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Simplicity and Rhetorical Power; Writing Seasons

October 3, 2011

An absolute must-read this season for anyone interested in Israeli politics is Etgar Keret’s mid-September column at Tablet Magazine,Summer Heat“. The simplicity of its structure–a reflection on the Summer 2011 social protests, as told through the experiences of a child–masks a vibrant and elegant commentary on the beginnings of a revolution that swept the country this year.

Ordinarily I’d give the author full credit and kudos, and I imagine he should receive much of the recognition. But as this article appeared on Tablet Magazine as a translation, I am also compelled to recognize the superb translation skills of Sondra Silverston.

One passage in particular stands out above all the rest for its eloquence:

In retrospect, the fact that almost all of the various groups in this divided society could stand shoulder to shoulder and shout the same slogans is nothing short of a miracle. In the not very distant past, those same groups had occupied the same space only to clash and hurl insults at each other.

The concept of unity is expressed not only in the content of these sentences, but also in their translator’s word choice: the key words and phrases all begin with the letter ‘s’: “society,” “stand shoulder to shoulder,” “shout the same slogans,” “short,” and “same groups had occupied the same space.” By repeating the letter over and over again–literary scholars call this alliteration–the tone of the sentence expresses unity, a unity so glaring it nearly smacks the reader in the face.

Alliteration can signal a variety of meanings (e.g., unity, rapidity, conflict), but it primarily identifies the alliterated words as the key movers of the text. In this paragraph, the alliterated words (listed above) all imply an astonishing, visible unity. The fact that an “s” also begins the word “summer,” the primary setting of the author’s reflections and a constant trope of the article, constantly revives and reinforces the alliteration throughout the text.

On the notion of setting, there is another writing lesson to be found in this article. The author returns to his setting in every paragraph, pulling the reader back to the focal point of the article: the significance of the summer 2011 protests. Many authors (myself included) have a tendency to digress and to neglect their main setting, and it is important to recognize that in a persuasive, emotional appeal such as “Summer Heat,” power often derives from staying perfectly on-target.

Grammar Lesson of the Day: How to Write Seasons

When writing the names of the seasons–winter, spring, summer, autumn/fall–most people don’t quite understand when to use capital letter and when to use lowercase ones. As a general rule of thumb, Kate Turabian’s A Manual for Writers (a handy reference for copy editors like myself) suggests not capitalizing the names of the seasons in text, though you should capitalize names of days of week, months, and holidays.

On the other hand, when the name of a season appears as part of a formal name, such as the Summer Olympics, Winter Wonderland Park, or Baseball Spring Training, you use capital letters. Some people also capitalize the names of seasons in slightly less formal names, such as Autumnal Equinox, or Winter Solstice, though this use is not universal.

Also, Kate Turabian cautions writers that, even though they should not capitalize the names of the seasons in the main text, they should always capitalize them in the references and notes sections when describing publication dates.

For more on the subject of how to properly use the season names, and for the difference between “autumn” and “fall,” see Geoff Pope’s article on Grammar Girl.

Reference:

Turabian, Kate L., A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, These and Dissertations, 7th ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007). See sections 19.2.5 and 22.1.2.

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