GRAMMAR AND RHETORIC 1. Value of correct English.—An ignorant or careless use of English is costly. Like correct me chanical form, correct English is not in itself a posi tive asset in writing effective letters—except in so far as correctness gains clearness—because correct Eng lish in the letters we read is also taken as a matter of course. But incorrect English is a positive handicap in nearly all cases.
Therefore it is advisable that a business correspond ent be sure that his grammar and his rhetoric are cor rect; that is, that in expressing his thought he does not violate any of the commonly accepted rules of good usage, such as those covered in any good high school text on Rhetoric or in one of the recent books on business English. Books of both kinds give the same general rules. The books that treat of business English, however, emphasize those rules which are of especial importance in business correspondence. They draw their illustrations from business writing. They treat correctness more from the point of view of its value in gaining effectiveness. Many of these books present vital principles of effectiveness. Therefore a careful study of a good modern book on business English, especially that part of it which deals with rules of correctness, is well worth while. The best trained correspondent now and then might let technical errors in English creep into his dictation.
2. Technical and is not the aim of this chapter to summarize a complete list of the technical errors in English that are frequently found in business correspondence, such as "faulty reference," "dangling modifiers," lack of agreement in case and number, and so on. But because this chapter emphasizes the less technical principles of rhetoric, it is not to be inferred that the more specific and technical rules of grammar and rhetoric may be slighted by the business correspondent. All technical rules are useful in so far as they explain how lan guage may be made a more effective means of con veying thought. And if language is to be a valuable medium of expression, there must be agreement con cerning the meaning and arrangement of words and groups of words. Rules are merely the crystalliza
tion of the consensus of opinion in this regard—the opinion of those who speak and write well. For clear ness of expression, then, the rules of grammar and rhetoric are indispensable. Whether or not these rules were set down in black and white, they are in herent in the very nature of language. They are the fundamental cause of the usefulness of language.
Many grammatical and rhetorical rules concern the expression of the finer shades of meaning. These are the rules that many consider useless. But a knowl edge of them is essential to the person who writes im portant letters that require absolute accuracy and com pleteness of expression.
3. Words.—It has been said that words are live things. Certainly thoughts are live things, and words express thoughts. Deep and accurate thinking can only be done by men whose ability in discriminating the meanings of words is highly developed. An ex tensive vocabulary is forged on the anvil of neces sity by those who think incisively concerning large problems. As a rule, the accurate thinker is a student of words, for accurate thinking requires accurate use of words. Accurate thinking is not the result of an accurate choice of words; it is the cause. In other words, carelessness in the choice of words is the result of careless thinking.
Therefore, the fundamental problem of acquiring a vocabulary and of acquiring the ability to use words most efficiently is that of developing the ability to think deeply and accurately.
4. Choosing the right word.—The knack of choos ing just the right word to express the exact meaning for the occasion requires, first, that the exact meaning be held clearly in mind; second, that the reader's point of view be clearly held in mind; and third, that the writer have a keen appreciation of the minute differences in the meanings of words—not that he have a large vocabulary, but rather that he be able to make comparatively few and simple words ac curately express many of his ideas.