Language in Thought and Action by S.I and Alan Hayakawa

i read this after a Wired profile on Craig Newmark, the founder of Craigslist: “In 1972, while still a college student, he read ‘Language in Thought and Action’, the classic book on communication by S. I. Hayakawa, and it helped him understand himself better.”

8 – The cultural accomplishments of the ages, the invention of cooking, of weapons, of writing, of printing, of methods of building, of games and amusements, of means of transportation, and the discoveries of all the arts and sciences come to us as free gifts from the dead.

8 – To be able to read and write, therefore, is to learn to profit by and to take part in the greatest of human achievements–that which makes all other human achievements possible—namely, the pooling of our experience in great cooperative stores of knowledge, available (except where special priviledge, censorship, or suppression stand in the way) to all… Cultural and intellectual cooperation is, or should be, the great principle of human life.

15 – “Companion” means one with whom you share your bread.

18 – … if a Japanese school house caught fire, it used to be obligatory in the days of emperor worship to try to rescue the emperor’s picture (there was once in every schoolhouse), even at the risk of one’s life.

24 – An inference, as we shall use the term, is a statement about the unknown based on the known.

33 – Understanding does not come through dealings with words alone, but rather with the things for which they stand. Dictionary definitions permit us to hide from ourselves and others the extent of our ignorance. – H.R. Huse

34 – The writing of a dictionary, therefore, is not a task of setting up authoritative statements about the “true meanings” of words, but a task of recording, to the best of one’s ability, what various words have meant to authors in the distant or immediate past.

35 – The writer of a dictionary is a historian, not a lawgiver.

46 – During the Boer War, the Boers were described in the British press as “sneaking and skulking behind rocks and bushes.” The British forces, when they finally learned from the Boers how to employ tactics suitable to warfare on the South African veldt, were described as “cleverly taking advantage of cover.”

56 – … if a young woman with whom we are strolling says, “The moon is bright tonight,” we are able to tell by the tone whether she is making a meteorological observation or indicating that she wants to be kissed.

57 – … the prevention of silence is itself an important function of speech.

68 – What we call society is a vast network of mutual agreements.

95 – The interesting writer, the informative speaker, the accurate thinker, and the sane individual operates on all levels of the abstraction ladder, moving quickly and gracefully and in orderly fashion from higher to lower, from lower to higher, with minds as lithe and deft and beautiful as monkeys in a tree.

108 – What we are concerned with is the way in which we block the development of our own minds by automatic reactions.

113 – In the expression “We must listen to both sides of every question,” there is an assumption, frequently unexamined, that every question has two sides—and only two sides. We tend to think in opposites, to feel that what is not good must be bad and that what is not bad must be good.

113 – This penchant to divide the world into two opposing forces—”right” versus “wrong,” “good versus “evil”— and to ignore or deny the existence of any middle ground, may be termed the two-valued orientation.

115 – “Everyone in Germany is a National Socialist—the few outside the party are either lunatics or idiots.” – Adolf Hitler

132 – Psychologically, (Milton) Rockeach says, all human beings are engaged simultaneously in two tasks: (1) they seek to know more about the world, and (2) they wish to protect themselves from the world—especially from information that might prove upsetting. As the need for defense against disturbing information gets stronger, curiosity about the world gets weaker. (“A person will be open to information insofar as possible, and will reject it, screen it out, or alter it insofar as necessary.”)

135 – William Empson, the English critic, said in his Seven Types of Ambiguity that the best poems are ambiguous; they are the richest when they have two or three more levels of meaning at once.

136 – From toothpaste to tires, convertibles to colas, the task of the copywriting is the poeticizing of consumer goods.

142 – To be “hip” is, among other things, to have ceased believing the ads. “I can do without things,” cried a newly liberated young lady of Venice, California, quoted by Lawrence Lipton in The Holy Barbarians. “God!—do you know what a relief that is?”

144 – “The habit of common and continuous speech is a symptom of mental deficiency.” – Walter Bagehot.

145 – As Wendell Johnson says, “Every man is his most enchanted listener.”

147 – Indeed, a great many of the “personality development” and “dynamic salesmanship” courses offered commercially, and some English and speech courses in our schools, are merely training in this very technique—how to keep talking when one hasn’t a thing to say.

150 – … William Blake’s famous warning:
A truth that’s told with bad intent
Beats all the lies you can invent.

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