Earlier this year I went through a phase of devouring classic novels. While I was enthralled by some such as The Lost World, The Time Machine and Candide, a few others unfortunately turned onerous very quickly. Despite this, I couldn’t help but notice the dialogue style. I recall reading the first few pages of Emma by Jane Austen (which is about as far as I got), cynically dubious as to whether or not people actually once spoke that way. The command of vocabulary was incredulous.
So not too long ago, I found myself at a table with an older English lady and older Australian man. The man had been showing me his delightful book of limericks, ones that he had collected over time. Some were rather dirty. Anyway, we ventured onto the topic of literature in general. I asked the lady, thinking my question would be purely rhetorical, whether or not people truly spoke as suggested by older novels.
Surprisingly, the answer was yes.
There are two main reasons she said. Firstly, life was slower in those days. This gave people the time to mentally construct sentences before saying them. She mentioned an aunt who, when questioned, would take a moment to think before uttering, ‘I think not.” Secondly pens and typewriters were the medium of “choice”. This encouraged writers to be more thoughtful with their prose lest they make a minute yet irreversible typo.
The corollary of this is that today we live faster and so communicate faster. The result is shorter, snappier sentences. While I find that I can write with reasonable proficiency in such respects, my verbal manner is far more terse and lack lustre.
But would it not be brilliant if we could talk with the eloquence of old. Imagine if our spoken vocabulary scoured the depths of the English language to concisely and accurately convey our emotions and ideas. Not only would the air be filled with more poetry, we would perhaps have greater access to one anothers thoughts.
And maybe all it would take, is a moments thought.