In Defence Of Deviance

Language With Literary Clout

“If ‘twere done…”

Are you sitting comfortably and have you got your thinking-hats on? Yes? Well, then, I’ll begin.

“…then ‘twere well it were done quickly…” (1)


“Better do it fast.” (2)

Think about these two quotes. Do they match that great puncher-line boxer, Mohammed Ali – “…..floats like a butterfly / Stings like a bee (which dies after sting-time). / He is the greatest, (boxer for some years) / Mohammed Ali!”? But I’m not trying to compete (at least not consciously). I just want you to vote on those two quotes, on which one impresses you more. You’re allowed 0 – 10.

I think you will give more marks to the first quote (“If ’twere done, then ’twere well it were done quickly”) because it is deviant English and so impresses more. “Better do it fast” is normal and prosaic and we say and hear it wherever and whenever, but not so number (1). It isn’t in common circulation. If my hypothesis is OK with you, then deviant English gets the prize.

Now, the most deviant English is poetry, and nobody reads it and no conventional publishing-house publishes it. Independent poets do publish and they find a marvellous audience. They rank on Amazon in the 1 – 8,500,000 at about – yep, you’ve guessed it – at about 8,500,000 (if they’re lucky).

And yet deviant English strikes harder, is better, and is more than just exciting.

<a href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Source</a>

So, what’s the problem? Poetry and deviance are ab-normal, not easy, not acceptable. To write well, I mean really well, is not going to make you a best-selling author even though it gives you lots of satisfaction. Maybe my contention here is wrong but I don’t think abnormal English is generally accepted.

However, I hope I’ve (kind of) defended deviant language.


What do you think?

13 Points

Written by Jonathan Finch

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  1. DocAndersen and I both prefer that folks get to the verb, but that having been said I still love a clever turn of phrase. Oscar Wilde was a master of being both wicked and concise so the two may not be mutually exclusive…

  2. Sadly I think the Internet is leading us all towards brevity – we want a quick headline, perhaps a nice picture and if we’re really interested a paragraph or two. The world in general has lost the art of really taking the time to think about things.

    Which means that deviant English will become some archaic thing of the past sadly – even though it will always be my preference…

  3. I see your point very clearly…..but…..when Macbeth is beating about the bush (he’s thinking of murder!) he is likely not to be brief because he is very frightened of what he’s getting himself into. The words he uses clash, too, so in the end I’ll go for Shakespeare’s getting his “hero” into a pickle even with language. Shakespeare’s the guy who really knew deviance and he’s going to make his falling characters as bent as pins!

  4. Interesting thoughts on this topic. Most people do like brevity, but being able to communicate clearly and succinctly is a skill that takes time and effort to develop. As a word lover I like thought-provoking verbiage and as an artist I like things that are different so I’ll go with the first quote for this post.

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