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English writing skills



A major concern of mine is the decline of speech and writing. Compare the writings of the Founding Fathers with what passes for English today. In Bogotá, the Athens of America, society spoke the most beautiful Spanish I have heard. That Athens is no more. Diplomat Paul Simon and I have been discussing this problem. He writes:

"The State Department teaches many courses on professional writing from the field, but serious reporting officers regard this as insufficient. Believe it or not, there is a "bootleg" 30-page writing guide floating around, with great entries like "100 synonyms for 'said'!!" There is also a possibly apocryphal legend that there is a team of master cable writers in State's internal cyberspace. They supposedly collectively call themselves "Dr. Wordsmith" and will edit any officer's drafting if he can get it to them. I have met a few FSOs who swear they have met "the good doctor" electronically and had their work vastly improved. One fellow forwarded me his before and after and the changes were astonishing. A dreary cable about smuggling had become an exciting, clever, active-voice, succinct news item. Being a (I hope) good diplomat, I neither confirm nor deny Dr. Wordsmith's existence".

I have an electronic problem. One good WAISer those at the conference met is former student Steve Buergi. He may remember that in those pre-computer days my students had to face up to the language problem. His son Robert became a computer expert and as such was most helpful to WAIS. I have lost touch with him, and his name does not appear in my computer's address book. Nevertheless, often when I am typing an address his name suddenly appears. I have tried everything to erase it from the system, but to no avail. I wonder if he has cast a spell on my computer. I must have it exorcised.

Ronald Hilton - 2/19/02


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