. Conington)
Artless style
  • Ornata hoc ipso, quod ornamenta neglexerant.
  • Ornate for the very reason that ornament had been neglected.
Caustic style
  • Plus aloes quam mellis habet.
  • He has in him more aloes than honey.
    • Juvenal 6, 181
    • Descriptive of a writer whose strength lies in sarcasm.
Clear style
  • Ce que l'on concoit bien s’énonce clairement
    Et les mots pour le dire arrivent aisément.
  • A felicitous thought is as clearly exprest,
    And true words are not wanting in which it is drest.
Concise style
  • Est brevitate opus ut currat sententia.
  • Terseness there wants to make the thought ring clear.
    • Horace, 1, 10, 9 (tr. Conington)
    • Need of a concise style.
Confused style
  • Ante mare, et tellus, et, quod tegit omnia cœlum,
    Unus erat toto nature vultus in orbe,
    Quem dixere Chaos; rudis indigestaque moles.
  • Ere sea, and land and heaven’s vault were made,
    Nature, throughout the globe, bore one aspect,
    Called chaos—a rude and undigested mass.
    • Ovid, Metamorphoses 1, 5
  • Arenæ funis effici non potest.
  • You can’t make a rope of sand.
    • Columella 10, præf. § 4
    • Cp. Arena sine calce. Suetonius, Caligula 53.—“Sand without lime”.
      Said by Caligula of the Tragedies of Seneca, from their unconnected character; and applicable to any desultory, disjointed performance.
  • Velut egri somnia, vanæ
    Fingentur species, ut nec pes, nec caput uni
    Reddatur formæ.
  • Like sick men’s dreams, when shadowy images appear, and nether head nor feet fit their respective forms.
    • Horace, Ars Poetica 7
    • Said of a badly composed work, without connection, and with a confusion of images.
Diffuse style
  • Le secret d’ennuyer est celui de tout dire.
  • The surest way of wearying your readers is to say everything that can be said on the subject.
    • Voltaire, VIe Discours sur l'homme, 172
    • The couplet runs,
      Mais malheur à l’auteur qui veut toujours instruire,
      Le secret dennuyer,
      Boileau had already enunciated the same truth in L’Art Poétique 1, 63,
      Qui ne sait se borner ne sut jamais écrire—“The man who cannot keep himself within bounds will never write anything.”
Forcible style
  • Quot pæne verba, tot sententiæ sunt; quot sensus, tot victoriæ.
  • Almost every word is a sentence in itself, and every thought amounts to a demonstration.
    • St Vincent of Lérins, Commonitor, 1, 18
    • Said of Tertullian’s writings.
      St Jerome speaks of St Paul’s style as, Non verba, sed tonitrua—Not so much “words,” as “thunderings.” (Epistle 48, ad Pammachium, cap. 13)
Polished style
  • Difficilis optimi perfectio atque absolutio.
  • Perfection and finish of the highest kind is very hard to attain.
  • Limæ labor ac mora.
  • The labour and tediousness of polishing (any work of art, poetry, painting, etc.) as though with a file.
  • Ore rotundo.
  • In well-turned phrase.
    • Horace, Ars Poetica 323
    • Polished diction: flowing periods.
Unpolished style
  • Nec pluteum credit, nec demorsos sapit ungues.
  • It does not smack of the desk, or bitten nails.
    • Persius 1, 106
    • Said of insipid poetry, composed without care and labour.
  • Nihil est hirsutius illis.
  • Nothing can be more rugged.
    • Ovid, Tristia 2, 259
    • Said of the “Annals” of Rome, as a piece of reading.
Wikipedia has an article about: