[VIEWPOINT]Words are precious, not to be wasted

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[VIEWPOINT]Words are precious, not to be wasted

I dislike criticizing other people's writing or habits of speech. I try to avoid such incidents, since I have my own writing and talking to worry about. Who has time to find fault with others? All gardens have weeds, and my goal has been to weed my own garden before checking others. But lately I've changed my mind; I've actually become eager to stamp out language superfluousness.

A column about fishing found in a Korean student's directory from an American university horrified me. I hear that it's normal for a few essays to appear within such directories, but this one had no place.

"The purpose of this column is for the students of So-and-so University, who are arduously studying, to relieve their stress in the beauties of nature, to recharge their minds and spirits for future studies and research."

It was impossible for me to read past this petrified paragraph. The words removed any desire I had to go fishing. How kind of the writer to explain so thoroughly the purpose of his writing. Why say something that's so redundant and ridiculous?

I was also shocked to read an item in an alumni bulletin that I received. I was so stunned that I almost fell to the ground. The first paragraph started as follows:

"The So-and-so Journal asked me to write an essay. When I sat down to write something about my school days, my past started coming back to me, bit by bit, as if I were watching a movie."

If this had been written by one of my teachers I would have passed it off as obviously the work of an old-timer. But this wasn't written by one of my teachers. It was done by someone much younger. With this preposterous opening statement, the author wasted five lines of precious space. What a relief it was that he didn't end it by saying, "I regret that I've already filled up the requested amount of space. ..."

Everywhere, it seems, writing appears that uses words and phrases that are redundant. Too much writing these days shows too little originality and too often only bureaucratic terms supplied by the government. Added to this are idealistic terms probably influenced by intellectuals, floating around without sail or punt pole, owing to the power of the mass media. All words have their use. But only useless words are used to fill awkward silences.

A reporter asks a college student, "How was the World Cup?"

She answers, "As one of the members of our nation. ...."

We already know that she is a member of our nation. Couldn't she say something that sounded like a college student?

A television celebrity tastes food prepared by a chef. The reporter asks her about the food. I tense up, and for good reason.

"It's tasty and light," comes the expected and meaningless response.

Here's something that American professors taught me that shows Koreans lack of originality:

Professor: "What is love?"

Korean student: "According to the Corinthians, love is something that is patient, kind, not jealous, does not brag. ...."

Professor: "Let me put it differently. 'What do YOU think love is?'"

Korean student: "According to Euripides, love is something that is sweet yet bitter."

Professor: "No, no, no... Please don't quote other people. Tell me what YOU think. What is YOUR opinion of love?"

Is it possible for us to face the world individually instead of standing in the shadow of ideology? Is it possible for us to think more about the words we use?


The writer is a novelist and translator.

by Lee Yun-ki

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