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Old January 26th, 2014, 10:50 AM   #1

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How is English Writing in the 18th century different from Modern English writing?


I am not speaking of the quality of the hand writing. But the actual text itself writing from the 18th century seems to be more ''poetic'' and ''flowery'' than modern English writing. What is the cause of this? I am curious.

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Old January 26th, 2014, 11:18 AM   #2

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I am not speaking of the quality of the hand writing. But the actual text itself writing from the 18th century seems to be more poetic and flowery than modern English writing. What is the cause of this? I am curious.
Languages and writing styles change over time. Although I have no evidence of this, I have the theory that as words go out of use, and less and less people know of them, they become "fancy words", and make anyone who says them seem smart and educated. Although they probably wrote in no different fashion (relatively) than modern writers do, because commonly used words for them are fancy now, they seem to be much more flowery than modern writing.
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Old January 26th, 2014, 12:04 PM   #3

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Languages and writing styles change over time. Although I have no evidence of this, I have the theory that as words go out of use, and less and less people know of them, they become "fancy words", and make anyone who says them seem smart and educated. Although they probably wrote in no different fashion (relatively) than modern writers do, because commonly used words for them are fancy now, they seem to be much more flowery than modern writing.
Insightful mark. Some points I like to add.
In the past literacy rates were not as a common as it is now. Education was not as widespread as now. Writing was more of an acquired skill. Those who were usually were writers tend to hailed from the elites or had the luck to extensively study. One thing important thing to consider is the text we remember and read from the past tend to be famous and influential texts that are best of their class.
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Old January 26th, 2014, 12:19 PM   #4

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Insightful mark. Some points I like to add.
In the past literacy rates were not as a common as it is now. Education was not as widespread as now. Writing was more of an acquired skill. Those who were usually were writers tend to hailed from the elites or had the luck to extensively study. One thing important thing to consider is the text we remember and read from the past tend to be famous and influential texts that are best of their class.
That is also true. Also, due to the scarcity of paper and quill and ink for much of history, it was only affordable for the very best of the best to be put down, as anything else would be a waste of paper. Although that doesn't really apply for 18th century writings, it does for earlier eras.
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Old January 26th, 2014, 12:46 PM   #5

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To add to what has already been said about culture and the scarcity of paper and what not, I would also add that it is also a very cultural thing. London was the focus of high society, the traditional patrons of the written arts, and writers I would suspect emulated the way that culture talked and the cultural rules around subjects. English culture right now has an aversion for directness and looks down generally on anything too boastful or earnest. It's considered rude, for example, to directly ask someone their line of work or if they are married. We cloak our conversation in metaphors and indirect queries. This goes back to the 18th and 19th century where class was a huge issue. If you look at writers such as Jane Austen, you look at how the characters speak to one another and the way that scenes are created... there's a lot of indirectness. Modern people might see it as being cold, but back then it was polite. Not to say we are impolite now.

Words are also very important, as Imperator has said. Part of it is how we view such words now, as very flowery. But, in 100 years time, if the language continues as it is with the influx of slang (such as to google, or selfie) then our language may seem flowery by contrast.
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Old January 26th, 2014, 12:56 PM   #6

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To add to what has already been said about culture and the scarcity of paper and what not, I would also add that it is also a very cultural thing. London was the focus of high society, the traditional patrons of the written arts, and writers I would suspect emulated the way that culture talked and the cultural rules around subjects. English culture right now has an aversion for directness and looks down generally on anything too boastful or earnest. It's considered rude, for example, to directly ask someone their line of work or if they are married. We cloak our conversation in metaphors and indirect queries. This goes back to the 18th and 19th century where class was a huge issue. If you look at writers such as Jane Austen, you look at how the characters speak to one another and the way that scenes are created... there's a lot of indirectness. Modern people might see it as being cold, but back then it was polite. Not to say we are impolite now.
Are you saying that the metaphors used then sound very flowery to our ears?
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Old January 26th, 2014, 12:56 PM   #7

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That is also true. Also, due to the scarcity of paper and quill and ink for much of history, it was only affordable for the very best of the best to be put down, as anything else would be a waste of paper. Although that doesn't really apply for 18th century writings, it does for earlier eras.
I think this also has to do with a changing in culture when it comes to religion and the Enlightenment. Words and writing was very much bound to religion in the 16th and 17th century, I mean individuals like Shakespeare and the KJ Bible added a lot of words and phrases... but by the 18th we see the Enlightenment dawn and I would suggest that the language of the elite became very clique. Certain schools such as Oxford, Eton and Cambridge became the stomping ground of almost all our elite writers and thinkers. Add to this the idea that a proper education for a young Gentlemen included time studying law, which gave oratory skills which in such a formal setting as a court would need to be complex and I suppose considered flowery now, then I think we can see a trickle down affect. Generation after generation or the language being structured in such a way that gives rise to what we would consder 'proper' english now.
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Old January 26th, 2014, 12:59 PM   #8

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Are you saying that the metaphors used then sound very flowery to our ears?
No and yes, I think it depends on the example. It's a piece to the puzzle. It can complicate the language from being very direct to being indirect. Which would make an idea seem far more complex to the ear than it would be. If I were to say, "The weather outside does remind me of the dreadful wrath of Neptune!" it would seem more flowery than if I were to say bluntly, "the weather outside is bad, innit?" Both ways are perfectly acceptable.

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Old January 26th, 2014, 01:04 PM   #9

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No and yes, I think it depends on what the example. It's a piece to the puzzle. It can complicate the language from being very direct to being indirect. Which would make an idea seem far more complex to the ear than it would be. If I were to say, "The weather outside does remind me of the dreadful wrath of Neptune!" it would seem more flowery than if I were to say bluntly, "the weather outside is bad, innit?" Both ways are perfectly acceptable.
I see, very interesting point.
One thing that hasn't been talked about yet is that because these writing are seen in modern times as being very high brow and cultured, we probably look subconsciously for examples of that, and those examples stick with us more than other pieces of the writing that isn't so high browed.
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Old January 26th, 2014, 01:07 PM   #10

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A small extract from 1791


JAMES BOSWELL (1740–95)
Extract from The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D. (1791)

We entered seriously upon a question of much importance to me, which Johnson was pleased to consider with friendly attention. I had long complained to him that I felt myself discontented in Scotland, as too narrow a sphere, and that I wished to make my chief residence in London, the great scene of ambition, instruction, and amusement: a scene, which was to me, comparatively speaking, a heaven upon earth. JOHNSON. ‘Why, Sir, I never knew any one who had such a gust for London as you have: and I cannot blame you for your wish to live there: yet, Sir, were I in your father’s place, I should not consent to your settling there; for I have the old feudal notions, and I should be afraid that Auchinleck would be deserted, as you would soon find it more desirable to have a country-seat in a better climate. I own, however, that to consider it as a duty to reside on a family estate is a prejudice; for we must consider, that working-people get employment equally, and the produce of land is sold equally, whether a great family resides at home or not; and if the rents of an estate be carried to London, they return again in the circulation of commerce; nay, Sir, we must perhaps allow, that carrying the rents to a distance is a good, because it contributes to that circulation.’

I suggested a doubt, that if I were to reside in London, the exquisite zest with which I relished it in occasional visits might go off, and I might grow tired of it. JOHNSON. ‘Why, Sir, you find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a

man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.’
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