Earlier this week, Ruthie wondered if I had cabin fever, writing about Helvetica, pornography, and economics in one week. The impish side of me wondered what other weird topics I could throw in the mix. Here it comes: E-prime. My friend Mel is going back to school and mentioned an assignment to write a paper in E-prime. I’d never heard of it, have you?
Here is the definition from Wikipedia:
D. David Bourland Jr. explains, “The name comes from the equation E’ = E – e, where E represents the words of the English language, and e represents the inflected forms of “to be.”
Thus, instead of
Violets are blue,
Honey is sweet,
And so are you.
E-Prime would express that ditty as:
Violets look blue.
Honey seems sweet,
And so do you.
This is folly to the thirteenth degree! They believe there are no absolutes. (And how would you translate that sentence to E-Prime? In their system of metaphysics they classify nothing as an absolute.) In an attempt to curb my natural tendency towards shrillness, let’s laugh at this absurdity. Can you imagine an E-Prime translation of the Bible?
God said to Moses, I SEEM that I SEEM.
Jesus: I evaluate myself as the Way, the Truth and the Life.
It isn’t right.
E-Prime advocates are trying to get away from Aristotelian essentialism. No essences (from the Latin esse – ‘to be’) allowed. Dr. Donald E. Simanek writes, “Most poetry cannot be rewritten in E-prime. You can’t utter pseudoprofundities like “I think, therefore I am.”…Throw out “My love is like a red, red rose.” Such constructions encourage vague, imprecise, misleading, ambiguous and foolish writing masquerading as profundity. We’d have to throw out Shakespeare, which I’d consider no great loss.”
Ay-yi-yi!! Does Psalm 2 come to mind? I think writing a paper without using the “to be” forms is a healthy exercise in writing, helpful in learning to show, not tell. But the root of this is far beyond Writing 101.
I am a woman. Not: I classify myself in the female gender.
I am a Christian. Not: In my current metaphysical mindset, I choose the subset Christian.
I am happy. Not; I evaluate myself as happy this morning.
Who are you?