Adam Gopnik on language

Adam Gopnik

Adam Gopnik

A May issue of the New Yorker had been floating around my apartment, purse, and backpack for a while now (let’s not bother to count backward). When I finally did dig into it, though, I was delighted to come across Adam Gopnik’s “Word Magic.” Here are just a couple of my favorite parts:

1. On word use:

In truth, language seems less like a series of cells in which we are imprisoned than like a set of tools that help us escape: some of the files are rusty; some will open any door; and most you have to jiggle around in the lock. But, sooner or later, most words work.

2. An ode to good writing:

If lucid writing is the sign of a moral state, it’s the moral state of hard work, keener effort, acquired craft–a desire to communicate rather than intimidate, to have fun with a fellow-mind rather than bully a disciple. Sane and shapely sentences are good because they’re sane and shapely. There’s no guarantee that they’ll contain the truth: lots of sane and shapely sentence makers have had silly ideas. But, like sane and shapely people and homes, they are nice to have around to look at.



  1. Stuart · March 20, 2015

    I like what you say about Adam Gopnik. It’s the first I’ve heard of him. And I like the reference to “sane and shapely words”, although I feel there is a certain ‘je ne sais quois’ missing, like an ingredient from the main course of a meal. I like imagery of language incarcerating the soul, which is then contrasted with that of language as an emancipatory tool. … It is a great consolation – language – literature – even if I fail to study it, rattling my chains instead and coldly glancing at a mute or silent world. A great consolation, like a friend, is a story, like the words of Austen for example, like a stroll along an idyllic country lane – words, colours, fragrances, imagery, feelings … Could be anyone really, an Elizabeth, or a country girl stealing some time off from her labours with her sweetheart … The same path at least … The same spring of emotion … leading to happiness?

    • ebenbow · March 22, 2015

      Thank, Stuart! Adam Gopnik is a true treasure.

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