Free Gratis: Al Swarengen and John Gardner

Recently, I came across some awkward language I had written. It wasn’t Latin, per se, but it was stilted. It reminded me of John Gardner’s dictum not to use Latinate forms when plain Anglo-Saxon would do. (Wondering, do new writers even read John Gardner anymore?)

The use of Latin can be deliberate (like that totally appropriate use of Latin I just slipped into the last paragraph). It always adds an air of formality, which may or not be intentional on the writer’s part. Quidquid latine dictum sit, altum videtur: That which is said in Latin sounds profound.  The TV Tropes website has a page dedicated to this trope.

Thinking about using English instead of Latin reminded me of a scene in Deadwood. If you recognize the phrase “free gratis,” you already know what I’m talking about. If not, below is a clip (actually two clips spliced together). Swearengen’s observation at the end of the clip pretty much sums up the issue. (I also like the scene for its portrayal of the group editing process. I imagine that anyone who has had to create by committee can relate to Merrick’s frustration.)