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Louis Roney: Simplicity?

Louis Roney

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Finding new and more economical ways of saying things is admirable, it seems to me. Through the years, I have listened to a colleague – of far more formal education than I can claim – begin many sentences pompously with, “At this point in time.”

One day, in a flash of rare insight, even clairvoyance, I conceived a briefer way to say “at this point in time” in a conservative vein, i.e. a way that saves all of the phrase’s portent.

My novel substitution was the word, “now!”

There is more to recommend my idea than may appear at first glance. Kindly let me elucidate.

If my colleague says, “At this point in time I’m planning to rob a bank,” couldn’t he accomplish the same end by saying, “Now I’m planning to rob a bank”?

This example of simple semantic economy has several ramifying applications, and I believe all of them to be worthy. Note that the phrase, “at this point in time” contains five words with a grand total of 17 letters. “Now”, however, is only one word, and contains but three letters. And yet “now” conveys the same meaning as the longer phrase – amazing!

If a colleague rises to the position of being our “leader,” he has a secretary to type up his communicative inventions. In that case, consider for a moment that a secretary could type “now” almost six times in the time it takes to type one “at this point in time.”

This is meaningful stuff, and not idle psychic peregrination! Such assiduous laborsaving would clearly make life better for secretaries, save much paper, and reduce the reading time for recipients.

In my sojourn on the scene of my only stab at higher learning, in a college in Massachusetts which has mutated in the intervening six and a half decades in so many ways as to be “now” unrecognizable to me, I used to sit at a bench in an ancient hall and revel in the spoken words of one Howard Mumford Jones.

Jones was a great “don,” and his comments still invade my mind in rare random moments. Lecturing us on W. Somerset Maugham, a popular English novelist of nearly a century ago, Jones was not as adoring as were most of Maugham’s readers who merely enjoyed sitting at the knee of an accomplished storyteller.

H.M. Jones said to us lads something on this order one day: “Young gentleman, when Mr. Maugham lapses into his fancy writing, I positively gag!”

“Maugham’s characters say such things as, ‘When I was out in India, I was by way of being a sanitation engineer.’ Young gentlemen, what the hell is ‘by way of being’ something? The question is the man a sanitation engineer, or not? If he was, how is this ‘by way of being’ supposed to embellish the fact? It’s !” Jones snorted, muttering an effective word that might have shocked a typist in those days, but certainly not at this point in ... I mean, now.

Howard Mumford Jones liked Dickens and Mark Twain. Great “lecture-star” Jones enjoyed the word “concomitant,” perhaps because, although it is a long word, it says what only several other combined words can satisfactorily express.

In Jones’ exams, consisting of only essay questions that we answered in thin lined “blue books,” I was sure to use “concomitant” at least once. This was homage to a master, and to what he taught us.

George Bernard Shaw left a lot of money to a movement to “modernize” English by overhauling our strange archaic spelling in favor of shorter, logically fashioned words. He ran into a beehive when implacable defenders of a tenuous status quo prolonged the ways we’ve been spelling “ough” words since G. Chaucer.

George Bernard Shaw said that “dough” should be spelled “doe,” “though” should be “tho,” “through” should be “thru,” “cough” should be “cawf,” “tough” should be “tuf,” “bough” should be “bow,” “bought” should be “bawt,” “enough” should be “enuf” – as in “enuf awreddy,” etc.

Patently, Old George at that point in time was by way of being premature in his ideas. He wrote a pretty Atlanta deb that he would like to father her child if the child could have his brains and her looks – but feared lest it be the other way around!