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July 20, 2009 | by  | in Opinion | [ssba]

eprime not oprime


Language is a bizarre thing. Collections of noises, gestures or symbols that are interpreted by our brains to form meaning. Humans have used language to communicate for thousands of years, to communicate feelings, needs, concepts and events. Language developed to suit us, changing word by word, reinvented through its interpretation.

But language is far from perfect. It’s adequate, but not perfect.

The problem is how people use language to say things, which can sometimes cause problems. For example, a few years ago I was out in town, and I told a mutual acquaintance of mine that “Tui is a shit beer”. This angered her, and she felt compelled to defend her shit taste in beer. Fearing for my life (she was bigger and stronger than I), I recalled something I had learned in philosophy class.

Basically we had learned the simple adage: just because someone says something, doesn’t make it true. I can say “I am a dendrophiliac”, which may be true. You can also say, “I am a dendrophiliac”, but it may be false. The validity of the statement “I am a dendrophiliac” is dependant on the person saying it; to clarify the truth of the statement we would need to specify that point.

So when I said “Tui is a shit beer”, what I was doing was expressing my opinion, that “I (Michael) believe that Tui tastes bad” or “Tui tastes bad in my opinion”. This did not invalidate my mutual acquaintance’s opinion of the beer. I explained this to her, and was spared a beating. (Being a geek can actually save you from being beaten up.)

You see, everybody is different and experiences things differently. There is no way anybody can make a completely objective statement about anything, because ultimately, everything is interpreted through people. Our personal truths differ vastly. This becomes a problem when people use language to make outrageous claims to how things are, instead of clarifying that it is how they perceive things to be. Just look at the music reviews.

This is where E-Prime (English Prime) comes in. The purpose of E-Prime is to make language completely subjective, to remove the confusion between statements of fact and statements of opinion. The main way it does this is by removing the culprit—the verb ‘to be’.

The verb ‘to be’ is probably the most-used verb in the English language, so removing its forms (am, is, are, be, was, were, been and being, and their contractions) is no easy task. But the benefit of this is that language becomes clearer and more logical. ‘Outrageous’ statements of absolute truth are no longer possible.

“That shit is whack.”

In order to convert this statement into E-Prime, we first need to replace the verb, as ‘is’ is a form of ‘to be’ and is not allowed. Consider: Who is saying this/where is the information coming from? What is really happening?

Felix says that the shit seems whack.”

Another feature of E-Prime is that it also removes the use of the passive voice, which emphasises the action rather than the who or what—this is because it not only usually requires the verb ‘to be’, but the subject of the sentence (the person/thing doing the action) can be left out entirely.

“John Key is Prime Minister of New Zealand.”

Not forever.
How did he get there? Process of election.
When did he get elected?
Who elected him? (Really, who?)

The obvious replacement for the verb here would be to use ‘to elect’, which seems to logically create a passive sentence:

“John Key was elected Prime Minister of New Zealand in 2008.”

The important thing to recognise here is who or what is doing the electing, and then make that the subject of the sentence:

“New Zealand citizens elected John Key as Prime Minister in 2008.”

While it may seem highly unnecessary and impractical for everyday use, what E-Prime does do is ensure that language is subjective and logical, forming clear statements that are in context. Since language is a huge factor influencing how we think, it follows that using E-Prime will make one’s thoughts clearer and more logical.

So have a look into E-Prime, try it out a bit. Use it in your essays to form your ideas in a logical fashion. It helps with your grammerz.


About the Author ()

Mikey learned everything he knows about English Grammar in an MSN chat room when he was 13. Believing that people don't say "LOL" enough in everyday conversation, he has made it his mission to teach the world about grammerz one person at a time.

Comments (1)

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  1. CityCat says:

    CityCat likes Michael’s writing, also Tui beer :-) Oh and by the way – great article.

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