Sherwin Cody was an American writer and entrepreneur who developed a long-running home-study course in speaking and writing with an advertisement with this title.
A critic of traditional English education, Cody advocated colloquial style and grammar. He asked:
- What is the reason so many of us are deficient in the use of English and find our careers stunted in consequence?
- Why is it some cannot spell correctly and others cannot punctuate?
- Why do so many find themselves at a loss for words to express their meaning adequately?
The reason for the deficiency is clear:
Most persons do not write or speak good English simply because they never formed the habit of doing so.
Most persons use only common words — colorless, flat, ordinary. Their speech and their letters are lifeless, monotonous, humdrum.
If there is a subject of really universal interest and utility, it is the art of writing and speaking one’s own language effectively.
It is the basis of culture, as we all know; but it is infinitely more than that: it is the basis of business. No salesman can sell anything unless he can explain the merits of his goods in effective English (among our people), or can write an advertisement equally effective, or present his ideas, and the facts, in a letter.
The way we talk, and write letters, largely determines our success in life.
Now it is well for us to face at once the counter-statement that the most ignorant and uncultivated men often succeed best in business, and that misspelled, ungrammatical advertisements have brought in millions of dollars.
As far as spelling is concerned, we know that some of the masters of literature have been atrocious spellers and many suppose that when one can sin in such company, sinning is, as we might say, a “beauty spot”, a defect in which we can even take pride.
There is a general belief that while bad air may be a positive evil influence, incorrect use of language is at most no more than a negative evil: that while it may be a good thing to be correct, no special harm is involved in being incorrect.
The ordinary person conceives of good use of language as an accomplishment to be learned from books, a prim system of genteel manners to be put on when occasion demands, a sort of superficial education in the correct thing, or, as the boys would say, “the proper caper.” In this, however, he is mistaken.
Language which expresses the thought with strict logical accuracy is correct language. Language which is sufficiently rich in its resources to express thought fully is effective language.
If the writer or speaker has a sufficient stock of words and forms at his disposal, he has only to use them in a strictly logical way and with sufficient fullness to be both correct and effective.
The unfortunate thing is that teachers of language have failed to go to the root of the trouble, and enormous effort has counted for nothing, and besides has led to discouragement.
The right kind of language-teaching will give us power, a kind of eloquence, a skill in the use of words. That help us to write advertisements that pull business, write letters that win customers, and speak in effective ways to sell goods.
(From the Introduction)
Those who take advantage of this study gain something so priceless that it cannot be measured in terms of money.
They gain a facility in speech that marks them as educated people in whatever society they find themselves.
They gain the self-confidence and self-respect which this ability inspires.
This is a classic reference that belongs on every writer’s shelf.
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