What “Literary English” Means
Books on rhetoric and composition tell us that English may be roughly classified as (1) literary English and (2) colloquial English1, and that literary English should, and colloquial English should not, be used in writing.
Yes, we—I mean you—should learn to write literary English. But what, after all, does “literary English” mean? What is literary English? I am afraid that many Chinese learners of English may think that literary English is a distinctly elegant sort of English. They think that it is absolutely different from English used in speaking, in addressing2 a class of students, or in writing to a business house3 to order goods.4 They think that in literary English a face is not a face but a visage5 and a man never goes but always repairs6, and that it consists mainly, if not entirely7, of figurative expressions8.
The idea is wrong, however—and this wrong idea prevents one from writing natural and pure English. Literary English, if you please9, does not mean English confined in its use to literature10. It is not a distinctly elegant sort of English. It is just the ordinary English that well-educated Englishmen and Americans use in writing—not necessarily for literary purposes, but often for practical purposes. In literary English, a face is almost always a face and very rarely a visage, and a man almost always goes and very rarely repairs.
While11 “colloquial English” means English used in conversation, it does not follow12 that English used in conversation is necessarily too colloquial to be used in writing. The majority of the words and idioms used by well-educated English and American people in conversation are certainly literary English.
- colloquial English 口语
- addressing … 向……演说
- business house 商店
- order goods 定货
- visage 面容
- repairs 去
- mainly, if not entirely 虽然非完全如此，却大部分如此
- figurative expressions 藻语
- if you please 竟然如此
- confined in its use to literature 仅用于文学上
- While 虽然
- it does not follow … 并不因而有……的结论