Tuesday, April 08, 2008

my rhetorical compulsion

  • rhetorical - of or relating to rhetoric
  • rhetoric - the study of the effective use of language
  • compulsion - an irresistible impulse to act, regardless of the rationality of the motivation
I have a rhetorical compulsion. I suspect it's rare. It isn't even as popular as others in its category such as semicolon aversion. It's at once general, pervasive, and easily triggered. It's also simple in concept and tricky to fulfill. It's this: don't reuse non-basic words.

All the tenses of words like "I", "it", "be", "do", "have" are basic. Not reusing those words would be certifiably insane. My compulsion pertains solely to non-basic words. The previous paragraph's non-basic words include but are not limited to: "rhetorical", "compulsion", "suspect", "popular", "aversion", "general", "pervasive", "simple"... "Compulsion" is an exception since it's the subject in this case. As I compose a blog entry in Firefox I frequently activate the convenient "Find in this page" function to perform a redundance check with my hands staying on the keyboard. It's the next best thing to paying attention to the communication of my point.

I blame the growth of my rhetorical compulsion to several influences. The most reasonable of the bunch is that a moderate version of it is widespread advice: strive for precise, varied, colorful word choices. I'd add a close corollary: if every other sentence contains "very" then you should try harder, mmm'kay?

Another component is my awareness of stylometry. I'm perturbed by the thought that my mind can be correlated however imperfectly to analyses of my prose. What makes that annoyance still more illogical is that at the same time I know I have a particular style and I'm in fact unapologetic about it. Yet I avoid repetition in the hopeless effort to render myself more incalculable.

To flourish, especially in the beginning, a compulsion must have a driver that regularly presents the stimulus. Mine is when I read now and can't help noticing the author's favorite terms, descriptions, and expressions. "Huh. These characters' lips twitch a lot, and they often speak 'dryly'." I concede that it's unfair to compare the level of monotony in a novel to that of a blog (or an amateurish short story), but if I was applying a sense of proportion I wouldn't be compulsive about it, would I?

A vital ingredient of a habit is that it meets a real or imagined need of the actor. It somehow satisfies. In this instance, one of the favorable outcomes is remembering and using marginally obscure words. I'm not so far gone that I skim the thesaurus or dictionary for amusement (not enough plot). Nevertheless, I enjoy a little variety and novelty in my vocabulary, somewhat like listening to randomized playback or purposely not eating the same entrée at the same restaurant. And let's not bother to pretend that all words have equal zest.

Perhaps the ideal way to end this therapy session is a quote that exemplifies the disdain-provoking opposite extreme of my rhetorical compulsion:
You're asking me to be rational. That is something I know I cannot do. Believe me, I wish I could just wish away my feelings, but I can't.
UPDATE (04/22/08): Handy word frequency counter here: http://www.writewords.org.uk/word_count.asp . Test my posts. G'head. Dare ya.

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