« ForrigeFortsæt »
YOUNG PHYSICIANS AS WRITERS AND SPEAKERS
How to master the art of intelligible medical writing-The use and abuse of figures of speech-Word coining-Obsolete words-Misusage of terms-Alliteration-Florid writing out of place in medicine-Quotations-Short and long sentences -The proper disposition of members of sentences-The good of frequent revisions-Punctuation-Medical "bulls"-Style -Titles of essays and books-Individual titles-PrefaceIntroduction-Epigraph—A few cautionary remarks for the benefit of young speakers.
ALTHOUGH, during the last conference, some suggestions relating to his compositions were made to the young medical writer and speaker, a few additional hints may prove serviceable to him who doubtless knows that the art of putting together words intended to express his thoughts and compel their right apprehension by the reader or listener, cannot be acquired without long study beginning from childhood at the family hearth. He knows it is at the home fireside that the first educational principles are indoctrinated and that so many useful ideas are impressed upon the child's developing mind. There he is told of the necessity of rightly understanding the meaning of all the words which he uses; and later he is taught the sage maxims to the effect that "He who would gain a knowledge of men must first learn to understand the meaning of words"; and that "Among the most important con
cerns of men are the right names of things and exactitude." With such a fund of preliminary notions, the boy is able to profit greatly, during adolescence, in the acquirement of the knowledge exacted for his admission to the freshman class in a University. His four years of labor are soon passed and he has grown to manhood, ready to begin the study of medicine, and in due time to enter the ranks of the profession and gradually build up a practice.
After some years of experience and study he naturally realises that it is his duty to contribute a fair share of lore to medical societies and journals or in the form of a treatise. The work will give him very great pleasure if his early training have been such as to enable him to overcome promptly the difficulties so often encountered in the composition of serious literary essays. But even then he should devote an abundance of time to the cultivation of the difficult art of writing intelligibly which is attainable only through a thorough knowledge of the properties, value, and different shades of meaning of words, and the ability to construct symmetrically and harmoniously all phrases, sentences, paragraphs, and chapters of the work undertaken. It is solely by long, patient, and persevering labor that he can acquire mastery in this art which necessitates such mature thinking, such close attention to matter as well as manner, and so much general reading, besides critical annotations of suggestive passages from the best works of eminent authors. Only when he has gone through this kind of exercise of his mental faculties has the beginner learned to avoid the use of forms of
speech which are not in accord with refined literary taste, and only then does he realise that the best style of composition must depend upon great wealth of diction, wise judgment in the selection of words the most appropriate to the subject of a particular discourse; concise and clear in expression of thoughts; excellence in description; brev ity and exactness in definition; accuracy in statement; felicity in illustration; fitness in arrangement; and propriety in the presentation of a subject. He feels quite sure that there is no facile path toward the attainment of this art, and that there is no exaggeration in the old say ing "Easy writing's curst hard reading." He also very naturally concludes that the man who boasts of being able to write with great ease and of never revising, is very likely to be a poor writer whose easy writing makes the hardest kind of reading. One of the great writers of the nineteenth century, in a letter of advice to a young liter ary friend, said substantially: I notice in your last essay that you expressed an excellent idea, but in scarcely su able words, and am certain that you would have made * better choice had you not been in to grant haste sure hereafter to take more fire and pity aly &aff and right words, and especially to do s which, as you know fan shrouys " aantal magn and so create serons toutes ,༨༨, , ༼༼༥à ༼༼ 。 ས༽༼ examples that may se fra racing, on portance of corect aga
The beginner toes 16 and tion of over using an ign
་ ན་ ་།
tions. Hence the necessity of cautioning him and of insisting that very few of these figures should ever take place in the language of medicine. Among the figures regarded with favor in good medical writing are similes, metaphors, and allegory, all of which, however, to be used very sparingly. Similes, though sometimes helpful, seldom appear in short essays of good writers. Metaphors used in excess mar and inflate medical language, their effective employment requires ripe judgment and long experience in the art of writing. Allegory, generally unsafe and of difficult usage, is occasionally resorted to with some advantage.
The careful writer, striving for lucidity, generally uses words and phrases susceptible of but a single meaning, so he is rarely obliged to say of a particular expression that he has used it in one or in another sense. He seeks the right names of things and rejects eponyms as he does sonorous, big, empty words; those "words of learned length and thund'ring sound," which should be banished from all serious medical discourses. The pomposity of such words renders their use and user ridiculous in the extreme. However, the use of long compound words is sometimes necessary to avoid circumlocution, particularly in purely technical articles, as in anatomy, in bio-chemics, and in chemistry.
The coinage of words is attended with such risks that the young writer should not think of undertaking the delicate difficult, and thankless task until the subject of a discourse renders it absolutely necessary. When he does build up
such a necessary word let him be sure of its freedom from the slightest linguistic imperfection. His caution will be the greater if he remember what Ben Jonson said on this question: "A man coins not a new word without some peril, and less fruit; for if it happen to be received, the praise is but moderate; if refused the scorn is assured." Obsolete words need some notice.
There are many good words which, generally from unknown reasons, have been declared obsolete but are still found in the lexicons with the mark "obsolete." Whenever such words seem to him the most appropriate to the subject of his discourse, the writer should not hesitate to employ them.
Alliteration, used parsimoniously, is serviceable when it is desirable to express an idea with increased emphasis; otherwise it is best when only incidental. Its use is too often excessive, not so much in medical as in general literature. Poe gives a notable example of the effect of skilfully used alliteration in his "Raven"; but the most remarkable instance of profuse alliteration is in the facetious Latin poem bearing the title "Pugna Porcorum," and consisting of upward of three hundred verses in more than seventeen hundred words; each word beginning with the letter p, even in the footnotes.
Florid, sophomoric, "fine writing" is out of place in the language of science and even in fiction. An eminent critic once spoke of his own former fondness for this style; saying that when he began to set forth his thoughts he was wont to state a simple fact by the use of a great profusion