Monday, February 21, 2011

4 score n 7 yrs ago r Fs brot 4th on this cont...

At first blush it may seem as though Presidents Day has little to do with writing, except possibly the benefit of a day off from job or school to devote to your latest masterpiece. This gift of time is a treasure, for sure. But you might also want to spend a few minutes thinking about presidents, too, in the spirit of the day. Here's a twist: have you ever though about former U.S. Presidents as writers?

Imagine Lincoln at his desk, pen in hand. "Eighty-seven years ago"....{scratch, scratch}..."Eighty plus seven years ago"...{crumple, toss, fresh sheet}..."Four score and seven years ago"...{will anyone know what a "score" is? bite pen, look out window, call Mary for a cup of tea}...

Presidents Day has got me thinkin' about Lincoln (and Washington, too, but his name doesn't make such a pleasing rhyme). How much of what we know about these men has come to us from things they wrote? Speeches. Memoirs. Even letters to friends that have been preserved through the centuries show a careful precision and graceful language that is lacking in much modern correspondence. Can you imagine what historians 200 years from know will discern from text fragments like " Whasup LOL TTYL"?

Thanks to the wonder of the Internet, the writings of presidents are available at a keystroke. To see some of Lincoln's writings, start here. Many of Washington's writings are available here.

Of course you don't have to limit yourself to only these two presidents. Choose your favorites and search online for their writings. Ronald Reagan, for example, reportedly wrote most of his radio commentaries himself instead of using professional writers, and other presidents did, too. But even when presidents relied on speechwriters to pen their timeless words, good writing is still good writing.

You could say that the formal language of the past sounds archaic and stilted to modern ears, and you would be right. But try to look past mere style to see what it was about these pieces that have made them ring down through generations: the rhythm and length of sentences, the word choices, the attention to detail. If a certain presidential speech, paragraph, or phrase has stuck with you over the years, analyze it as a piece of writing and find out why. Who knows . . . maybe those historians 200 years from now will be grateful and refreshed to stumble across your clear and elegant prose in a sea of smiley faces and LOLs.

Enjoy your Presidents Day. As Washington signed off the end of his letters, "I am, sir, with great regard your most obedient servant..." In other words,


1 comment:

Mary Jane Honegger said...

When I picture our forefathers writing, I think about the thinking process they went through before they put pen to paper. Imagine no backspace or delete, no white-out, no correction tape, and no erasers! They wrote the magnificent documents that created our country with quill pens and a devotion to freedom. I wonder if we could do as well, even with our computers, copiers, scanners, and 21st century technology. Somehow, I fear we couldn't. Thanks for reminding us to celebrate our forefathers as writers, Jenny.