My dear wife Colours said goodbye to me yesterday. Don’t get it wrong – she was only leaving for the U.S, to visit her parents for a week. And if you are wondering if this has anything to do with the change in the template of this blog, you couldn’t be closer to the truth. The blog template reflects my present state – Colourless.
Last week I cancelled my subscription to the Fortune magazine. It was a tearful experience. The online cancellation form indicated that Fortune was sad to lose a customer like me, and asked for a reason for my cancellation. The reasons listed were the usual formal ones (couldn’t they think of something like “My dog doesn’t like the taste of the magazine” ?), and unable to find one that applied to me I chose “Other” and clicked the “Submit” button. They weren’t satisfied. The next page displayed a large box with a message that repeated their sentiments on losing a customer (They really regretted anything wrong they might have done to me, the message said) and invited me to write an essay on why I wished to cancel my subscription. I wrote, briefly, that my local library had recently subscribed to the magazine (which was a lie, of course; they had been getting the magazine all along), and clicked “Submit” again. This brought me to a page with another message that described how much they regretted breaking this relationship, and how much they would miss me. If I still wished to go ahead with my cancellation, the message said, I could press “Confirm”. I thought for a while – a few weak moments – and then, summoning all my determination, I clicked “Confirm”.
I slept little that night, thinking of a Fortune employee verifying if any library in my vicinity had recently subscribed to the magazine. I expected a mail next morning that informed how pleased Fortune was to revoke my cancellation since my reason had proved false. It’s been a week since cancellation, and I have received no such mail.
The real reason for my cancellation was hidden in a stack of old magazines I spent sifting through last weekend. Among them was an old copy of The New Yorker – dated June 2001 – purchased at an airport in the U.S. As I browsed through the magazine, reading some articles and looking at the cartoons, I realised how little of good journalism had come my way of late (my failing, of course) and how satisfying a few hours with The New Yorker would be, each weekend. The decision was made in that moment: Fortune out, The New Yorker in.
That copy of The New Yorker had an amusing “antidote to ‘The Elements of Style’ “. It began: “The reader of the fifth edition of ‘The Elements of Style’ will find many of the rules changed from the previous edition. The elementary principles have been modified as a result of the recent discovery that a talent for composing complicated prose early in life can stave off the onset of dementia or Alzheimer’s later in life, or, at least, make it much more difficult to detect – a fact that writers can ignore no longer.”
The article went on to list a few new principles of composition. It suggested that people should employ fancy words, should use “the fact that”, should express co-ordinate ideas in different form, and should not underwrite (“Rich, ornate prose is hard to digest, fattening, and sometimes nauseating, but it is very, very good for you”). It also gave some examples; here’s one:
“The Mother Superior tried a little harder to explain to the pretty dissappointed (but not really that dissappointed) Dick that Sister Jane, perhaps for her own good, had been sent kind of far away.”
I have a copy of the fourth edition “The Elements of Style”, but this fifth edition seems to hold much promise. I wonder when they’re publishing it.