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"Write simply and directly"? In German? Viel Glück! Great stuff.

Thanks, that was quite enjoyable.

H. L. Mencken, the sage of Baltimore, was of German background, spoke German well, and often entered the lists against the verbally flatulent. The best example is probably his critique of the works of socialist Thorstein Veblen. An excerpt:

“For those ideas, in the main, were quite simple, and often anything but revolutionary in essence. What was genuinely remarkable about them was not their novelty, or their complexity, nor even the fact that a professor should harbor them; it was the astoundingly grandiose and rococo manner of their statement, the almost unbelievable tediousness and flatulence of the gifted headmaster's prose, his unprecedented talent for saying nothing in an august and heroic manner. There are tales of an actress of the last generation, probably Sarah Bernhardt, who could put pathos and even terror into a recitation of the multiplication table. Something of the same talent, raised to a high power, was in this Prof. Veblen. If one tunneled under his great moraines and stalagmites of words, dug down into his vast kitchen-midden of discordant and raucous polysyllables, blew up the hard, thick shell of his almost theological manner, what one found in his discourse was chiefly a mass of platitudes—the self-evident made horrifying, the obvious in terms of the staggering.”

Stendhal, who spoke German and lived among the Germans for a time, criticized them for the same fault. His take was that, if you ever bothered to read and try to understand some of the bombastic works that German authors were producing in his day, the underlying thoughts usually turned out to be very simple, and, in any case, could have been expressed much more economically. Nearly 200 years later, things haven’t changed much. Tons of ink have been wasted in the composition of erudite articles about America written in the most high-falutin’ language, yet the percentage of authors and readers of these articles whose actual knowledge of my country can fairly be described as rising above the level of ignorance is vanishingly small. Boil them down to get rid of the verbal dross, and you’re usually left with a restatement of hackneyed stereotypes or ideologically approved platitudes.

But look at Gibbon. His sentences are long, grammatically complex, and stand as some of the most beautiful English ever written. Also, I had an old English teacher who dismissed Strunk's manual as having been written for advertising agents. Now, Mencken, he could write! I don't know German well enough to judge, but English is a broad and generous language, and lets us express our thoughts in all kinds of ways. Provided we have any to express...

Gibbon lived and wrote in the 18th century.

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