Keywords: active verbs, direct powerful writing, compelling writing, anglo saxon english, clear english writing, direct language, business writing, effective business copywriting, powerful copywriting
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The Written Power Of Barbarian English
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by Robert Warren

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Are you looking for a way to inject new life into your writing: lean it out, make it punchy? Do your readers sometimes tell you that your words are sometimes obtuse, condescending, or too abstract? Do you stare at your writing and wonder what you could be doing to better connect with your readers?

Do what professional writers do: embrace the barbarian side of the English language.

The English language is a linguistic train wreck, a collage of historical influences, dating back to the 5th century invasion of Celtic England by barbarian Germanic tribes. These peoples, known today as the Anglo-Saxons, dominated the native Celts and spoke simple and emotional dialects that today form the core of the modern English language. The most commonly used English words today are direct descendants of their languages, some barely changed in 1500 years.

As Christianity spread to England, Latin and Greek words were added to the language by the Church; even more Latin was added five hundred years later during the French Norman conquest of England.

While modern English has been influenced by virtually every culture on the globe, the foundation of the language still mainly consists of the uneasy coexistence of these two historical branches, Anglo-Saxon and (mainly French) Latin. Understanding this relationship is the key to understanding the English language.

The two bear striking differences. Latinate words are longer, more precise, more abstract and more intellectual. They were the words of scholars, historians, church elders, and scientists - words meant not to express simple emotion, but to precisely convey a specific idea to an educated mind. They require time for thought and reflection. Latinates are complex words, created by complex civilizations - ancient Greece and Rome.

By contrast, the barbarian Anglo-Saxon words are very short, usually no more than two syllables. They're emotional and direct, the words of combat and passion, sex and death, love and hate, pain and pleasure. They're dramatic and simple. There is no room for subtlety in the language of a people adapted to living hard and dying harder.

Most of the English language is either Anglo or Latinate, and knowing how to tell the difference between the two - and how to use them effectively - will immediately improve the quality of your writing tenfold.

Use the dictionary to study the etymology of your words. Any decent dictionary (including the online ones) will not only provide a word's definition but also a rough history of its development (etymology). A quick glance at the appropriate entry will quickly answer any historical questions you may have, and tell you whether it derives from Roman or Germanic dialects.

Use Latinates sparingly, and only for specific jobs. Many educated but ineffective writers heavily lean on Latinate usage (i.e., "constructed" rather than "built") in the belief that longer words convey intelligence, weight and literacy; their writing instead projects an abstracted arrogance that's a pain to read. Latinates create more reader resistance than their Anglo cousins; use them surgically, choosing your tools wisely and using them only as absolutely necessary.

Rely on Anglo words except in circumstances that require the precision of Latin. To write "he articulated" rather than simply "he said" is usually a waste of either ink or electrons. Unless you are certain that only "articulated" says exactly what you mean, just use the simpler word. Write simply and emotionally, and use the big words for the big jobs.

Unless you know what you are doing, avoid using latecomers to the language. New words are entering the English language every day; some are media-created, others enter through other languages, and still others are invented from whole cloth and just catch on. Most of these words are redundant, their meanings already adequately covered by words that haven't changed in a thousand years.

Beware using vernacular or trendy words in situations that don't absolutely demand them. The mighty oak of the English language has been growing steadily for over sixteen hundred years, and its roots run deep and strong.

Don't settle for new and frail twigs when you can go right to the reliability of old growth wood: Anglo and Latin.


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(c) Robert Warren, Writer and Editor - Freelance Technical Copywriter, California and Florida - T/ 209.232.4219
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