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How to be fresh and modern – lessons from the past

Today’s sermon on writing in a modern, conversational style comes from William Hazlitt (1778 – 1830):

“It is not easy to write a familiar style. Many people mistake a familiar for a vulgar style and suppose that to write without affectation is to write at random. On the contrary, there is nothing that requires more precision, and if I may so so, purity of expression, than the style I am speaking of. It utterly rejects not only all unmeaning pomp, but all low, cant phrases, and loose unconnected, slipshod allusions. It is not to take the first word that offers, but the best word in common use; it is not to throw words together in any combinations we please, but to follow and avail ourselves of the true idiom of the language.

To write a genuine familiar or truly English style, is to write as any one would speak in common conversation, who had a thorough command and choice of words, or who could discourse with ease, force and perspicuity, setting aside all pedantic and oratorical flourishes.”

(From the essay ‘On Familiar Style‘, published 1821).