CBS

The editorial style is above everything else an enforcer of Clarity - Brevity - Sincerity. It developed as a means to a scientific end in a print culture where words were taken to unambiguously point to things, where departure from the style meant a distortion of the real.

Richard Lanham, from The Electric Word, 1993

An information society brings with it a different theory of communication from that prevalent in an industrial society. Newtonian science reinforced a venerable Stoic theory of language to which I have given the dyslogistic epithet "C-B-S." Newtonian science was built, that is, on Clarity, Brevity, and Sincerity. In a goods society, words are derivative; the goods are the thing, the "things" you can point to and touch. In the sixteenth century ... Peter Ramus split off rhetoric from philosophy, rhetoric being relegated, that is words themselves being relegated, to a derivative and ornamental role. This paved the way for Bishop Sprat's famous injunction a century later that we should have one word for one thing, that we should abolish verbal ornamentation. Since Newton had shown "nature" to be a closed and complete system, words should be too. Ideally, in a Newtonian society, you wouldn't need words at all, sincere feelings and clear ideas of physical entities would do it all. You look through the words to the goods that are really out there in the real world....

All this changes in an information society. There, the words are the "goods." They operate in an ambiguous fashion, overlapping, bumping into one another, creating unintended meanings, making more meaning come out of an utterance than the author put into it.... We need to get rid of the C-B-S way of thinking about language for the same reasons, as linguists from Saussure onward have been telling us—albeit, in the public mind at least, to no avail. The immateriality of information brings with it a new set of boundary conditions: "When the world's most precious resource is immaterial, the economic doctrines, social structures, and political systems that evolved in a world devoted to the service of matter become rapidly ill suited to cope with the new situation. The rules and customs, skills and talents, necessary to uncover, capture, produce, preserve, and exploit information are now mankind's most important rules, customs, skills, and talents." Aren't these rules and customs what humanism has been about since Erasmus formulated it at the beginning of the sixteenth century? (228-9)



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