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Might and main

Posted by Bob on December 03, 2000

In Reply to: Might and main posted by Bob on December 03, 2000

: : : In a term paper I expressed Shakespeare overcame difficulties throughout his life through "might and main" ...located this phrase in the thesaurus under
: : : talent/ability/effective,powerful force. The pen is mightier than the sword. Teacher felt that although each point tied into his accomplishing "through might and main" she didn't understand what that phrase meant.

: : WITH MIGHT AND MAIN - "By all means at hand; with all one's strength. In times past, 'main' was a common word meaning physical strength. In that sense, it survives only in its association with 'might.' In one of the Wakefield Plays, dating from the early 15th century, there is the line 'with mayn and might.'" From "The Dictionary of Cliches" by James Rogers (Ballantine Books, New York, 1985), Page 201.
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: : : Any help out there? She said because of that it deserves no better than a 78. Bummer.

: No sympathy here. The thesaurus is a writer's worst enemy, particularly a young writer. The only useful purpose of a thesaurus is to look up a word you know but can't remember... as soon as you use it to look up words you don't really know, or use, or feel comfortable with... in other words, as soon as you look up words to "dress up" your language, you are in immediate danger of dropping a clinker into a sentence, sounding un-natural at best, and foolish at worst. Get yourself a copy of "The Elements of Style" and read it carefully. Then read it again next year. The overriding lesson to be learned is the power of using simple, authentic language to express yourself, without pretension, without artificial language, without straining to be something you're not. The 78 was, as you say, a bummer. But if you learn to throw away the thesaurus and speak with your own voice, it's a lesson well learned. Good luck.

I'll go one step farther: parents of the world, unite: throw out all the thesauruses (thesauri?) and buy your kids the "Elements." Give them a chance (however long the odds may be) to develop an authentic voice, to write with authentic feeling and diction. Let's form a Mothers' March on Roget, to lock away (or better, burn) all those insidious reference books that make resume cover letters so hilarious. The good that these volumes do is negligible, the harm immense. Burn them!