The Elements of Expression: Putting Thoughts into Words

Image of The Elements of Expression: Putting Thoughts into Words, Revised and Expanded
Release Date: 
June 12, 2012
Cleis Press
Reviewed by: 

“Mr. Plotnik challenges his readers to set themselves apart. . . . genuinely funny.”

In his introduction, Arthur Plotnik concedes that this revised edition of Elements contains the added components of a world gone “global, mobile and app-crazy.”

Yet he maintains that people must still work to craft their own individual style of expression. He compares the usefulness of the 1996 version of this book to the usefulness of computer software of the same vintage.

Much of contemporary communication has morphed into abbreviated sound bytes. Cliches have died and other phrases have become worn. Still, for man to set himself apart—even as he Tweets—he must seek guidance and work to hone his style.

Mr. Plotnik advises anyone who is interested to “practice habits of expressive people: read, listen, savor, keep a journal.”

There is a lot implied in these few words. Today’s world requires fast answers and incisive discourse. Attention spans shrink by the day. People must rely on standard patterns, but in competition with other stimuli “written expression has better deliver relevance! Payoff! Utility! Information! Transformation! Feedback! Power! Control!”

Other authors of modern language usage are more apt to advise the reader to “go with the flow.” Mr. Plotnik challenges his readers to set themselves apart.

To some, this is selling out. He cites and quotes Cassius Longinus and William Shakespeare, whose works endure despite the passage of hundreds of years.

But many people want only to fit in. They lack the courage to stand apart, filling their talk with “you knows” and “likes.” Again, the theme of commitment (or attitudinal change) surfaces.

This is a reference piece, and therefore not filled with clever plot twists. Nevertheless, parts of The Elements of Expression are genuinely funny. Mr. Plotnik seeks to enlighten but also to entertain, making the skill of quality expressiveness a goal, rather than some elusive daydream.

As such, this reference is difficult to summarize. Chapters include information on Standard English, grammar, expressiveness, figures of speech, oral presentation and much more.

The Elements of Expression is best taken a chapter at a time, with thought given to the author’s points. The strongest parts of the book contrast insipid or ordinary modes of expression with clear, powerful methods. This is where the work shines.

Sprinkled generously throughout are quotes from other writers—proof that the author practices what he preaches and keeps a journal.

One thing is clear: Arthur Plotnik loves words “. . . sacred, silly or profane—[they] still provide some of the best diversion that life has to offer.”