A perfectly fit mortise…

Word count: 380 words

Reading time: About 1.5 minutes

A great way to improve your writing is to emulate the work of others. That’s why, every week, I present a sentence that I’d happily imitate. I write today about one produced by Matthew B Crawford.

One of my readers (so sorry — I can’t remember who!) recommended to me the book Shop Class as Soulcraft by Matthew B Crawford. Because Crawford is a philosopher, the book is not a quick read. But, I think, because he’s also a motorcycle mechanic, he makes his writing more accessible than most philosophers would be capable of doing.

Subtitled “An Inquiry into the Value of Work,” the book examines the value of working with our hands, versus that of working with our minds. Crawford is perhaps uniquely qualified to consider this conundrum.

I could relate because while I’m completely useless with my hands when it comes to mechanical, electrical or plumbing repairs, at least I’m a reasonably skilled cook — another skill that seems to be disappearing from both schools and popular culture, despite the plethora of cooking shows on television. (I’ve never used a cake mix and never intend to!)

Interestingly for me, a person who has three kids in college, Crawford explores whether post-secondary education is really a sensible aim for the majority of young people. Movingly, he also meditates on how working with your hands can make you a more interesting, more satisfied, better-rounded person.

It’s an engaging, interesting book and here is my favourite sentence from it:

Compared to any real craftsman, my own skills are execrable, so I have no basis for talking about the higher spirituality that is alleged to arise from a perfectly fit mortise or whatever. 

I like his use of the word execrable with its hard, guttural syllables that almost make it sound like a curse. But, equally, I appreciate the elegance and beauty of the French word mortise (meaning a woodworking joint.) Finally, I enjoy the way he ends the sentence with “whatever” — a dismissive term that provides a sharp juxtaposition between the precision of a perfectly fit mortise and the (deliberately) slipshod way in which he ends the sentence.

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