Wallas article

1,024 views

Published on

0 Comments
0 Likes
Statistics
Notes
  • Be the first to comment

  • Be the first to like this

No Downloads
Views
Total views
1,024
On SlideShare
0
From Embeds
0
Number of Embeds
26
Actions
Shares
0
Downloads
1
Comments
0
Likes
0
Embeds 0
No embeds

No notes for slide

Wallas article

  1. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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 . ,. ...

×