his prose is a distilled blend of honesty and clarity

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NewAmerica

Banned
Mandarin
Can the word "distilled" be removed without disturbing its rhetorical power?


Thanks in advance

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“Beautifully written as they were (the elegance of his prose is a distilled blend of honesty and clarity) there was little in Sam Harris’s previous books that couldn’t have been written by any of his fellow ‘horsemen’ of the ‘new atheism.’ This book is different, though every bit as readable as the other two. I was one of those who had unthinkingly bought into the hectoring myth that science can say nothing about morals.<...>” —Richard Dawkins, University of Oxford

-Sam Harris (Moral Landscape Page 2)
 
  • wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    Can the word "distilled" be removed without disturbing its rhetorical power?
    What is a distilled blend, I wonder? Distillation is a process normally used to separate mixed ingredients, rendering one or more of them pure. A blend on the other hand is a mixture.

    Dawkins apparently means a mixture of pure honesty and pure clarity, though since honesty and clarity belong to different categories of judgement, they do not really mix in a meaningful sense. A statement might be completely clear and thoroughly dishonest at the same time.

    I suppose he really meant 'a combination ('pairing') of pure honesty and pure clarity'.
    This removes the word 'distilled', but the idea is expressed by 'pure'.
     

    kentix

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    Distilled also means concentrated. By separating out components in the distillation process, you get a more concentrated dose of whatever specific substance you're looking for, not diluted by the other components.

    So I think he's saying it's super-concentrated honesty and clarity. Beyond the normal level of each. I do think taking it out does reduce the rhetorical power.
     

    NewAmerica

    Banned
    Mandarin
    Distilled also means concentrated. By separating out components in the distillation process, you get a more concentrated dose of whatever specific substance you're looking for, not diluted by the other components.

    So I think he's saying it's super-concentrated honesty and clarity. Beyond the normal level of each. I do think taking it out does reduce the rhetorical power.
    Does "pure blend" work there? I guess it doesn't work. Yet I have a hard time explaining why.
     

    Packard

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    For me "distilled" means the lack of contaminants.

    So his writing was honest and clear with no unwanted effluvia (metaphorically speaking).

    I am thinking in the distilled water sense. I guess I'm not the boozer that some of the others here are.:D:D
     
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    Packard

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    As in the difference between questionably contaminated tap water and pure distilled water :)
    Yes. It was my first impression. Purity.

    And within the context of that single sentence it is the only understanding that makes sense to me. The whole whiskey thing leaves me scratching my head.

    And it seems that Wandle agrees (post #2):

    "I suppose he really meant 'a combination ('pairing') of pure honesty and pure clarity'.
    This removes the word 'distilled', but the idea is expressed by 'pure'."
     

    wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    And it seems that Wandle agrees (post #2)
    The problem is 'distilled blend'. How do you render a blend pure? Distillation separates out the ingredients.
    A blend is made by mixing ingredients. If you make each ingredient pure, they are no longer in a blend.
     
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    NewAmerica

    Banned
    Mandarin
    The problem is 'distilled blend'. How do you render a blend pure? Distillation separates out the ingredients.
    A blend is made by mixing ingredients. If you make each ingredient pure, they are no longer in a blend.
    That's it! That is why I posted this thread. It looks like a grammatical or rhetorical dilemma. ;)
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    While this is obviously figurative, it is possible to have a blend of two liquids that are "co-distilled":)

    Azeotrope - Wikipedia
    An azeotrope or a constant boiling mixture is a mixture of two or more liquids whose proportions cannot be altered or changed by simple distillation. This happens because when an azeotrope is boiled, the vapour has the same proportions of constituents as the unboiled mixture.
    The impurities are left behind and the vapour of the blend is collected. Conundrum vaporized:D
     

    Packard

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    The problem is 'distilled blend'. How do you render a blend pure? Distillation separates out the ingredients.
    A blend is made by mixing ingredients. If you make each ingredient pure, they are no longer in a blend.
    I took it to be a blend of the two "distilled" notions of "honesty" and "clarity".

    I have queried Sam Harris (Dawkins is not available anymore). If he answers I will report.
     

    wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    An azeotrope or a constant boiling mixture is a mixture of two or more liquids whose proportions cannot be altered or changed by simple distillation. This happens because when an azeotrope is boiled, the vapour has the same proportions of constituents as the unboiled mixture.
    This makes sense of 'distilled blend', but it seems rather too recherché to be what was meant in a non-specialist book review.
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    I took it to be a blend of the two "distilled" notions of "honesty" and "clarity".

    I have queried Sam Harris (Dawkins is not available anymore). If he answers I will report.
    I think it could be either based on the physical version of the metaphor - if he thinks the blending happened before or after impurity removal.
     

    Packard

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    I think it could be either based on the physical version of the metaphor - if he thinks the blending happened before or after impurity removal.
    From the provided quote I am not sure if Dawkins or Harris wrote the sentence. It looks like Dawkins is quoting Harris. Perhaps NewAmerican can respond who is speaking; I'd like the clarification and distillation of that point.:D
     

    NewAmerica

    Banned
    Mandarin
    From the provided quote I am not sure if Dawkins or Harris wrote the sentence. It looks like Dawkins is quoting Harris. Perhaps NewAmerican can respond who is speaking; I'd like the clarification and distillation of that point.:D
    That is Dawkins' speaking. :tick:
     

    velisarius

    Senior Member
    British English (Sussex)
    It seems to be taken from a review by Dawkins of Harris' work.

    This is not necessarily a whisky metaphor. I read it as simply saying that Harris' prose is a blend of honesty and clarity. Furthermore, it is "distilled" because he is able to convey his ideas concisely. Maybe Dawkins is playfully using words we associate with the distillation of alcoholic drinks, but I don't think we need to make the similarity an exact fit.

    Anyway, it might equally be talking about ouzo:cool:, which must
    • be produced by blending alcohols flavored by means of distillation or maceration using aniseed and possibly fennel seed, mastic from a lentiscus indigenous to the island of Chios (Pistacia lentiscus Chia or latifolia), or other aromatic seeds, plants, and fruits;
    Production method | tsou.gr | All about ouzo
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    It seems to be taken from a review by Dawkins of Harris' work.

    This is not necessarily a whisky metaphor. I read it as simply saying that Harris' prose is a blend of honesty and clarity. Furthermore, it is "distilled" because he is able to convey his ideas concisely. Maybe Dawkins is playfully using words we associate with the distillation of alcoholic drinks, but I don't think we need to make the similarity an exact fit.

    Anyway, it might equally be talking about ouzo:cool:, which must
    • be produced by blending alcohols flavored by means of distillation or maceration using aniseed and possibly fennel seed, mastic from a lentiscus indigenous to the island of Chios (Pistacia lentiscus Chia or latifolia), or other aromatic seeds, plants, and fruits;
    Production method | tsou.gr | All about ouzo
    Local examples are always fun:)

    I agree about the exactness of fit - imagining Harris's reaction to a question about exactness "Who are those guys?"
     

    Trochfa

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    I don't think it's the first meaning in the dictionary concerning alcohol, but the second, where someone "extracts the essential meaning or most important aspects of" something. Therefore, his prose is a blend of the essential meanings, or most important aspects, of honesty and clarity.

    This is similar to kentix's post #5.

    Extract the essential meaning or most important aspects of.
    ‘my travel notes were distilled into a book’
    ‘the employee report is a distilled version of the main accounts’

    distill - definition of distill in English | Oxford Dictionaries
     

    wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    This is not necessarily a whisky metaphor.
    Of course not. The problem is just the apparent contradiction in terms of 'distilled blend' (separated mixture).
    I read it as simply saying that Harris' prose is a blend of honesty and clarity. Furthermore, it is "distilled" because he is able to convey his ideas concisely.
    Well, that may be what he meant; or perhaps he meant 'distilled' to apply to the honesty and clarity.
    You all are way overthinking this
    Dawkins or Harris might think the question pointless, but it was raised by a learner.

    The only reason I answer, or write a word on this website, is the belief that it might help someone learn the language.
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    I did - it only has that appearance if one uses the (incorrect) definition I gave:)
    In any case, I think the meaning, as noted by others, is the "extracting the essence" (implying the removal of impurities) rather than any boiling going on:)
     
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