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  • 1. R()BIN F()X: THE HUMAN RIC;HT::-- CHARADE HARPERS MAGAZINE/ APRIL 2001 TENSE PRESENT Democracy, English, and the Wars over Usage By David Foster Wallace-----------+ ----------- STAR OF JUSTICE On the Job with Americas Toughest Sheriff By Barry Graham OUT OF PRINT The Future of Publishing, Seen from the Inside By Michael Korda CURLY RED 04>~ Fiction by Joyce Carol Oates ~ ••• i Plus: Cristina Nehring and Robert Vivian f:t ••• "------+ -----------
  • 2. F o L o "Save up to 50%,-and More!" Betwe~n youand 1. On accident. Somewhat of a. Kustom Kar Kare Autowash. "The cause was due to numerous factors." "Orange Crush-A Taste Thats All Its Own, ". Vigorex, Helping men conquer sexual issues." "Equal numbers of both men and women oppose the amend-ment." Feedback .. "As drinking water becomes more and more in short supply." "IMATION-Borne of 3M Innovation." Point in time. Time Frame. "At this.point il)-time: the individual in question was observed, and subsequently apprehended by author-ities." Here for you, there for you. Fail to compJy with for violate.Comprised of. From whence. Quote for quotation. Nauseous for nameated. Besides the point. To mentor, to parent. To partner. To critique. Indicated for !aid. Para- meters for limits and options for choices and viable optionHor optiOns and workable solution for solution. In point of fact. Prior to this time. As of this point in the time frame. Serves to. Tendsto be. Convince for persuade. Append for aHach, portion for pari. Commence, cease. Expedite. Request for ask.Ev,nfuate for happen. Subsequent to this time. Productive. Facilitate. Aid in. Utilize. Detrimental. Equates with. In rega~ds 1J~ ~ 4#td, 1to. Tragic, tragedy. Grow as transitive. Keep for s1cry. "To demonstrate the power of Epson s new Stylus Color Inkjet Print- . . .er with 1440 d.p.i., just listen," Could care less. Issues, core issues. Fellow colleagues. Goal-orientated. Resources. Unproductive. Feelings. Share for speak, Nurture, empower: recover. Valid for true. Authentic. lTodu~tive, unproductive. "1 choose to view my opponents negative ;tta~ks as unproductive to the real issues fa<;ing the citizens of this campaign." Incumbent upon. Mandate. Plurality. Peranum. Conjunctive adverbs in general. Instantaneous. Qua1i!J as adj. Proac- tive. ProactiveMissio;-Statement. Positive feedback. A positive role-model. Compensation. Validation. As for example. True facts are often impactful. "Callnow for your free gift!" I only wish. Not too good of a. Pay the consequences of. At this juncture. "Third- leading cause of death of both American men and women." To reference. To process. Process. The process of. The healing process. The grieving process. "Processing of feelings is a major component of the grieving process." Commensurant. "Till the stars fall from the sky/For-you and I." Workin;together. Efficacious, effectual. Lifestyle. This pheno~ena, these criter-ion, Irregardless. Iffor" whether. - "Both sides are working together to achieve a workable consensus." Functional, dysfunctional. Family of origin. S.O. To nest. Rela- -,uonship. Merg~ together. KEEP IN IANE. Whomever wants it. "My wife and myself wish to express our gratitude and thanks to you for being here to support us at this difficult time in our life." Eventuate. Diversity. Quality time. Values, family values. To conference. "French provincial twin bed with canape and box spring, $iSO." Take a wait-and-see attitude. Cum-N-Go Quik Mart. Travelodge. Self- lADYS ROOM confessed. Precise estimate. . . "Travel-times .on the ex-presswaysare reflective of its still being bad out there."Budgetel. EZPAY.RENT20WN. MENS ROOM.LADYSROOM. Individual for person. Whom for who, that for who."The accident equated to a lot of damage." Ipse dixie. TensePreseritFalderol. "Waiting on is a dialectical locution onthe rise and splitting its meaning. "Staunch the flow.A.M. in the morning. Forie as "forte."Advisement. Mostespecially. Sum total. Fi:al totals. Complete d~arth. pemocrary, English, and the"You can donate your used car or truck in any con-dition." "DiBlasis work shows how sex can bringpeople together and pull them apart. " "Come in and *zrs over Usage .take advantage of our knowledgeable staff." We get l .the job done, not make excuses." "Chances of rainare prevalent." National Highway Traffic Safety Ad-ministration Rule and Regulation~endment TasJe BY DAVID FOSTER WALLACEForce. Furiher for fariher. "The Fred Pryor-Seminarhas opened my eyes to better time management tech-niques. Also it has given real life situations and how to-deal with them effectively." Hands-on, can-do. "Each of the variants indicated in boldface type countas an entry." Visualjzation. "Insert and tighten metric calibrated hexscrews (K) into arc (C) comprised of intersecting vertical pieces W along transverse sec-tion of Structure. (see Diagram for #(3-4inv.)" Creative, creativity. To message, to send a message, to bring our message to. To read, out-to. Context. StraightJ:>ced.A factor, a decisive factor. Myriad"pf decisive factors: "It is a federal requirement to comply with all safety regulations on this "flight." In this context, of this context. On a --ly basis. From the standpoint of. Oontestualieation. Within the parameters of this context. Decontextualiaarion. Defamiliarize. Orientated. "The artists employment of a radi~al,visual idiom serves to decontextualize both conventio~al modes of representation-and the patriarchal contexts on whichsuch traditional hegemonic notions as representation, tradition, and even conventional contextualization have come to b~ seen as depending for their privi-leged status as aestheto-interpretive mechanism~." I dont feel well and hope I recoup. "As parents, the responsibilitY oftallcing to your kids about drugs is upto you." Who would of thought? Last and final call. As to. Achieve. Achievement. Competitive. Challenge, challenged, challenges. Excellence ..-Pursuit of astandard of total excellence .. An astute observance. Misrepresent for lie. A longstanding tradition of achievement in the arena of excellence. "All copier stores arenot the same." Visible to the eye. Which for thai, !.for me. That which. In regards to. Dctcas singular, media as singular, graffiti as Singular. Remain for s1llJ1. On-task.Escalate as.transitive. Closure. Community. "Iran must realize that it cannot flaunt with impunity the expressed will and law of the world community." Com- munity support. Community-based. Broad appeal. Rally support. Outpourings of support. "Tried to lay the cause at the feetNot too good of a of Congress. " Epidemic proportions. Proportionate response. Feasibility. "This anguishing national ordeal." Bipartisan, non- . . partisan. Widespread outbreaks. To appeal to. To impact. Authors Foreward. Hew and cry. From this aspect. Hayday. Appro-priate, inappropriate. Contingency. Contingent upon. Every possible contingency. Audible to the ear. As for since. Palpably. "The enormity of his accomplishment."Frigid temperatures. Loud volume. Surrounded on allsides; my workable options are at this time few in number. Chaise lounge, nucular, deep-seeded, beCl-roo~ suit, reek havoc. Her ten-year rein atop the competition. The reason is because she still continues to hue to the basic fundamentals. Ouster. Lucrativesalaries, expensive prices. Forbear for forebear;forgo for forego. Breech of conduct. Award for meretricious service. Substantiate, unsubstantiated, substantial. Re-elected to another term. Fulsome praise. Service. Public service. "A traditiqn of servicing your needs." A commitment to accountability in a lifetime of pub-Iic service. As best as we can. WAVEALLINTERESTFOR 90 DAYS"But I also want to have-be the president that protects the ;ights of, of people to, to have arms.And that-so you dont go so far.that the legitimate ·rights on some legislation are, are"you know, impingedon." "Dr. Charles Frieses." Conflict. Conflict-.resolution. The mut~al advantage of both sides in this widespread conflict. "Wewill make a deterrnirration in terms of an appropriate response." Future plans.Dont go thereiPLEASE WAITHERE UNTIL NEXTAVAILABLE CLERK. I thought tomyself Fellow countrymen. "Your efforts to recover f~om the experience ofgrowing up in an alcoholic family may be very difficult and threatening for your family to hear about and accept, especially if they are still in the midst of theirown-survival." Misappropn"ate for,steal. Nortorious. Ill be there momentarily. At some later-point in time. Im: not adverse to that. "Hello-o ?" Have a good one.Luv Ya. ,), " . Davw. Foster Wallace is a contributing editor to HarpersMagazinermd the author of the novel Infinite Jest and other works. His most recent piece foithis magazine, "Brief Inte!vlews with Hideous Men," appeared in the October 1998 issue. FOLIO·39
  • 3. •• ~V." •. . !I i . . .. # " , . .. ,,~ DiscUssed in this essay: dictionary is extremely good, certainly the A Dictiorlary of Modem American Usage, by Bryan A, most comprehensive usage guide since E. W. ... Garner, Oxford University Press, 1998. 723 pages. Gilmans Websters Dictionary of English Usage, • ~ e , $35. . now a decade out of date. Its format, like that 1· ;-41 .. of Gilman and the handful of other great A Dictionary of Modem English Usage, by H. W. Fowler. .. Oxford University Press, J 926. Rev, by Sir Ernest American usage guides of the last century, ." " Gowers, 1965,725 pages. includes entries on individual words and "phrases and expostulative small-cap MINI- The Lariguage Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language, ESSAYS on any issue broad enough to warrant by Steven Pinker. William Morrow and Company, 1994.494 pages. more general discussion. But the really dis- tinctive and ingenious features of A Dictionary Websters Dictionary of English Usage, E, W. Gilman; of Modern American Usage involve issues of ed. Merriam-WebsterInc., 1989.978 pages. rhetoric and ideology and style, and it is . , Usage and Abusage: A Guide to Good English, by Eric impossible to describe why these issues are,· ... Partridge. Hamish Hamilton; 1957.392 pages. 1 .". . Websters Third New International Dictionary of the Eng- . important and why Garners management of them ,borders on genius without talking about lish Laniuage, Philip Gave, ed. G. & C. Merriam the historical, contexts in which ADMAU ,. . ~",•. -I.,.,: • .•.. :to .. ,.. •• f Company, 1961. 2,662 pages. appears, and this context turns out to be a ver- itable hurricane of controversies involving everything from technical linguistics to public .•.. ,.• Dilige et quod visfac. · education to political ideology, and these con- -ST. AUGUSTINE troversies take a certain amount of time to unpack before their relation to what makes D id you know that probing the seamy,. Garners usage guide so eminently worth your ~"., . underbeLly of U.S. lexicography . hard-earned reference-book dollar can even l,·11 •••.•• . reveals ideological strife and centro- . be established; and in fact theres no way , versy and intrigue and nastiness and even to begin the whole. harrowing polymeric fervor on a nearly hanging-chad kale? For. , discussion withouttaking a moment to estab- , • ~-fl •• -; . instance, did you knowthat some modem dic- lish and define the highly colloquial term• 1) ~ .• tionaries are notoriously liberal and others noto-, SNOOT . .," , II. . 111 riouslv conservative, and that certain conserva- tive dictionaries were actually conceived and designed as corrective responses to the "corrup- . . Fromoneperspective, a certain irony attends the publication of imy good new book on . American usage. It is-that thepeople who-are . ", tion"and "permissiveness" of cer- going to be interested in such a. tain .liberal dictionaries? That the Precise estimate book are also the people who are oligarchic device of having a spe- least going to need it, i.e., that .....• ·tt ", ". , P" cial "Distinguished Usage Panel, . , of outstand- ing professional speakers and writers" is an offering counsel on the finer points of U.S. English is.Preaching to the Choir. The relevant·.~.-. •..... ~ I • " attempted, compromise between the forces of Choir here comprises thatsmall percentage of " egalitarianism and traditionalism in English, but American citizens who actually care about the that most linguistic liberals dismiss the Usage current status of double modals and .ergative Panel as mere sham-populism! verbs. The same sorts of people who watched Did you know that U.S. lexicography even Story of English, on PBS (twice) and read W. had a.seamy underbelly? . Safires column with their half-caff every . ,. I Sunday. The sortsof people who feel that spe- T · he occasion fOT this arti~le is cial blend of wincing despair and sneering supe- . . Oxford University Presss semi- riority when they see EXPRESS LANE-lO ITEMS recent release of Bryan A. Gamers OR LESS or hear dialogue used as a verb or realize A Dictionary of Modern American that the founders of the Super 8 motel chain Usage. The fact of the matter is that Gamers must surely have been ignorant of the meaning .,. ...• .. " ! With the advent of online bases, Garner has access t~. far data- ~omprehenaiTe emphasis and good, bout ita is on British usage.) equivalent phra.e that isnt even "orse. (I actually tried "Iesico- the fact that this rmewer almost always • ...,ers and! or winces "hen temporal backdrop" in one of the he sees "hi.to~ical context" de- "j more examples of actual usage middle draft., which I think ployed in a piece <ifwriting and I Sorry about this phrase; I hate than did Gilman, and he deJlloys this phrase, too. ThishappenBto y~ullagree is not pref~rable.) , thus hope. to head off any po- them to great effect. (FYI, Ox- be one of those very rare times tential sneers/winces from the fords 1996 N.,., Fowler. Mod.rn . wben "historical context" is the INTERPOLATION reader here, especially in an ae- EDKli.b U•• ,. is alao extremely p~rase to use and there.~8 no The above II i. moti .•.•• by ted tideabout felicitous usage. .. ~.. ... i_l t ·r -. I • ~ 40 HARPERS MAGAZINE I APRIL 2001 ./
  • 4. of suppurate. There are l~ts of epithets for peo- how very few other Americans know this stuff ple like this-Grammar Nazis, Usage Nerds, or even care, and we judge them accordingly. Syntax Snobs, the Language Police. The term I In ways that certain of us are uncomfortable was raised with isSNooT.3 The word might be about, SNOOTsattitudes about contemporary slightly self-mocking, but those other terms are usage resemble religious/political conservatives outright dysphemisms, A SNOOT be defined as can attitudes about contemporary culture.t We com-. somebody who knows what dysphemism means bine a missionary zeal and a near-neural faith in and doesnt mind letting you know it. our beliefs importance with a curmudgeonly I submit that we SNOOTsare just about the hell-in-a-handbasket despair at the way English last remaining kind of truly elitist nerd. There is routinely manhandled and corrupted by.sup- are, granted, plenty of nerd-species in todays posedly educated people. The Evil is all around America, and some of these are elitist within us: boners and clunkers and solecistic howlers their own nerdy purview (e.g., the skinny, car- and bursts of voguish linguistic methane that buncular, semi-autistic Computer Nerd moves make any SNOOTscheek twitch and forehead instantly up on the totem pole of status when darken. A fellow SNOOT know likes to say that I your screen freezes and now you need his help, listening to most peoples English feels like and the bland condescension with which he watching somebody use a Stradivarius to pound performs the two occult keystrokes that nails: We5 are the Few, the Proud, the Appalled unfreeze YGlUr screen is both elitist and situa- at Everyone Else: tionally valid). But the SNOOTs purview is interhuinan social life itself. You dont, after.all (despite withering cultural pressure), have to use a computer, but you cant escape language: THESIS STATEMENT FOR WHOLE ARTICLE .. ... " "f , .l I Language is everything and everywhere: its ssues tradition vs. egalitarianism in of what lets us have anything to do with one ; U.S. English are at root political issues another; its what separates us from the animals; and can be effectively addressed only in Genesis 11:7-10 and so on. And we SNOOTs what this article hereby terms a know when and how to hyphenate phrasal "Democratic Spirit." A Democratic Spirit is adjectives, and to keep participles from dan- one that combines rigor and humility, i.e., pas- t • gling, and we know that we know, and we know sionate conviction plus sedulous respect for , of~-------"";"""---------------------------------------- 3 SNOOT(n) (lUglUy colloq) is this is basically that of somebody teach- ing HIV prevention to intra- grandfather and actually uses the word genetic, and it s p~obably INTERPOLATION I", ., ", .. " ," reviewers nuclear familys nick- As something Im all but sure ve:nous-drug. users. When it true: 95 p~rcent of the SNOOTsI ....... . name il deffor a really extreme usage fanatic, the sort of person ell1erges (as it does, every time) Icnowha~e at least oile parent who Harper, will aci~, Ill also in- sert that we even had a lighthearted · • •. f ~ . .. ~ "., that 93 percent of these intelli- is, by profeSsion or temperament whose idea of Sunday fun is to· but retrospectively chilling little , gent upscale college students have or both, a SNOOT.In my own case, ,4~ loole for mistalces in Safi~s col- family .opgthat Mom and we lit- ~e , ;. ,. never been taught, e.g., what a my mom is a Comp teacher and < ~ ,,.. " _ I umns prose itself. This review- tle SNOOTlets would sing in the ers family is roughly 70 percent clause is or why a misplaced on- has written remedial usage boob car on long trips while I>Ildsilent- s«, .s. e: SNOOT,which term itself derives ly can male a sentence c.onfus- and is a SNOOTof the most rabid ly rolled hi. eyes and drove (you .... frot! an acronym, with the big historical family joice being that whether S.N.O.O,T. "Spr;dJge£iiJJl st.ooel for Necessitates Our ing, I all but pound lI1yhead on the blackbo"rd., I exhort them to sue their hometown school boards. The lcids end up scared, both of and intractable sort. At least part of the reason I am a SNOOTis that for yean Mom brainwashed all sorts of subtle ways. Heres an us in have to rememher song): the title theme ot Uududo&,in order to follow the , . .• . •.•r~ tfo . <i" . me and for me, example. Family suppers often w:Lenidjou in t1J.i. world appear Ongoing Tendance" or "Syntax And f.il to be cone. or clear Nudnih of Our Time" depend- involved a game: If one ofus ehil- , -Editors N_, Author insisuJ tlU.. And .ole~isnM rend tile ear , dre;n made a usage error, Mom .•....: ~ ,.., ed on whether or not you weJ:e ,, phrase repl~ce tfobsessed witb" would pretend to have a coughing The c1 go•• up .otla far ond n ••• r one. and tool umbrage al tlte sugges- fit that would go on and .on un-. For Blunder Dol . , tion ~1tlU.. c:ltangr dearly demon- , Blunder D"I •. This is true in my own case at til the relevant child had identi- ..»: ,,_ .•• Blunder Dol any rate-plus fortable" part. also the "uncom- I teach college strated tlte "eryquality to denigrate. be wished fied the relevant error and cor- rected it. It was all very self-ironic BlunduDo, [etc.] ° ;I.; · . English part-time-mostly n;t Compo But I am also so patho- Lit, 5 Please note that the strategi- and lighthearted, but still, loole- ing back, it seems a bit- excessive °(Since thisll almost .....ely get ..~ "" ~ ...• logically anal aboutO usage that cally repeated 1- P pronoun is to pretend that your child is ac- cut, Ill admit that, yes, I, as a f • every semester the same thing meant to iterate and emphasize that tually denying you oxyge:n by lcid,wa the actual author of this ,, , happens: The minute I have read this reviewer is very much one spealcing incorrectly. But the song. But by this time Id been . ,.".,. my students first set of papers, tOO, a SNOOT, plus to connote the really chilling thing is that I now thoroughly brainwashed. And just we immediately abandon the reg- nuclear family mentioned supra, sometimes find myself playing about the whole car sang along. It ular Lit syllabus and hlIve a three- SNOOTitude runs in Femifies. In this same ffgame" with my own was sort of our familys version .: t : . weele EmergenCY Remedial Unit, duringwbich Usage my demeanor, ADMAUs ner mentions Preface, Bryan Gar- both his father and students, pertussion. complete with pretend of "100 Bottles. Wall.") , o .t . .~ ".". .. · . .;.. " .. " ~If : •.; • ,. ... , " ,.,. " , fI FOLIO 41 .. ; " , .
  • 5. ~ .. ...,., :" .. ... •• ....•. ; ~ I "Dictionary of Modem American Usage A , the convictions of others. As any American " ." . . . knows, this is a very difficult spirit to cultivate and maintain; particularly when it comes to has no Editorial Staff or Distinguished , Panel. Its conceived, researched, and issues you feel strongly about. Equally tough is written ab .ovo usque ad mala by Bryan a D.S.s criterion of 100 percent intellectual Garner. This is an interesting guy. Hes both a integrity-e-you have to be willing to look hon- lawyer and a lexicographer (which seems a bit estly at yourself and your motives for believing like being both a narcotics dealer and a DEA what you believe, and to do it more or less . , agent). His 1987 A Dictionary of Modem Legal continually. , Usage is already a minor classic; now, instead of , This kind of stuff is advanced u.s.citizen- practicing law anymore, he goes around con- ship. A true Democratic Spirit is up there with ducting writing seminars for ].D.sand doing " religious faith and emotional maturity and all prose-consulting for various judicial bodies . . those other top-of-the-Maslow-Pyramid-type Gamers also the founder of something called. , qualities people spend their whole lives work- the H. W. Fowler Society,6 a worldwide group of ing on. A Democratic Spirits constituent rigor usage- Trekkies who like to send one another " and humility and honesty are in fact so hard to linguistic boners clipped from different periodi- maintain on certain issues that its almost irre- cals. You get the idea. This Gamer is one seri- . sistibly tempting to fall in with some estab- ous and very hard-core SNOOT. V..~t...••.:eo ", " !-•.• t lished dogmatic camp and to follow that camps The lucid, engaging, and extremely sneaky . . ....,, •.•. line on the issue and to let your position hard: Preface to ADMAU serves to confirm Gamers" ~ .... - , en within the camp and become inflexible and snoortrude in fact while undercutting it in ..-. ;,," to believe that any other camp tone. For one thing, whereas the traditional ...• -. •....~,.-: ",; .•ft" ,.-, -:- . .,. , , GOdL-olifmt«ted is either evil or insane and to spend all your time and energy trying to shout over them. . I submit, then, that it is indisputably easier usage pundit cultivates a sort of remote and imperial persona-the kind who uses one or we , to refer to hirnself-e-Gamer gives us an almost Waltonishly endearing sketch of his own to be dogmatic than Democratic, especially background: about issues that are both vexed and highly charged. I submit further-that the issues sur- I realized early-at the age of 157 -that my pri- ,rounding "correctness" in contemporary mary intellectual interest was the use of the " . American usage are both vexed and highly English language .... It became an all-consuming charged, and that the fundamental questions passion .. , . I read everything I could find on the subject. Then, on a wintry evening while visiting they in:volve are ones whose answers have to 0 ft. _, New Mexico atthe age of 16, I discovered Eric be "worked out" instead of simply found. Partridges Usage and Abusage. I was enthralled. ,. . .; ..., A distinctive feature of ADMAU is that its au- thor is willing to acknowledge that a usage dic- tionary is not a bible or even a textbook but rather Never had I,held a more exciting book .... Suffice it to ~ay that by the time I was 18, I had commit ted to memory most of Fowler, Partridge, and their • _ •••.•• -, I just the record of one smart persons attempts to successors. ... work out answersto certain very difficultquestions. .. This willingness appears to me to be informed by Although this reviewer regrets the bio- -".~. .. . .. ,i· . a DemocraticSpirit. The big question is whether such a spirit compromises Garners ability to pre- sent himself as a genuine "authority" on issues of sketchs failure to mention the rather significant social costs of being an adolescent whose over- riding passion is English usage,8 the critical hat .,0 ., . usage. Assessing Garners book, then, involves is off to yet another personable section of the •.,-f , , trying to trace out the very weird and complicat- Preface, one that Garner entitles "F[fst ed relationship between Authority and Democracy Principles": "Before going .any further, I should • . in "hat we as a culture have decided is English. , explain my approach. Thats an unusual thing That relationship is, as many educated Ameri- for the author ofa usage dictionary to do- cans would say, still in process ~t this time. unprecedented, as far as lknow, But ~ guide to ~ •" .. ", 6 HSamueIJohnson is the Shab- apure ofE~lUh usagoo, think of Henry Watson Fowler as the Eliot or Joyce. His 1926 A Dic- subsequent classic in the fi~ld, from Eric Partridges U..,e and Abwageto Theodore Bei-nJteins Tile Careful Writer to Wilson taught that this rule applies j!Ut to Buainea Writing and that in aU other mode. you spell out one through nineteen and.start 8 From per.onal experience, I canlISIIUre youthat anylid like this is goingto be at beatmarginalized and at worataavagely and repeat- uaiDg~at 20.· Degwtibu.s Folletts Modern American edlyWedgied. ,tionar, of Modern EnKlisil non eat rlisputllndum.> ,UoagetoGilman. 89 Websters. Uoage th&grlnddaddyof mod- is •EditorsNo~: The Harpers at,rle ern usa~ guides, and ita dust- 7 (Garner preacri1>eapelling s 0:" manWlI prucribes spelliJJKout cbywitand bluahleas impmoua- nelS ha..., been modeu for every only n,umben under ten. I was an numbers up to 100. Could care less •..•....." " , J- .to 42 HARPERS MAGAZINE I APRIL 2001 . ~
  • 6. ... ," , ,. ........ , . .. " 1:. e. : ••.••• 1 • ~~,., ..•... .~~ , ~ It ••.• -. good writing is only as good as the principles Ion Kent State to Independent Counsels have pro- which its based. And users should be naturally duced an influential contra-SNOOT school for , ,, interested in those principles. So, in the inter- whom normative standards of English grammar ,t. >. tit -,, ests of full disclosure ... "9 and usageare functions of nothing butcustom and , The "~nprecedented"and "full disclosure" superstition and the ovine docility of a populace here are actually good-natured digs at Gamers that lets self-appointed language authorities boss Fowlerite predecessors, and a subtle nod to one them around. See for example MITs Steven camp in the wars that have raged in both lexi- Pinker in.a famous New Republic article-e/Once cography and education ever since thenotori- introduced, a prescriptive rule is very hard to ouslv liberal Websters Third New International eradicate, no matterhow ridiculous. Inside the Dictionary came out in 1961 and included such Writing establishment, the rules survive by the terms as heighth and irregardless without r7. same dynamic that perpetuates ritual gen- any monitory labels on them. You CCin cLPaU ital rnutilations-c-or, at a somewhat low- think of Websters Third as sort of the, ,11 ~ er pitch, Bill Bryson in Mother Tongue: Eng- Fort Sumter of the contemporary Usage Wars. lish and How It Got That Way: These Wars are both the context and the target Who sets down all those rules that we all know .•. . :. of a very subtle rhetorical strategy in A ~Dictio- about from childhood-the idea that we must nary of Modern Am~rican Usage, and without talking about them its impossible to explain never end a seiJ.ten~e with a preposition or begin one with a conjunction, that we must use each, . t . .. o ~o~hl> - •. ~ ~ t, " why Gamers book is both so good and so sneaky. other for two things and one another for more than " -. We regular citizens tend to go to The Dic- tionary for authoritative guidance.? Rarely, however, do we ask ourselves who decides what two ... ?The answer,surprisinglyoften, is that no one does,that when youlook into the background of these "rules"there is often Iirtle basisfor them. • . 0 ••• " . ~~ .. ~.,. ,, r ~. l gets in The Dictionary or what wordsor spellings or pronunciations get deemed "sub- In ADMAUs Preface, Gamer himself " •••• I ••••.• ,~ ... ;, .,. standardtor "incorrect." Whence the authori- , addresses the Authority Question with a I •• - " • ty of dictionary-makers to decide whats OKIl Trumanesque simplicity and candor that simul- , " and what isnt? Nobody elected them, after all. And simply appealing to precedent or tradi- tion wontwork, because whats considered cor- taneously disguise the authors cunning and exemplify it: . ... .~ «: ,••. I. " •. rect changes over time. In the 1600s, for in- As you might already suspect, I dont shy away " 0·. .. -... . I. frommakingjudgments.I cant imaginethat most stance, the second-singular pronoun took a singular conjugation-"Ydu is." Eadier still, the readersw~uldwant me to. Linguistsdont like it, " of ,course, because judgment involves sub- .. . , ." ". , standard 2-S pronoun wasnt you but thou, Huge jectivity.l? It isnt scientific. But rhetoric and numbers of now acceptable words like clever, usage, in the view of most professionalwriters, fun, banter, and prestigious entered English as arent scientificendeavors.Youdont want dispas- what usage authorities considered errors or egre- sionate descriptions; you want sound guidance. gious slang. And riot just usage conventions And that requiresjudgment. .. but English itself changes over time; if it didnt, wed all still be talking like Chaucer. Whos to Whole monographs could be written just on the ,S ,f. •• , .·say which changes are natural and which are masterful. rhetoric of this passage. Note for ex- .., , corruptions? And when Bryan Garner or .ample the ingenious equivocation of judgment in E. Ward Gilman do in fact presume to say, why "I dont shy away from making judgments" vs, should we believe them? These sorts of questions are not new, but they "And that requiresjudgment," Sufficeit to say that Garner is at all times keenly aware of the Au- ..: , do now have a certain urgency. America is in the midst of a protracted Crisis of Authority in matters oflanguage. In brief, the same sorts of po- thority Crisis in modem usage; and his response to this crisis is-in the best DemocraticSpitit- rhetorical. . ..... ...•... . ,~, ....•. ;. ;, .t-: . litical upheavals thai: produced everything from So ... . ~.. arching criterion· fo~ correct- 9 What follow in the Preface are ness," of which both "educated" 10 Theres;o better indication of II Editors Note: The Harpers . .... ". , . the ten critical points that, af- The Dictionarys authority than style manual pnacribe& okay. and "actual" would reluire sev- • . teryears of working on uoage prob- that we use it to settle wagers. My eral pages of abstract darifica- lems, I~ settled on. " Tbese points own father is still to this day liv- [2 This is a dever half-truth. tion and qualification to shore are too involved to treat sepa- ing down the outcome of a high- Linguists !,ompose only one part rately, but a couple of them are . up, against Usage Wars-related ... ,i~ «: ;~.. , f . attach, but which Garner rather stakes bet on the correct spelling of the anti-judgment camp, and slippery in the extreme-e.g., "roo Aetual Uoage. In the end, . ingeniously elects to define and of meringue, a wager made on 14 their objections to usage judg- ". _ ..~ , , the actual usage of educated defend via their application in. September 1978, ments involve waymore than just ..~ •.. { , speakers and writers is the"over- his dictionary itself. "subjectivity, " .. ..,; , ... to ! -. .r FOLlO 43 . ,. ...
  • 7. •• :1,,,•.. , .: •. ~ .. .~ . · .... . , " .- , .. Y COROLLARY TO oud sure know lexicography had • "Il. THESIS STATI::MENT . an underbelly if you read the little .r , . . introductory essays in modern die- • 011 • ~ FOR WHOLE ARTICLE 1,;i ~ tionaries-pieces like Websters T he most salient and timely feature of DEUs "A Brief History of English Usage" or Gamers book is that its both lexi- Websters Thirds "Linguistic Advances and . cographical and rhetoricaL Its main Lexicography"or AHD-3s "Usage in the strategy involves what is known in American Heritage Dictionary: The Place of classical rhetoric as the Ethical AppeaL Here Criticism." But almost nobody ever bothers the adjective, derived from the Greek ,ethos, with these little intros,and its not just their , doesnt mean quite. what we usually mean by six-point type or the (act that dictionaries ethical. But .there are affinities; What the tend to be hard on the lap. Its that these Ethical Appeal amounts to is a complex and intros arent actually written for you or. me or, , sophisticated "Trust me." Its the boldest, most the average citizen who goes to The Dic- ambitious, and also most distinctively Ameri- tionary just to see how to spell (for instance) can of rhetorical Appeals, because it requires meringue. Theyre written for other lexicogra- - the rhetor to convince us not just of his intel- phers and critics, and in fact theyre not real-...• , . I ...•..• : . lectual acuity or technical competence but of his basic decency and fairness and sensitivity to ly introductory at all but polemical. Theyre salvos in the Usage .Wars that have been" • , •. :to the audiences own hopes and fears.I3 under way evet since editor Philip Gave first <; « These are not qualities one associates with sought to apply the value-neutral principles <..~.1, the traditional SNOOT usage-authority, a ngure .of structural linguistics to lexicography in ., .:,." e ,~ _. " ,f! who pretty much instantiates snobbishness Websters Third. Gaves famous response to . and bow-tied anality; and one whose modem conservatives who howledt- when Websters . image is not improved by stuff like Third endorsed OK and de- ..".:. •• •••. ~t . - ...., •• ·It American Heritage Dictionary Distinguished Usage Panelist Morris Bishops "The arrant sole- cisms of the ignoramus are here often omitted entirely; irregardless of how he may feel about I thought to myself scribed aint as "used orally in most parts of the U.S. by many cultivated speakers [sic}" was this: "A dictionary should have no. traffic with ... artificial notion~ of correctness or "01.", . this ~eglect" or critic John Simons "The English language is being treated nowadays superiority. It should be descriptive and not prescriptive." These terms stuck and turned · .· "" exactly as slave traders once handled their merchandise ... ," Compare those lines. autho- . epithetic, and linguistic conservatives are now formally known as Prescriptivists and _..~ rial personas with Garners in, e.g., "English linguistic liberals as Descriptivists. ~, ~. .usage is so challenging that even experienced The former are far better known, When you ...... I ". . t .•. " • writers need guidance now and then," read the columns of William Safire or Morton ,.- •.. ~. The thrust here is going to be that A Freeman or books like Edwin Newmans Dictionary of Modern American Usage earns Strictly Speaking or John Simons Paradigms ... Gamer pretty much all the trust his Ethical Lost, youre actually reading Popular ,tI •.~-. , , Appeal asks us.for, The books "feel-good; spir- Prescriptivism, a genre sideline of certain jour- • :"I .• , it (in the very best sense of "feel-good") marries nalists (mostly older ones, the vast majority of ...• •J">. > " ~. rigor and humility in such a way as to allow Gamer to be exrremely prescriptive without any appearance, of evangelism or elitist put- down. This is an extraordinary accomplish- whom actually do wear bow ties) whose bemused irony often masks a Colonel Blimps rage at the way the beloved English of their youth is being trashed in the decadent present. :" ment. Understanding why its basically a rhetor- The plutocratic tone and .styptic wit of Satire ... • If!., .r ~. II",. "!t •• ~. · tI •• ..•. ,. " I. , ical accomplishment, and why this is hoth his- torically significant and (in this reviewers opin- ion) politically redemptive, requires a more detailed look at the Usage Wars . and Newman and the best of the Pre- scriptivists is often modeled after the man- darin- Brit personas of Eric Partridge and H. W. Fowler, the same Twin Towers of scholarly ., ~ . ... 13 In thU last respect, recall for . 14 ReaDy, .howled: blistering...," seen a novel ~ictionary formula ·cellaneous confusions and cor- improvise~t in great-part, out of ruptions. In fine, the amdously eumple W. J. Clintons famous viewsand outraged editorials from snap judgments and the sort of awaited work that was to have "I feel your pain," which was a acroos the cll1Jl1try-from the Times theoretical improvement .that in crowned dsadantic linguistic blatant if not particuIarly lDlIIle1ful and T.he New Yorker and good prac:ti£e impairs: and· wehave seen scholarship with a particular glo- Ethical Appeal. old Life, or q.v. this from the the gates propped wide open in ry turns out. to be a scandal and January 6~ Atlantic: "We have enthusiastic hospitality to mis- a disaster." · ... . -c. ...·.~ •.. .. - - .• 44 HARPERS MAGAZI E I APRIL ZOOI .. , ;", ~ ~ ._ w· 1 .. ~
  • 8. ·. Prescriptivism whom Gamer talks about rever- people undergo to avoid he as a generic pronoun, ing as akid.15 or of the tense deliberate way white males now ad- Descriptivists, on the oth~r hand, d~nt have just their vocabularies around non-w.m.s. Think j ••• ; ~. weekly columns in the Times. These guys tend to of todays endless battles over just the names of , • ..•. ", .... 4 ~ !l. ~ be hard-core academics, mostly linguists or Comp things-"Affirmative Action" vs. "Reverse Dis- theorists. Loosely organized under the banner of crimination," "Pro-Life" vs, "Pro-Choice," "Un- structural (or "descriptive") linguistics, they are dercount" vs. "Vote Fraud," etc. doctrinaire positivists who have their intellec- The Descriptivist revolution takes a little time tual roots in the work of Auguste Comte and to unpack, but its worth it. The structural lin- Ferdinand de Saussure and their ideological roots guists rejection of conventional usage rules de- firmly in the U.S. sixties. The brief explicit men- pends on two main arguments. The first is acad- tion Gamers Preface gives this crew- emic and methodological. In this age of technology, Descriptivists contend, its the Sci- Somewhere along the line, though, usage dictio- I entific Method-s-clinically objective, value- naries got hijacked by the descriptive linguists,16who neutral, based on direct observation and demon- observe language scientifically. For the pure de- strable hypothesis-that should determine both scriptivist, its impermissible to say that one form of language is -any better than another: as long as a. the content of dictionaries and the standards of - native speaker says it, its OK-and,anyone who "correct" English. Because language is constant- takes a contrary stand is a dunderhead .... Essentially, ly evolving, such standards will always be fluid. descriptivists and prescriptivists are approaching Goves now classic introduction to Websters Third different problems. Descriptivists want to record outlines this type of Descriptivisms five basic language as its actually used, and they perform a use- :,~." edicts: "I-Language changes constantly; ful function-though their audience is generally limited to those willing to pore through vast tomes 2-Change is normal; 3-Spoken language is .: f~" .. .. the language; 4-Correcmess rests upon usage; of dry-as-dust research. 5-All usage is relative." -is disingenuous in the extreme, especially . These principles look prima facie OK--com- .... the "approaching different problems" part, be- monsensical and couched in the bland simple cause it vastly underplays the Descriptivists in- s.-v-o. prose of dispassionate SCience-but in fluence on U.S. culture. For one thing, Descrip- fact theyre vague and muddled and it takes about tivism so quickly and thoroughly took over three seconds to think of reasonable replies to English education in this country that just about each-one of them, viz.: everybody who started junior high after c. 1970 I-OK, but how much and how has been taught to write Descriptively-via fast? "freewriting," "brainstorming," "journaling," a 2-Same thing. Is Heraclitean view of writing as self-exploratory and -expressive flux as normal or desirable as grad--, rather than as communicative, an abandonment ual change? Do some changes actually serve the of systematic grammar, usage, semantics, rhetoric, languages overall pizzazz better than others? etymology. For another thing, the very language. And how many people have to deviate from in which todays socialist, feminist, minority, gay, how many conventions before we. say the lan- and environmentalist movements frame their guage has actually changed? Fifty percent? Ten sides of political debates is inforined by the De- percent? .......- scriptivist belief that traditional English is con- ceived and perpetuated by Privileged WASP 3- This is an old claim, at least as old as Pla- tos Phaedrus. And its specious. If Derrida and ---, .•..•...•.. " r ~.. ... ~:. Males? and is thus inherently capitalist, sexist, the infamous Deconsttuctionists have done noth- ,.,.. t , : ...•.•.. t/f:- " ••••• ...,.. ... racist, xenophobic, homophobic, elitist: unfair. ing else, theyve debunked the idea that speech is II- :, .- Think Ebonies. Think of the involved contortions · · ... ·.,1(,·· languages primary instantiation.tf Plus consider , .. .; III,. ~. .• It • .• ~ . , .,. ... Or see the near-Himalayan con- oUe~ible is simply doable (L " 15 Note for example the mordant 16 Utter bush"a: As ADMAUs pith (and royal •••• of this random ) , descension of Fowler, here on faceredo); hutto the unlearned body makea clear, Garner kno"s ~. - some other people. use of "ords , it is a mere token, of whieh he , snippet from Partridge. Uaage . , has to infer the value from the eDctly "hen the Descriptiviats .. .. . to mean things the )"orcia dont andAb~: contexts in "hieh he heart it started influendng language really mean: t used, because such relatives guidea. -, f .. ~ tlDZi••••• of. I am not hope- .up.hotl ateDaioll ... ia es- •..,." It •• -... ~ . as it has in EngIW.-feat, fea- less of our future, But 1am pecially likely to occur when 17 ("hich. in fact is true) ~ .. .". profoundly anDOUSof it , Bev-: aome accident gives currency ture, faction, &:c.-either fail· to sh_ the obvious family like- , . erley NichoL., N •••••of Eng- .. Il;"! ". among the uneducated to words ness to "hich he is accustomed IS (Q:v. "The Pharmakon" in ~. ; ":"f ~ ~ land, 1938: "hieh made us profoundly anxious for (or ofleamed origin, &:the more if they are isolated or have.f_ among families of indigenous "orda, or are (like malfea- Derridas La rlissiminatio.-but yo~ d probably be better off just .......•... . • -. • ll" . ~. • l... • about)-not ol=-Mr Nieh"Isa relatives in the vernacu- sance) outside his range. trusting me.) ~~. ~ . ..~,f." .•. OIl literary future. lar .... The original meaning .•.. ",-tt:.--- . p -; •••• .. .: , 1i" • ", ", : -i .11 w~: , •" , I . . . ,.;; -_ FOLIO 45 · .,.. ..• . #I ••" 4 t.: id
  • 9. •• : I- .; j ~ •••• . ~.: • : I· ••• "M. •• . the weird arrogance of Goves (3) w/r/t correctness. tv, for one thing. Even in the physical sciences, Only the most mullahlike Prescriptivists care very everything from quantum mechanics to o " ( much about spoken English; most Prescriptive Information Theory has shown that an act of iii e, usage guides concern Standard Written English. 19 observation is itself part of the phenomenon J • .; ~ .4-Fine, but whose usage? Goves (4) begs observed and isanalytically inseparable from it. I ~~ the whole question. What he wants to imply . If you remember your old college English class- J.:: •• <J 1 here, I think, is a reversal. of the traditional es, theres an analogy here that points up the • ,. I: • ". entailment-relation between abstract rules and concrete usage: Instead of usage ideally corre- trouble scholars get into when they confuse ob- servation with interpretation. Recall the New spon-ding to a rigid set of regulations, the regu- Ctitics.F! They believed that literary criticism lations ought to correspond to the way real peo- was best conceived as a "scientific" endeavor: ple are actually using the language. Again, fine, The critic was a neutral, careful, unbiased, high- but which people? Urban Latinos? Boston ly trained observer whose job was to find and ob- · , " . Brahmins? Rural Midwesterners? Appalachian I • . . Neogaelics? jectively describe meanings that were right .there-literally inside-pieces of literature. French provmClal . 5-Huh? If this means what ,Whetheryou know what happened to the New . twin bedwith canape it see.~s to mea~, then it ends Criticisms reputation depends on whether you ¥ • , ..:..• . .,.;~...... ", . • " up biting Gove s whole argu- took college English after c"1975; suffice it to ·t 1f :~ andbu spring, $150. ment in the ass. (5) appears to say that its star has dimmed. The New Critics had·, imply that the correct answer to . the same basic problem as Goves Methodologi- " the above "which people?" is: "All of them!" cal Descriptivists: They believed that scientific And its easy to show why this will not stand up . meant the same thing as neutral or unbiased. And as a lexicographical principle. The most obvi- that linguistic meanings could exist "objective- ous problem with it is that not everything can ly," separate from any interpretive act. •••• go in The Dictionary. Why not? Because you cant observe every last bit of every last native The point of the analogy is that claims to ob- jectivity in language study are now the stuff of. speakers "language behavior," and even if you jokes and shudders. The epistemological assump-• .: ,<",J. • ~« could, the resultant dictionary would weigh tions that underlie Methodological Descriptivism · .•...•.. e ~: 4 million pounds and have to be updated . have been thoroughly debunked and displaced--i , .• .. ~ • hourly.s? The fact is that any lexicographer is in Lit by the rise of post-structuralism, Reader-Re- 1. " .•..• • -"·; •. .r ~ .. going to have to make choices about what gets in and what doesnt. And these choices are sponse Criticism, and [aussian Reception Theo- ry; in linguistics by the rise of Pragrnatics-s-and its based on ... what? And now were right back now prettymuch universally accepted that (a) where we started. . meaning is inseparable from some act of inter- "~ ."It is true that, as a SNOOT, I am probably neu- pretation and (b) an act of interpretation is always rologically predisposed CO look for flaws in Gove somewhat biased, i.e., informed l>ythe interpreters et al.s methodological argument, But these particular ideology. And the consequence of (a) flaws seem awfully easy to find. Probably the and (b) is that theres no way around it-decisions· •.... " . •ft, ~ -", • biggest one is that-the Descriptivists "scientific .• ... lexicography"-under which, keep in mind, the ideal English dictionary is basically number- about what to put in The Dictionary and what to exclude are going-to be based on a lexicographers ideology. And every lexicographers got one. To crunching; you somehow observe every linguis- presume that dictionary-making can somehow tic act by every native/naturalized speaker of avoid or transcend ideology is simply to subscribe English and. put the sum of all these acts to a particular ideology, one that might aptly be between two coven and call it The Dic- called Unbelievably Naive Positivism. tionary-involves an incredibly simplistic and Theres an even more important way Descrip- outdated understanding of what scientific means. tivists are wrong in thinking that the Scientific It requires a naive belief in scientific objectivi- Method is appropriate to the study of language: intended audience as "writers be capitalized after a dependent reporters and lIUlYf!illanee techa; 19 StandardWrittenEnglish(SWE) and editors.· And even ads for clanle + e.1lipses-Quandolue plua itd be GNP-level espe...m. il also I.metim •• called Stan- the dictionary in such organa as boous dormitat HomeZWl.) dard Engliah (SE) or Edncated 21 New Critici8lJl refers. to T. S. .r, , The New York Revie••.of Booh English, but the inditement-, ~O True,some Sort oflOOpercent Eliot and I. A. Richards and are built around ~e slogan"If you :- . einphaais is the same. like to WRITE ... Refer to •. ". compendious real-time Mega- F•.R. Leaviaand Cleanth Brooks ..:IiIt. .: dictionary might be pO_Die on- and Wimsatt lit Beardaleyand the ,.. · .* .• .•.. - ."~ . . SEMI -INTERPOLAnON Plua note that Garnera pref- ·(Yr. SNOOT rev. cannot help ob- serving, ••. these ads, that the /r/t line, though itd takea small army oflencal ••. ebma.stersanli a much ••. hole "close readiDg"school that dominated literary critic:iamfrom . ~ .•.. .- .. ~ce e"Plicitly names ADMAUs 0P,"Iling r in Ilder here should not larger army o( in situ ac:tual-uae WWIwell into the seventies. . .. ... . t ~ .. ~ do •• · 46 HARPERS MAGAZINE I APRIL 2001 , .~ ~. ItJ .: I!f- .. "t;
  • 10. Even if, as a thought experiment, we assume a better downhill (based on the observed fact thatkind of nineteenth-century scientific realism-in power lines tend to run high above the homeswhich; even though some scientists interpreta- they serve) would require the Electricity Flowstions of natural phenomena might be biased,~~the .Better Downhill Theory to be included as anatural phenomena themselves can be supposed "valid" theory in thetextbook-just as, for Dr. • ,. .~ •• 4) •. .to exist-wholly independent of either observation Fries, if some Americans use infer for imply, the •••or interpretation-no such realist supposition use becomes an ipso facto "valid" part of the lan-can be made about "language behavior," because guage. Structural linguists like Gove and Friesthis behavior is both human and fundamentally are not; finally, scientists but census-takers ~honormative. To understand this, you have only to happen to misconstrue the importance of "ob- .accept the proposition that language is by its very served facts." It isnt scientific phenomena theyrenature public-s-i.e., that there can be no such tabulating but rather a set of human behaviors,thing as a Private Languagess-c-and then to ob- and a lot of human behaviors are-to be blunt-serve the way Methodological Descriptivists seem moronic. Try, for instance, to imagine an "au-either ignorant of this fact or oblivious to its con- .thoritative" ethics textbook whose principlessequences.as in for example one Charles Friess were based on what most people actually do.introduction to -an epigone of Websters Third Norm-wise, lets keep in mind that languagecalled The American College Dictionary: didnt come into being because our hairy ances- tors were sitting around the veldt with nothing A dictionarycan be an "authority"onlyin the sense better to do. Language was invented to serve cer- in which a book of chemistry or of physicsor of tain specific purposes.wThat mushroom is poi- botanycan be an "authoriry"-by the accuracyand sonous"; "Knock these two rocks together and the completenessof its recordof the observedfacts / of the fieldexamined,in accordwith the latestprin- you can start afire"; "This shelter is,mine!" And ciplesand techniquesof the particularscience. so on. Clearly, as linguistic communities evolve, over time, they discover that some ways of using This is so stupid it practically drools. An "au- language are "better" than others-meaning bet-thoritative" physics text presents the results of ter with respect to the communitys purposes. Ifphysicists observations and physicists theories we assume that one such purpose might be com-about those observations. If a physics textbook op- municating which kinds of food are safe to eat,erated on Descriptivist principles, the fact that then you can see how, for example, a misplaced ·...some Americans believe that electricity flows modifier might violate an important norm: . , · ., . .•... ,, 1111 ("EVIDENCE OF CANCER UNK subjective internal meaning that etc., until the whole line olthinl<- fact that a word like pain means .: ~ ", , ." only I can truIy underatand. This ing gets lovaed and uhauating .what it does lor me because of the ~• i .. t REFUTED BY TOBACCO INSTITUTE ~., •,.:..t· • IlESEARCHEItS") , line of thinking is IOn of li1:e the adolescent pot-smQker. terror that the a.p. -I. ends up slumped crumb-atrewn and paralyzed in way the community Im part of baa ~citly agreed to use pain. . :. that his ~ inner uperience il hil chair. Ifyoure thiDIring thatall this 113 Thil proposition is in fad both private and unverifiable. a The point here is that the idea seems not only abstract butalao pm- true. II is interpolamely demon- syndrome that is technically known ofa Private Language, like Pri - tyirrelnantto the Usage Wars or atrated below, and although the ao Cannabic Solip"i"m. Eating vate Colors and moat of the oth- to anything you have any real in- demonstration is euremelyper- ChipIAhoy! aI!-d staring very in- er solipsistic conceitawith which tereat in at all, you are very much lIWl8iveit is also, •• you can see tendy at ~e teleriaion. network this partiCular reYiewer has atftr- mistaken. Hworda meanings de- from the lize of this FN, lencthr PGA event, for inatance, the ado- ious times lieen afflicted. is both pend on tranaperaonal rules and and invo1Yed and rather, umm, lescent pot-Imoker il otruc:lt by deluded and demonstrablyfalae. , these rules on community con- dense, 10 that again youd prob- the gbaatIy poaaibilily that, e.g., what In tl!-e case of Private Lan- sensus,language is not only con- ably be better off simply vant- ing the truth of the propolition he sees as the color green and what guage, the delusion il ulually ceptuaIly non- Private but also u:- and forging on with the main fen. other people call "the color green" baaed In the belief q,at a word reducibly public, political. and may in fact not be the same col- , such as pain baa the meaning it ideological. This means that ques- INTERPOLATIVE or e:q>eriencea at all: The fact that does because it is som~oW "con - tiOtu about our national conaen- .. DEMONSTRATION OF both he and scmeone elle call nected" to a feeling in my knee. lUI on grammar and UlIlI&" m.ac- THE ·FACT THAT THERE Pebble Beachl fairways green and Butas Mr. L. Wittgenateinl PfJilo- , tually bound up with every last IS NO SUCH THING AS a atop1.ip.t·1 GO lignal green ap- aoplllcal Inreatigationaproved in iocial i.Muethat millennia! Amer- • A PRIVATE LANGUAGE pears to guarantee only that there the 195°0. words actually have the icas .hout-cLua, race, rnder, ~:~. Itl lometimes tempting to is a similar consistency in their meanings they do because of cer- morality, tolerance. pluralism, . imapn~ that there can be such a color uperience of fairways,and tain rUles and ve,.;f;cation teats coheaion, equalily, fairness, mon- • ~f . • 1," ... ••• thing II a PriwteLanpage: Many Ii ~~ .••• .,,, ; GO lights, not that the actual sub- that aie impoled on us from qut- " ,_: ,f: .•. ey: You name it. , jective qualily of those color a- lide our own aubjectivitiea, ro., by of us are prone to lay-philoao- phizing about the we.ird privacy periencel is the same; it could be the community in which we have 114 Norms, after all. are just prac- , ;., 01 •.•••• ...•.... j. of our own mental &tates. for a- that what the ad. pot-Imoker a- to get along and communicate tices people have agreed on II op- Il!. . .J ample, and from the fad that periencel as green everyone else with other people. Wittgenateinl timal ways of doingthinga for cer- when my knee hurts only I can actually uperiencea II blue, and argument. which io admittedly tain purposel. Theyre not I••••• ~.. ••. .: •••I ,, leel it. itl tempting to conclude what we "mean" by the word blue very comple" and gnomic and but theyre not laissez-faire. ei- ~. . ~ . .~."! ,that for me the word pain has a veJY U what he -means" by green, etc., opaque, basically centers on the ther. ~. , •• 1 .• • f, "., •••. ,. ". . ~.fl. " ~. It ~~ r... ~. j,. !i,~~ · ; .: j .. !DUO 47 ..: .•.. ·f. , ••• .
  • 11. (III " ~..•· r:"l::~ ,--------------- •••••••••• ------------ -----------========- •••••• • ~-. . r. ., .. ;<0 J •••• -Ill "People who eat that kind of inushroom ofte~ nobody who isnt damaged in some profound Oliv- get sick" confuses the recipient about, whether er Sacksish way actually ever makes these sorts of " t: "f fti .•.•. hell get sick only if he eats the mushioom fre- very deep syntactic errors25 and you get the basic 1-.;. quently or whether he stands a good chance of proposition of Noam Chomskys generative lin- •. . flI getting sick the very first time he eats it. In oth- guistics, which is that there exists a Universal er words, the community has a vested practical in- Grammar beneath and common to a~ languages, terest in excluding this kind of misplaced modi- plus that there is probably an actual pari:of the hu- fier from acceptable usage; and even if a certain man brain thats imprinted with this Universal percentage of tribesmen screw up and use them, Grammar the Sameway birds brains are imprint- this still doesnt make m.m.s a good idea. ed with Fly South and dogs with Sniff Genitals. Maybe now the analogy between usage and Theres all kinds of compelling evidence and sup- ethics is clearer. just because people port forthese ideas, not least of which are sometimes lie, cheat on their taxes, or . the advances that linguists and cogni-. .~ scream at their kids, this doesnt mean that they think those things are "good." tive scientists and A.I. researchers have been able to make with them, and the , The whole point of norms is to help us theories have a lot of credibility, and they. evaluate our actions (includmg utter- are adduced by the Philosophical De- .II ," .. ances) according towhat we as a com- scriptivists to show that since the really · ~.-.~t:;".~~~ ~ "j munity have decided our real interests and purposes are. Granted, this analysis is oversimplified; in practice its incred-: MENSROOM important rules of language are at birth al- - ready hardwired into peoples neoccirtex, SWE prescriptions against dangling par- ••••• Ji1 ~~ • ;/ ibly hard to arrive at norms and to keep ticiples or mixed metaphors are basical- :.r ... •• them at least minimally fair or sometimes even to ly the linguistic equivalent of whalebone corsets agree on what they are (q.v, todaysCulture Wars). and short forks for salad. As Descriptivist Steven But the Descriptivists assumption that all usage Pinker puts it, "When a scientist considers all the ·.... J>" }. ". . ••..•• " ... , norms are arbitrary and dispensable leads to- well, have a mushroom, The connotations of arbitrary here are tricky, high-tech mentalmachinerv needed to order words into everyday sentences, prescriptive rules are, at best, inconsequential decorations." . though, and this sort of segues into the second ar- This argument is not the barrel of drugged gument Descriptivists make: There is a sense in trout that Methodological Descriptivism was, but " , , which specific linguistic conventions are arbi- its still vulnerable to some objections. The first . ... • ·~~•... ~ - trary.For instance, theres no particular meta- physical reason why our word for a four-legged one is easy; Even if its true that were all wired with a Universal Grammar, it simply doesnt fol- mammal that gives milk and goes Moo is cow and low that all prescriptive rules are superfluous. not, say,prclmpf. The uptown phrase for this is "the Some of these rules really do seem to serve clar- .. arbitrariness of the linguistic sign," and its used, ity. and precision. The injunction against two- .i! ., , • . Of It I along with certain principles of cognitive science way adverbs ("People who eat this often get sick") is an obvious example, as are rules about other ~ ,, .. . and gen;:rative grammar, in a more I?hilosophically sophisticated version of Descriptivism that holds the eon vent ions of SWE to be more like the kinds of misplaced modifiers .("There are many reasons why lawyers lie, some better than others") niceties of fashion than like actual no~s. This and about relative pronouns. proximity to the II ••• r • ..• . ..... . "Philosophical Descriptivism" doesnt care much nouns they modify ("Shes the mother of an in- • I. •• .•.... " about dictionaries or method; its target is the , standard SNOOT claim supra-that prescriptive fant daughter who works twelve hours a day"). Granted, the Philosophical Descriptivist can ~. rules have their ultimate justification in the. com- question just how absolutely necessary these rules..~ •...- r .• .... . ill ~; . 41 munitys need to make its language meaningful. The argument goes like this. An English sen~- tences being meaningfulis not the same as its be- ing grammatical. That is, such clearly ill-formed . constructions as "Did you seen the car keys of me?" or "The show waslooked by many people" are-s-its quite likely that a recipient of clauses like the above could figure out what the sentences mean from the sentences on either side or from the "overall context" or whatever. A listener can usually figure out what I really mean when I mis- use infer for imply or say indicate for say, too. But are nevertheless comprehensible; the sentences do, , many of these solecisms require at least a couple J ", .•. more or less,communicate the information theyre extra nanoseconds of cognitive effort, a kind of " ...• trying to get across. Add to th!s the fact that rapid sift-and-discard process; before the recipi- . . .<~~ ."~ , . ~ " . . .,_. :... ,.. .•. , .. , "~" ,: iii . .. 25 In his The Language Instinct, How the Mind Creates Language (J99+), Steven Pinker puts it this way: ttNo one, not even a valley girl, has to be told not to 8ay Apple. the eat boy or The child seems sleeping or Who did you meet]olua and? or the vast, vast maj ority, of the millions combinations of words." of tril- lions of mathematically possible , ,II" • .? .•• •• • 48 HARPERS MAGAZINE I APRIL 2001 .. ," .•. .. ,
  • 12. :, · . ..... " :. ( ~. ~ ,i ent gets it. Extra work. Its debatable just how leg hair and give older men hideous half-denud- much extra work, but it seems indisputable that ed legs, etc. etc.). Let us grant-as a thought ex- we put some extra neural burden on the recipient periment if nothing else-that these are all rea- when we fail to follow certain conventions. W/r/t sonable and compelling objections to pants as confusing-clauses like the above, it simply seems -an androsartorial norm. Let us in fact in our more "considerate". to follow the rules of correct minds and hearts say SWE ... just as its more.tconsiderate" to de-slob yes-shout yes-to the your home before entertaining guests or to brush skirt, the kilt, the toga, your teeth before picking up a date. Not just the sarong, the jupe. more considerate but more respectful somehow- Let us dream of or even both of your listener and of what youre trying to in our spare time work toward an America where get across. As we sometimes also say about ele- nobody lays any arbitrary sumptuary prescrip- ments of fashion and etiquette, the way you use ,tions on anyone else and we can all go around as English "Makes a Statement" or "Sends a Mes- comfortable and aerated and unchafed and un- sage"-even though these Statements/Messages squished and motile as we want., often have nothing to do with the actual infor- And yet the fact remains that, in the broad cul- mation youre trying to transmit. rural mainstream of millennial America, men do . Weve now sort of bled into a more serious re- not wear skirts. If you, the reader, are a U.S. male, joinder to Philosophical Descriptivism: From the and even if you share my personal objections to fact that linguistic communication is not strict- pants and dream as I do of a cool and genitally un- ly dependent on usage and grammar it does not squishy American Tomorrow, the odds are still necessarily follow that the traditional rules of 99.9 percent that in 100 percent of public situa- usage and grammar are nothing but "incense- tions you wear pants/slacks/shorts/trunks. More, quential decorations." Another way to state the to the point, if you are a U .S. male and also have objection is that just because something is "dec- a U:S. male child, and if that child were to come orative" does not necessarily make it "incense- to you one evening and announce his desire/in- quential." Rhetorically, Pinkers flip dismissal is tention to weara skirt rather than pants to school bad tactics, for it invites the very question it begs: the next clay, I am l.Otl-percent confident that inconsequential to whom? you are going to discourage him from doing so. Take, for example, the Descriptivist claim that Strongly discourage him. Youcould be a Molotov- ... so-called correct English usages such as brought , tossing anti-pants radical or a kilt manufacturer ~ . ./"Jl~.~. rather than brung and felt rather than feeled are ar- bitrary and restrictive and unfair and are sup- ported only by custom and are (like irregular or Steven Pinker himself-youre goingto stand over your kid and be prescriptive about an arbi- trary, archaic, uncomfortable, and inconsequen- . ,.,.. ~: . ;,~", verbs in general) archaic and incommodious and tially decorative piece of clothing. Why? Well, be- · . ......• . an all-around pain in the ass. Let us concede for cause inmodern America any little boy who J. •. • • : f,; the moment that these,objections are 100 percent comes to school in a skirt (even, say,a modest all- reasonable. Then lets talk about pants. Trousers, season midi) is going to get stated at and shunned slacks. 1suggest to you that having the "correct" and beaten up and called a Total Geekoid by a subthoracic clothing for U.S. males be pants in- whole lot of people whose approval and accep- stead of skirts is arbitrary (lots of other cultures tance are important to him. ~6 In our culture, in let men wear skirts), restrictive and unfair (U.S. other words, aboy who wears a skirt is Makinga females get to wear pants), based solely on archaic Statement that is going to have all kinds of grue- custom (I think its got something to do with some social and emotional consequences. certain traditions about gender and leg position, Yousee where.this is going. Im going to describe the same reasons girls bikes dont have a cross- the intended point of the pants analogy in terms bar), and in certain ways not only incommodious Im sure are simplistic--doubtless there are whole . but illogical (skirts are more comfortable than books in Pragmatics or psycholinguistics or some- pants; pants ride up; pants are hot; pants can squish the genitals and reduce fertility; over time thing devoted to unpacking this point. The weird thing is that Ive seen neither Descriptivists nor · ", ",.. , .• , , ;.. pants chafe and erode irregular sections of mens SNoC)Ts deploy it in the Wars.~7 " .4 ~.-,.. , • .; .••" c." •..• , . -~ JII~; •• wear }tants to those jobs, its co- , dients "the wrong message." But to improve peoples voeabulary. " " •..• ,J,;.i 26Inthe<aseofSteveP~erJr .• workers and dienta and people of ceurse its all basieally the aame These ads are extremely ominous those people are the boys peers and teachers and ero~ guards, on the subway. For the die-hard slob who nevertheless wears a <oat thing. and intimidating start and always out with "DID YOU KNOW . etc, In the ease of adult <ross- and a tie to work, its mostly his 27 In fact, the only time one ever PEOPLE JUDGE YOU BY THE WORDS dressers and drag queens who have boss, who himsell doesnt want hears the issue made e:q>lidt is YOU USE?" jobs in the Straight World and his employees doth •• to send in radio ads for tapes that promiae FOLlO 49 .. i:"s r-
  • 13. :-: :~. When r say or write something, there are ac- , , regarded as a peer.a member of somebody elsesI 1~"~ • :... <Ii ,- • ~", ..•. ... tually a whole lot of different things I am com- municating. The propositional content (the ac- tual information Im trying to convey) is only one part ofit, Another part is stuff about me, collective or community or.Group, Another way to come at this is to acknowledge something that in the Usage Wars gets mentioned only in very abstract terms: "Correct" English usage is, the communicator. Everyone knows this. Its a as a practical matter, a function of whom youre : ·"-.W I,. function of the fact that there are uncountably talking to and how you want that person to-re- <·I:,~ many well-formed ways to say the same basic thing, from e.g. "I was attacked by a bear!" to spend-s-not just to your utterance but also to , . you. In other words, a large part of the agenda of, I "Goddamn bear tried to kill me!" to "That ursine any communication is,rhetorical and depends juggernaut bethought to sup upon my person!" on what some rhet-scholars call "Audience" or , and so on. And different levels of diction and "Discourse Community."29 And the United formality are only the simplest kinds of distinc- States obviously has a huge number of such Dis- tion; things get way more com- , -course Communities, many of plicated in the sorts of interper- them regional and/or cultural di- sonal communication where Who would of thought? alects of English: Black English,~. :,. social relations and feelings and Latino English, Rural Southern,, .. moods come into play. Heres a familiar sort of ex- Urban Southern, Standard Upper-Midwest, · ... ", e,.•, fI~. ample. Suppose that you and I are acquaintances MaineYankee, East-Texas Bayou, Boston Blue- ,~ and were in my apartment having a conversation Collar, on and on. Everybody knows this. What , and that atsome point I want to terminate th~ not everyone knows-c-especially not certain Pre- , conversation and not have you be in my apart- scriptivists-is that many of these non-SWE, , ment anymore. Very delicate social moment. dialects have their own highly developed and Think of all the different ways I can try to han- internally consistent grammars, and that some of dle it: "Wow, look at the time"; "Could we finish these dialects usage norms actually make more ..•. ,..... ", this up later?"; "Could you please leave now?"; linguistic/aesthetic sense,than do their Standard.. . "~. I.· ..,. , "Go"; "Get out"; "Get the hell out of here"; "Didnt you .sayyou had to be someplace?";"TIme for you to hit the dusty trail, my friend"; "Off counterparts (see INTERPOLATION).PIus, of course, there are innumerable sub- and subsubdialects based on all sorts of things that have nothing to you go then, love"; or that sly old telephone-con- do with locale or ethnicity-e-Medical-School . versation ender: "Well, Im going to let you go English.Teoriaris- Who- Follow- Pro-Wrestling- nowjetc," And then think of all the different fac- Closely English, Twelve-Year-Old-Males-Whose- tors and implications of each option. , Worldview- Is-Deeply- Informed- By-South- Park . 4 ; • II! . The point here is obvious. It concerns aphe- nomenon that SNOOTs lindly reinforce and that b English-and that are nearly incomprehensible, to anyone who isnt inside their very tight and . , ... } Descriptivists badly underestimate and that scary specific Discourse Community (which ofcourse •., •• ." h _. vocab-tape ads try to exploit. People really do is part of their functionev). ~ It>. e. ,, .c "judge" one another according to their use of " language: Constantly. Of course, people judge INTERPOLATION: one another on the basis of all kinds of things- EXAMPLE OF GRAMMATICAL ADVANTAGES OF A ..•.. .-~ - weight, scent, physiognomy, occupation, make of NON-STANDARD DIALECI THAT THIS REVIEWER.. . ... , .,. .. , vehicle28-and, again, doubtless its all terribly complicated and occupies wholebattalions of ACTUALI,Y KNOWS ABOUT FIRSTHAND . T sociolinguists. But its clear that at least one his rev. happens to have two native .,·r. component of all this interpersonalsemantic , English dialects-the SWE of my judging involves acceptance, meaning not some hypereducated parents and the hard- touchy-feely emotional affirmation but actual earned Rural Midwestern of most of acceptance or rejection of sornebodvs bidto be my peers. When Im talking to R.M.s, I usually , I captures something at once very calls aU of them jargon. There ie 28 (.,.notto mention color, gen- 30 (Plus its true that whether compla and very specific that no no ADMAU miniessay on 01- der, creed-you ean see how fraught, something gets called a ~subdi- other, English term luite can.- ALEafS, but there ie one onJAR- and charged all this is going t~ alect" or "jargon h seems to de- ,GON, in wh,ich such ie Garners get) -(The above is an obvious pend on how much it annoys peo- self- restraint that you can almost. .. . " • !ilIt: _;. ·. :- . .... :... .. •• : .. .. .•.•• •~ "<It -It f 29 Discourse Community ie an aample of that rare kind of aca- demic jargon thats aetua1ly a valu- able addition to SWE because it attempt to preempt readerly sneers/winces at the term. con" tinued deployment in this article.) ple outside miniesaa;s its Discourse . Community. Garne" himaelfhu on AlRUNESE, COM- PUTERESE, LEGALESE, and BU- REAUCRATESE, he more or less and hear his tendons "(Jargon! ari.seafrom save time and space-and the uninitiated. , ") straining, eeea- sionally to co""eal meaning from u in the urge to · · ~ . ~ . ..- , • ,,! ". 50 HARPERS MAGAZINE I APRIL 2001., " ,,~ t ,II I
  • 14. __________________ ------------------iiiIiiliiiliiliiiliiliiiliiliiiliiliiiiiiiiii-iiiiiiiiiiiiiii"i~~r;;:",.~.~(r •• i ,.".,.:,.~ ". • > ._.fl$"~ t. .• -;, ;. ...... ~.~ .. •.... :~, " ,:f.: ... , . use, for example, the construction "Wheres it on Latin even though Latin is a synthetic lan- . - at?" instead of "Where is it?" Part of this is a guage and English is an analytic language.s" ••• 4~ .- • ~",., .. It • t naked desire to fit in and not get rejected as an Latin infinitives consist of one word and are egghead or fag (see sub). But another part is impossible to as it were split, and the earliest • ,.! ...• that I, SNOOT no, believe that this and other or English Prescriptivists-so enthralled with R.M.isms are in certain ways superior to their . Standard equivalents. For a dogmatic Prescriptivist, "Wheres it at?" Latin that their English usage guides were actually written in Latin33--decided rent 2own . is double-damned as a sentence that not only that English infinitives ends with a preposition but whose final preposi- shouldnt be split either. Gamer himself takes tion forms a redundancy with where thats simi- out after the s.i. rule in both SPLITINFINITIVES lar to the redundancy in "the reason is because" and SUPERSTITIONS.34 And Hopefully at the (which latter usage Ill admit makes me dig my beginning of a sentence; as a certain cheeky nails into my palms). Rejoinder: First off, the eighth-grader once pointed out to his everlast- avoid-terminal-prepositions rule is the inven- ing social cost, actually functions not as a mis- tion bf one Fr. R. Lowth, an eighteenth-centu- placed modal auxiliary or as a manner adverb ry British preacher and indurate pedant who did . like quickly or angrily but as a "sentence adverb" things like spend scores of pages arguing for hath that indicates the speakers attitude about the over the trendy and degenerate has. The a-t-p. state of affairs described. by the sentence (exam- rule is antiquated and stupid and only the most ples of perfectly OK sentence adverbs are ayatolloid SNOOT takes it seriously. Gamer him- Clearly, Basically, Luckily), and only SNOOTs du- e self calls the rule "stuffy" and lists all kinds of cated in the high-pedantic years up to 1960 useful constructions like "the man you were lis- blindly proscribe it or grade it down. tening to" that wed have to discard or distort if The cases of split infinitivesand Hopejully are we really enforced it. in fact often trotted out by dogmatic Descrip- Plus the apparent redundancy of "Wheres it tivists as evidence that all SWE usage rules are at?"3! is offset by its metrical logic. What the at arbitrary and stupid (which is a bit like pointing really does is license the contraction of is after to Pat Buchanan as evidence that all Repub- the interrogative adverb. You cant say "Wheres licans are maniacs). Gamer rejects Hopefullys it?" So the choice is between "Where is it?" and knee-jerk proscription, too, albeit grudgingly, "Where~ it at?", and the latter, a strong-anapest, intluding the adverb in his miniessay on is prettier and trips off the tongue better than SKUNKEDERMS, T which is his phrase for a usage "Where is it?", whose meter is either a clunky that is "hotly disputed ... any use of it is likely monosyllabic-foot + trochee or its nothing at all. to distract smile readers." (Gamer also points This is probably the place for your SNOOT out something Id never quite realized, which is reviewer openly to concede that a certain num- that hopefully, if misplaced/mispunctuated in ber of traditional prescriptive rules really are stu- the body of a sentence, can create some of die pid and that people who insist on them (like th~ same two-way ambiguities as other adverbs, as legendary assistant to P.M. Margaret Thatcher in the clause "I will borrow your book and hope- who refused to read any memo with a split fully read it soon.") infinitive in it, or the jr-high teacher I had who W automatically graded you down if you still-ted a ether were conscious of it or sentence with Hopefully) are that very most , not, most of us are fluent inmore pathetic and dangerous sort of SNOOT, the , than one major English dialect SNOOTWho Is Wrong. The injunction against . and in a farge number of subdi- split infinitives, for instance, is a consequence of alects and are probably at least passable in the weird fact that English grammar is modeled countless others. Which dialect you choose to ian are syntlletie; ED«lish and especiallywhen tlIere are a whole ticly dogmatic ukase can handle 31 (a redundancy thats a bit.ar- Chinese, analyti~. bunch of words b~tween to and all s.I. c:aaes,and thus that "know- bitrary, .in"" "Wheres it:from?" . the verb- "Wewill attempt to swift- ingwhen to split an infinitive re- isnt redundant [mainly because 33 (Q..v. for oample Sir Thomas ly and to the best of our ability quires a good ear and a keen eye"- ••lienee haa vanished into semi- Smitll. corta-witllering De Rec- respond to these chlTs" _hi~ is a goodeumple of the wayGarner archaiam)} ta et Emendata Linguae ALwli- Garner eaUs "widJ splits" and, distinguiahes sound and helpful eae Sc:riptione Diologw ofIS68.) aensibly disco"rago. Hia m:e"all Descriptivist objections from . . ~. . •.. 32 A,syntlletic language uses in- verdict on s.I, s_hich is tlIat ••• o or dogmatic objeetioDi and d .,. !. flecti~DI to dictate syntax. where- u an analytic 1anguar uses word :ti But note that hes •• ne about some are "perfectly proper" and then incorporates tlIe sound ob- . ,.,. : it. Some split infinitive. reJllly some iffy and some juat totally jections into a smarter and mo~ order. latin, German, and Ru.u- are clunky and hard to parse, bad newa, and that no one wide flexible Prescriptivism. . .. ... . ..,.. ""11 . • 11" (", J" u· • FOLIO 5.1 .. .. . .•. ~
  • 15. • :f.,. • ~,. ~. . -0. ·," . •• >II . •• ut :" •. _".01.., fI ~... . use depends, of course, on whom youre cial time of it in school. Asnoorlec is a little kidI .t,.:~ ..•• •• addressing, More to the point, I submit that the whos wildly,precociously fluent in SWE (he is of- •. ." , : dialect you use depends mostly on what sort of ten, recall, the offspring of SNOOTs).J ust about.•• .11{ •. ~.-, .f 1- ..•• fil" Group your listener is part of and whether you every class has a SNoOT so Iknow youve seen let, . wish to present yourself as a fellow member Qf. them-these are the sorts of six- totwelve-year- .. , that Group. An obvious example is that tradi- olds who use whom correctly and whose response : .." tional upper-class English has certain dialectal to striking out in T-ball is to cry out "How incal- • c, t" ,. i" : • differences from lower-class English and that schools used, to have courses in Elocution culably dreadful!" etc. The elementary-school SNOOTlets one of the earliest identifiable species i I whose whole point was to teach people howto of academic Geekoid and isduly despised by his I speak in an upper-class way. But usage-as-inclu- peers and praised by his teachers. These teachers sian is about much more than class. Heres usually dont see the incredible amounts of pun- o. another thought experiment: A bunch of U.S. ishment the snoorler is receiving from his class- mates, or if they do see it they blame the classmates ., teenagers in clothes that look far too large for them are sitting together, in the local malls Food Court, and a 53-year-old man with a and shake their heads sadly at the vicious and ar- bitrary cruelty of which children are capable.~ ,Il, combover and clothes that fit, comes over to But the other childrens punishment of the, . . them and says that he wasscoping them and SNOOT is not arbitrary at all. There are let~I ...• "!.. ; " thinks theyre totally rad and/or phat and is it important things at stake. Little kids in school• •• :Ii cool if he just kicks it and do~s the hang here are learning about Group-inclusion and -exclu- : with them. The kids reaction is going to be sion and .about the respective rewards and either scorn or embarrassment for the guy- penalties of same and about the use of dialect , <-;i: . "most likely a mix of both. Q:.Why? Or imagine that two hard-core urban blacItguys are stand- and syntax and slang as signals of affinity and inclusion.35 Theyre learning about Discourse ~>·• "," ,). • •... I ... . " •. tis ing there talking and I, who am resoundingly and in .al] ways white, come up and greet them with "Yo" and call them "Brothers" and ask "sup, sgoin on," pronouncing on with that NYCish 60-0 diphthong that Communities. Kids learn this stuff not in English or Social Studies but on the play- , ground and at lunch and on the bus. When his peers are giving the snoorler quadruple Wedgies or holding him down and rnpnstrpus • Young Urban Black English taking turns spitting on him, theres serious Cum-N-Go deploys for a standard o. Either these guys are going to learning going on : .. for everyone except the little SNOOT,who in fact is being punished for Q~ikMart be offended or they are going to think I am simply out-of my precisely his failure to learn. What neither he nor his teacher realizes is that the snoorler is mind. No other reaction is deficient in Language Arts, He has only one remotely foreseeable. Q: Why? dialect. He cannot alter his vocabulary, usage, .t .• ·, Why: A dialect of English is learned and used or grammar, cannot use slang or vulgarity; and e , ~..•• . either because its your native vernacular or its these abilities that are really required for ~ ~ -, . ... ~, because its the-dialect of a Group by which you wish- (with some degree of plausibility) to be "peer rapport," which is just a fancy Elementary-Ed term for being accepted by the ..".. I . " ., .. . accepted. And although It is the major and arguably the most important one, SWE is only most important Group in the little kids life. This reviewer acknowledges that there one dialect. And it is never, or at least hardly •• ,s.-. . ever, anybodys ,only dialect. This is because seems to be some, umm, personal stuff getting dredged up and worked out here;36 but the ., -I there are-as you andI both know and yet no stuff is relevant. The point is that the little A + ..;, .~.., -I·.. .. ·,.; ." one in the Usage Wars ever seems to rnention-e- SNOOTletis actually in the same dialectal posi- , situations -in which faultlessly correct SWIi is clearly not the appropriate dialect. Childhood isfull of such situations. This is one tion as the classs "slow" kid who cant learn to stop using aint or bringed. One is punished in .class, the other on the playground, but bothr• til .•.. •• reason why SNOOTletsend to have a very hard so- t are deficient in the same linguistic skill-s-viz., ~ ~- ... ,, about Us and Them, and about how help. the lcids see how to .tart to, membershlp in, U. are not just , 35 The SNOOTletis, as it happens, . an indiapensable part of other an Us alwa,.. needs a Them be- cause being not-Them. is essen> be an U., but the SNOOTlet com- plete. the pUDle by providing the age, station, inability toiatByup plist 9:00, etc.-thatin fact U. i. pri- , . ," . • lcids playground education. The tial to being Ua. Because theyre a. it ••• re miaaing link: e Heis the marily a state of mind and a .et . "." ..•.. . .... ,. , • , Ii lcids are learning that a Group. identity depends as much on ex- clusion as induaion. They are, lcids and it •• chool, the obvious Them Is theteachers and all the value. and appurtenance. of the Traitor, U.but Them. the U.1lhb is in fact not In sum, the SNOOTletis teach- of .ensibilitie •. An ideology. 36 (The slcirt-in-achool scenario in other words, starting to Iearn teacher_rid. This teacher-Them ing hi. peers that the criteria for 1lll8not personal.tuft, FYI,) ..... .. o : •• , ,,~ , . .., .•... .. •. .,. J •• -, •••.••• • I.~ -,, 52 HARPERS MAGAZINE / APRIL 2001 11 ,. <
  • 16. .. ,. •·• ••..i·,· . ~ ,. -.,:. . ..• ~. t . - •. . Iifi... """ : ~"Iw .. f.: •. "... :~~.",~ the ability to move between various dialects and levels of "correctness," the ability to com- . . that, recall, the traditional teacher hasnt given, because hes such a dogmatic SNOOT sees no he ti· . ••....... ·ft.W municate one way with peers and another way need to), the student isgoing to be reduced to eval- with teachers and another with family and uating the desirabilityof the SWE Group based on another with Little League coaches and so on..Most of these dialectal adjustments are made below the level of conscious awareness, and the one obvious mem- ber of the Group hes Ptuue Uaa ~eu encountered, namely ~. .. our ability to make them seems part psycho- the SNOOTy teacher 1ted~~ logical and part. something else-perhaps himself .: something hardwired into the same mother- Im not suggesting here that an effective SWE board as Universal Grammar-s-and in truth pedagogy would require teachers to wear sun- this ability is a far better indicator of a kids glasses and call students "Dude." What, I am sug- It ••• •••• • • "Verbal I.Q." than testscores or grades, since gesting is that the rhetorical situation of an Eng- U.S. English classes do far more to retard lish class-s-a class composed wholly of young dialectal talent than to cultivate it. people whose Group identity is rooted in defiance of Adult-Establishment values; plus also com- ll-knOWn fact: In neither K-12W posed partly of minorities whose primary dialects . nor college English are systematic are different from SWE-requires the teacher to SWE grammar and usage much. come up with overt, honest, compelling argu- taught anymore. Its been this way ments for why SWE is a dialect worth learning. for more than 20 years. The phenomenon drives These arguments are hard: to make-not Prescriptivists nuts, and its one of the big things intellectually but emotionally, politically. they cite as evidence of Americas gradual mur- Because they are baldly elitist.38 The real truth, der of English. Descriptivists and English-Ed of course, is .that SWE is the dialect of the specialists counter that grammar and usage have American elite. That it was invented, codified, been abandoned because scientific research and promulgated, by Privileged WASP Males proved that studying SWE grammar and usage and is perpetuated as "Standard" by same. That . simply doesnt help make kids better writers. it is the shibboleth of the Establishment and an Each side in the debate tends to regard the other instrument of political power and class division as mentally ill or/and blinded by political ideol- and racial discrimination and all manner. of ogy. Neither camp appears everto have consid- social inequity, These are shall we say rather del- ered whether maybe the way prescriptive SWE isate subjects to bring up in an English class, was traditionally taught had something to do especially in the service of a pro-SWE argu- with its inutility. ment, and extra-especially if you yourself are .Byway here Im referring not so much to actual both a Privileged WASP Male and the Teacher method as to spirit or attitude. Most traditional and thus pretty much a walking symbol of the teachers of English grammar have, of course, been Adult Establishment. This reviewers opinion, .dogmatic SNOOTs, like most dogmatists theyve and though, is that both students and SWE are bet- been incredibly stupid about the rhetoric they ter served if the teacher makes his premises used and the Audience they were addressing.s? I explicit and his argument overt, presenting. refer specifically to their assumption that SWE is himself as an advocate of SWEs utility rather the sole appropriate English dialect and that the than as a prophet of its innate superiority. only reasons anyone could fail to see this are ig- Becausethis argument is both most delicate and norance or amentia or grave deficiencies in char- (I believe) most important with respect to .stu- acter. As rhetoric, this sort of attitude works on- dents of color, here is one version of a spiel Ive ly in sermons to the.Choir, and as pedagogyits just given in private conference39 with certain black disastrous. The reality is that an average U.S. stu- students who were (a) bright and inquisitive and dent is going to go to the trouble of mastering (b) deficient in what U.S. higher education con-.the difficult conventions of SWEonly if he sees / siders written English facility: SWEs relevant Group or Discourse Community as one hed like to be part of.And in the absence of any sort of argument for why the correct-SWE I dont know whether anybodystold you this or not, but when youre in a college English class , ~.. ..,"" ...... Group is a good or desirabie one (an argument youre basically studying a foreign dialect. This ..•.•.. ~ ,-----------------.-------------------------- ~~.::.:. :!./ ~ .... -•... ..~.. • 11 . ,.It •. " lipless, tweedy, cancrine-Old dogmatic SNOOT. pedagogy i. : ~" 37 There are still some of these 38 (Or rather the arguments re- · Maids of both genders. Hyouhiod merely elitiam in aetion.) "., ~ - ..• ," .~ ..~ .• teachers around, at least here in quire UI openly to aclmowledge one (as I did, 1976-77), you sure- the Midwest. You Imow the type, -.~ ly remember him. and talk about elitism, whereas a 39 (Im not a total idiot.) . ,.~:.:., .. . . · ... ~.. ,.~ ~. " . , ~-!f ~f1 •. # l , 1#" • FOLIO 53 • • •• •.• 0.:. ••• .
  • 17. . . .. • •••• •4 • II. .. .;. dialect is called Standard Written English. [Brief in SWE,.,bec~use SWE is the dialect our country . .• "", :~ ,,:& overview of major U.S. dialects a la p. 50.] From uses to talk to itself. African Americans whove talking with you and reading your essays, Ive con- become successful and important in U.S. culture , ~ /If •. ••• cluded that your own primary dialect is [one of know this; thats why Kings and Xs and Jacksons 1•••• three variants of SBE common to our region]. Now, speeches are in SWE, and why Morrisons and let me spell something out in my official Teacher- Angelous and Baldwins and Widemans and Wests voice: The SBE youre fluent in is different from , books are full of totally ass-kicking SWE, and why .C. ~ SWE in all kinds of important ways. Some of these black judges and politicians and journalists and differences are gramrnatical-c-for example, double doctors and teachers communicate professionally in negatives are OK in Standard Black English but SWE. Some of these people grew.up in homes and not in SWE, and SBE and SWE conjugate certain .cornmunities where SWE was the native dialect, verbs in totally different ways. Other diff~rences and these black people had it much easier in school, have more to do with style-for instance, Standard but the ones who didnt grow up with SWE realized Written English tends to use a lot more subordi- at some point that they had to learn it and become nate clauses in the early parts of sentences, and it able to write in it, and so they did. And [INSERT sets off most of these early subordinates with com- NAME HERE], youre going to .learn to use it, too, mas, and, under SWE rules, writing that doesnt do because I am going to make you. this is "choppy" There are tons of differences like that. How much of this stuff do you already know? I should note here that a couple of the stu- [STANDARD RESPONSE: some variation on "I know dents Ive said this stuff to were offended-one from the grades and comments on my papers that lodged an Official Complaint-and thad have English profs dont think Im a good writer."] Well, had more than one colleague profess to find my Ive got good news and bad news. There are some .• spiel "racially insensitive." Perhaps you do, too. .•. - otherwise smart English .~" ""~" .. "( profs who arent very. My own humble opinion is that some of the cul-. .~1t NVW :f~~ aware that there are real tural and political realities of American life are YVti~ t~]ElE<GnrIl dialects of English other themselves racially insensitive and elitist and of- fensive and unfair, and-thatpussvfooting around than SWE, so when ." :.: ~. .. . theyre reading your papers theyll put, like, "Incorrect conjugation" or "Comma needed" instead of "SWE conjugates this verb differently" these realities with euphemistic doublespeak is not only hypocritical but toxic to the project of ever actually changing them. Such pussyfooting has of or "SWE calls for a comma here." Thats the good course now achieved the status of a dialect --one .w/, • r .• Ii . news-its not that youre a bad writer, its that you powerful enough to have turned the normal pol- " . .. .;, .. .;»; _" havent learned the special.rules of the dialect they want you to write in. Maybe thats not such good news; that they were grading you down for mis- , itics of the Usage Wars sort of inside .out. I refer here to Politically Correct English takes in a foreign language you didnt even know (PCE), under whose conventions failing stu- . was a foreign language. That they wont let you dents become "high-potential" students and , ~ .. write in SBE. Maybe it seems unfair. If it does, poor people "economically disadvantaged" and • youre not going to like this news: Im not going to people in wheelchairs "differently abled" and a let you write in SBE either. In my class, you.have sentence like "White English and Black English ~tt.•... ·•• iI; ••" .~, ••• ~ jo to learn and write in SWE. If you want to study are different and you better learn White English til ~, your own dialect and its rules and history and.how . """, .It ... its different from SWE, fine-s-there are some great books by scholars. of Black English, and Ill help, if you dont want to flunk" is not blunt but "insensitive." Although its common to make you find some and talk about them with you if you jokes about PCE (referring to ugly people as want. But that will be outside class. In class-s-in my "aesthetically challenged" and so on), be English class-you will have to master and write in advised that Politically Correct Englishs vari- Standard Written English, which. we might just as ous pre-. and proscriptions are taken very seri- well callStandard White English," because it was ously indeed by colleges and corporations and developed by white people and is used, by white government agencies, whose own institutional . people, especially educated, powerful white people. dialects now evolveunder the beady scrutiny of [RESPONSES by this point vaiy too widely to stan- a whole new kind of Language Police •. dardize.] Im respecting you enough here to give From one perspective, the history of peE you what I believe is the straight truth. In this country, SWE is perceived as the dialect of educa- evinces a kind of Lenin-to-Stalinesque irony. tion and intelligence and power and prestige, and That is, the same ideological principles that anybody of any race, ethnicity, religion, or gender informed the original Descriptivist revolu- who wants to succeed in American culture has got tion-namely, the sixties-era rejections of tra- tobe able to use SWE. This is How It Is. You can ditionaluuthority and, traditional inequality ..~.. .,-<q .. ~.~ -. " be glad about it or sad about it or deeply pissed off. You can believe its racist and unjust and decide right here and now to spend every waking miri.ute -have now actually produced inflexible Prescriptivism, a far more one unencumbered by tradition or complexity and backed by the of your adult life arguing against it, and maybe you threat of real-world sanctions (termination, • should, but Ill tell you something: If you ever want litigation) for those who fail to conform. This those arguments to get listened to and taken seri- ously, youre going to have to communicate them , is sort of funny in a dark way, maybe, and most -... 54 HARPERS MAGAZI,NE I APRIL 2001
  • 18. .. : . • :.•. • • . .· criticism of PCE seems to consist in making words, PCE functions as a form of censorship, , , ., fun of its trendiness or vapidity, This review-. and censorship always serves the status quo.) k.: s, · ers own opinion is that prescriptive PCE is not As a practical matter, I strongly doubt whether ! ~ . just silly but confused and dangerous. a guy who has four small kids and makes $12,000 ~ Usage is alwayspolitical, of course, but its com- plexly political. With respect, for instance, to po- a year feels more empowered or less ill-used by a society that carefully refers to him as "economi- , , . •.• .. litical change, usage conventions can function in two ways:On the one hand they can be a re- cally disadvantaged" rather than "poor."Were I he, in fact, Id probably find the PCE term insult- •. . , flection of political change, and on the other they ing-not just because its patronizing but because • co" •• " ," can be an instrument of political change. These two its hypocritical and self-serving. Like many forms functions are different and have to be kept straight. of VogueUsage.v PeE functions primarily to sig- • •• • Confusing them-in particular, mistaking for po- , nal and congratulate certain virtues in the speak- . • •. litical efficacy what is really just a languages po- er-scrupulous egalitarianism,con- litical symbolism--enables the bizarreconviction that America ceases to be elitist or unfair simply cern for the dignity of all people, . sophistication about the political CLCJSUFtE because Americans stop using certain vocabulary implications of language-s-and so serves the self- that is historically associated with elitism and un- ish interests of the PC far more than it serves any fairness, This is PCEs central fallacy-that a so- cietys mode of expression is productive of its at- titudes rather than. a product of those of the persons or groups renamed. INTERPOLATION ON A RELATED ISSUE IN , .,. ...... attitudes-and of course its nothing but the ob- THE FACE OF WHOSE GHASTLY MALIGNANCY •.••"0 . , 1" .,. verse of the politically conservative SNOOTs elu- sion that social change can be retarded by re- stricting change in standard usage.s? . d THIS REVIEWERS GIVES oUT ALTOGETHER, DEMOCRATIC SPIRIT JUST ADMITTEDLY , ~ ... "•.. ~I" •• 6. .• Forget Stalinization or Logic lO1-level -This issue is Academic English, a cancer that •• •• equivocations, though. Theres a grosser irony about Politically Correct English, This is that has metastasized now to afflict both scholarly writing- ...•. .. .. PCE purports to be the dialect of progressive - .. •• .e reform but is in fact-in its Orwellian substitu- If such a subLimecyborg wouLdinsinuate the future tion of the euphemisms of social equality fOl; as post-Fordist subject, his palpably masochistic Lo- social equality itself---of vastly more help to cations as ecstatic agent of the sublime superstate 41 • u.s. need to be decoded as the "now all-but-unreadable ., .. conservatives and the status quo than tra- DNA" of the fast industrializing Detroit, just as his ditional SNOOT prescriptions ever were. Were I, Robocop-like strategy of carceraL negotiation and for instance, a political conservative who street controL remains the tirelessly American one " .. opposed taxation as a. means of redistributing of inflicting regeneration through violence upon. national wealth, I would be delighted to watch ·. the raciaLLyheterogLassic wilds and others of the PCE progressives spend their time and energy inner city.42 . .t· arguing over whether a poor person should be described .as "low-income" or "economically -and prose as mainstream as The Village disadvantaged" or "pre-prosperous" rather than Voices;· constructing effective public arguments for redistributive legislation or higher marginal tax At first encounter, the poems distanced cerebral rates on corporations. (Not to mention that surfaces can be daunting, evading physical location or straightforward emotionaL arc. But this seeming strict codes of egalitarian euphemism serve to " remoteness quickly reveals a very real passion, cen- . -; >. burke the sorts of painful, unpretty, and some- tered in the speakers struggle to define his evolving times offensive discourse that in a pluralistic self-construction. democracy leads to actual political change ,e rather than symbolic political change. In other Maybe its a combination of my sxoortrude I , • little more than list VW. that bug transmission of raw info, the oth. and thats why even I!-onSNOOTs 4-0 E.!" this is the reaaoningbe- him and say that "vogue words ha.e er the transmiasion of certain stuff often find Vogue Uug< irritating hind many Pop Prescriptivisu such a grip on the popular mind about the speal:er-,nd Vogue and creepy. , complaint that ohoddy uaar sig- U~ throws this balance off, Gar- that they come to be used in con- nifies the Decline of Western Civ- tens in which they serVe little pur- ners "serve little purpose" is ex- 4~ FYI, this passage, which appears ilization. PO"" " This is one of the rai-e places actly incorrect; vogue words serve in ADMAUs entry on OBSCURI- inADMAUwhere Garner is sim- too m;ch the purpose ofpresen~ rr, is quoted from a 1997 Sacra- 4-1 DietioruzroiModernAmer- A ply wrong. The. real problem i. the speaker in a certain light (even mento Bee article entitled "No iean Usage includes a mini......,. on that every .entenc~ blends and if this is merely as with-it or hip), Contest: English PrOfesso~. Are VOGUE WORDS, but its a disap- balances at least two diff~t com- and peoples subliminal B.S.- Worst Writers on Campus." : pointing on~ in,that Garner does municative functions-one the antennae pick this imbalance up, FOLIO 55.
  • 19. .. ~. ;-..~- ... ." .I .. and the fact that I end up having to read a lot tivism or Image Over Substance or the ubiquity ~ .~ •••• AI "of it for my job, but Im afraid I regard of advertising and P.R. or the rise of Identity .•... : " f Academic English not as a dialectal variation • Politics or whatever you will-c-we live in an era • •• • but as a grotesque debasement of SWE, and: 1~; . 4iI" . loathe it even more than the stilted incoher- of terrible preoccupation with presentation and interpretation. In rhetorical terms, certain .. " ences of Presidential English ("This is the best long-held distinctions between the Ethical , .. ,J .•. .••.• -J and only way to uncover, destroy, and prevent ,Iraq from reengineering . weapons of mass Appeal, Logical Appeal (= an arguments plau- sibility or soundness), and Pathetic Appeal destruction") or the mangled pieties of (= all arguments emotional impact) have now BusinessSpeak ("Our Mission: to proactively pretty much collapsed-or rather the different search and provide the optimum networking sorts of Appeals now affect and are affected by skills and resources to meet the needs of your one another in ways that make it almostimpos- growing business"); and in support of this utter sible to advance an argument on "reason" contempt and intolerance I cite no less an alone. authority than Mr. G. Orwell, who 50 years ago A vividly concrete rillustration here con" , had AE pegged as a ~mixture of vagueness and cerns. the Official Complainta blackunder- sheer, incompetence" in: graduate filed against this " ~.~ .•........ ..A,".- ..•1.., ,., / - ~A~. .. which "it is normal to come 4 rev. after one of my little in.,. across long passages which n I~ I~ ~ camera spiels described on , •. to,. are almost completely lack- ing in meaning."43 nl -/:", ~ ,..AU 141A ~ t:)f~u~.1 pages ,53-54. The com- plainant was (lapine) . . ~, .• - x/ It probably isnt the whole wrong, but she was not crazy .IIi .~ .•. ,.,," explanation, but, as with the voguish hypocrisy or stupid; and I was able later to see that I did of ,PCE, the obscurity and pretension of bear someresponsibility for the whole nasty Academic English can be attributed in part to a administrative swivet. My culpability lay in •. ".. .....• ). fII . " disruption in the delicate rhetorical balance between language as a vector of meaning and language as a vector of the writers own-resume. gross rhetorical naivete, Id seen my speechs primary Appeal as Logical: The aim was to make a conspicuously blunt, honest argument .!i ~ • •. ... In other words, it is when a scholars for SWEs utility. It wasnt pretty, maybe, but it vanity/insecurity leads him to write primarily to was true, plus so manifestly bullshit-free that I communicate and reinforce his own status as an think I anticipated not just acquiescence but Intellectual that his English is deformed by gratitude for my candor.v- The problem I " pleonasm and pretentious diction (whose func- failed to see, of course, lay not with the argu- " tion is to signal the writers erudition) and by ment per se but with the person making it- opaque abstraction (whose function is to keep .namely me, a Privileged WA,SP Male in a,posi- anybody from pinning the writer down to a def- tion of power, thus someone whose statements , inite assertionthat can maybe be refuted or , about the primacy and utility of the Privileged . .-t ", II .~~ ~ •• .. shown to be, silly). The latter characteristic, a level of obscurity that often makes it just about _ WASP, Male dialect appeared not candid/hor- tatory / authoritative/ true but elitist/high- .. . impossible to figure out what an AE sentence is handed/authoritarian/racist. Rhetoric-wise, "",., •...~, - really saying, so closely resembles political and what happened was that I allowed the sub- corporate doublespeak ("revenue enhance- stance and style of my Logical Appeal to corn- ment," "downsizing," "pre-owned," "proactive pletely torpedo my Ethical Appeal: What the resource-allocation restructuring") that its student heard was just another PWM rational- tempting to think AEs real purpose is conceal- izing why his Group and his English were top ". ,. .. .- . ment and its real motivation fear. .. The insecurity that drives AE, PCE, and dog and, ought "logically" to stay that way (plus, worse, trying to use his academic power it •• .;r _.. . . •... ...• . 41 vocab-tape ads is far from groundless, though. These aretense linguistic times. Blame it on Heisenbergian Uncertainty or postmodem rela- over her to coerce her assent45). If for any reason you-happen to find yourself sharing this particular students perceptions and ". " .1 • , saw under the sun that the race pacity, but that a considerable el- 43 This was in hi. ~946 "Politics 45 (She professed to have been • and the English Language," an is not to the swift in Ecclesiaste • ement of the unpeedieeable must especially traumatized by the cli- as "Objective considerations of invariably be ~en into account" essay that despite its date (and its mactic "I am going to JDa!<e you, " co~temporarypheriomena {om- should be tattooed on the left wrist tides basic redundancy) remains . which in retrospect was indeed a pel the conclusion that success of every grad student in the an- die definitive SNOOT .tatement mammoth rhetorical boner.) or failure in. competitive activi- glophone world. oriAcade;ese. 0.....,11. famous ties emibits no tendency to be AE translationofthe gorgeous "I commensurate with innate ca- 44 Please Just dont even ~ay it. 56 HAjtPERS MAGAZINE / APRIL 2001 •. .:* .11
  • 20. .•. .. ~ • reaction,46 I would ask that you bracket your nunciation entry on trough.47 In other words, ., , ... ....•.•. . feelings long enough to recognize that the a SNOOTis going to be able to find stuff to j:. t.· ..• •• ,.r.., PWM, instructors very modem rhetorical quibble about in any usage dictionary, and . dilemma in that office was really no different ADMAU is no exception. - .. I. .. · from the dilemma faced byamale who makes a But its still really, r~ally good-and not just , Pro-Life argument, or an atheist who argues lexicographically but rhetorically, politically (if against Creation Science, or a Caucasian who. it even makes sense to distinguish these any . • opposes Affirmative Action, or. an African more). As a collection of judgments, ADMAU " • .••- is in no way Descriptivist, but Gariler structures , fl- American who decries Racial Profiling, or any- one over eighteen who tries to make a case for raising the legal driving age to eighteen, etc, his judgments very carefully to av~id-the elitism and anality of traditional SNOOTitude.H~ does e • -, •• .. •... It,The dilemma has nothing to dowlthwhether not deploy irony or scorn or caustic wit, nor • the arguments themselves are plausible or right tropes or colloquialisms or contractions ... or , .( or even sane, because the debate rarely gets that really any sort of verbal style at all. In fact; even ••••••. ... .. far-any opponent with sufficiently strong feel- though Gamer talks openly about himself and ·.ings or a dogmatic bent candiscredit the argu- ments and pretty much foreclose all further dis- cussion with a single, terribly familiar rejoinder: uses the I-S pronoun throughout the whole die- rionary, his personality is oddly.effaced, neutral- ized. Its like hes so bland hes barely there. Eg., I -. .. ."., ...• . • lifo .. •.• . "Of course youd say that"; "Easy for you to say"; as this reviewer was finishing the books final - ~ ... . ... "What right do yol.{ have ... I" entry,48 it,struck me that I had no idea whether " .... t •• ..-" Now (still bracketing) consider the situationof any reasonably intelligent and well-meaning Bryan Gamer was black or white, gay or straight, ,Democrat or Dittohead .. What was ,..•.".,. . · .. ,: · -: ,SNOOTwho sits down, to prepare a prescriptive-usage guide. Its the millennium,post- even more striking was that I hadnt once won- .. dered about any of this up to now; something ;" ..•..... ",Everything: Whence the authority to make any about Gamers lexical persona kept me ever •. .sort of credible Appeal for SWE at all? from asking where the guywas coming from or .. .. what particular agendas. or ideologies were ..•. . ARTI OLES OR UX: informing what he had admitted right up front WHY BRYAN A. GARNER , . were "value judgments." , tt .•• .. Bryan Gamer is a genius because A IS A GENIUS, THOUGH OF A Dictionary of Mo~m American Usage pretty .•••••• ., I ·"1. RATHER PARTICULAR KIND· t isnt that A Dictionary of Modern American Usage is perfect. It doesnt . seem to cover conversan~ in vs. conversant much resolves the Usage Wars Crisis of Authority. Gamer manages to control the compresence ofrhetorical Appeals so cleverly that he appears able to transcend both Osage Wars camps and simply tell the truth, and in a , . · . .. . ••• •• • /I " with, for example, or abstruse vs. obtuse, way that does not. torpedo his own credibility .1" ••. .. . ..•....•.. .". or to have anything on hereby and herewith but actually enhances it. His argumentative -;-; , (which I tend to use interchangeably but strategy is totally brilliant and totally sneaky, . , always have the uneasy feeling Im screwing .and part of both qualities is that it usually · ~ ~ .- ••• . ~ P ••••• 1 up). Gamers got a good discussion of used to doesnt seem like theres even an argument .. . but nothing on supposed to. Nor does he give going on at all. . G. any examples to help explain irregular partici- Garner recognizes something that neither of ,,: the dogmatic camps appears to get: Given 40 " ples and transitivity ("The light.shone" vs. "I .••• . iIlI,· .. • shined the light," etc.), and these would seem years of the Usage Wars, "authority" is no to be more important than, say, the correct longer something a lexicographer can just pre- • spelling of huzzah or the plural of animalculum, sume ex officio.In fact, a large part of the proj- both of which get discussed. Plus theres the ect of any contemporary usage dictionary will . VOGUE WORDS snafu and the absence of a pro- consist in establishing this. authority. If that and it emerged that I have some- understandable that Garner him- +6 (The Dept. head and Dean did +7 To be honest, I notic~ this hoY all my life misheard trougIJ not, U it happena, share her re- selfhad a good-natured enay on omiaaion only because midwaJ as ending with a tb instead of it, but no such lud, which in fair- action ••. thoup. it would be disin- through working on this artide an fand thus have publicly mis- ne •• I dont suppose I can .really genuoUi not to tell you that they I happened to use the word troup. pronounced it God knows how blame {ltarner for. happened aBo to be PWMa.which in front of the same SNOOT friend many sc6res of timea. and I all • fact did not go unrellllUked by the who likes to compare public Eng- complainant, such that the whole but burned rubber getting home 48 (on mebac:lva. zweibadr) lish to nolin-hammering. and proceediDg got pretty darn tense, to see whether perhaps the error he fell sideways out of his chair, was 10 common and hum.an and indeed, before it •••••all OYer)j ,. . :: FOLIO 57 ~ ~ •....... -- .... -
  • 21. " " seems rather obvious, be apprised that nobody rhetoricf I, in the traditional sense. That is, they before Gamer seems to have figured it out-s-that wantto US~ the languagedeftly so that its fit for the lexicographers challenge now is to be not their purposes. just accurate and comprehensive but credible. . Its now possible tosee that all the autobio- That in the absence of unquestioned Authority graphical stuff in ADMAUs Preface does more in language, the read~r must now be moved or than justhurnanize Mr. Bryan A Garner: It als,6 persuaded to grant a dictionary its authority, serves to detail the early and enduring passion freely and for what appear to be good reasons, ,that helps make someone, a credible techno- Gamers A Dictionary of Modern American crat-we tend to like and trust experts whose. Usage is thus both a collection of information expertise is both of a real love for their special- and a piece of Democratic rhetoric.49 Its goal is ty instead of ju~t a desire to be expert at s9m~- . to recast the Prescriptivists persona: The author ; thing, In fact, it turns out that ADMAU s presents himself as an authority not in an auto- Preface quietly and steadily invests Garner with cratic sense-but in a .technocratic sense, And the every single qualification of modern techno-.: technocrat is not only a thoroughly modern and cratic Authority: passionate devotion; reason, palatabie,image of Authority but also immune to , and accountability (recall "in: the interests the charges Ofelitism/classismthat have hobbled of full disclosure, here are the ten critical traditional Prescriptivism, points. : ,."), experience ("th~t, after years ,?f Of course, Garner really is a technocrat. Hes working, on usage problems, I ve settled on ), a lawyer, recall, and, in ADMAU he conseiously exhaustive and tech-savvy research ("For con-- projects a sort of wise juridicalpersona: knowl- temporary usage, the .files of 0lr greatest dictio- edgeable; dispassionate, fair, with an almost En- . nary makers pale in .comparison with the full- lightenment-grade passion for reason, His judg- . text search capabilities now provided by NEXIS ments about usage tend to be rendered like legal and WES1LAW"), an even-and judicious tempera- .- opinions-exhaustive citation of on accident precedent (other dictionaries judg- ments, published.examples of actual ment (see e.g. this from HYPERCORRECfION: "Sometimes people strive to .abide QY the strictest etiquette, but in the, process behave usage) c~mbined with clear, logical reas(;ming inappropriatelyfi"), and the sort of humble thats always informed by the larger consensual ,j . integrity (for instance, including inon~ of the purposes SWE is meant to serve. ,. entries a past published usage-error of his own) ,Also thoroughgoit;lgly. technocratIC IS that not only renders Garner likable but trans- Garners approach to the issue of whether any- mits the same,kind of reverence for English that bodys even going to be interested in his ~OO good jurists ha~e for the law, both of which are pages of fine-pointed counsel. Like any spec.ml-. bigger and more important than any one perso~. , ist, he simply presumes that there are practical Probably the most attractive thing about reasons why some people choose to cor:cern themselves with SWE usage; and his attitude ADMAUs Ethical Appeal, though, is Garners .;about the fact that most Americans "could care scrupulous consideration of the readers con- cern about his (or her) ownlinguisti<; authority less" isnt scorn or disapproval but the phleg- and rhetorical persona and ability to convince , matic resignation of, a doctor or. lawyer who an Audience that he cares. Again. and again, realizes that he can give good advice but cant Garner frames his prescriptions in rhetorical make you take it: terms, e.g.: "To the writer or speaker for whom The reality I care about mostis that some people credibility is important, its a good idea to still want to use the languagewell.SO They want avoid distracting any readers or listeners." A to write effectively;they want to speak effective- Dictionary of Modem American Usages real the- ly. They want their language to be graceful at sis, in other words, is that the purposes of the times.and powerfulat times. They want to under- .stand how to use wordswell, how to manipulate expert authority and the purposes of the lay sentences, aitd how to move about in the lan- reader are identical, and identically rhetori- guagewithout seeming td. flail, They .wantgood cal~, which I submit is about as Democratic grammar, ,but they want more: they want. these days as youre going to get. •• 4,9 (mean4>g literally Qemocra- most remarkable thing a~ut this 52 (Here this reviewers indwelling kind of plausible complement sentence is that coming from Gar;- .• and ever-vigilant SNO<Yr cant help , for strive to. But respectful dis- tic-it Wants Your Vote) " , iler itdoesntsound,naive or ob- but questton why Garner uses a ~ment between people of good- 50 The lasttwo;orcls of this sen- noxious but just .. : reas~nable. comma before the conjunction willis of course Democraticallynat- tenc.e, of course are what the . inthis sentence, since what fol- ural and hulthy and, when you I ·51 Did you think I was kidding? , Usage Wars are abol1l>-whose"lan- lows the conjunction is nei~er come right down to it, kind of guage" and whose ·well~? The an independent clause nor any fun.) .58 HARPERS MAGAZINE I APRIL 2001