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Analogous to nervous cluelessness is something we might call “anxious gatekeeping.”   This is desire to police the borders of poetry, or of...

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

In other words...

Every metadiscursive phrase or tic bears its own clues as to the writer's thinking. "Of course" means that that you are making an assumption or leaving something unquestioned. "In other words" means that you didn't say it right the first time. What follows "in other words" is what you might have said in the first place, if you had thought of it first. That doesn't mean that you should always go back and eliminate the first formulation of the idea, but you should always at least think about doing this. You could even rewrite the first formulation to make it better and still leave the second. Some ideas need restatement for clarity or rhetorical effect.

I used to use "At the same time, however...." virtually every other sentence. Here the logic is to leave both halves of the contradiction operant. Or "I'm always giving you what you already know first, then I'll spring the new information on you." There is nothing particularly wrong with any of these devices, used in moderation, but it helps to have some self-awareness. I was using the word "entail" a lot a few months ago. When I noticed that I realized that my thinking was orientated toward a certain variety of logical consequences. Once I realized that, I could clarify my own ideas more easily by sorting out different kinds of "entailment" and seeing whether I really needed to use that word so much.

3 comments:

matt said...

I find myself fighting the impulse to say "of course" because for me I think it comes from a place of insecurity. I don't want it to seem as though I'm ignorant of whatever it is my claim assumes.

LeiLani said...

I don't use "of course" because I'm afraid it makes me sound conceited, but I do occasionally use "in other words." I like to use it when I have a long-winded explanation and then follow it up with some catchy phrase that means the same thing. The one I have to watch for is "on the other hand" which usually means my writing is getting a bit plodding and pedantic, and I feel I have to signal every twist and turn of my argument.

fjb said...

When I use (or am tempted to use) "Of course," I think that what I'm trying to convey is that I don't want the reader to think that I'm assuming s/he isn't aware of some commonplace, but that I'm including it as a reminder to set up something more interesting. Ultimately, I edit most of these occurrences out. And I try never to use "of course" to make something controversial or theoretically loaded sound less so.