Friday, October 12, 2012

Be a Better Writer: Think More, Feel Less

Celeste writes:
Good Morning, SG!

I am a recent fan of your Facebook page. I apologize if you have addressed this in the past. I have a pet peeve, and meet resistance from people of all types when I mention it.

It is this: Using the word "feel" in place of "think" or "know". On a radio news update just this morning, a U.S. State Department official said, "We feel all the necessary security measures have been put in place."
EXCUSE ME????? You FEEL that? As in you feel sad, angry, elated, dirty, lonely...?
If you could address this choice of words, either confirming my snark or not, I will appreciate it.
Celeste is right, of course. To feel is not the same as to think or to believe, so we shouldn't use these terms interchangeably.

Consider this, from Lynch's Guide to Grammar:
"The use of feel for words like think, believe, and argue is becoming unsettlingly common. It's a cliché, and a touchy-feely one at that, reducing all cognition to sensation and emotion. When I see sentences beginning “Wittgenstein feels that . . .” or “Socrates feels he is . . .” I start to feel queasy. Avoid it."
Now let's take it a step further. Is it even necessary to say "I think" or "I believe"? Persuasive writing is usually more effective without qualifiers. If you are stating a fact or a conviction, try making your point without adding "I think" or "I believe."

The State Department official would have sounded more authoritative had he simply said, "All the necessary security measures have been put in place."


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