Dictionary

November 30th, 2006 | Oddments, Other Projects

MyPicture

This is me using the PhotoBooth feature on my new mac. I’m in a motel in Albany, on my way to Bryn Mawr. Thank you all for those excellent computer cable management tips. And thanks for passing along Steve Duin’s book column for the Oregonian, in which he said Fun Home should win the Pulitzer.

It didn’t win one, sadly, but I have received a far, far greater honor I must tell you about. I’ve just been invited to join the Usage Panel of the American Heritage Dictionary. (I would have used triple exclamation points there, but in my lofty new position of linguistic authority, I feel I should set an example.)

The American Heritage is my absolute favorite dictionary. It’s beautifully designed and has thousands of cool pictures, which I used to refer to constantly in the dark ages before Google Image Search. But the best thing about it is its Usage Notes, which I often read for sport. Here, you can go check one out yourself. Read this fascinating explanation of the problem with the word “deceptively.”

What do members of the Usage Panel do? They get to vote on whether usages like “deceptively simple” are acceptable or unacceptable. I just filled out a ballot consisting of a long list of problematic words. It was the most fun I’ve had in a long, long time. But I must confess—although I’m a social liberal, lexicographically I’m a hard line conservative. I will defend the proper pronunciation and spelling of “chaise longue” to the death.

You can check out a list of who else is on the panel here. Though it’s kind of old and a lot of these people are dead. Guess that’s why I got invited. Or maybe they’re trying to balance out Antonin Scalia. Or maybe it was because they spotted that post from last month where I dressed up like Dr. Johnson.

146 Responses to “Dictionary”

  1. Kat says:

    Wow. Alison, that is probably one of the coolest opportunities ever! I must say, though, that suddenly I am very self-conscious about this post and the language and usage contained therein…..

  2. phredd says:

    OMG, I never would have pegged you as a prescriptivist!

    Still, that sounds like great fun indeed.

  3. Brian says:

    W00t! So kewl!

    No, seriously, I can hardly imagine a greater honor for the woman who coined the phrase, “Does ‘anal retentive’ have a hyphen?”

  4. judybusy says:

    Congratulations! It sounds like a wonderful project! So, slightly off topic, I am finally going to suggest a book this community will likely appreciate. It’s The Professor and the Madman, by Simon Winchester. It’s about an American Army physician who contributed a great deal to the Oxford English Dictionary while living in an institution for the criminally insane. Winchester is a delightful writer, including just enough detail to keep you interested and not overwhelmed. I have read other of his books, which typically concern geology. One, which I have not read, is more about the making of the OED,a project of nearly unfathomable proportions. They have all of them on CD at my local library, read by the author;I must say listening to them has been one of this year’s greatest pleasures.

  5. --MC says:

    Photobooth is a nice feature, but every picture I’ve seen it take (including my own) has horror-movie lighting.
    You’ve got a new Mac? Does it come with Garageband?

  6. tallie says:

    that is AWESOME. congrats!

  7. tallie says:

    ps. another feature of the macbook? comic life!

  8. DW says:

    Now THAT is totally cool.Does this mean that once a year you get to have lunch with Antonin et al.? And how did they find you? And back to Antonin; you realise you will be agreeing with him most of the time? Lifetime appointment?

  9. farar says:

    You’re on with Roger Angell and Francine duPlessix Gray? that is so cool. And, I might add, given your impending appearance at Bryn Mawr College, that Angell’s month and Gray herself are BMC alums. All roads lead….

  10. James says:

    I would like to put the word “bi-monthly” on the trouble list. It means both twice a month and once every two months. Those are very different! What’s the point of having such a specific word if you have to clarify it every time you use it? There is no point.

    In other news, I wrote a profile of Ms. Bechdel for Exclaim! Magazine (from an interview described on the blog a couple of months ago as “intense.”) It can be found at the following link; I know I’m a bit late to the Fun Home party, as it were, but I simply couldn’t pass up the opportunity for a sit down with such a fabulous writer, thinker and cartoonist.

    http://exclaim.ca/index.asp?layid=22&csid=20&csid1=5834

  11. meg says:

    Deepest congrats.

  12. Deb says:

    Glad you are so happy about this Alison. I didn’t know such a thing existed, but then I am not a liguist; I simpy enjoy your work a great deal. Have a great time at Bryn Mawr.

  13. anonymous-eponymous says:

    Woah! Those American Heritage Dictionary people surely need some help. Don’t they know that “deceptively shallow” means neither more nor less shallow than it appears? Rather it means shallow but having properties that people normally associate with deep pools. The pool deceives by its _actual_ shallowness. So a correct usage example of “deceptively shallow” would be:

    The pool was deceptively shallow. Unwary suburbanites never suspected that a Loch Ness monster (generally associated with the quite deep waters of Loch Ness) lurked right beneath the surface, camouflaged by its murky waters.

  14. Duffi says:

    WOW. How fabulous and delightful. I knew you were deeply literate, but I had no idea you were a lexicographer! Congratulations!!!

  15. Ian says:

    Could you possibly have landed your second-most favourite job ever? After being a ‘cartoonista’ of course! I double-dare you with no comebacks to submit ‘cartoonista’ to American Heritage. *Wicked laugh*

    Thanks for telling us about the Simon Winchester book judybusy. From what I remember he was in Broadmoor which is a notorious prison for the criminally insane in Britain. I could be wrong. But his contribution to the OED, the greatest lexicon of the English language (sorry, but I reserve the right to be a snobby Brit now and again, despite my appalling grammar) was huge. I have a feeling that book might be my Christmas present to me.

    Congratulations Alison! Well-deserved. Isn’t chaise longue French by the way??? ;)

  16. Deborah says:

    I beg of you, in your new position of power, to fight the good fight against split infinitives!
    To conclude properly, I shall now hit “submit comment.”

  17. TG says:

    Hear, hear on the split infinitives.

    And, James, I have always understood _bi_ to mean ‘every two’ and _semi_ to mean ‘twice a’.

  18. Feminista says:

    Congratulations,Alison! You’ll find kindred spirits in Maxine Hong Kingston,Molly Ivins and Louise Erdrich,among others. I look forward to reading your next novel; thanks to James K. for telling us about it in his riveting review.

    I,too,love dictionaries,and read my Webster’s for fun in high school and college; I’ve been a voracious reader since first grade when I lead the top reading group.

    I credit my paternal grandparents for passing on this literary and linguistic legacy; they were Ukranian Jewish immigrants who came to the U.S.in the early 1900s,before the days of ESL classes. Grandpa learned English by setting type in printshops; Grandma survived a sweatshop before escaping to a store where she sold candy and tobacco. Dad described dinner discourse as lively,loud and literary; the dictionary was often consulted to resolve disputes. My grandparents also were active socialists and unionists,so political discussions were common.

    Growing up,Dad often told us word derivations; i.e.,”from the Latin,meaning…”

  19. shadocat says:

    Dear Alison,

    Congratulations on your newest honor! I hope you still spare a little mercy on the lexicogrphically-challenged folks such as myself, though. (look at all the trouble I got into for using the term “trophy wife” on the #500 posts!)

    BTW-You look WICKED SCARY in this picture! (Still beautiful; but scary. Sorta like my 10th grade English teacher.)

  20. Maggie Jochild says:

    Congrats on achieving a heart’s desire, and thank god for your representation in the name of all manner of linguists.

    Also, thanks for the jolt about chaise longue. I scurried off to my novel manuscript and did a global search — yikes. Did a global find and replace. Chaise longues play an inordinate role in the daily life my lesbian couple. Likely the early influence on me of Edward Gorey…

  21. NLC says:

    So, I guess, now we can assume that
    Bechdelian really will make it in.

    Yours in Harmless Drudgery….

  22. silvio soprani says:

    Alison,

    I am CERTAIN that it was the picture of you dressed as Dr. Johnson that got the Usage Panel’s attention!

    Sort of like the MacArthur genius grants, which you can’t apply for; they just have to find you. Do they spend all day googling topics in hopes of finding likely candidates? Or do they have spies planted in bars and other social places who innocently start conversations hoping to dredge up the right information?

    Perhaps they send their minions to dawdle in bookstores, libraries, and coffee shops evesdropping on conversations, in which case I am sure they overheard at least some of the monumental buzz that happened simultaneously the day FUN HOME was released…(I don’t know how to make italics on this blog…)

  23. Pam Isherwood says:

    Congratulations. You can now wear a badge saying “I’m a cunning linguist”.

    There, that’s brought down the tone.

  24. bea says:

    the fact that william safire is not on that list seems, to me, a snub of unparalleled taste.

  25. Pam Isherwood says:

    You learn a new fact every day by random surfing – or not. This is where one above link leads, and the only word I can understand is “an”. Anyone know WTF they are writing about?

    “Deceptively simple: we test Pinpoint’s TR 320.(Fishfinder Test)(Product/Service Evaluation): An article from: Bass & Walleye Boats by Allan Tarvid Price: $5.95
    While most other fishfinder manufacturers mix and match units with the latest trends and must-have automatic features, Pinpoint walks its own path with an almost retro state of mind with the TR 320. If you want a unit that runs itself and shows cute little fish icons, you need to look elsewhere. The TR 320 was easy to install. We followed the excellent instructions for mounting the 20-degree Airmar transducer to the transom and got it right the first time.”

  26. --MC says:

    Pam: weh! punster! V. funny.
    If it was dressing up like Dr. Johnson that got Alison the encomium of an AHD checker post, what do I have to dress up as to get one of those MacArthur grants? Will I have to get a tweedy jacket with suede patches at the elbows and a pipe? Or dress like Uncle Pennybags?

  27. silvio soprani says:

    Well, Pam, I will try to translate the last sentence.
    These days, fishermen cheat by having radar that finds where the fish are in the ocean. This “fishfinder” has some sort of amplifier (“transducer”–similar to a pickup on a guitar that sends the sound to a speaker) that is mounted on the underside of the boat (“the transom” –I think…) to scout out those fish.

    I am reading a book called “COD-A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World,” by Mark Kurlansky and it talks about the long economic impact of the codfish since the early days of the Basques (the year 900? something like that). Now in Newfoundland they are not allowed to fish for cod much anymore because they’ve been so overfished due to those little doohickeys you mentioned. Apparently the cod fishers in Iceland made their fish stock last the longest because they refused to let those factory boats into their fishing grounds. Good for them!

    This is all a huge digression, but isn’t this whole blog most of the time?

    It is a good book. Eventually it all gets very sad though.
    Does anyone know that Stan Rogers song, “Tiny Fish for Japan”?

  28. judybusy says:

    Hi Ian–Merry Christmas–you win the prize for knowing the most arcane bit of knowledge. Yes, it was Broadmoor, about which one gets to know quite a lot. What I found really interesting is that Winchester was given access to their patient notes, which are *over a hundred years old!* Here in the states, we have this law that says medical records have to be shredded after 7 years, so this was quite astonishing to me. He also tried to get records from a Washington, DC hospital (which, oddly enough still had them…) but the staff were difficult. So, Mr. winchester got on the web and (paraphrasing here)”With a few clicks of the mouse I had them FedExed to me the next morning.”

    Silvio: I *have* read Cod and another of Kurlansky’s books about the history of salt. You might be interested in a book I am in the middle of now: Skin: A Natural History, by Nina Jablonski. My friends love making gentle fun of me for my reading picks! (But I’m a terrific bore at parties as a bonus!)

  29. Pam Isherwood says:

    Yet another reason for being vegetarian…

  30. AK says:

    The panel will be better with you as a member. Although one may lounge about on a long chair, one should not chase others around it. Tell Nino we say “What up?”

    James – I agree with your opinion of “bi-monthly.” It encourages confusion and misuse.

  31. AK says:

    It might be wrong, but I like to split infinitives. “To boldly go…”

  32. bigbeard61 says:

    You’re in Albany now? That’s where I live (actually, in Troy). Not much going on, is there?

  33. bigbeard61 says:

    I also love the American Heritage. I got the 1973 edition when I was 12 (red cover, gold letters), and it’s still the one I use most.

  34. Deena in OR says:

    Coolest thing *ever*. Congrats, Alison

  35. jlh says:

    I am an indifferent reader of blogs, and not a person to be in a “fan” headspace — even for the truly great cartoonists of the world — but the Dr. Johnson pix were so heartfelt and true, somehow, that I ended up forwarding the link to several friends. I’m quite sure I was not alone in this perception, though I suspect you’ve telegraphed this interest in other ways. Congratulations.

    P.S. Does this mean there will be a spellchecker in the comments section? Suddenly I’m worried.

  36. Straight Girl Fan says:

    At risk of starting WWIII right here on this blog, I have to weigh in about split infinitives.

    First, let me say that I can seeing being a “conservative” or a “progressive” regarding word usage. On the one hand, language changes, and in the big picture (50 years or more) it’s useless to fight it. On the other hand, new uses that arise from ignorance are incredibly irritating.

    HOWEVER! The rule against split infinitives does not deserve this kind of even-handedness! :-) Not splitting infinitives was NEVER part of English grammar. It was a bogus rule invented centuries ago by people who thought English was inferior to Latin. They MADE IT UP. And the best, most articulate writers of English have flouted it ever since.

    If you don’t believe me, check in the Cambridge Grammar of the English Language.

  37. Pavel says:

    Congratulations, Alison! The AHD Usage Panel has always sounded like one of the best gigs ever to me, too! I remember hearing Geoff Nunberg talk about the panel back many years ago, when he and I were both at Xerox PARC, and it fired my word-nerdly imagination then and ever since. (Is Geoff still running the panel? I didn’t think so, but then his name is still at the top of that list you linked to. Of course, that list is so old it claims that Carl Sagan is still alive, so…)

    For those who enjoyed “The Professor and the Madman”, I strongly recommend “Caught in the web of words: James Murray and the Oxford English dictionary”, the biography of Murray written by his granddaughter, K.M. Elisabeth Murray. For those who, like me, were a bit disappointed in how little detail Winchester’s book provided on the process of constructing the OED, this was a marvelous page-turner of a story, giving you a much more in-depth appreciation of the terrific hurdles, institutional, personal, and (much less frequently) lexicographic, that Murray overcame in completing his great work.

  38. Ellen O. says:

    Aversion to Verb Perversion

    There’s a radio commercial around here that declares “Shane. Now, you have a friend in the diamond business.” Now, it seems, we have a friend–at least, wishfully thinkingly so–in the word business.

    To be a little less self-centered about it, a panegyrical pack of plaudits to you, Alison.

    In any case, it’s a wonderful opportunity to vent about language. Here’s my pet peeve (are there wild peeves or just pet ones?)

    I hold an unreasonable contempt for nouns forced into verb servitude. The following nouns should not be verbs, yet here in Boulder, I hear them used that way all the time, and not ironically either.

    gift
    suicide
    journal
    workshop

    There should be fines for this sort of thing.
    Anyone else feel this way?

  39. riotllama says:

    The guy who wrote cod also wrote a fabulous book called “A world history of Salt” it is just as great although I lament both book’s lack of footnotes.

    Congratulations Alison!
    You’re int here with Margaret Atwood, one of my favourite writers, and Andrea Dworkin, one of my least favourite. (I just disagree with her alot, ok? I know I’m about to get flamed.)

  40. --MC says:

    K. gets angry whenever I use the word “infomercial”.

  41. Sarah says:

    Ellen O., I’m with you all the way.

    My domesticated peeves? “Reference” and “impact” used as verbs.

    My secret word nerd theory is that the use of “impact” as a verb became popular because people don’t know whether to say “affect” or “effect” and they’re afraid of making a mistake. (The impetus for using “reference” as a verb still puzzles me.)

    As a newspaper copy editor, I’ve tried to stamp out this trend, but it’s way bigger than I am.

  42. meg says:

    Kinko’s – “officing”

    *shudders*

  43. Carmen Sandiego says:

    God…Isn’t Alison cute?

  44. Carmen Sandiego says:

    Oh yeah….Great job, on all that other stuff.

  45. Maggie Jochild says:

    The two usages that make me speak up or whip out my red marking pen:
    Signage (as opposed to signs)
    and Chicken-fried chicken. Fried chicken is fried chicken. Anything non-chicken which has been fried like fried chicken can be described as such, but chicken which has been fried like fried chicken is fried chicken.

    I have caused scenes at restaurants about this.

  46. Ellen O. says:

    Hmm… is there steak-fried chicken?

  47. cybercita says:

    ha! i have photobooth too on my brand new imac. every time i turn it on i see a haggard middle aged woman peering nearsightedly into the lens. it’s actually pretty disturbing, but i get a great kick out of watching myself blink.

    congrats on the dictionary panel invite! way cool.

  48. Josiah says:

    Congratulations, Alison! That’ll certainly make a great trivia question: “What do Alison Bechdel, William F. Buckley and Erica Jong have in common?”

    Now that you’re a certified usage maven, how do you feel about singular “they”? Personally, I feel that if it’s good enough for Jane Austen it should be good enough for the rest of us. And as a gender-neutral third-person pronoun it’s infinitely more natural than any of the other alternatives.

    However, I’ve got to agree with Sarah on the use of “impact” as a verb, especially in the past tense: I feel that only proctologists should say “impacted”.

  49. Andrew O. says:

    How wonderful! Congratulations, Alison. Perhaps now that you have achieved this well deserved eminence you can anwer a question: Is “butchter” the only profession whose noun and verb forms are virtually identical? “The butcher will butcher the meat.” Now thatI’ve typed this of course “cook” finally comes to mind, “The cook will cook it.” Interesting that both involve food. (Apologies for any misspellings; this browser doesn’t take to typing well.)

  50. Louise says:

    I love that Maggie Jochild causes scenes at restaurants over chicken-fried chicken. I burst out laughing when I read that. Thanks, Maggie.

    What a great honor, Alison, and what a blast to be able to discuss language, words, and their proper usage with people who care about it as much as you do. Words can wickedly fun.

    At the moment, I occupy other end of the spectrum–in that space where language HAS to be flexible. I’m currently living in Italy, and while I speak Italian fairly well, I am not fluent. Sometimes I have to grasp at whatever word approximates the thought I want to communicate. The results can be effective, hilarious, or downright embarrassing.

    My husband’s parents are Italians who immigrated to the US when they were in their 30′s, and have since lived in a close-knit community of Italian-Americans. Most of them come from the same small town. It’s really something to hear the generation who immigrated speak a mixture of languages–for example, using an English verb with an Italian verb ending. Throw their hometown dialect into the mix, and you’ve got three languages creating a fascinating brew. I envy my husband who is fluent in English and Italian, can converse in his parents’ hometown dialect, and who says “broken English is my first language.” He’s got an intuitive understanding of language that I, who grew up speaking only English, can only dream about….

    …speaking of which, my husband and I are preparing to move back home to the US, and I dreamt the other night I had a dilemma. I was in the US in a sandwich shop that sold “panini”. In the US, you can order one “panini” or two “paninis”. Quite frankly, the sound of “paninis” is unbearable to me, like fingernails on a blackboard. In my dream I was tongue-tied, not knowing whether I should order one “panino” (correct in Italian) or one “panini” (common usage in the US, but plural in Italian).

    Anyway, all of this to say YAY! for those of us who are stand up for correct usage and YAY! for those of us who brave the disorderly realm of languages not our own.

  51. AnnaP says:

    I wish my English was good enough for this kind of discussion. I often have to use a dictionary when I write in English. AB`s cartoons have had a great influence on my vocabulary, that is why Bechdel`s new task is no suprise for me, congratulations.

    My first foreing language was German, so for me it is rather facinating to follow up the common roots of indoeuropean languages. My mother who is fluent in Latin can easily read newspapers in Italian and even French.

    Personally I think more important than speaking perfectly, is speaking out.

  52. Silvio Soprani says:

    Right on, AnnaP for that last sentence!

    judybusy, thanks for the info about the “SKIN” book. I have added it to my little book of books I want to, hope to, and have read. I have been adding to it since 1983! I highly recommend keeping a little book like this–it is interesting to watch one’s reading trends over the years–sometimes they come around full circle. Also, once middle age memory lapse sets in, it is helpful for remembering a title or author that you used to love.

    Likewise, thank you to Pavel for the Murray book and to Riotlama for the Salt book. What a feast!

    After many years of craving fiction, I find that more and more I prefer biography and history books. Biographies are sometimes more fantastical than any novel. (Lytton Strachey and Carrington come to mind…) I have also found that reading an author’s biography sometimes saps their fiction of its ability to charm and surprise. (A recent biography of P.G. Wodehouse had this effect on me.) And faced with the dilemma of engaging with one and avoiding the other, lately I am sticking with the non-fiction.

    But sometimes (William Gibson’s modernistic science fiction comes to mind), I love their fiction style so much that I find myself completely uninterested in their personal lives. I just want to enjoy their art.

    judybusy, you can bore me at a party anytime! (Do you live anywhere near Baltimore?) :)

    A blog does alert one to how long-winded one is, compared to their other bloggers. I admire how succinct most of the rest of you can be. I can only aspire…

    I love the etymological (words, not bugs–had to check!) turn this blog has taken!

  53. Kat says:

    ARGH!!! I HATE the use of “singular they!!!” Could you please rid the world of it, Alison? I know that Josiah would not approve….sorry Josiah…..

    Someone expressed a desire to figure out how to get a MacArthur grant. Well, best story ever: My SO’s prof at Berkeley just won one. $500,000 for being a genius, or whatever. What does she do? Immediately goes out and buys a used Saab. God, I love hippies!

    Sorry for the digression.

  54. Sophie says:

    LOL! I want a Cunning Linguist button too!

  55. judybusy says:

    Hi Silvio! Alas, I live in the lovely city of Minneapolis (which I have referred to as the Tiny Apple…) However, my better half and I are going somewhere for a late spring vacation, and Baltimore is on the list of possibilities. I keep a list of “to read” on little slips of paper in my wallet. When I have read the book, I write about it in a Word document and then erase the title on the slip. I love being able to go back and reminisce about past books! I have been doing this for about four years and I think the journal is about 27-28 pages long.

  56. --MC says:

    Oh, and “irregardless”.

  57. Silvio Soprani says:

    judybusy,
    What cracks me up is that the little book I started in 1983 was just one of those hardcover pretty gift hallmark-type pocket notebooks that someone gave me. It was lying around when I got the idea to start a list of books, since I was no longer in college and had to take responsibility for my own reading lists. And now so many years later, it is one of my most prized posessions. Every time I have moved (numerous) I have jettisoned tons of belongings in an effort to live simply and not be fettered by possessions, but i would never part with my little book.

    well you let me know when the two of you have plans to come to Baltimore (it is known as “Charm City.” ) We have a great old working port BIIIG SHIPS!!, fire engine boats, great crabcakes, beautiful old ghost-ridden architecture, and some great ATTITUDE. I live right near the harbor area and will take you both around for great beer (if you like that) and general carousing. silvio.soprani@yahoo.com

  58. bean says:

    riotllama,

    you won’t get flamed here or anywhere else for stating that you don’t like andrea dworkin because it’s just NOT COOL, in fact it’s not even OK to like andrea dworkin ANYWHERE. even among the readers of the dtwof blog.

    don’t believe me? notice how quiet we all were??? sorry to disappoint, but at least you have me.

    *************************************

    my experience is that folks who “don’t like” or “disagree with” andrea dworkin, 95% of the time haven’t read much of her work. maybe they’ve read the little snippets that susie bright pulled out. but rarely have they really read what was there. mostly, they go looking for what they hope to find, and somehow manage to find it, or something that maybe kinda sorta sounded like it.

    andrea dworkin was the big hairy scary angry fat loud radical feminist that we all needed to hate to make ourselves feel like we were more acceptable. (“at least i’m not like HER!”) who else fits our stereotype better? who is as much fun to hate? not jan raymond: she’s too easy to argue with. not mary daly; no one reads her books anymore. andrea dworkin pushed the bounderies for us all. it’s ok to be a feminist… as long as you’re not like her. she was our outter edge.

    anyway, it’s no surprise to me that andrea dworkin would have been on this list. read her to gain an appreciation for her encyclopedic knowledge of words, language and literature. you might be surprised by what you find.

    and, no, i don’t agree with everything she wrote, said or did either. but i do recognize good writing, and i recognize a hero when i see one.

  59. Ehrrin Keenan says:

    I’m going to go back and read all the comments because this seems like a great discussion, but I just had to say that this is one of the funniest things I’ve ever read:

    “although I’m a social liberal, lexicographically I’m a hard line conservative.”

    I’m *so* using that.

  60. Deb says:

    As a therapist, I certainly know the difference between effect and affect and use those two in case/progress notes daily. I really liked the ‘cunning linguist’ idea. I thought that was very clever. The particulars of the English language is an area I am not well educated in…….I do remember that you should never end a sentence in a preposition……….but educate this poor therapist. What is a split infinitive?

    *sits in her chair and watches all the writers jaws drop to the floor, with a cute smile on her face*

  61. Pam Isherwood says:

    “There, that’s brought down the tone.” – to bring the tone down would be a split infinitive. To bring down the tone is ok. Unless you’re trying to raise it. And I shouldn’t post sentences with no verb. Or start them with prepositions. Ahem – _nor_ start….

  62. DW says:

    I’m more of a lexicographical reactionary. Can’t stand verbing nouns. But I strongly support the singular “they”. Glad to hear Jane Austen used it. So much smoother than the clunky “he or she”.

  63. Maggie Jochild says:

    I LOVE what Alison’s news has brought out in this list. Should have known all this was just under the surface.

    Two additions:
    A voracious reader friend of mine, long-time roommate, writes on the front page of every book she receives the date/place she got it. Then, when she had read it, she will add that date/place to the note with a brief comment about what she thought. Makes her personal library extremely interesting.

    AND: There’s a popular joke here in Texas (or was popular, before W. made being a moron not funny any more) which goes (a genuine Texas accent, think Ann Richards, not W., delivers this much better):
    A feller from Waxahachie goes to college at Harvard. The first day, he gets lost on campus and stops a graduate student to ask “Where’s the library at?” The graduate student looks down his nose at the Texan and replies in a haugty tone “We were at Harvard do NOT end our sentences with a preposition.” To which the Texan replied, “Okay, then, where’s the library at, asshole?”

  64. Pam Isherwood says:

    More lowering of tones. I always test dictionaries by looking up “lesbian”. The AHD starts with tribade:
    PRONUNCIATION: trbd
    NOUN: A lesbian.
    ETYMOLOGY: French, from Latin tribas, tribad-, from Greek, from trbein, to rub. See tribology.
    Which is defined thus:
    tri·bol·o·gy
    PRONUNCIATION: tr-bl-j, trb-
    NOUN: The science of the mechanisms of friction, lubrication, and wear of interacting surfaces that are in relative motion.
    You learn a new fact every day….

  65. Lea says:

    ellen o. – if it does not disgust you too much could you provide examples as to how a person could possibly use the words workshop, suicide, gift, and journal as verbs?

  66. Silvio Soprani says:

    Bean,

    I think I agree with everything you said about the late and indeed larger than life Andrea Dworkin (and I am not referring to her fat; I am referring to her passion and spirit.)

    Andrea Dworkin died in April of 2005. Here is a link to a memorial webpage for her:

    http://www.andreadworkin.net/memorial/

    Much of my involvement with the feminist community (for the most part in the 1990s) caused me exhaustion, alienation, hurt feelings, and insecurity at the same time I was feeling inspired, desirous of being part of a community, and occasionally literate and powerful.

    What you said about Andrea being the extreme that allowed the rest of us to feel okay (hope I did not mangle that paraphrase too much) seems right on the money to me. As a person who was raised conservative and Catholic, I truly appreciate the guts of women like Andrea who were able to speak up with such conviction. And yet I find that sort of person very annoying and exhausting to be around because you can’t engage without signing on for the fight.

    So I think your post, Bean, reflected the complexity that Andrea embodied.

    And regarding split infinitives, as an English language instructor of adult immigrants in the USA I do elicidate and enforce grammar rules all day long at work (in a spirit of improving my students’ ability to communicate; not as a power trip), and yet in my free time with non-students, i have no desire to be an enforcer and I have no use for a power trip about grammar. But I think that is true of me because i am not personally tortured by other people’s misuse of the language. I am kind of detached about that.

    My now-departed father-in-law emeritus was a most educated man. On his dining room table he had the full-size edition of the OED. Often he would jump up in the middle of a meal to look up a word. I found this charming and I loved the OED, but I don’t like it when people insecure about their knowledge of grammar assume (fearfully) that I (a teacher) will correct theirs. I won’t! I’d rather drink a glass of wine and hear a good joke…

    But I have noticed that on National Public Radio the commentators routinely split their infinitives. It must be in their style manual, don’t you think, because on other matters they are pretty good…they get their subject/verb agreement right with the troublesome pronouns that I cannot think of at the moment; but they do split those infinitives.

    On a final note (for now), where would Star Trek have been as a series without “to boldly go…” ?

  67. Silvio Soprani says:

    Correction! I meant “elucidate”!

    (Does the exclamation point need to go inside the quotation marks? I know someone will remind me…)

  68. Bob says:

    I’m glad to see people coming to Andrea Dworkin’s defense, as I’m an admirer of hers as well. I had a bit of a jarring experience reading the list of usage panel members. Several have an asterisk next to their names, and a note at the bottom says the asterisk means “We regret that these members of the Usage Panel have died.” Yet even though Andrea Dworkin has died, her name has no asterisk next to it. Given that the people involved are fussy about usage, at first I took this as a deliberate implication that the keepers of the list don’t regret her passing. Then I noticed that Carl Sagan and Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s names are also lacking asterisks, and then I noticed the page’s copyright date: 1996. Turns out it was reprinted, without editing, from the 1996 print edition of the dictionary. I did a little searching and the most recent version of the list I could find was from the 2000 print edition:

    http://www.bartleby.com/61/4.html

    It indicates that Alison’s esteemed colleagues include Sherman Alexie, Jenny Holzer, Katha Pollitt, John Sayles, and Leslie Marmon Silko. Now *that* sounds like a dinner party I’d like to attend.

  69. shadocat says:

    Maggie, that was great! I am constantly ending my sentences with prepositions and I wouldn’t know a split infinitive if it came up and bit me in the ass. And I always use the singular “they” whenever possible.

    Posting on this blog can be pretty intimidating for a gal like me, but it’s writers like you that keep me coming back.

    P.S. I also think “chicken fried chicken” is just plain WRONG! (Also tried fried spam the other day-not too bad…)

  70. Josiah says:

    Kat, I suppose that each writer can use whatever pronoun they like. ;-)

    I just noticed that the Jane Austen link I tried to make above seems not to be working, so let’s try again: here. Did that work?

    That site focuses on Austen, but also includes examples of “singular they” usage from many other sources, including Chaucer, the King James Bible, Shakespeare, Fielding, Thackeray, Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw, C.S. Lewis and Doris Lessing. “He or she” is awkward, and made-up pronouns like “xe” just won’t catch on in the culture at large. By contrast, singular they is found both in the literary tradition and the language as it is spoken. It’s really no contest.

  71. Larry-bob says:

    Among the shoes of the departed on the panel you might be considered to be filling – June Jordan, Susan Sonntag, and the aforementioned Andrea Dworkin. If this is a list of prominent Americans who know their way around the written word, it seems like there are some notable omissions, such as Toni Morrison. Maybe she was too busy. In terms of the gay male component, I notice Armistead Maupin, Terrence McNally, and David Sedaris.

  72. AK says:

    Silvio – My thoughts exactly regarding Star Trek.

  73. Kat says:

    josiah:
    yeah, yeah, everyone uses it……it still bugs me. You’re right, though, there isn’t really a good alternative.
    Part of me, however, wants to say: “I’m not going to use anything that the yucky old King James Bible and equally yucky Jane Austen used. So There.” That really wouldn’t leave me with many options, though, would it?
    ;)

  74. K.B. says:

    To in any way whatsoever fry chicken is a culinary abomination.

  75. Ellen O. says:

    Lea wrote…
    ellen o. – if it does not disgust you too much could you provide examples as to how a person could possibly use the words workshop, suicide, gift, and journal as verbs?
    —————————-
    Okay, here goes…
    You are taking a creative writing class. As the session wraps up for the afternoon, the teacher says, “We will workshop Sally’s sonnet next time. Remember to journal at least twice over the weekend.”

    When you get home, your neighbor knocks on your door. She says, “Thanks for feeding my cat. As a thank you, I want to gift you with these tickets to the Harmonic Harmonies concert.”

    You thank her, then check your voice mail. Your girlfriend’s message says, “I won’t be able to come over tonight. One of my therapy group clients threatened to suicide this afternoon, and I’m going to do an extra session with her.”

    My last girlfriend (a counselor at the local mental health center) actually did use “suicide” as a verb. I didn’t say anything to her about it at the time; it seemed petty given the circumstances.

  76. cybercita says:

    josiah,

    doesn’t a nurse nurse?

  77. Silvio Soprani says:

    Bob says “That’s a dinner party I’d like to attend.” Of course I immediately began to wonder whether the entire Panel is ever convened at once for dinner! Can you imagine all those people in the same room? The building would probably sprout wings and fly away!

    Either that, or it would shoot sparks out the chimney from all the mental energy swirling around inside…

    and Kat, why do you think Jane Austen is yucky? I know this will sound lowbrow, but I think her novels were the equivolent in her time of the tv show FRIENDS. (Not quite Six Feet Under or All in the Family!) I can’t speak for how her contemporaries viewed her stories, but I always feel so at home reading about all those characters.

    Also, she covers the issues women faced in much the way as Edith Wharton did in The House of Mirth, but with a lighter touch.

    Virginia Woolf, whose novels I find too challenging to be enjoyable (although her essays and her letters are very lively and witty) had a great regard for Jane Austen. In some strange way this gave me the fortitude to keep trying to enjoy Woolf’s novels, because if she and I enjoyed the same books (Austen’s), then perhaps I could aspire to derive some meaning from Woolf’s as well.

  78. Deena in OR says:

    Cybercita,

    Well, yes, as does a mother :) But that’s a different thread.

  79. Em says:

    I can’t think of ‘verbing’ without thinking of the Calvin and Hobbes where Calvin speaks of his fondness for verbing words, concluding that “Verbing weirds language.”

    Congrats, Alison! Let us know the very moment “truthiness” will be included!:)

  80. Deb says:

    Ellen O………good job on using suicide and workshops as a verb. In reports, I urge new counselors to NOT use it as a verb as it is not precise enough for our reports. We use suicidal ideation and must show in degrees how the suicidality is expressed verbally, physically and psychiatrically. Now, I don’t even think ‘suicidality’ is a real word……..but it’s one of those words that expresses exactly what you want to say….sort of like Bechdelian……………:)

  81. AnnaP says:

    Now my books to read-list is a way longer than before reading this blog. Have to find out which one are available.
    I do not have a particular favourite book, but there are books which I read once a year and usually at the same month of the year; “The same sea in us all” and “Titanic” by Jaan Kaplinski Risto isomäki`s “Awakening” and Ursula LeGuin`s “The dispossessed, An Ambiguous Utopia”.

    And I keep Etymological dictionary at my bedside table.

  82. Ian says:

    Again, I’ll wholeheartedly recommend Bill Bryson’s book “Mother Tongue” on the history of the English language. It’s very funny. It’s where I read about the madman who is the topic of Simon Winchester’s book. Definitely one to add to the list and one I’ve re-read a couple of times.

    I was only taught the basics of English grammar at school (and I live in England!) and now I’m slowly learning to speak Spanish and I’m finding I’ve got to learn English grammar to be able to understand Spanish grammar as every single book uses all the grammar jargon, particularly when it comes to verbs! I’ve looked at the explanation for the use of the subjunctive several times and I still don’t understand!!!

    In Britain we have a great organisation called the Campaign for Plain English which fights a holy crusade against jargon and I have a lot of sympathy for its aims: to be as concise and express thoughts as simply as possible. It mainly fights against the dreadful mauling bureaucracy tends to give our beloved language.

    I don’t think we need to be too self-conscious about the use of language. Every tongue needs flexibility in order to grow and without breaking rules or creative use, then it becomes stagnant. Let’s face it, I’ve read comments (in the right-wing press, of course) on the word ‘herstory’ (used instead of history), calling it a linguistic abomination as it completely mistakes the linguistic origins of the word – something Greek or Latin no doubt – which have nothing to do with gender.

    So, before I’m shot down in flames, let me say I care not a jot either way and just wished I’d had a chance to use the phrase ‘Ye gods and little fishes’ as it’s one of my favourite (though never used) exclamations! It sprang to mind when someone above compared ‘Friends’ to Jane Austen! Two I thought I’d never see used in the same sentence!

  83. Straight Girl Fan says:

    Off topic, but check out the New York Times piece on transgendered children:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2006/12/02/us/02child.html?pagewanted=1&ei=5094&en=4ba55558f8787f74&hp&ex=1165122000&partner=homepage

  84. Pam Isherwood says:

    That New York Times piece is really depressing and trivial. Just takes for granted the rigid indicators of female and male behaviour – skirts, hair length, aggression – and presumes they are natural. No challenge at all to the status quo. Then when a child shows the slightest rejection of those limits, it gets defined as a problem – rather than the stereotypes being the problem. Pah!
    I want to see all kids dressed in pink skirts one day and denim dungarees the next. On sundays, they can choose.

  85. Ellen O. says:

    Pam

    I had the same reaction to the Times piece. Why was karate assumed to be a male sport? Why not challenge the idea that a silky shirt is for females? Hmm, Jesus is popularly depicted as long-haired and in a “dress” or robe. Did he have a gender “disorder” too? And why is a bigger deal when a boy wants to dress “as a girl?” Is it more of a taboo to want to “lessen your station” in life.

    It would be helpful to address the complexity of the issue, separating out the desire for a different set of genitals from wanting to break out from gender stereotypes, which vary from culture to culture and continually evolve. When I was in sixth grade, girls couldn’t wear pants to school. In seventh grade, we could.

    At least the Times piece helps to continue to discussion.

  86. AnnaP says:

    When I was at the hospital givig birth to my son, the nurse was really sorry, because they only had pink blanket for the baby to be wrapped on.

    Later on I learned that only a couple of centuries ago psychologists reccomended boys to be dressed on bold color of pink and little girls on light blue, color of innosence nad shyness. Back then both sexes were using dresses untill early teen years.

  87. Straight Girl Fan says:

    I totally agree that we need to separate physical gender from gender-stereotyped behavior. I thought it was very telling that most of these kids don’t grow up to be transgendered. For many, it’s really about “I don’t like dresses and dolls,” not “I want to have a penis.”

    I thought the focus of the article, though, was more about the dilemma faced by parents. These parents have to deal with an individual kid in the world as it is now. They are living with the very real fear that their kid will get beat up and stuffed into a dumpster.

    (Please note that the Times article did not assume karate is a male sport. The article reported on *therapists* who assume it is a male sport.)

  88. Kat says:

    Silvio–
    My dislike for Jane Austen is because to the style of writing, rather than the content. I’ve never been able to really pinpoint exactly why I can’t get excited by Austen (and I’ve been trying to like her books since I was about 13), but maybe it is that lightness that has never really worked for me. You mentioned getting bogged down by Woolf, whereas I love big, heavy, dense stuff. I’m that weird kid who reads Faulkner and Proust for fun and enjoyment…..

  89. Silvio Soprani says:

    Kat–

    Ah! That explains it perfectly to me! For years I have tried to read Proust–about every 10 years(I know that’s not very often..) I check the whole set of Remembrance of Things Past out of the library. Then I never get farther than the first chapter. Proust’s compulsive need to clarify everything so exhaustively has the effect of winding me up too tight.. I have a visceral reaction as I read…I don’t like the feeling, so I eventually give in and give up..

    I have decided that’s okay. Everyone’s brain is different!

    I also had that experience with Tolkien’s Lord of the rings trilogy. I got totally swamped in it, UNTIL the movies came out. I could not stay awake through the first movie (plus I was totally confused who all the characters were). I sat through it a second time, also unsuccessfully. Then I saw the 2nd movie, and that sent me back to the books, which I read sequentially quite rapidly with no ill effects whatsoever.

    Perhaps there is a film of Proust’s works that would assist me…Actually, it was FUN HOME that sent me to the library this year to try to read it again.

    There is no telling which path will lead one to a new book (or an old one.)

  90. Kat says:

    Our brains really must function very differently…..I even love the appendices to the LOTR trilogy…..

  91. mlk says:

    fascinating discussion about language, books and reading!

    I may be confused, but in the examples given of a split infinitive and correct usage, I though both usages were acceptable. “to bring the tone down would be a split infinitive. To bring down the tone is ok.”

    the infinitive “to bring” would be split if the sentences were something like “to decisively bring the tone down would be a split infinitive. to amusingly bring down the tone is also a split infinitive.”

    there’s also the Star Trek example already given (twice): to boldly go . . .

    I want to add my congratulations to Alison — way to go! I notice some of the other members of the American Heritage Dictionary’s usage panel have Pulitzers, so the two honors aren’t mutually exclusive. which came first: the Pulitzer or AHD usage panel appointment? maybe both are possible . . .

  92. Silvio Soprani says:

    mlk–

    Perhaps “to bring the tone down” is a split infinitive because “BRING DOWN” is one of those two-word verb phrases. The adverb following the verb is considered part of the verb, because it is an idiom.

  93. Silvio Soprani says:

    Ian,

    Since you mentioned Bill Bryson’s MOTHER TONGUE, I might as well mention Judy Grahn’s ANOTHER MOTHER TONGUE. A classic lesbian tome of mythology, linguistics, and political/personal connection.

  94. Bob says:

    mlk and Silvio-
    I don’t believe “bring down” is a two-word verb phrase. Look at it this way: what if you were wondering what effect a particular comment would have on the tone, and you asked, “Will this comment bring down it or bring up it?” Does this not immediately bring to mind Winston Churchill’s famous remark about usage “up with which I will not put?” “To bring” is an infinitive; the “down” has nothing to do with it. (“Quite so,” replies Thompson. “With it the ‘down’ has nothing to do.”)

  95. Pam Isherwood says:

    Bob et al – Conceded – a wrong example. I’m off to shamefully hang my head.

  96. aimes says:

    can something be done about the phrase “went missing?”

  97. clara lemlich says:

    maybe somebody already noted this, but Andrea Dworkin’s on the list still… anyway, congrats Alison!

  98. clara lemlich says:

    okay, sorry– see, this is why i rarely do the blog posting thing– so y’all already noted Andrea and her passing– but also June Jordan’s on the list. I think that if June was still alive (and blogging), it’d be her blog and Alison’s that I’d read daily. Anyone ever read her love poems to Haruko? The one that only uses the word no is a favorite– diction and all.

  99. Lea says:

    @ Ellen O.- thank’s for the examples.

    @ Silvio Soprani – there is indeed a great proust movie that might help you. i think the english title is “time regained”. after you watch it you might even feel in the mood to take on “the waves”… who knows?

  100. shadocat says:

    All this talk about language has reminded me of a class I was required to take (the third time I went to college). It was titled “Social and Philisophical Foundations of Education” but no social and philisophical foundations were ever taught there. The professor was writing a series of books about “transitive verbs”, that is, verbs that are formed by taking a noun and making a verb out of it, say for instance, if I were to say, “You completely Bechedlized that sentence.”Something like that. The exams were to be taken, but the grade we received on our test really didn’t matter; all that mattered were finding the verbs. That, and attendence, His lectures consisted of his personal opinions of the women’s movement and society’s decline in general. (BTW, we were not allowed to tape lectures).

    We had to find 6 original transitive verbs to get an A. I spent the semester combing over motorcycle and car magazines, (someone told me these were a good source). I was only able to find 4 original verbs-the only one I remember is “out-Hitchock”, as in “The director has managed to out-Hitchcock Hitchcock in his latest movie.” Since I wasn’t being taught the subject, I had no idea what to study for on the exams. I fished around and read up on my own on the subject, but was only able to make C’s on the exams. Overall, I got a “C” in the course.

    A group of us went to the Dean of the School of Ed., and poured our hearts out. He agreed with us; the class was a sham, the professor a sexist and a horrible teacher.Yes, he was the only profesor that taught that class, and he felt oh so bad about that. too. There was also nothing he could do about it. The man had tenure. And that was that.

    Later, when we went to take a prep test for the state teacher’s exam, the tnstructor could not understand why myself and my classmates had failed the social and philosophical portions of the test.When we told her the reason, she suggested we get a private tutor to “re-teach” the subject to us, which we did. (And it wasn’t cheap).

    Oh, those college memories….

  101. Silvio Soprani says:

    shadocat,

    Your posts always bring me back to earth. (that’s a good thing).

    Your story reminded me of my first semester in college (1969) inn a New England liberal arts college which I still love very much. I arrived for the first class of the required “Philosophy 101.” The professor began talking about “the chairness of the chair.” (To this day I cannot remember which philosopher he was discussing. Something about Being.) I knew right away it was going to be a long semester.

    I do not mean to sound like a philistine. It is just that abstract concepts can sometimes be elusive without some more accessible example.

    I recently realized that astronomers must have to have a huge imagination. They look through telescopes at blurry little lights in the sky and figure out what happened millions of years ago. How do they do that??

    Who figured out how to multiply and divide numbers? I heard on the news today that some divers discovered some pieces of metal deep in the ocean, and determined that it was a device used by mariners Before Christ to predict what planets would be doing so they could navigate. Amazing!

    There are so many amazing abstract things that humans know, and i will never catch up.

    I will watch Lea’s Proust movie and attempt to make some sense of his writing, for starters.

  102. Colino says:

    Well, since Proust keeps coming back in the posts, I’ll let you have a little anecdote, which might be seen as an echo of Fun home and of what A.B. said about his being a pansy. It goes like this:
    At a time he was staying on the seaside in Normandy, he went on a daytrip in his car (whith his chauffeur, of course), planning to go to this and that place, to see this and that person. On the way back however, he had determined to go and visit certain people, because they were known to have a magnificent rose garden and it was something one just had to see. Unfortunately, he got delayed on his journey and it soon became obvious that he could never get there before nightfall. Yet he wasn’t to be deterred and insisted on going regardless. Sure enough, it was pitch black when they arrived and the hosts weren’t a little surprised to see him call at that time of night, urging them to show him their rose garden. They tried to explain that there wasn’t much of a chance that he’d see anything in the dark, but he insisted on having his car driven up the alley, so that the headlights (beacons?) would light up the rose bush. So there you have Proust, forcing himself into rapture before this nightly rosebush scenery, while his two embarassed hosts tried to keep something like a social conversation going.

    And for those of you who might be interested, here’s a rare picture of him on his death bed. It’s a bit, hum, macabre but after all, you don’t come across this photograph very often (at least you didn’t when I got that book). http://traumfabrik.free.fr/articles.php?lng=en&pg=9

    To Silvio Soprani: I haven’t read Remembrance of things past either… and this is a painful confession, when over here the question among literate people isn’t whether you’ve read it or not, but how many times you’ve read it… I finished Swann’s way and decided I had enough. As a matter of fact, I don’t like the narrator/author’s self-importance. Or something like that: he’s always so sure to be the repository of Truth in matters of good taste, he’s always so ready to tell the reader what they should like and what they should scoff at in ways of art and architecture that I find him unbearable in the long run…
    At the moment I’m reading A burnt child, by Stig Dagerman. On the back cover I read this (loose translation): “…one of those authors whose “voice” has the power to shorten in a split second the distance between reader and author, building bonds which bring them closer and initiating an irresistible surge of liking”. I couldn’t put into better words what it felt like to read Fun home.

  103. Kat says:

    Silvio–wasn’t that “chairness of the chair” business Heidegger? I remember one long, completely incomprehensible semester of Aesthetics…..ugh….

  104. silvio soprani says:

    Colino,

    Thank you for that blurb describing Stig Dagerman. Isn’t that somewhat the definition of the word “elegant” that mathematicians use to describe a proof that explains the most the best in the fewest strokes of the pencil? And I absolutely agree with your assessment of how it felt to read Fun Home. Yes Yes Yes!

    Kat–
    It may have been Heidegger. I must confess that the nuns who taught my Catholic girls’ high school (which I loved) somehow set their expectations of our ability to understand philosophy quite high. They had us reading Kierkegaard (alas poor Regina; what she must have had to put up with…), Buber, Erik Fromm (did I spell his name right?), and yes, Heidegger. I never understood much of it, except that Buber had a very warm heart and Kierkegaard was guilty of despair and did obsess quite a bit about his lost love. But I did take away from it all K’s principle that not until you totally let go of your expectation does it then magically come to you. But the rub is, you can’t expect it to come to you…you must truly let go.

    So in that state, I went off to college and the Chairness of the Chair, but without the nuns and their Caritas I just could no longer stomach all the word-splitting, plus the sentences were too long. (Is that where the use of the word “sentence” to refer to a prison term comes from?)

    I have blithered on too long this Monday morning. Thanks again to you both for triggering my ongoing “irresistible surge of liking.”

  105. silvio soprani says:

    p.s. Colino,

    Where is “over here?” (What country are you in?)

  106. Duncan says:

    Silvio, it’s Erich Fromm. I read him on my own in high school (Escape from Freedom and The Art of Loving), and I can’t see why you compare him to Heidegger — Fromm’s prose was (as I recall – it’s been 35 years!) quite clear. But then he wasn’t a philosopher, he was a psychoanalyst. Not all philosophers write like Heidegger, Hegel, or Kant, of course. I never found Kierkegaard difficult, just obnoxious with his Christian dogmatism. Hume, Russell, Nietzsche are all comparatively clear and direct writers as philosophers. … I think of Buber as a theologian, not a philosopher, though admittedly there’s not always a sharp dividing line there.

    Odd. I like both Jane Austen and Faulkner. I don’t find Austen “light” at all, and her style is exquisite. It’s not the same as Faulkner’s, of course. I’ve never understood why people can’t like more than one kind of thing. I like Patti Smith *and* Joni Mitchell. (I remember, many years ago, an interview with Mitchell on AM radio. The interviewer asked a question that was asked in those days every time someone got on the charts with something that wasn’t rock: Do you think that your popularity means that kids are *finally* getting over this awful rock business and listening to pretty music again? Of course kids had been listening to both ballads and rock all along. Mitchell replied: Oh, I love rock’n’roll, I just can’t play it. Her good sense was a breath of fresh air.)

    I’ve finally begun reading Proust, albeit slowly. I finished “In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower” this summer while I was on vacation in South Korea. I tend to read fast, so it takes some effort to slow down and take Proust at his own pace; being in another country helps. It amused to me to read Alison’s comment in Fun Home that middle age is when you realize that you’ll never read Proust, because that’s when I’m reading him.

    The business about language here sent me on a flurry of reading about that topic this weekend. I agree with Alison’s comment “although I’m a social liberal, lexicographically I’m a hard line conservative” to a point. I’m delighted to hear that she got invited to that committee, but it has nothing very much to do with prescriptiveness in lexicography. The most ‘descriptive’ linguist asks people whether they consider a given usage correct; that’s how the work is done.

    The trouble with “prescriptivism” is that it’s incoherent, because “correct” language is completely arbitrary. That doesn’t mean that people can or should make up their own private language and expect to be understood, only that standards of correctness could be completely different without affecting people’s ability to communicate. Double negatives are considered incorrect in English, but they weren’t always, and of course they are normative in other languages like Spanish and French. Split infinitives were declared incorrect by grammarians who were trying to make English conform to Latin structure, which was batty enough; but if prescriptive grammarians decided to suddenly permit split infinitives once more, it would make no difference to English.

    Any prescriptivist writes and speaks incorrectly by the standards of the language just a century ago. I couldn’t find an essay by Bergen Evans (author of The Natural History of Nonsense), written around 1960 when various prescriptivists were frothing at the mouth over the new edition of Webster’s Unabridged. He showed that those same prescriptivists, contrary to their own standards, were using usages that the Second edition did not permit but the Third edition did. Harvey A. Daniels, in his useful book “Famous Last Words: The American Language Crisis Reconsidered” (SIU Press, 1983), pointed out that language mavens like William Safire (whose authority evidently rests on his having been a speechwriter for Richard Nixon) routinely made errors in their published writings that they condemned in other people as signs of illiteracy. I suspect that Alison is really a flaming liberal in her actual lexicographical usage too.

    Like Alison, I’m fanatical about some ‘errors.’ We all have our bugbears: ‘chaise longue’ is one of hers. I am bugged by the confusion of “discreet” and “discrete,” for instance, which is endemic among gay men — I think it’s a side effect of the gay gene, which also drops the IQ by 20 points or so. But I also know about the history of language to know that this is really my hangup. It has less to do with conservatism than with anal compulsiveness…. wait a minute. Does that have a hyphen or not? Aughhhh. I can’t decide. Anyway, if someone writes “discrete” for “discreet” it may set off my mental alarm, but it doesn’t really interfere with communication.

  107. Colino says:

    Silvio,
    I’m french.

  108. silvio soprani says:

    Duncan,

    I think my original comparison was between Austen and Woolf (not Faulkner), although I have always loved Faulkner and do not get lost in his forests, just refreshed and exhilerated.

    When I said Austen had a lightness, I meant her attitude. And yes, I totally affirm having tastes for disparate things.

    I did not mean to compare Fromm to Heidegger; I was just listing all the writers that as a twelve year-old I did not have the life experience to understand. I had no framework. And yes, Fromm is quite accessible; I agree. (Especially compared with Heidegger!)

    As for Joni Mitchell, I would say that she was my strongest beacon throughout my adolescence (and later). A true individual who did not feel compelled to conform to anyone’s view of a woman or a songwriter. It is hard to appreciate these days what a pioneer flying with no radar that she was. Now there are hundreds, probably thousands of women songwriters. But Joni and Laura Nyro paved their own paths and I knew as much about them as I did the Beatles, and that is saying something.

    These days it seems hard to me to keep up with all the artists worth listening to and be aware of all their work. Of course, I am an adult working for a living, not a teenage with lots of energy and time (not to mention peer conversation) to keep me in the loop. But I could no more have been unaware of a new Joni MItchell album in the 60s and 70s than I could have forgotten my own name!

    Anyway, thanks for clarifying some points and prodding me to be precise!

  109. shadocat says:

    Silvio,
    I am looking for a copy of “time regained” right now–I’d also love to see it. I read my father’s copy of “Rememberence of Things Past” when I was very young, 14 or so, and after reading “Fun Home” I realized its time to re-read it as an adult.It is next on my list, right after I struggle through the final five chapters of “Marie Antionette” (not that it isn’t good-but with the holidays and all, well…)I am also a rabid Faulker fan. I suppose it’s something to do with the “southerness” of it all. Most people do not think of my part of the country as “southern”, but when you get away from the urban areas, one can really feel it and sometimes see it,(Confederate war memeorials, rotting old plantation houses everywhere). I think there’s a sense ofs guilt in a former slave state–(plus there are always those people around who deep down wish it was still a slave state). Not too long ago there was a movement here to preserve whar remained of one of those homes, named (ironically) “Whitehall”. The historic society was fighting to preserve it, but there was a group of folks who were campaigning to tear the place down, since it was built with slave labor. They came to some sort of concenous, and the place has been restored, but I still don’t know how I feel about it. I can feel the same pull in a Faulkner novel, of lives built on the misfortune of others, on family commitments and ties that serve to strangle more than unite families…sorry for going on like that; a bad habit of mine when Faulner comes up.

    Also can’t help thinking of “the chairness of the chair”–you poor kid…

  110. shadocat says:

    Sorry for all the typos-but I just read a book of Eleanor Roosevelt’s letters-these were to the public, not private.They were FULL of typos, words “x-ed” out and so forth-so I guess I’m in good company.

  111. Mame says:

    Immanuel Kant was a real pissant
    Who was very rarely stable
    Heidegger, Heidegger was a boozy beggar
    Who could think you under the table
    David Hume could out consume Schopenhauer and Hegel
    And Wittgenstein was a beery swine
    Who was just as schloshed as Schlegel

    There’s nothing Nietzche couldn’t teach ya
    ‘Bout the raising of the wrist
    Socrates, himself, was permanently pissed

    John Stuart Mill, of his own free will
    On half a pint of shandy was particularly ill
    Plato they say, could stick it away
    Half a crate of whiskey every day
    Aristotle, Aristotle was a bugger for the bottle
    Hobbes was fond of his dram
    And Rene’ Descartes was a drunken fart
    “I drink, therefore I am”

    Yes, Socrates, himself, is particularly missed
    A lovely little thinker
    But a bugger when he’s pissed

  112. Pam Isherwood says:

    I don’t know if this works outside the UK – but the best half hour of the week is the ludicrous BBC radio programme, I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue. For anyone who loves wordplay, it’s the most cringe-making set of puns you could ever hope to hear. Or avoid. Some of the jokes may be a bit English. Here are some of their Uxbridge Revised Dictionary definitions
    Dipthong – to wash an undergarment
    Lipsync – a ladies personal wash basin
    Paraglide – flying doctor
    Endorse. A minor pantomime actor
    Effete. A small swear word
    Gaggle. Antiseptic mouthwash for geese
    Harlequin. A five seater motorbike
    Palace – Delicately weaved cloth for fathers
    Irony – stainless steel prosthetic
    Policy – Kind of like the police.
    Pungent – a man who can’t resist awful wordplay

    Try to Listen Again at http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio/aod/radio4_aod.shtml?radio4/clue

    but it may not work cos of international copyright limits.

  113. silvio soprani says:

    Mame,

    “Thank you for sharing!” :)
    I suppose from the above ditty we can conclude /
    that thinking hard puts you in a formidable mood;

    or…to quote the often skeezy lyrics of early Randy Newman, “It takes a whole lot of medicine/for me to pretend to be somebody else…” ( from “Guilty”)

    By the way, I suppose everybody else already knows this, but the “shandy” referred to in the John Stuart Mill line is a mixture of beer and lemonade, right? (I knew some French exchange students once who drank it. One Frenchman’s mother and grandmother were visiting Washington DC to see him, and he ordered the shandy for his grandmother!)

    shadocat, (maybe I missed an earlier piece of info), what state are you in? Here in Maryland there is some disagreement about whether we are Southerners or Yankees; personally, I grew up in NJ so I have no identity crisis whatsoever, and even if I did, the way I talk would bust me after about 3 syllables to these Murrilnders!

  114. Maggie Jochild says:

    Ah, Mame — BLESS you for giving us some classic Monty Python. My godson was allowed to listen to and memorize that song when he was just five, “bad words” and all, because it was so hilarious. I recently got a chance to see again the Python sketch of the soccer game between the Greeks and the German philosophers, and laughed myself senseless (literally).

    Shadocat, I’m all for keeping historic structures preserved as long as the entire truth is told about how they came to be. The urban organic farm that provides me with produce here in Austin was built in the 1850s by slaves, whose fingerprints are still pressed into the hand-made brick of the fireplace. The current owners make a point of talking about how the farm was created by people who could never own it, how the original land was stolen, and they have researched (as much as is possible) the names and histories of the slaves who lived here. I work for a historiography that focuses on workers and sustainers as much or more than it focuses on so-called statesmen.

    For me, this would include the truth emerging from a lot of New England states (especially in New York City) that slavery built the wealth of their region just as much as it did in the South. Slavery and theft of land is what made America rich, not our “illustrious” ancestors. There is a path beyond white guilt that makes this reality useful to know. I believe if you don’t know the role your own family played in this process, you’re in spiritual confusion.

    And Silvio, thanks ever so much for reminding us about Judy Grahn, who began in the early 1970′s to deliberately “murder the King’s English”, as she called it. I still believe “A Woman Is Talking To Death” is the greatest American poem of all time. Have had the rare opportunity to hear her read it in its entirety twice.

    Lewis Thomas in one of his essays argued that if one views humanity as a single organism, our purpose will turn out to be not reproduction or domination of the landscape but language. We are most adept at language, it is our finest achievement, and I think we can strive simultaneously for precision (because, at its heart, we use language to reach one another) and unlimited invention. Where the two coincide (vocation with avocation, as Frost put it) is where we fulfill ourselves best.

  115. Mame says:

    everyone was so serious and wordy….just seemed like it was time for a musical number….

  116. Pam Isherwood says:

    For those who love wordplay, the best half hour of the week in UK is the BBC radio’s sublime I’m Sorry I Havent A Clue (the antidote to panel games) which is stuffed full of the worst puns you could wish to hear, or to avoid. I tried posting a link but it got eaten – and it may not work outside the UK cos of copyright law – but try this:
    http://www.bbc.co.uk stroke radio4 stroke comedy stroke clue.shtml and click through the Listen Again links to hear it.

    For example, from the Uxbridge Revised Standard Dictionary:
    Dipthong – to wash an undergarment
    Lipsync – a ladies personal wash basin
    Irony – stainless steel prosthetic
    Endorse. A minor pantomime actor
    Effete. A small swear word
    Gaggle. Antiseptic mouthwash for geese
    Harlequin. A five seater motorbike
    Policy – Kind of like the police.
    Pungent – a man who can’t resist awful wordplay

    Some of the jokes may be a bit English. And don’t worry if you dont understand the games, nobody does.

  117. silvio soprani says:

    Maggie–

    “…strive simultaneously for precision and unlimited invention…”

    That was beautiful! I would like an artist to carve a doorway for the front of my house that invites everyone who passes to do that.

    The antidote for the gates of hell in Dante’s inferno! (“Lasciate omni speranza, voi ch’entrate”
    (Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.)

    Mame, Maggie, and Pam (sounds like the beginning of a classic nursery rhyme)–thanks for the funnies!

    We have a show over here in the US on National Public Radio called “My Word” but it does not sound as lunatic hilarious as your “haven’t a clue.”

  118. AK says:

    I just have to say that I cherish Lewis Thomas for his ability to popularize science without talking down to the reader, something I find common with almost every mass market magazine article on “hot button” scientific issues. He could connect more lines of thought in 1,200 words than most can in 3,400.

  119. Pam Isherwood says:

    Of course, I find there are CDs of “Clue” – though it seems like cheating when it’s better to wait for the live show. I even found a bad person selling MP3 complete sets for peanuts on ebay. How immoral.

  120. silvio soprani says:

    Pam: What is “Clue?” Do you mean the old board game that was made into a mediocre movie some years back? Or this another Brit tv show?

    Since we have moved on from serious philosophy and grammar into the blessed realm of humor, I cannot resist posting the only joke I can ever remember: it is about Rene Descartes (I know I am missing an accent or two…I don’t have an editing program while blogging…)

    ******************************
    M. Descartes goes into a restaurant because he is hungry. (I wish I could do the accent…COLINO, can you please channel a sublime french accent pour moi? Merci!

    Anyway, he goes into a restaurant. The garcon says “Would M. Descarte like to order dinner? M. Descarte replies, “Oui.”

    So he eats his delicious dinner and then the waiter comes back and says “Would M. Descarte care for some dessert?” M. Descartes considers this carefully and replies, (in French of course), “I think not.”

    At that moment, he disappears in a puff of smoke!

    *************************

    I love that joke. I even tell it to my English as a Second Language students and they are kind enough to laugh, even though they probably don’t get it.

  121. Pam Isherwood says:

    Clue is my lazy typing of I’m Sorry I Havent A Clue. Not Cluedo the board game which saw us through many a family xmas.

    Here’s my all-time favourite joke. It’s deeply philosophical.

    Two eggs are boiling in a saucepan. One turns to the other and says, Phew, it’s getting hot in here. The other says, You wait till you get out, they smash your head in.

    Boom, boom. Makes me laugh every time.

  122. From Buenos Aires says:

    Congrats! Sydney would be so jelaous, if she knew…

    Btw, I’ve just read your graphic novel (in English, arghh). It was just wonderful.

  123. Maggie Jochild says:

    Pam, your joke (which DID make me laugh) seems to be a companion joke to one of my faves, which about half of the people I tell it to don’t get and other other half laugh wildly:
    Two muffins were in an oven. One of them said to the other “Is it just me or is it getting hot in here? The other one replied “Wow, a talking muffin!”

    And Silvio, I can’t wait to tell your joke to my godson! When he was a toddler, he could crack up a room with his priceless “Did you hear what the Buddhist said to the hot dog vendor? Make me one with everything!” Hope that translates outside the U.S.

  124. Colino says:

    Silvio,
    At least I got the joke! And the good thing about it is that it translates well. As for the accent, I’d love to oblige; here, let me give you a hand for starters: garçon. I have a special key for the ç (below the 9, on the same key)… and also for the é, the è and the à.

  125. silvio soprani says:

    Colino: Ah! Tres Bien!! The garçon (I cut and pasted) is a great improvement!!

    When I use Microsoft Word I have all kinds of font and symbol options, but I have just never figured out how you can do that on a blog; I must ponder deeply about this, perhaps while holding a copy of Kierkegaard in my lap!

    Maggie, I love that hot dog joke!!

    Okay, since you added your muffin joke to Pam’s egg joke, let me add my (incomprehensible) penguin joke:

    Two penguins are standing on a floating iceberg in the Antarctic. They know that soon the iceberg will split apart and they will never see each other again. The first penguin says “So long!” The second penguin says “Twenty-one!”

    I was told this joke at the age of about 11 by my talkative friend from Florida, Paulette. For years I have tried to understand it, but I have come to terms with the fact that some jokes cannot be understood, at least in this life, at least by me.

    *****

  126. K.B. says:

    discrete – discreet, yeah, pretty annoying. How about principal – principle?

    I had official mortgage papers from my bank which referred, I kid you not, to the principle I’d be repaying.

    My pet peeve btw is the misuse of i.e. for e.g.

  127. K.B. says:

    how about 21 = one half of 42, which is the answer to life, the universe and everything?

  128. jmc says:

    Okay, as long as we’re sharing all-time fave bad jokes (and do I feel just a tinge, a little creeping sense of shame at even taking the time to write this out when beside me sits the Zora Neale Hurston I’m teaching in class tomorrow? you bet I do…):

    Three guys walk into a bar. You’d think after the first two did it the third guy would see it.

    Ba-dump ching.

  129. mlk says:

    just today I saw for the first time “conversate” used in place of “converse.” as in “to conversate about philosophy on the blog.”

    maybe that was made up by the writer and won’t catch on??!?

    oh, I hope so! back formations are the source of all sorts of horrible words!!

  130. cybercita says:

    maggie jochild:

    the buddhist gives the hot dog vendor a twenty, which the vendor promptly pockets. the buddist asks the vendor, what about the change?

    ah, replies the vendor. change must come from within.

  131. European fan says:

    Maggie and Silvio: Yeah, let’s hear it for Judy Grahn’s “A Woman Is Talking to Death” which I translated into German in 1974 as a very young high school student – in one angry sweep: I had just found out that a friend of mine had gotten raped, and I needed an outlet for my anger. And I wanted my friends to be able to read it. That translation then got published a few years later.

    It is wonderful that there are all of these different conversations here about so many things!

  132. silvio soprani says:

    I read Judy Grahn’s ANOTHER MOTHER TONGUE around 1988, but I never knew about her poems! Thanks so much, Maggie for steering me to “A Woman is Talking to Death.” In one way it is appalling how such monumental works can exist and one remains oblivous; on the other hand it is wonderful to still have things to discover.

    jmc–it took me a minute, but I GOT THE JOKE about the bar. Me! I got the joke!! I must be evolving…

    Cybercita: “Change must come from within.” HA HA HA!! Perfect!

    Here goes the work day. Everybody have a good one!

  133. judybusy says:

    Going back to AK, who was commenting how “popular science” mags dumb stuff down. For many years, I have subscribed to Natural History Magazine, which is published by The Museum of Natural History in New York. The variety of articles and photography are wonderful! I also get many of my science-related book lists form there, as they do reviews. You can get a sample on line at http://www.naturalhistorymagazine.com (I don’t know how to create a direct link here; I guess you’ll have to cut-n-paste)To the rest of you: Love all the jokes, too! Another thanks to Maggie for “…strive simultaneously for precision and unlimited invention…” I had been pondering this on and off throughout the weekend. (Does anyone else think about this blog while off-line?) You expressed my thoughts on the tension between playfulness and traditional usage in language most elegantly!

  134. judybusy says:

    Oh, the link magically appears after you hit submit. Neat.

  135. anonymous-eponymous says:

    Suppose I notice the following:

    “X” says “A” but does “~A” (where ~A means “the opposite of A”). Several hypotheses work equally well in this situation.

    Here’s the first hypothesis:

    “A” is, in fact, correct, so “X” is right when “X” says “A”. Why does “X” do “~A”, then? Perhaps “X” is just not that skillful or energetic or coordinated. For example, I might say to my kid sister, “Don’t slip on the ice!” and then promptly slip on the ice myself. I firmly believe that one shouldn’t slip on the ice, most people would agree that I’m right, but I screw up.

    Here’s the second hypothesis:

    “A” is in fact, correct, so “X” is right when “X” says “A”. The explanation for “X” doing “~A” is different, though. “X” is saying “A” in order to deceive people into believing that “X” is doing “A”. So, a person might publicly say , “It is wrong to plagiarize.” and then copy entire paragraphs from an essay found on the web into their Ethics 101 assignment and never attribute it to the original authors.

    Here’s the third hypothesis:

    “A” is in fact, correct, so “X” is right when “X” says “A”. The explanation for “X” doing “~A” is that “X” is oblivious. So, when confronted with the evidence, “X” will respond “But that’s not really ~A”. We all know exasperating people like this and we have all been confronted with argument by redefinition.

    Here’s a fourth hypothesis:
    “A” is, in fact, incorrect, so “X” is wrong. But “X” says it because “X” firmly believes it. There were early monks who tried to fly by building pseudo-wings; they said “We can fly if we build pseudo-wings made with bird feathers.” but then they fell to their deaths.

    There are lots more hypotheses, for some of which “A” is assumed to be true and for some of which “A” is assumed to be false. They are all quite plausible hypotheses.

    Duncan: “X” says “A” but does “~A” has come up over and over again in your blogging. You seem to be arguing in each case that “If ‘X’ says ‘A’ but does ‘~A’ then ‘A’ must be false” but that argument makes no sense to me.

    Apparently, your mother told you not to swear in front of your siblings, but then swore in front of you and your siblings, so by this argument you conclude that swearing in front of children is O.K.

    William Safire fell into usages that he himself condemned, so all these usages are O.K.

    Duncan said “it may be “inappropriate” (which, sorry, is one of those words like “unnecessary” that I think are really bad words)” and in the very same thread he also said “Everyone learns that different styles of language are _appropriate_ to different audiences and situations.” Should I then conclude that using ‘(in)appropriate’ is O.K. because Duncan said it wasn’t and then did it? It is true that “inappropriate” and “appropriate” are not the exact same word, but “inappropriate” is just a negation of “appropriate” so where one is acceptable one could argue that the other should be too.

    I think that when “X” says “A” and does “~A” you can’t really conclude much about “A”. It doesn’t help you at all in deciding whether “A” is true or not. It really doesn’t help you to understand “X” very well either. There are so many hypotheses to explain why this situation might come up. Some of them cast “X” in a positive light, other in a more negative one.

  136. Deena in OR says:

    Related to the usage discussion.

    This was an honest to Goddess teaser on the local news the other night.

    Anchor: “A dead man was found with stab wounds near a the playground of a local school. Why police believe his death was no accident.”

    I don’t know-maybe it was the stab wounds?

    Inanity reigns.

  137. --MC says:

    Inanity is the watchword on the TV news.
    Recently, a construction crane fell in Bellevue, smashing three buildings and killing a man. There was a follow-up story on the news last night, explaining that investigators had traced cracks in the crane base to moisture and ice. “When water freezes and turns into ice, it expands,” the reporter intoned very seriously. It does!

  138. Rachel says:

    I know I’m tagging along after the conversation is over, but on the topic of bad language and bad news, I saw a wonderful headline in a local UK newspaper:

    CARING COUPLE WHO HELPED DOG BITE BOY ARE TRACED

    (Yes, you guessed, they helped a boy who had been bitten by a dog.)

    The Jane Austen ‘singular ‘their” examples didn’t convince me – they weren’t the same as the modern usages: they were all ‘everybody/anybody…their’ rather than, for example, ‘the student may submit their paper online’. But actually, I often find singular their the least bad option.

    On Alison’s ‘hardline conservative’ linguistic tendencies, I have to point out that one of the many joys of DTWOF is the language of the characters – through which I’ve learnt many a joyfully ungrammatical piece of American slang (often long before actually finding out what it meant!)

  139. bean says:

    for someone who takes language and meaning so seriously, i wonder what she really meant by calling herself a “social liberal.”

    does she mean she favors serial monogamy over a philosophy of “anything that moves?”

    “liberal” is such a problematic word, and it gets flung around most often to just mean “not republican.” but there’s so much more out there then democrats and republicans, liberals and conservatives, all of which i consider to be pretty repugnant.

    while we all know that conservativism is about rolling back the clock, how many of us are willing to still call ourselves liberals when we realize that liberalism is about supporting and enforcing the status quo? hello? thomas jefferson? it’s a liberal society we live in, our very foundations are liberal.

    those seeking some kind of forward change often refer to themselves as progressives.

    those seeking a reworking of everything often refer to themselves as radicals.

    so, was alison being precise in calling herself a “social liberal?” maybe politically she’s something more interesting? (even i’m glad bernie got elected, and i hate electoral politics! even gladder about daniel ortega.)

    and, hey, i’m down with serial monogamy. (and i’m single.) maybe i’m a social liberal too! and, i fully admit to being wishy-washy on the split infinitive question. so, apparantly, i’m also a linguistic liberal.

    gosh, this blog is fun!

  140. Duncan says:

    bean, as far back as 1964, in “The Paranoid Style in American Politics,” Richard Hofstadter was pointing out that “conservatives” like Barry Goldwater were really reactionaries — they wanted to change American society radically in the service of the rich, the white, and the male. Not that it hadn’t always been so, of course, but even more so. A real conservative since the 50s, in the sense of someone who wants to preserve what already exists in the present, would be a New Deal Liberal. (Thanks to Hofstadter, I’ve kept the distrust of Goldwater that I formed at age 13 during Goldwater’s presidential campaign. In the past few years there’ve been attempts to rehabilitate Goldwater as someone liberals could relate to; I regard them as I regard attempts to rehabilitate the Confederate traitors.

    “Liberal” is a tricky word. If you look at what are nowadays often called “classical liberals” like Hume and Mill (sorta like Classic Coke), they don’t look much like American liberals of the mid-20th century, though the intellectual genealogy is pretty clear. One of its meanings, and the one which is usually lurking behind its present day uses, is “generous.” As in “big spending liberals.” I’m way to the left of liberals myself, I’m a moderate. While such terms are probably necessary for orienting oneself in political debates, they must be used with a grain (at least) of salt.

    Alison and the other folks here are definitely not linguistic “conservatives.” A true linguistic conservative defends to the death the virtue of that lovely little word “gay”, recruited by homosexuals for our own fell purposes and unspeakable acts. ;) Sorry, but I’ve recently been reading and re-reading some of the works of the language wars, and it’s worth remembering how worked up a lot of liberal homophobes became over that change of meaning. Arthur Schlesinger Jr. was one, quoted in Harvey A. Daniels’s great book “Famous Last Words.” I heard Daniel Schorr ranting about the recruitment of “gay” on NPR’s Morning Edition only a couple of years ago; the hysteria hasn’t gone away.

    I’m just beginning to read Jim Quinn’s “American Tongue and Cheek,” which looks great. I’ll dig into it as soon as I finish Peter Beagle’s “A Fine and Private Place,” which I’ve put off for decades. Literally. I’m liking it a lot more than I expected; “The Last Unicorn” always put me off.

  141. Maggie Jochild says:

    For Silvio, Pam, JMC, Cybercita, et al — I saw my 8-year-old godson today and shared your wonderful jokes. He laughed for a long time at the follow-up to the Buddhist ordering a hotdog joke (how GREAT is it that this turns out to have a two-part punchline?!!) and he completely got the Descartes joke, literally falling over sideways with laughter. But he didn’t understand the boiling eggs or three guys walking into a bar gags, and even after I explained them to him, he just smiled politely because I clearly found them very entertaining and he’s an affable kid. Go figure. I personally find the humor level of this blogopia to be on a par with its language skills, political savvy, reading interests and passion for old movies — i.e. or e.g., impeccable!

  142. Maggie Jochild says:

    Merriam-Webster just announced the results of their online survey for the 2006 word of the year, and it’s “truthiness” which they define as truth that comes from the gut, not books. So, Alison, there’s the thin end of the wedge — though, after reading an excellent article in the New Yorker the past month or two about the current state of Noah Webster’s dictionary, the endorsement of Merriam-Webste is not impressive to me.

    The CNN article on this win says “Colbert — who once derided the folks at Springfield-based Merriam-Webster as the ‘word police’ and a bunch of ‘wordinistas’ — was pleased. ‘Though I’m no fan of reference books and their fact-based agendas, I am a fan of anyone who chooses to honor me,’ he said in an e-mail to The Associated Press.”

    You’ll need to add that to your business card — A. Bechdel, Wordinista.

  143. gestibar says:

    nice :)
    ;))

  144. Timoty says:

    cool blog!

  145. Olivia says:

    nasty party dirty party

  146. Well she did it, she cheated. I still can\’t believe it.