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Nouns and Verbs

Cutting the Clutter and Confusion.

by Everett Wilson
January 6, 2007

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Nouns  and Verbs
I dived into this column full tilt with a discussion of the virgin birth, including a preemptive apology to those readers who couldn't perceive the virgin birth as a simple thing. Today I am offering you no theology, psychology, cultural history, or even philosophy--unless you insist that semantics is my subject.
 Please don't insist. I have avoided speaking or writing of "semantics" for fifty years. It was a buzzword when I was young; people accused one another of "talking semantics," by which they meant quibbling, or dodging issues by arguing definitions. The accusers were themselves dodging the issues, of course, because there can be no argument except on the basis of agreed-upon definition.
 I doubt that I ever heard "semantics" used correctly in those days. I did not understand it as it was used in my circles, and it dropped out of favor long ago. It is, I believe, a specialized academic term having something to do with meaning. But I am a generalist, so "meaning" is as much of a word as I need.
 I want to spend a few of your minutes, and mine, on the discussion of the simplest things in verbal communication, nouns and verbs.
Without nouns there is nothing to talk about; without verbs, the nouns aren't doing or being anything. The basic sentence is a noun and a verb. The more exact the noun and the more apt the verb, the clearer the sentence.
Granted, a succession of two-word sentences would be boring as well as basic; but we're dealing with meaning here, not entertainment and aesthetics. Toddlers get along with two-sentences pretty well.
But we are not toddlers; for example, I am not limiting myself to nouns and verbs in this column. The other words I use, however, are intended to support, modify, or clarify the nouns, verbs, and how they connect in a complete thought. To use words otherwise means clutter and confusion.
We learned early in our education that a noun designates a person, place, or thing. Answers.com enlarges the definition: "The part of speech that is used to name a person, place, thing, quality, or action and can function as the subject or object of a verb, the object of a preposition, or an appositive."
In the title of this column I include quality and action as subsumed under things. I intend always to write about something, andfor you to know what it is.
 Doesn't everybody write about something? I can't always tell. The subject, if it is there, is buried under too many words. Note carefully: too many words. A work may be very long and still have just the right number of words. In Amadeus, Mozart did not accept the emperor's criticism, "too many notes," because Mozart knew he had used exactly the right number.
 I cannot say everything about anything. My main goal is to cut the clutter and confusion that complicate simple things, and leave them exposed for what they are, whether good or bad.

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Bob McNaughton from Middletown, CT writes:
January 20, 2007
When you and I finished seminary, Everett, and began to preach weekly (and too often weakly) on Sunday mornings as well as evenings and other times, it was simply assumed that the Sunday morning sermon would be 30 minutes long. Today, 20 minutes is usually considered too long, at least in our white, middle-class congregations. One would think that by reducing the time, we would be able to hear better use of verbs and nouns, complete sentences that go somewhere clearly. Alas, there is as much confusion and hot air in sermons today, as when they were longer. Maybe it's at least partly because preaching is a much more sophisticated enterprise than it seems; maybe it's partly because the answer to the age-old question, "How long does it take to prepare a sermon?" is still "One more week than I have." Maybe because dealing with the Mystery, speaking the God words, is such an awe-some and presumptious thing to do.

Which is also why we keep at it.

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