When books such as Rudolph Flesch’s The Art of Plain Talk began reaching the public, the academic world was somewhat disconcerted. Academic jargon was attacked. An alternative was posed. Must the world of letters bow to the common man’s language, or would the breach widen between scholars and the commercial populi?
Until “plain talk” was made popular, ivy tower educators could discuss the utilitarian aspects of the vernacular with utter objectivity. Semantics taught that the “color” of a language lies in the idiomatic expression of the work-a-day world. It was enough if the scholar acknowledged this fact with academic interest and benevolence. As teachers, writers, and lecturers, scholars were remote from so mundane a world, and token patronage was all that was expected. Moreover, polysyllabic language was their cloister, insuring a “great gulf fixed.”
Naturally, the attitude was assumed by some ministers of the Gospel. A preciseness in ordinary conversation seemed to mark some of them. Sepulcher tones, never heard except on Sunday or for prayer, were affected for worship. And, when a man would go to Edinburgh to study for two years, he would return with a Scottish brogue which he safeguarded throughout his lifetime against all the inroads of his mother tongue! Many a parishioner cherished the thought, “If he had gone to a South American University would he have come home with a Latin accent and the Pedro image?”
The academic world yielded to the pressure for plain talk, perhaps not so universally as but sooner than did the clergy. Dr. Paul de Kruif ripped the cloak of obscurity from medicine with his Microbe Hunters, Men Against Death, Hunger Fighters, and Seven Iron Men. Some medical men disdained the popularizing of knowledge ...1
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