Andrea Harris’s weblog Spleenville recently had a good long comment thrash about a remarkably fatuous essay about Tolkien that appeared in the online London Times. What fueled the thrash, besides the sheer obnoxiousness of the Times piece, was a fellow named A. C. Douglas, who thought the piece was just swell and modern fantasy is crap, and was taking on all comers.
But that’s not the point. A recurrent minor motif in the thrash was the essayist’s use of the term “inter-ballistic missile.” As Andrea Harris said to Mr. Douglas:
I also notice that you don’t seem at all bothered by his godawful writing. I repeat the question: What the hell is “an inter-ballistic missile”? You are always going on (on your blog) about how you love beautiful writing, and then comes along someone who goes at English with a metaphorical meat-cleaver, and you are unfazed.Said Mr. Douglas:
An “inter-ballistic missile” is *clearly* a typo. Blame the copy editor (assuming there was one; these days that’s not a good assumption), not the author.Uh, yeah, right.
He went on:
As to the general writing, the column was a first-rate piece of journalism: Clear, concise, and erudite.Andrea Harris:
No it wasn’t. It sucked, if I may use a high-falutin’ literary term. Claiming that “inter-ballistic missile” was “a typo” is also a copout. You have no idea whether or not the website messed up instead of the author; but someone who could come up with examples of demented syntax such as [list snipped], could certainly come up with “inter-ballistic missile” his own self.Whereupon Mr. Douglas triumphantly shot back:
On the matter of “inter-ballistic,” I know for a fact that it’s a typo because any author as clearly erudite as is the author of that piece could make such an error only by way of typo.Friends, have you ever found yourself unable to speak, not because you have nothing to say, but because you have so much that you can’t see where to begin? It’s like that.