I have been labouring under the misapprehension all my life that a sentence must have a verb. Master McDyer told us this in the national school in Enfield when I was in 5th class. ‘Hogs grunt’, he would say, ‘that’s a sentence’.
I have just finished a book called ‘The Elements of Eloquence: How To Turn the Perfect English Phrase’ and the author, Mark Forsyth, points out that this is not the case. And some of the examples he gives come straight from the first chapter of the first book I ever read from the author who would later become my favourite.
The author was Charles Dickens, the book was ‘Bleak House’, and the first sentence in that book goes as follows: ‘London’.
And then the book proceeds for a further 384 words, or thereabouts, without a verb. It describes the fog in London at that time, the fog being a metaphor for the law. The fog was everywhere, all pervasive, enveloping the city, stifling London during Michaelmas term, if memory serves me well.
The fundamental hypothesis of Forsyth’s book is that words and writing are not only for communicating but also for the creation of art. He argues that the popularity of the ‘plain English’ writing championed by, amongst others, Ernest Hemingway is not the only way to write and even if you have nothing to say you can say it well with beautiful writing.
He makes the valid comparison between writing and clothing and the acceptance (by most of us anyway) that clothing serves other purposes in addition to the purely functional task of covering the human anatomy and keeping us warm.
So it is with writing and language and words.
The book is not a white knuckle ride or a page turner by any stretch of the imagination. But if you like words, if you place a value on words and how they are laid out and used, if you have an interest in rhetoric the ‘The Elements of Eloquence: How To Turn the Perfect English Phrase’ is worth the few bob I paid on Kindle.
And like virtually every book I have read, no matter how apparently boring or useless or didactic or lecturing or smart alecky, there is always one or two gems you can pick up. Like diamonds in a pigsty. And that is certainly the case with this one.