Saturday, 31 January 2009

Terrible English

Here's a quote from the film theorist Colin MacCabe, from 1975. Why are academics sometimes the most inarticulate people... like... ever...

(bear in mind that this is a single sentence)

"The problem is to understand the terms of the construction of the subject and the modalities of the replacement of this construction in specific signifying practices, where “replacement” means not merely the repetition of the place of that construction but also, more difficultly, the supplacement—the overplacing: supplementation or, in certain circumstances, supplantation (critical interruption)—of that construction in the place of its repetition."

If I have any aim as a film theorist, it's to not write like this. I realise that the sentence before this one is a bad one, but I did it on purpose. It's also because I've been marking essays, some of which those essays are written with bad english that makes my writing now bad.

The funny thing is that I can't always tell what it is that makes a sentence a bad sentence or poor grammatically I just know when I see it but I know that poor punctuation has a lot too do with it also sentences that are too long also where the same word it used twice in the same sentence (like the sentence just before this one where I said sentence twice)

4 comments:

Karen said...

That is why the annual Bad Writer's Competition should get more press. Academics who write like that shouldn't be allowed to get away with it. It does appear that what they are actually trying to say means nothing. The meaning of the words, for them, is not the point. The aim is to beat the reader into submission that they are in the presence of a great mind. This diliberately oblique way of writing is actually poisonous and teaches the reader nothing.

Bad academic writing is like bad poetry. Good poetry sets off a chain reaction in the mind. The words may be simple, but when they are put together they create a realm in the imagination. Bad poetry may use sophisticated words, and may even rhyme, but the meaning fails to liberate itself from the page.

Jane said...

Before you go shopping, you make a list, then when you get to the shop you always see more things you need. This is because recognition is easier than recall. In the same way, it is normally easier to understand language than to formulate it, e.g. people may find their thoughts and feelings expressed better than they can themselves in the words of a song or a novel. However, if you're studying or thinking about complex ideas, you may actually think of these ideas in long complex sentences with lots of conjunctions and complex features like subordinate clauses, embedded clauses and phrases,and pronouns referring to....what? These are easy to write because you know what you're talking about, but hellishly difficult to understand because they take up more working memory than most of us have available for new ideas. In trying to explain complex concepts to others, it is necessary to take the extra step of breaking ones thoughts into shorter, relatively simple sentences, in which it is clear which noun the pronoun (or adjective or adjective phrase etc.) refers to. It's also probably good to limit the number of joining words in any sentence to about 3. The sentence you quoted has far too many. Very stimulating point you make there!

Jane said...

Does the second sentence make more sense? I've chunked it and tried to simplify it, as best I can considering I still have no idea what he's talking about!

"The problem is to understand the terms of the construction of the subject and the modalities of the replacement of this construction in specific signifying practices, where “replacement” means not merely the repetition of the place of that construction but also, more difficultly, the supplacement—the overplacing: supplementation or, in certain circumstances, supplantation (critical interruption)—of that construction in the place of its repetition."

“The problems are:
• To understand the term of construction of the subject
• To understand the modalities of the replacement* of this construction.
This construction is used in specific signifying practices.
*Replacement in this context means either the repetition of the place of that construction (of the subject), or, alternatively, the supplacement or overplacing. Replacement may also mean supplementation or occasionally supplantation. “Supplantation” means critical interruption and refers to the construction in the place of its repetition.”

Paul Taberham said...

brilliant responses, thanks guys!

Jane - even when its broken down, the way those words are being used is a mystery to me