Response to Ong’s Orality and Literacy

It was clear from the very start—

It is useful to approach orality and literacy synchronically, by comparing oral cultures and chirographic (i.e., writing) cultures that coexist at a given period of time. But it is absolutely essential to approach them also diachronically or historically, by comparing succcessive periods with one another. . . .

—that Mr. Ong and I were not going to get along. Was this translated into German and then back again? Did he deliberately set out to write a book that demonstrates in its very nature the enormous gap between spoken and written English? Or is he just a crashing bore? This is the kind of impenetrable nonsense that made me decide, after suffering through more than enough of it in college, not to apply to grad school in English.

Well, that and not wanting to outright starve.

Nevertheless [sic], I did find a small amount of fruit among the jargonistic brambles.

Words looked up*

adjective, 1648. 1 : of or relating to the athletic contests of ancient Greece. 2 : ARGUMENTATIVE. 3 : striving for effect : STRAINED. 4 : of, relating to, or being aggressive or defensive social interaction (as fighting, fleeing, or submitting) between individuals usually of the same species.
noun, 1657: the raising of an issue by claiming not to mention it (as in “we won't discuss his past crimes”). [Late Latin, repudiation, from Greek, denial, negation, from apophanai to deny, from apo- + phanai to say—more at BAN.]
noun, circa 1587 : a short, pithy, and instructive saying or formulation : APHORISM. [Etymology: Greek apophthegmat-, apophthegma, from apophthengesthai to speak out, from apo- + phthengesthai to utter.]
adjective, 1922 : of, relating to, or dealing with phenomena (as of language or culture) as they occur or change over a period of time.
adjective Date: 13th century 1 a : characterized by abundance : COPIOUS <describes in fulsome detail —G. N. Shuster> <fulsome bird life. The feeder overcrowded —Maxine Kumin> b : generous in amount, extent, or spirit <the passengers were fulsome in praise of the plane's crew —Don Oliver> <a fulsome victory for the far left —Bruce Rothwell> <the greetings have been fulsome, the farewells tender —Simon Gray> c : being full and well developed <she was in generally fulsome, limpid voice —Thor Eckert, Jr.>. 2 : aesthetically, morally, or generally offensive <fulsome lies and nauseous flattery —William Congreve> <the devil take thee for aTfulsome rogue —George Villiers>. 3 : exceeding the bounds of good taste : OVERDONE <the fulsome chromium glitter of the escalators dominating the central hall —Lewis Mumford>. 4 : excessively complimentary or flattering : EFFUSIVE <an admiration whose extent I did not express, lest I be thought fulsome —A. J. Liebling> [Etymology: Middle English fulsom copious, cloying, from full + -som -some.]
adjective, 1653 : of, relating to, or based on the intellect. [Etymology: Greek noetikos intellectual, from noein to think, from nous mind.]
noun, circa 1842 : the placing of clauses or phrases one after another without coordinating or subordinating connectives. [Etymology: New Latin, from Greek, act of placing side by side, from paratassein to place side by side, from para- + tassein to arrange.]
noun, 1610. 1 : the use of more words than those necessary to denote mere sense (as in the man he said) : REDUNDANCY. 2 : an instance or example of pleonasm. [Etymology: Late Latin pleonasmus, from Greek pleonasmos, from pleonazein to be excessive, from pleion, pleon more —more at PLUS.]


Overall, I think the subject matter of Ong's book is quite interesting. That fact impresses itself upon the reader with little help from the author of the book, however.

* Merriam-Webster's 11th Collegiate Dictionary.