Saturday, July 04, 2015

The birth of our nation, according to writers

Today my Facebook feed is full of images of the American flag and "Thank you for serving!" posts for our vets.  While I think it's important to remember the service of others, I also like NPR's approach of reminding us of the document that started it all: the Declaration of Independence.

Just A Few Important Words About The 'Declaration Of Independence'

It's an intelligent story, about not just the document itself, but of the significance of the wording its authors -- primarily Thomas Jefferson -- chose.

I particularly loved this section of the story:

The declaration includes a message aimed straight at the British people. Like their king, it reads, the British were "deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity." (Descent from the same ancestor.)

But, the declaration adds, Americans will treat the British people "as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends."

Today, a speechwriter would likely had ended that section with "enemies in war, friends in peace."

But the declaration employs a chiasmus. That's a rhetorical device in which the second of two parallel phrases is inverted. In this case, "Friends" was placed at the end of the phrase.

The purpose, Lucas said, is to "slow the text." Especially when the line is read aloud, as the declaration would have been to crowds at the time, the chiasmus forces listeners to concentrate on the message: That the Americans were reasonable people being forced to take up arms, but that they would surely be friends with the British again some day.

Chiasmus may be my new favorite word, actually.

I love reading about how much thought went into the writing of this document.  Our culture is permeated with writing now.  In addition to books, magazines, and newspapers, we now have the Internet, which is chock full of writing.  Sure, some of it is absolute crap, but that's actually part of my point: When there was less writing, talk wasn't so cheap, basically.  When being able to read and write -- or educated at all -- was a gift that one was incredibly thankful for, more thought went into the choice of words and turns of phrase.  And of course they were probably poignantly aware that the entire world would be reading what they wrote, judging it for centuries to come.

I also love that so much thought has gone into analyzing these documents.  The writing of them was an art, but as long as we have people who love to study them, the art is not lost.

Happy Independence Day!

No comments:


Popular Posts