Back to previous post: 666

Go to Making Light's front page.

Forward to next post: The things you learn on the Internet

Subscribe (via RSS) to this post's comment thread. (What does this mean? Here's a quick introduction.)

June 7, 2006

Where the feckless pundit class comes from
Posted by Patrick at 08:04 PM * 260 comments

I lose patience (see comments) with one of the privileged young things at one of the blogs of the American Prospect.

Comments on Where the feckless pundit class comes from:
#1 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2006, 08:15 PM:

Clearly, the students at Tufts write just as badly as my students at Clark Atlanta.

#2 ::: Calton Bolick ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2006, 08:30 PM:

Ouch.

What's worse, however, is what the bad prose is in service of; namely, a whole lot of fluffy speculation based on very little actual data, essentially anecdotal.

#3 ::: Brad DeLong ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2006, 08:53 PM:

Ah, I see: once again il polipo fascista ha cantato la relativa canzone di cygne...

#4 ::: Decklin Foster ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2006, 09:00 PM:

Well, we can at least be impressed that the other commenters did not immediately start attacking you.

#5 ::: Madeleine Robins ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2006, 09:10 PM:

If you don't swat them they don't learn. Go you. That inserted "of," in particular, drives me nuts.

#6 ::: Stephen Eley ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2006, 09:44 PM:

One starfish is gently returned to the ocean...

#7 ::: Mrs. Coulter ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2006, 10:14 PM:

Snark, snark. And well said. Another ripe phrase:

"results decimated popular wisdom as Tester nearly doubled Morrison's total by a margin of 60 percent to 36 percent"

Decimated popular wisdom? Margin of 60 percent to 36 percent? Eek. Someone get this boy a dictionary, please.

#8 ::: Kieran ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2006, 10:41 PM:

Just to pile on:

Webb, though, is in an advantageous position since he has both the grassroots and D.C. Democratic establishment firmly behind him.

If the grassroots are firmly behind him, does that mean Webb is flat on his back?

#9 ::: almostinfamous ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2006, 10:52 PM:

ugh. is it just me or did everyone else also get a sugar rush from reading that tufts article?

and that picture! so cute! any cuter and i might have sent it over to the folks at cute overload.

#10 ::: Gerard MacDonell ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2006, 10:52 PM:

This discussion has been very illuminating. Clearly, we Democrats will again lock up the grammar sticklers and other pedants in 2008. Having secured yet another moral victory, we will be well positioned to cleverly mock President McCain. Congratulations.

#11 ::: almostinfamous ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2006, 11:05 PM:

as to the article
Tester, an insurgent candidate, though a prominent politician in Montana,
shouldn't that be 'dark horse'? i guess we should add 'insurgent' to the list of terms that have been rendered meaningless over the past 3 years.

also: As the election season continues to play out, expect to see more antiestablishment candidates rise to the surface and watch for the diminishing importance of entrenched endorsements.

i guess mr Blickstein has never heard the phrase 'one swallow does not make a summer' (if that is the phrase and not something i have mutated out of the real one).

the naivete, it burns!

and Gerard, it will be the only thing the pedants can do, seeing as the republicans already know how many votes they are going to get. that's an advantage of having friends that make voting machines that are used in your elections. you's got to break a few law-eggs to make an "absolute power"-omelette after all.

#12 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2006, 11:30 PM:

I chuckles. Read much more, and I guffaws.

#13 ::: Josh Jasper ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 12:11 AM:

Wow. I think there's still blood dripping down the inside of my monitor.

Bravo!

#14 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 12:19 AM:

"This discussion has been very illuminating. Clearly, we Democrats will again lock up the grammar sticklers and other pedants in 2008. Having secured yet another moral victory, we will be well positioned to cleverly mock President McCain. Congratulations."

Fair enough.

But, naive me, I continue to think we'll do better if we write better and talk better. Sue me.

#15 ::: Cynthia Wood ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 12:24 AM:

It's a funny thing, but when we write clearly, use facts, and don't obfuscate, we're more likely to have people nod their heads and say, "That makes sense."

Meaningless fluff does nothing to persuade anyone.

#16 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 12:37 AM:

(Of course, this had little to do with being a "grammar stickler." Lots of good writing is ungrammatical. Very little of my critique had anything to do with grammar. Interesting way of belittling substantive criticism, though.)

#17 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 01:20 AM:

I'm not in a position to critique anyone's spelling, but sloppy syntax is a by product of sloppy thought. When I read my own prose, I cringe at how much of it is drivel, and best cut to the betterment of the rest.

The only way I know to teach prose revision to someone else is the method employed by Patrick, that is, to actually engage in public acts of revision.

#18 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 01:25 AM:

As I just posted in Tapped:

"Wow, I feel like both Strunk and White just attacked me in some dark alleway with a lead pipe and wrench! I agree with all the claims of hackneyed prose and illiterate english. I strive to be someone who has a strong grasp on grammer, syntax, and diction, and within this post I have apparently failed to live up to this expectation. Perhaps in my haste I neglected to both self edit and self critique my writing, and in the future will take greater care when posting. Thanks for the insight!"
My goodness. What a facile, shallow brush-off that was. I suspect, from the speed and smoothness of its deployment, that this wasn't the first time Blickstein's used it.

Tell me again why Tapped is using this pup?


#19 ::: lx ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 01:30 AM:

Wlcm t th wrld f crmdgns! Y knw yr t f ds whn y strt cmplnng bt hw thrs xprss thr ds.

[sc n th "yr," bcs knw t hrts y t rd t!]

#20 ::: Ulrika O'Brien ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 01:54 AM:

Political discourse, and indeed all argumentative discourse, is by its nature verbal stuff. The act of forming an argument can't be pried loose from the words used to make that argument. Thus, if you cannot express your ideas clearly and succinctly, there is no reason to suppose the ideas themselves are clear or succinct. So if you think the ideas matter, then how they are expressed necessarily matters, too.

#21 ::: RuTemple ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 02:16 AM:

Alex, welcome to Patrick and Teresa's place, Making Light. Pull up a couch, have a beer or a cuppa -- mind the neighbors' homebrew vodka, it's liable to make TNH break out in Early English (both spelled and parsed correctly the more she's had, it is to be in awe).

Take it lightly, gently, and take it deeply to heart; Lisa says it the best, and she, among most of the rest of the crowd here, is a pro: this kind of critique is the best way to teach this stuff; if you didn't get it at Tufts (or junior high like we did), take it up with all the grace you can grab, and learn it now, out here in the Real World™, because it matters.

You may be delighted to learn that Strunk's Elements of Style is available right to hand on the web from good ol' Bartleby, here:
http://www.bartleby.com/141/

It doesn't hurt us to read your errors and slop nearly as much as it hurts you and the messages you ultimately do care to get across to the world.

#22 ::: Helfaery ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 02:46 AM:

I realize I can be nitpicky about language, and that it's not a sin to misuse their/there/they're or leave out a comma. However, as Ulrika and RuTemple pointed out, you can't communicate if no one can understand what you're saying.

I couldn't recite more than a couple of vague bits of information from the Prospect post without looking. I can't convince my brain that it's worth sifting out the cliches, and translating the pretentious terms, in order to understand it. So as communication, it fails for me.

I completely agree with Cynthia Wood on the "meaningless fluff" point. And it seems to me that the author of the Prospect post could benefit from reading Roger MacBride Allen's article, "The Standard Deviations of Writing", particularly the bit about "writing to impress rather than communicate". We're all guilty of having done that at one time or another, but we also (hopefully) learn to stop doing it at some point.

#23 ::: John Stanning ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 03:10 AM:

"sloppy syntax is a by-product of sloppy thought".  Of course it is.  But what these feckless Tufts are doing is politics, not intelligent ideas.  They couldn't care less if their thought or their syntax is sloppy, so long as their side wins.  In fact, sloppy syntax may be an advantage:  GWB is living proof that inability to put together a coherent sentence is no handicap in politics.

#24 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 04:01 AM:

I found the bit about decimating popular opinion to be acutely painful, too.

However, I'm not sure that Blickstein wrote a facile, shallow brushoff. It might have been, but I can't tell for sure--the test is whether his prose improves in the future.

#25 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 04:14 AM:

Some people write over-long sentences.

I know I do. Go and look at some of my comments about LJ Abuse.

Do we miss that weakness? Do we dig into the mixed metaphors, and forget that the objective is clarity.

It doesn't matter which party you intend to vote for. Soundbite English is only an extreme. It is the need for clarity taken to uselessness. Don't swing back to the other extreme.

#26 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 04:44 AM:

Passing on a link, from a comment Teresa made on the offending article:

George Orwell on good writing

The footnote on flower-names prompts thoughts of Gumby Flower-Arranging.

#27 ::: John Stanning ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 05:03 AM:

But Orwell's artcle is sixty years old.  Has laguage truly been declining continuously for all those years, or is it just that the old always decry the casualness of the young?  In forty years' time, will Blickstein in his turn be deploring the loose syntax of the youth?

#28 ::: Sam Dodsworth ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 06:25 AM:

Has laguage truly been declining continuously for all those years, or is it just that the old always decry the casualness of the young?

Well... yes. But do any of Orwell's examples look like good writing to you? And do any of them (apart from the Communist pamphlet) look particularly dated? He may be wrong about the decline of langauge, but the bad habits he criticises really exist and really are worth avoiding.

#29 ::: Bryan ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 07:27 AM:

Has the luggage truly been reclining continuously for all those years, or is it just that the old always mold the casseroles of the young (to coin a pepper)?

Well, pack it in and see how far it gets you I shouted.


Feelings were hurt, insurgent on a dark horse the young scampion of today has made his grassroots and must now bed down thereof.

more anon.

#30 ::: julia ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 07:29 AM:

Blickstein is himself dismissive of some anti-war protesters, whom he sees as being more interested in grabbing headlines, but he agrees with their critique of Bush. “You see the same kind of rhetoric, the same massaging of information going on there as went on during the Vietnam War,” he says. “As young people, as Americans, we are obligated to look at the situation and make a decision for ourselves if what is going on there is right.”

Aiiiiiifuckingeeeeee.

and where do you see that rhetoric and massaging? You see it in the newspapers and on the teevee and you hear it on the radio. As a matter of fact, it was all you saw in the papers and on the teevee and all you heard on the radio.

You know where else you saw it? At the American Prospect. And the Washington Monthly. And eventheliberal New Republic. And after steadfastly ignoring the plain facts for years in some kind of bizarre mass delusion that the yearbook committee are practically junior members of the football team, with a few honorable exceptions (Yglesias springs to mind) they've swept the whole thing away with large-minded whining about their completely understandable visceral loathing of hippies and how it weighed in the balance against, you know, the destabilization of the middle east and the gutting of our economy and tens of thousands of people dying for no fucking reason.

Because, you know, there are plenty of people in the walk of life from which the pool of cannon fodder is drawn who just don't have great big throbbing postadolescent brains that have to be kept safe and fed lattes to gather strength for the Great Public Intellectual Battle to Shape the Future. Adult, mature thinkers know it's all a big fucking game of Stratego and arrange for competitive starting salaries.

Funny that the reign of our callow philosopher kings has gifted us with George W. Bush. Or, you know, not.

#31 ::: John Stanning ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 07:41 AM:

Sam:  Yes, I agree.  Orwell's six rules, at the end of his article, are particularly valuable.  What struck me was his lament over the decline of the English language, when we are still lamenting it sixty years later.

#32 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 07:52 AM:

I prefer to believe that Orwell has scared several generations of writers into behaving themselves better than they otherwise might have. We invoke Orwell to keep the scare up.

Dave Bell, it was Patrick who quoted him.

Nancy, trust me on this one: Blickstein was reciting a formula.

#33 ::: Richard Cownie ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 08:06 AM:

It's hard to write Orwell, but we should strive to
write Orbetter :-)

#34 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 08:13 AM:

Sorry about the misattribution.

I'm not sure, reading the interview article, that the blogger wants to be any sort of writer. Or even what he wants to be. The two deserve some credit for remaining civil about their political differences but...

I know, I'm an outsider. The Democrats can look pretty unpleasantly right-wing from my viewpoint. But there us something that feels wrong about the apparent failure to address the moral and intellectual failings of the current Republican movement.

These are the sort of people who, in a decade or so, might be running your local party apparatus. Do you get any sense that they really care about anything, other than the process of debate. Where's the passion?

Why does that continuing friendship and respect sound to be way too easy?

#35 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 08:20 AM:

Sorry about the misattribution. I checked back, and is was Alison Scott who gave the link, which appeared immediately after Teresa's name. That blog format doesn't have a good divider between comments.

I'm not sure, reading the interview article, that the blogger wants to be any sort of writer. Or even what he wants to be. The two deserve some credit for remaining civil about their political differences but...

I know, I'm an outsider. The Democrats can look pretty unpleasantly right-wing from my viewpoint. But there us something that feels wrong about the apparent failure to address the moral and intellectual failings of the current Republican movement.

These are the sort of people who, in a decade or so, might be running your local party apparatus. Do you get any sense that they really care about anything, other than the process of debate. Where's the passion?

Why does that continuing friendship and respect sound to be way too easy?

#36 ::: John Emerson ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 08:21 AM:

OK, now -- Orwell is fine but Strunk and White, not. I refer you to Geoff Pullum at Language Log, and Steve at Language Hat, both of whom are always right.

The guy's bad writing seemed definitely to be the result of trying to "dress up" ordinary writing. Since his ideas weren't that powerful, I can understand his motive. (His response was badly written in exactly the same way.)

I've been saying for some time that Democrats give too much voice to Ivyish types (Tufts is a minor-league AAA Ivy.) I'm also told that undergrad ed in the Ivies isn't necessarily very intensive, once you get in. College is really for networking and learning to behave properly in social situations, you know.

Orwell mostly wrote about deliberately bad bureaucratic-ideological writing which was designed to obscure and confuse the issue. As far as I know he wasn't talking about a temporal decline, but just was outlining the ideal types of badness.

#37 ::: John Emerson ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 08:25 AM:

My son went to Tufts, and it was a disappointing experience. It's not Tufts per se, but that whole privileged way of life, which he wasn't confortable with. It was all upper middle class and above -- as he said, Tufts wasn't all white, but it might as well have been.

#38 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 08:47 AM:

The late Richard Mitchell found inspiration for his personal crusade in a passage by Ben Jonson, which moved him to include it (setting his type by hand) in nearly every issue of The Underground Grammarian:

Neither can his Mind be thought to be in Tune, whose words do jarre; nor his reason in frame, whose sentence is preposterous...

#39 ::: MikeB ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 09:00 AM:

Has the average quality of published writing declined in the sixty years since Orwell? Of course it has - the environment is different. Publishing is now so cheap that anyone can press a button and have their rough drafts published to the world, spelling mistakes and all. I can publish a comment on Patrick's own blog without having to convince him that my writing is any good. I don't even have to ask. It didn't work that way in Orwell's day.

But all of that is beside the point. Poorly written prose may get published, but it goes unread. It doesn't sell magazines, and it doesn't win arguments.

There are plenty of good writers alive today. The question is: why aren't they the ones being published in Tapped?

#40 ::: Jules ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 09:06 AM:

What struck me was [Orwell's] lament over the decline of the English language, when we are still lamenting it sixty years later.

Yes, but note that the examples he gives of bad writing are exactly the same kind of thing that we are struggling with now, and note that they're exactly the same kind of problem Fowler was lamenting 35 years previously. There was no decline, only Orwell's nostalgia for an earlier day, perhaps before he had noticed that all this bad writing was out there. There never was a past where all (or even the majority of) journalism and political speech was made in clear, concise and accurate English, I'm convinced of it. There has always been a benefit in sounding like you have a good argument that's just a little too complicated for the listener/reader to understand, so such people will have always taken that route. That's all there is to it.

#41 ::: Alex Cohen ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 09:11 AM:

I'm also told that undergrad ed in the Ivies isn't necessarily very intensive, once you get in. College is really for networking and learning to behave properly in social situations, you know.

One of the most alarming pieces of the right-wing crusade, to me, is the blatant anti-intellectualism of it all - "Those leftist Ivy League-graduates don't know anything about the real world!"

I suspect that's not what you meant (or maybe it was), but:

a) While you can get a good education at many places, do not doubt for a second that a dedicated student can receive a real, excellent education at Ivy League schools. (And, like anywhere else, it is possible to coast by.)

b) Education is important. Academics are important. Experts who spend their lives studying a single topic should be listened to on that topic, and their opinion given good weight. (This is not to say that academics aren't the only important thing; I can think of any number of non-college graduates who make profound contributions to society. But it's one important leg of civilization.)

Please don't buy into the right-wing attack on education by smearing what are, I think it's fair to say, the best repositories of learning and research in the United States.

#42 ::: DaveL ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 09:18 AM:

It's a tribute to the generally high quality of Making Light posters that the inevitable "good writing isn't as important as ..." post was the tenth rather than the third or fourth.

#43 ::: MikeB ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 09:21 AM:
I'm also told that undergrad ed in the Ivies isn't necessarily very intensive, once you get in. College is really for networking and learning to behave properly in social situations, you know.

That depends entirely on the student. It is certainly possible to coast through the Ivies, as it has always been. (George W. Bush: Yale alumnus)

On the other hand, the engineers at Cornell work like dogs. As do the premeds. (The premeds, as a rule, seem to care about nothing on earth but their GPA, but they certainly do work hard.)

The problem with the Ivies is that, despite their lofty reputation and high tuition, their classes are taught by the same grad students that are teaching the classes in your local state university - the ones who may have never taught a course before in their lives.

#44 ::: Adam Lipkin ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 09:22 AM:

I'm tempted to rip Tufts (one of the top thirty universities in the USA, according to whatever dubious formula US News uses) for letting someone like Blickstein graduate, but I think I should really rip them for letting him matriculate. The stuff you ripped him for is stuff he should have mastered in high school.

#45 ::: Tom Scudder ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 09:38 AM:

Richard Mitchell is dead? Shit. The Gift of Fire is one of the two books I still have from high school (after uncounted moves, many of them transcontinental), and the only one that was assigned reading for a class. I still reread it more or less annually.

#46 ::: Alex Cohen ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 09:41 AM:

The problem with the Ivies is that, despite their lofty reputation and high tuition, their classes are taught by the same grad students that are teaching the classes in your local state university - the ones who may have never taught a course before in their lives.

True at some of the Ivies, but not all. I had friends who had (variously) Elaine Pagels, John McPhee, James McPherson, Toni Morrison, Joyce Carol Oates, Kenneth Deffeyes, Val Fitch, and Brian Kernighan not only teaching classes, but running individual sections and grading assignments.

What is it with the Ivy-bashing? They are good schools.

#47 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 09:57 AM:

"But, naive me, I continue to think we'll do better if we write better and talk better. Sue me."

But we have to have something to write and talk about. That's the real problem; the public isn't ready for a progressive agenda yet (though a few more years of these aristocrat wannabees and they will be), so clear language is not our friend. And of course the current Republican leadership can scarcely come out say directly that they are interested in setting themselves up as the ruling class of an empire, though it seems pretty plain that they are. So no-one says anything clearly.

Bah. I have a very poor attitude for someone who has written a lot of political commentary.

#48 ::: Mark DF ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 10:17 AM:

Just to demonstrate Patrick's point, I clicked the link expecting to see him tear a hole in someone for their poorly formed political thoughts. I read the blog entry and--honestly here--before reading the comments, scratched my head and read it again because I couldn't figure out what Blickstein was trying to say. Not being a political junkie, I didn't even get he was talking about Democrats (um, he is, right?).

I haven't read the Orwell essay, but in response to the "President McCain" jabber: yes, this is important. One of the biggest problems I see on the Democratic side is an inability to communicate an effective message (to say nothing of an affective one). You cannot persuade someone to your line of thought if they don't understand what you're saying. Giving someone who can't write a prominent place to regurgitate muddled cliches does not help the cause.

And, at the risk of getting into a Strunk and White brawl (especially on this blog!), I don't think it is the be-all and end-all. No one does. But until you understand what is wrong with it, or at least can defend what you think is wrong with it, you should use it! Especially if you didn't learn how to parse sentences in grammar school.(And that, my friends, is going to be my favorite pun of the day).

#49 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 10:51 AM:

John Stanning, Jules --

Have you read lots of Victorian prose?

Darwin and Kipling are rather distant from each other, but, well, go read it. Present prose standards are much, much lower. Whether the decline was continuous I do not opine.

#50 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 10:54 AM:

Strunk and White was aimed squarely at the Freshman comp and sophmore survey class taught by English departments all over the U. S.

It's still aimed there now, though the lastest editions are not, exactly, the work of Strunk or White.

Strunk and White, or Zinsser, or Williams' Style, -- all are books that direct their attention to writing the undergraduate academic essay.

That's it; that's what they're for, that's their real market. Just because your undergraduate English professor uses it to help you get a clue doesn't mean that the book will apply to any other phase of your life as a writer.

There are much much better books on prose revision, on rhetorical analysis, and on style.

Though if you can get your students to, like, you know, read, maybe even follow some of the guidelines in any of these books, (even the stupid guidelines) their writing will improve.

#51 ::: Avedon ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 10:57 AM:

I'm confused by some of these comments. Surely good writing is a non-partisan issue? Why is it a surprise that an editor sometimes cannot resist the urge to, y'know, edit?

I didn't think Patrick's point was that the Demcoratic Party will lose if one journalist at TAPPED writes like crap.

#52 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 11:00 AM:

Randolph--I think the public is more than ready for a progressive agenda. And if the progressives, particularly the top Democrats, could articulate one, the public would listen.

The trouble is that the Democratic articulations of position have been timid, tepid, and thin. Someone stands up in Congress and says something that makes progressives cheer; days later he apologizes. Meanwhile the other side is saying things that would have been cause for dueling a century ago, and it's just let pass.

The ability to write with force is important to this struggle. There's more to cogency than good ideas alone. Remember Dogbert's Law? "A bad idea which is well presented will do better than a good idea which is poorly presented." We're living that now in American politics.

#53 ::: John Stanning ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 11:10 AM:

Graydon:  Kipling, yes, lots;  Darwin, never (though I'd like to read him, to understand what he really said rather than for his superior prose, assuming you mean Charles);  Dickens, Scott, etc., a little.  I agree with you about Kipling, but I'm not sufficiently well-read to be able to compare authoritatively the quality of Victorian writers with those of today.  Perhaps others here can help?

#54 ::: Dave Trowbridge ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 11:29 AM:

I note that in his latest response to Patrick's criticism (June 8, 11:15 AM), Mr. Blickstein admits to PUI (posting under the influence). That's really respecting one's audience.

#55 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 11:29 AM:

The ass proudly admits that he posted while drunk, but his grammar and spelling are no better now when he's allegedly sober.

I await "it was a sociological experiment" and "the lurkers support me".

#56 ::: Chryss ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 11:47 AM:

Best Orwell quote on writing ever:

"Good prose is like a windowpane."

Over-inflated, preposterous prose such as the blog entry critiqued is designed to keep out meaning and to prevent clarity of thought.

What wretched crap. And, if I may say so, smacks of over-reaching. Pfui!

#57 ::: BSD ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 11:50 AM:

I feel odd about this. The failings of his prose are the failings of my prose, both grammatically and stylistically.

I consider myself lucky that my corner of my profession disdains metaphor, ignores style, and generally requires mechanically correct but hilariously elongated sentences

#58 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 11:51 AM:

He claimed it was the "last comment".

It is the motion before this blog that only Teresa shall be allowed to get away with posting while drunk.

All those in favour?

#59 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 11:54 AM:

Since I've never heard of these guys, could someone explain why they're priviledged? Or am I missing an obvious reference again? I do that sometimes...

#60 ::: DaveL ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 11:58 AM:

The stuff you ripped him for is stuff he should have mastered in high school.

The operative word here is "should," but it applies often enough to the schools themselves rather than the students.

High school students, at least in the rather highly ranked public school my kids attend, are not held to rigorous standards of spelling, grammar, and punctuation, much less to Nielsen-Haydenian levels of content, metaphor usage, word choice, and so on.

They write well (the better writers, anyway) in that they can get their point across, sometimes in an elegant way, but they also exhibit many of the same problems we see in Mr. Blickstein's writing.

None of these issues is given the emphasis necessary to turn good but muddy writing into better, clear writing. English teachers seem to see their job as promoting good structure and well-crafted arguments and analysis. Teachers of other subjects requiring writing (e.g., History) see themselves as having even less responsibility for these topics.

Obviously, given the wide variability in US public school curriculums and standards, this is an anecdote rather than data.

#61 ::: pedantic peasant ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 12:03 PM:

Cynthia Wood:

It's a funny thing, but when we write clearly, use facts, and don't obfuscate, we're more likely to have people nod their heads and say, "That makes sense."

Meaningless fluff does nothing to persuade anyone.


One would think so, but how does that explain this administration which has nothing to say, and can't even say that well?

#62 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 12:08 PM:

Re: Tufts:

My best friend went there. (I went to a second-string state school on scholarship; my family didn't have the money for private schools to be an option. I'm certainly not privilege-free, being white, straight, and middle-class, but I'm not speaking from a background of trust funds and private schools here.)

Tufts definitely contains many privileged students, but the Tufts students I met through my friend were not privileged brats. It was not a scientific sampling, so I can't necessarily draw any conclusions from that.

However, I'm currently at a campus that is definitely full of spoiled rich kids (you've probably heard the name a lot recently). I'm here as a grad student, again on scholarship, and over the past semester have been extremely frustrated by the undergrad culture soaked in privilege and entitlement. (Also soaked in alcohol, but that goes along with it.)

What I know of the culture at Tufts is very different from the culture here. The Tufts kids I knew were interested in doing something genuine, not just in landing an investment banking job and getting rich. They were strongly involved in peace and justice movements, and held a progressive, international view on things -- and they tended to genuinely be good at what they did.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that I don't consider the Tufts name to be a good marker for someone who's privileged, spoiled, and has an entitlement complex. I'd consider the name of my present university to be a better marker.

(I also felt the need to defend some of the people I care about, and know to be good people, who have graduated from Tufts.)

This, of course, does not absolve Blickstein, and it doesn't change the fact that many people with brand-name diplomas often have doors open for them, when on their own merits they could not have opened those doors. Patrick's point about the feckless pundit class stands, and stands firmly.

#63 ::: Susan ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 12:12 PM:

The problem with the Ivies is that, despite their lofty reputation and high tuition, their classes are taught by the same grad students that are teaching the classes in your local state university - the ones who may have never taught a course before in their lives.

At which Ivies did you find this to be the case? I didn't have a single class taught by a grad student in four years at my Ivy. I did have interesting classes with Natalie Zemon Davis, John Boswell, David Underdown, and John Hollander, along with more obscure but still excellent junior professors like Maria Menocal and Suzanne Wofford.

I did have discussion sections with grad students, but those were breakout sessions from the main classes.

#64 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 12:28 PM:

What's the point of being a member of the ruling class, and of going to school with other members of the ruling class, if it doesn't entitle you to be given jobs for which you aren't qualified, and guarantee that underperformance will never earn you any serious penalties?

#65 ::: pedantic peasant ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 12:30 PM:

DaveL:

The stuff you ripped him for is stuff he should have mastered in high school.
The operative word here is "should," but it applies often enough to the schools themselves rather than the students.

High school students are not held to rigorous standards of spelling, grammar, and punctuation.
They write well (the better writers, anyway) in that they can get their point across, sometimes in an elegant way, but they also exhibit many of the same problems we see in Mr. Blickstein's writing.

None of these issues is given the emphasis necessary to turn good but muddy writing into better, clear writing. English teachers seem to see their job as promoting good structure and well-crafted arguments and analysis. Teachers of other subjects requiring writing (e.g., History) see themselves as having even less responsibility for these topics. Obviously, given the wide variability in US public school curriculums and standards, this is an anecdote rather than data.

Your points are, generally, accurate. Some of this is the same thing that was discussed earlier about the "actual" vs. "perpetual" vs "static (or illusory)" decline in writing quality.

There has never been a time when all students were well educated in writing. Some can't do it, others won't take it. (This is also a part of why some non-language teachers don't edit for grammatical fine points -- they don't always know them themselves.) So to some extent, there has always been a wide pool of ability, and as was mentioned earlier it is the internet's ability to allow self-publishing and self-selecting of bad examples that makes the "poor writing" seem more prevalent.

However, there is also some truth to the "What are they teaching you in school these days" argument. There are also a great number of reasons for these failures:

A decline in the perceived importance of education in general has led to larger classrooms with more students, fewer resources, and less time spent on the individual student.

A similar decline in the perceived importance of good English. Despite numerous studies proving the opposite, including conclusions as banal as better-written descriptions net higher returns on e-bay. There is a counter-culture in place that says that "all that" doesn't matter anymore, or only matters for "important writing" -- presumably meaning business -- and e-mail, blogs, IMs, and personal and informal writing is not required to follow the rules. Or at least, not to the same degree.

Overlap from this philosophy means that since people don't attempt to write good English all the time, it is harder for them to do it "on demand" one-fourth, or -tenth, or -hundredth of the time, for that one "important" document. Therefore, overall skill is lower.

Over-dependence on the computer: If spell check and grammar check approve it than it must be okay. Everyone forgets the lesson of "Jabberwocky": That one can write something grammatically correct that is still semantically null.

A divide in the English teaching community over what can be effectively taught, and how to do it.

A divide between teachers and parents over what the children should be graded on and what is (grrr) "fair".

A mis-perception by readers (and teachers) on when grammar was taught, as opposed to when it was first applied accurately. Time and practice make a huge difference, and people will often judge students by more-mature standards of writing as that is what they usually read. [Of course the corollary to this is that some teachers will occasionally rate students high or low based on a subjective local standard rather than an objective criteria standard. i.e. "This is 5xs better than any other paper in class." Gets an A, though the stright quality evaluation might be/have been a B-.

#66 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 12:46 PM:

I find that young people today spend too little time reading and, consequently, have not developed the proper feel for writing. This leads to two things:

(1) Writing that is confused, illogical and devoid of substantive content. Very much, in fact, like the piece that annoyed PNH.

(2) Pompous overwriting resulting from reading too much po-mo, po-co, and po-stru inflated rhetoric masquerading as critique.

#67 ::: Alex Cohen ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 12:47 PM:

What's the point of being a member of the ruling class, and of going to school with other members of the ruling class, if it doesn't entitle you to be given jobs for which you aren't qualified, and guarantee that underperformance will never earn you any serious penalties?

The point of going to a school for the ruling class is to become a member of the ruling class. The fact that such is an option for at least some people who come from families that are not members of the ruling class is one of the strengths of the American system.

Also, going to a school for the ruling class gives you access to the resources made available to the ruling class: taking creative writing classes from John Crowley, say, or physics with Philip Morrison, or computer science with Donald Knuth. Not to mention world-class libraries and well-stocked laboratories and the like.

Again, I honestly don't understand the impulse to denigrate the people who are educated by our finest schools. Some of them go on to lives of remarkable public service. John Kerry was attacked as "just another northeastern Ivy Leaguer." Why the hell should an excellent education be a disqualifier for the Presidency?

Let me make a different, sociological, argument. There's going to be a ruling class, if all of human history is any guide. How would you like that ruling class educated? And would you like that ruling class open to new members through education, or not?

#68 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 12:54 PM:

Alex Cohen: June 08, 2006, 12:47 PM:

Minus five points for not recognizing the (probably) rhetorical nature of Teresa's post. (Not that isn't how it works for at least some of the people in government, but the 'old buddies' effect is at least as bad.)

Some members of my family are going to Ivy League schools, not because they want to become members of the ruling class, but because that's where the classes are that they want to take.

#69 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 12:58 PM:

MikeB: "There are plenty of good writers alive today. The question is: why aren't they the ones being published in Tapped?"

Well, in Tapped's defense, they do publish some of the better political bloggers. Matthew Yglesias, for instance, is a superb writer. (And I'm not biased in favor of him merely because he's one of the few Iraq-war supporters from 2003 to subsequently submit his mistake to honest and withering scrutiny. He's also a genuinely excellent informal stylist.)

Also, in Tapped's defense, the posts I was snarking about appeared on Midterm Madness, a different blog on the American Prospect's site, not Tapped.

John Emerson: "OK, now--Orwell is fine but Strunk and White, not. I refer you to Geoff Pullum at Language Log, and Steve at Language Hat, both of whom are always right."

Yo, John, I refer you to this Sidelights entry from May 6, 2006. I wasn't the one citing Strunk and White.

Alex, you're taking one aspect of this conversation too much to heart. Of course there are many things to value about our high-end universities. But the fact that even supposedly progressive political magazines are shot through with good-school cronyism isn't one of those things. Such cronyism isn't a stop-the-presses outrage, but it's certainly worth noting and even mocking. That's not anti-intellectualism, it's a sign of social health.

#70 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 01:00 PM:

Alex --

If I must have a ruling class (which premise I do not accept), I want them educated under conditions where they die if they fail. For advanced classes, they die if their subordinates fail.

John Stanning --

Yes, I did mean Charles, and not Erasmus. Charles is worth reading for his prose, as well as his ideas. One goes tripping lightly through big, complex sentences rife with nuance and heavy with import, so that it is entirely a joy to behold.

#71 ::: Alex Cohen ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 01:03 PM:

Fair enough.

#72 ::: Matt Stevens ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 01:04 PM:

Partisan blogs should be well-written. If they aren't, they hurt their cause. "Bucking the Establishment" was terribly written.

I'll say this is MacDonall's defense, though: Rudeness does not help a cause. Please, be polite. Note that polite behavior in New York, and in fandom, may seem rude elsewhere.

#73 ::: Alex Cohen ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 01:07 PM:

Urr... "Fair enough" to PNH.

To Graydon: I'm unfamiliar with any actual societies, cultures, or civilizations that lasted more than a single generation that did not have an elite that functioned as a ruling class. I'd welcome counterexamples.

Your system sounds, well, insane, but if you're that big a fan of the Imperial Forces, then you're welcome to them.

#74 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 01:11 PM:

they die if they fail

whoa. tough crowd. out of curiosity, who gets to define "fail"? And are they accepting bribes? or is accepting bribes also failing. just wondering.

#75 ::: candle ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 01:18 PM:

None of these issues is given the emphasis necessary to turn good but muddy writing into better, clear writing. English teachers seem to see their job as promoting good structure and well-crafted arguments and analysis. Teachers of other subjects requiring writing (e.g., History) see themselves as having even less responsibility for these topics.

I don't understand what you mean here. It's true that high schools don't tend to insist on grammar and spelling; and as a college professor I'm usually required to do whatever I can to correct it (which is tough when I have a class of 25 and am supposed to be spending my time teaching them college-level History, or Latin).

But if English teachers were to focus on promoting well-crafted arguments and analysis, wouldn't that do more to ensure better, clearer writing than hammering away at grammar and spelling? That's the approach I tend to take.

[My impression at college is that English professors focus more on grammar and spelling and self-expression, and historians focus more on argument and analysis, but I may well be biased there.)

Grammar and spelling is a problem for virtually all of my students, but it strikes me as easier to fix than the biggest problem - which is that students will write without knowing what it is they are trying to say. The worse students use clever-sounding language without any grasp of what it means; the better students overreach, which usually results in them using clever-sounding language without knowing what it means. Blickstein would fit in very well.

So my approach is to focus on clarity by making the students think about argument and analysis. Once they begin to recognise an argument and, with luck, become invested in it, I'm able to point out that their argument will be far less effective if they spell badly and use poor grammar. They can sort that out for themselves.

All of which means, I guess, that I think high schools as you describe them have their priorities right. Forgive me if I misunderstood the point you were making.

#76 ::: Susan ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 01:20 PM:

The point of going to a school for the ruling class is to become a member of the ruling class.

Really? Weirdly enough, I did it to get a good education. I am certainly a miserable failure at becoming a member of the ruling class; happily, that was never my ambition. It's not the only way to get a good education - a dedicated student can pull a good education out of pretty much anywhere, including thin air and a good library - but it does provide easy one-stop shopping for high-quality offerings.

The fact that such is an option for at least some people who come from families that are not members of the ruling class is one of the strengths of the American system.

My parents met at their Ivy. She was from a poor Southern Appalachian family, first in the family to go to college. He was an immigrant from a family which had been wealthy in their original country (Cuba) but arrived here stripped of all their possessions and surviving on welfare. I'm not sure he was even a citizen yet, though he became one sometime in his late teens. They both went on scholarship money. The results of their education included enough financial success to send one of their children to an Ivy (a different one) as well; it's a pretty good "American dream" story. Isn't that how the system at its best is supposed to work?

How it works for people who have the disadvantage of starting out as part of the ruling class (and therefore being inevitably suspected of getting in on family rather than merit; see Bush, G.W.) is a whole different matter.

It's a little irksome to all be lumped together.


#77 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 01:21 PM:

Alex, in the current system, if they fail, their subordinates die. That's after they get out of school. Turning that around sounds fair to me!

#78 ::: candle ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 01:21 PM:

Oh, and I see I've repeated at length what Fragano said concisely in the meantime. Sorry.

#79 ::: JW Mason ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 01:36 PM:

Thanks for this. TAPPED is infuriating -- so much lazy writing and potted analysis. I think the heart of the problem is that they hire young bloggers and provide them a ready-made readership, whereas elsewhere blogs are labors of love that find (or don't) their own readers.

Note that Yglesias, who I agree is superb, is the exception -- he was a well-known blogger already before he came to TAPPED.

#80 ::: John Stanning ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 02:30 PM:

While we're taking Alex seriously:

The point of going to a school for the ruling class is to become a member of the ruling class.

Maybe I'm unfamiliar with today's school system, but are there any "schools for the ruling class"?  I mean, there are schools that offer a good education, to which members of the ruling class (assuming there is one) perhaps go, but those schools aren't explicitly or even implicitly "for the ruling class".  They don't bar non-members of the ruling class - you just need enough money if they're private schools - and the products of these schools don't necessarily become rulers, even if they are children of rulers.
Certainly there's an elite, and its members favour their families and friends (just look behind the Bushes), but is it a ruling class, as such?

#81 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 02:39 PM:

Alex Cohen, it's not as though I've never been illegally domiciled in an Ivy League dorm, or typeset one of their newspapers ...

I have nothing against Ivy League universities, or the education they give their students. What irks me is a system that's more than generous about hiring them for plum jobs, while being what I'll charitably call "negligent" about hiring from the ranks.

(While we're on the subject, where in heaven's name is the Washington Post getting its new hires? They've been getting some real prizes.)

Here's a story. It isn't necessarily about Ivy League graduates.

Over the last fortnight or so, I've been having one reporter after another turn up on my front porch. Since I'm a low-yield potential information source, the NYPost, NYTimes, and Daily News all sent their junior reporters. These were all so similar -- well-dressed, cute little blondes in their twenties, and I'm talking more than one of them per paper -- that I eventually asked whether they were really reporters, or whether they were all just students taking the same journalism class. They said no, they really were reporters.

The last reporter who showed up was much older, showing wear along the edges, and was brown. Unlike the blondes, the first thing he did was fish out his credentials and hold them out at arm's length. "How long have you been a reporter?" I asked."

"Twenty years."

He was the only one I invited inside. We had an interesting chat. I told him about all the blondes. He shook his head, and said he kept telling his paper that they needed to hire more Spanish-speaking reporters, and definitely needed some who spoke Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, etc.

I was amazed. If you're covering Metro New York news, it's not hard to get the kind of stories that affluent little blondes with no street smarts are good for. (Did I mention that only one or two of them appeared to have read up on the backstory before going out to ring doorbells? Tsk.) I'm sure these girls had nice resumes and nice educational records and nice manners at their interviews, and if what you needed were generic employees, they'd probably do nicely. But if you're running a paper, what you need are highly motivated news junkies with lots of contacts and city smarts; and if that's who you hire, it's guaranteed that many of them will have spotty backgrounds, and some of them will have nonstandard looks and manners.

Here's an even more tangential story. I was once at a big regional high school competition -- the kind where there's a different challenge every year, and it's supposed to teach ingenuity and teamwork. By the rules of the national organization, it's supposed to be open to any student who wants to participate.

Looking across the big indoor basketball court where it was being held, I spotted a large team that was entirely made up of conventionally attractive girls of nearly uniform size, all of whom looked like they'd bought their clothes from the same store. I nudged a friend of mine there who was one of the organizers, and asked whether that team was from a coed public school. My friend said it was. In that case, I said, the organization should check out what was going on at that school. If it's genuinely open to all comers, the results should be a lot more diverse.

Do you follow me, or have I wandered too far afield?

I've been to gatherings of lefty political webloggers. They're all sizes and shapes and colors. What they have in common is a passion for what they do, and a deep knowledge of the subjects they write about. There's no shortage of talent TAP could draw on.

I'm sure Blickstein's an amiable fellow with lots of friends, but he's also a lightweight. His political analysis is about half an inch deep, he evidently doesn't expect to be called on it, and he isn't embarrassed about being publicly called on his thoughtless writing habits. Since he's been given a slot on Midterm Madness, this lack of embarrassment is troubling.

Blickstein's reply to Patrick was a formula. It's what you say when you want to give the impression of being Earnestly Concerned about whatever it is you've screwed up on, in a situation where appearing Earnestly Concerned will stave off any further unpleasant consequences, but you aren't actually bothering to engage with the subject, and you don't expect there'll be repercussions if anyone notices that's what you're doing.

It's not a hanging offense; but if we care about the long-term wellbeing of Blickstein and The American Prospect, it behooves us to further their educations just a bit right now.

#82 ::: Mark DF ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 02:50 PM:

Is it me, or do these references to learning grammar in high school seem odd? I learned grammar in 3rd or 4th grade, got it drilled in over the next couple of years and was expected to know it in high school. There I was evaluated on style, content and analysis.

In high school, I was required to take typing as a graded class because, and we were actually told this, I would be writing papers in college and only lazy, disorganized people hire someone else to type them. Okay, it was a boys Catholic school, but still. I learned, didn't I?

#83 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 02:54 PM:

Mark, I was being corrected on the subjunctive when I was in kindergarten, but I won't hold that up as normal.

#84 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 02:58 PM:

TNH, presumably the person correcting you was someone who posts here occasionally as "Barbara"?

#85 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 03:02 PM:

That'd be the one.

#86 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 03:08 PM:

I wish she'd post here more often. She's nice and smart and funny.

Think it's genetic?

#87 ::: pat greene ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 03:08 PM:

Susan, thank you. As someone who went to an elite college from a quite modest background (neither of my parents had bachelor degrees), all of this "ruling class" talk makes me irritable.

John, most of the elite schools offer "need blind admissions." So anyone willing to take on a fair amount of student loans (which would be part of their financial aid package) can attend an elite university.


About Strunk and White and its use as a tool for teaching high school students: I am absolutely incensed that my son's high school does not teach composition until sophomore year. My son is a freshman, and his writing is atrocious. Students no longer spend much time learning grammar in middle school (or maybe that's just in California), and he is creative enough that his teachers were willing to overlook a great deal of sloppy writing. I have given him a copy of Strunk and White in an attempt to help him learn basics, but he ignores it. Teenagers.

#88 ::: Josh Jasper ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 03:10 PM:

I can publish a comment on Patrick's own blog without having to convince him that my writing is any good. I don't even have to ask. It didn't work that way in Orwell's day.

Wow, Patrick. Your blog is OLD!

#89 ::: pat greene ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 03:15 PM:

Teresa, I didn't really learn grammar until high school, but then the Florida public schools of the 70s were rather bad (somewhat like the California schools are today, for the same reasons). I still have trouble with it, probably because I learned it late in life, so to speak.

#90 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 03:23 PM:

I have nothing against Ivy League universities, or the education they give their students. What irks me is a system that's more than generous about hiring them for plum jobs, while being what I'll charitably call "negligent" about hiring from the ranks.

Yes. My friends from my second-string state school are all still struggling to find work, two and three years on from graduation. Kids graduating from the place where I go to grad school are aggressively recruited. Investment banking companies pick up the liberal arts grads for two-year gigs that pay money I can only dream about. Are those liberal arts grads smarter than my liberal-arts-degree-holding friends from the state school? Doubt it.

Tangentially, I also find there is a standard "look" for students here -- not only in terms of fashion, but also hair color and style, and especially body type. "Conventionally attractive...of uniform size" covers it.

#91 ::: Renee ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 03:26 PM:

Randolph Fritz said: But we have to have something to write and talk about. That's the real problem; the public isn't ready for a progressive agenda yet (though a few more years of these aristocrat wannabees and they will be) ...

Bwah?

I'm with Xopher on this. The public is ready. And if they weren't, put the agenda out there anyway, so that people can see it and read it and smell it and know that yes, this is what they really want, and no, they aren't alone in wanting it. And if they have ideas on improvements to be made right here, right now, bonus.

It's a matter of education. You can't know what you really want unless you know what your choices really are.

#92 ::: Seth Gordon ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 03:54 PM:

I told him about all the blondes. He shook his head, and said he kept telling his paper that they needed to hire more Spanish-speaking reporters, and definitely needed some who spoke Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, etc.

Let me guess: the blondes have parents who are willing to spot them the difference between a cub reporter's salary and the actual cost of living in NYC, while potential hires who are fluent in Spanish, Chinese, etc. don't have that luxury, and may even have children of their own to support?

#93 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 03:57 PM:

the public isn't ready for a progressive agenda yet

Or, the progressive agenda isn't being told in a way that the public can hear it.

#94 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 04:08 PM:

I find myself wondering if the secret access key is not the Ivy League University as such, but something that recruits there. Here, I may be showing my ignorance, but I have heard of these strange societies known as "fraternities". Is the key something like saying, "I was admitted to Ped Xing while I was at Bramah."?

#95 ::: DaveL ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 04:10 PM:

Candle asked: But if English teachers were to focus on promoting well-crafted arguments and analysis, wouldn't that do more to ensure better, clearer writing than hammering away at grammar and spelling? That's the approach I tend to take.

What I see from perusing corrected papers my kids bring home is that grammar and spelling errors are sometimes ticked but never count on the grade. The sort of corrections that Patrick made on Blickstein's piece would hardly ever be corrected and would never count much against the grade. In general, quality of writing counts for less in the grade than the perceived quality of the analysis and the argument, and intent is important. If you have a well-thought out idea, your ability to express it in a felicitous way makes the difference between an A- and an A+. A bad idea well-expressed might not get even the A-.

By the way, the class size in this high school averages in the high teens to low twenties, and the system is well-funded, with a strong and dedicated teaching staff. It is an excellent school by almost any measure. Again, anecdote is not data, but it's what I see.

#96 ::: Nikki ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 04:20 PM:

Gosh. Anyone can get into an elite university if they've got the talent.

Well, maybe.

If you're not from a privileged background, you have to work harder to get into an Ivy League university (Russell Group in the UK); you have to be willing to take on an enormous amount of debt; you have to be willing to do ridiculous amounts of paid work in a week, on top of your academic work.

Well, it's worth it. At least for me. I'll defend my education forever; I earned it. But I know other people with ability who thought that it wasn't worth it. Those barriers kept them out, and that, for me, is wrong.

What I resent is the necessity of working harder to get that education than those who happen to come from a richer background than me (And god, my background's only modest - there are people who struggled much much harder than I did). And I especially resent it when those people don't have a clue just how privileged they are - and Adam Blickstein strikes me as one of those people. He's got the same blithe arrogance - dispensing advice and supposedly informed political opinion while he's drunk. And he's going to be somebody people might vote for in the future? Worse, he's on the side I want to win.

It looks to me at the moment as though Republicans can point to Blickstein and say (tapping into a section of the electorate who have nothing but contempt for intellectuals): "Look at the privileged idiot, who can't even get his point across, is this the kind of person you want to run the country?"

How is Blickstein, when he becomes a politician (and he will), going to reach out to these people?

Onto soundbites, they might be misleading but the good ones aren't hackneyed, or maybe it's that the speaker can make them fresh? I'm thinking of Tony Blair here, and his "She was (pause) the People's Princess." Half the truth, and roundly mocked by commentators, but it articulated what a lot of people seemed to be feeling - it connected with them.

Blickstein's style, as evidenced in that post, is never going to do that.

#97 ::: John Emerson ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 04:22 PM:

Well, I'm the Ivy-basher here.

I know about need-blind admissions, but somehow it doesn't work. You still end up with a highly privileged cohort (partly because of differences in HS quality), and the less-privileged students try to fit in. (An exacerbating factor is that a primary goal of education can be helping people escape from their communities in order to join more prosperous communities.)

I think that this is becomes a negative factor when the Democrats rely on Ivyish whiz kids. That makes it harder to establish channels of communication with non-elite communities. (As I keep saying, Republican populism is fake, but Democratic elitism is real.) I think that this can be a negative factor in certain types of well-intended service and charitable organizations, which often develop a condescending air.

I didn't say, but should have, that American elite schools provide a tremendous education for motivated, well-prepared students. But it's too easy for the others to slack through, so an Ivy credential doesn't tell you a lot. I get the feeling that the student culture in most schools is not strongly intellectually oriented. A lot of students seem to have specialized in glibness studies and pop culture.

Granted, my comparison is with places like Swarthmore and Reed. (Do I think that all schools should be like Swarthmore and Reed? Pretty much. They do what colleges are supposed to do.)

#98 ::: John Emerson ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 04:25 PM:

Patrick (12:58) is hereby absolved of any suspicions of being a Strunk and White advocate.

#99 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 04:41 PM:

pat greene writes "Students no longer spend much time learning grammar in middle school (or maybe that's just in California)"

Anecdote: in 1959 I was in 4th grade at a public school in Lomita, Ca and got jumped half-a-grade up. We moved across town and I transferred into a Catholic school in Westwood. The nuns gave me a grammar test in order to determine which grade I should go into, and I couldn't identify the verb in a sentence. I went back to 4th grade.

And this was back when California schools were among the best-funded in the nation, long before Prop. 13.

Your complaint is valid but not new.

#100 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 04:48 PM:

Republican populism is fake, but Democratic elitism is real.

uuhhmmm....

oh, never mind.

#101 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 04:53 PM:

Patrick (12:58)

Why give a citation if you're not going to quote the verse? Is that one of the Gnostic Gospels?

#102 ::: Marc ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 04:55 PM:

I was a graduate student at Yale. The undergraduates there are uniformly bright and ethnically diverse. They are also children of privilege; half of their families receive no financial aid. This leads to fundamental blind spots when these talented folks are solely relied on for tasks like political commentary.

The best example that I can think of is the offhand comment by Yglesias that there is no reason at all not to raise the retirement age. After all, many of the professionals that he knows continue to work well past 70! Steve Gilliard had to wield the righteous clue stick to remind Dalton-schooled Matt that retirement means something different for a pipefitter than it does for an English professor. Style is only part of the problem.

#103 ::: alex ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 04:59 PM:

If you want a short course in how an Ivy education can go slightly rancid, head down to your local library and check out a copy of Mind Over Water, by Craig Lambert. Although it's puportedly about sculling, its theme changes gradually from "I was so lucky to go to Harvard" to something along the lines of "This is such a lucky world to have Harvard in it, and Harvard men to rule over it."

I stopped reading then, and I never found out if he took that thought to the logical conclusion: "Kneel before the King, serf!"

It's not the education, it's the entitlement.

#104 ::: karen Sideman ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 04:59 PM:

My Yale degree made it unfairly easy for me to get my first job as a waitress – a job that compensated me handsomely while I prepared for my first art show. Furthermore, all of that social education and stalking-the-corridors-of-power training ensured that I always offered the correct spoon and gave good wine advice to the young Wall Street Stud-dogs who made up the restaurant’s clientele…

What I found interesting about your exchange with Blickstein is that it’s pretty clear from his responses that he doesn’t understand the real nature of the criticism at all.

Yes the language is always decaying and changing, but this points to the possibility that it is now decaying in new way. His posts are not so much sloppy writing as they are sloppy conversation (college dining hall conversation perhaps) rendered as writing.

The graduate students that I teach don’t seem to make the distinction between spoken and written speech that I was raised on. They live by IM and texting and Powerpoint. It’s all one big soup of communication. They get their point across, but it has more to do with momentum than precision. I thank all of you supporters of the well written word for speaking up.

#105 ::: BethN ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 05:03 PM:

Was there ever a time in recent memory that people were routinely taught grammar in high school?

It certainly didn't happen at my school (the neighborhood public HS on Staten Island). I was crammed full of parts-of-speech during a brief private-school stint in junior high, but my classmates who had gone to the public I.S. were not. In high school, when SAT panic struck they several times, with increasing desperation, tried to get the English dept to offer them a real grammar-and-composition class, and were flatly refused: grammar-and-composition were not part of the H.S. curriculum, they should have learned that stuff in junior high, and just because no one had ever bothered to teach it to them was no reason to expect the H.S. English dept to make up the deficiency. Not their job.

This was 30 years ago. The good old days? I don't think so...

#106 ::: Karen Sideman ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 05:05 PM:

Excuse me, "decaying in _a_ new way."

#107 ::: John Emerson ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 05:17 PM:

I was taught grammar in HS (starting in eighth grade), but I guess that doesn't count as "recent memory".

#108 ::: Martin Wisse ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 05:19 PM:

But if you're running a paper, what you need are highly motivated news junkies with lots of contacts and city smarts; and if that's who you hire, it's guaranteed that many of them will have spotty backgrounds, and some of them will have nonstandard looks and manners.

That's one of Steve Gilliard's long running themes, that is, the way in which not just newspapers but also socalled progressive publications are still so whitebread.

#109 ::: Mrs_TD ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 05:20 PM:

I recently attended my 25th Generic Ivy reunion. Yes, there were mega-multi-millionaires, self-made and otherwise (and all the women were thinner now than when they were in college, except me). But there were also working artists, composers, and performers of every ilk. And women in fields where there aren't a lot of us. One roommate is a performer of new music who teaches music and music theory, another a political activist and geology professor, a third, a research chemist. BTW: many, if not most, of my close friends had lots of financial aid, and many were first generation college graduates.

But here's what surprised and moved me: the number of classmates who had done their best to dedicate their degrees and lives, at least in part, to the public good. For example, one of the classmates I admired most (because of his intelligence and character) was also pretty much the top student in a huge and competitive English Department. I expected to find him occupying a tenured chair in a building with lots of clinging ivy; instead, he has spent his professional life as an advocate for and teacher of children in one of the East's inner cities. There were other stories like this, each illustrating that the real point of the fancy degree was to *do* something with it, and not just for oneself.

So, yeah, some of 'em are lounging at the club in their white shoes. And others are working really hard to change what the club is and who belongs to it.

And others are playing music.

#110 ::: Wrye ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 05:32 PM:

There's a...carelessness about modern writing and expression that I find deeply troubling. I don't want to blame the internet, exactly, but people--and especially young people--just don't seem to grasp that word choice matters, and it goes beyond being able to distinguish between principal and principle, though that makes me particularly crazy.


I just wish I knew how to gently nudge people on the subject without making them get all huffy and defensive.

#111 ::: Jules ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 05:33 PM:

If you're not from a privileged background, you have to work harder to get into an Ivy League university (Russell Group in the UK); you have to be willing to take on an enormous amount of debt; you have to be willing to do ridiculous amounts of paid work in a week, on top of your academic work.

As a graduate of a Russell Group university, I'm a little perplexed by the idea that people from non-priveleged backgrounds need to work harder to get there. When I look at all the people I met there, I'd hardly call most of them priveleged; we were, on average, middle class, fairly normal people. Neither did most of us end up with enormous debt, and the amount of debt was pretty similar to those I knew in universities that weren't quite so prestigious. Paid work in term time was unusual, although most of us worked holidays. Those who did it usually did so to support above average lifestyle costs (running flash cars, drinking more than is strictly advisable, etc.).

I've been convinced for a while that the British system of funding education is superior to the US one. Statutory fee limits are a critical point in ensuring a good system of education, ensuring that the best students get the best places regardless of their backgrounds. It's a shame we're moving away from that level playing field.

#112 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 05:39 PM:

he doesn’t understand the real nature of the criticism at all.

Neither do I, apparently. So, it wasn't about the grammar? Sometimes I just want to go back to the farm and shovel sh*t for a living. If I stank like sh*t, people would tell me I stank like sh*t.

#113 ::: Adam Blickstein ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 05:51 PM:

Well, I may as well join in the conversation, perhaps to defend myself, perhaps also to admit culpability. First, in regards to my education, I worked hard to both get into Tufts and excel academically while at Tufts. I also strived to make a difference in my co-curricular activities, including as President of the Tufts Democrats. I was not one of the priveledged ones as alleged, and it would suit all of you arrogant folks out there to not make assumptions based on superficial perceptions. I come from a single parent household, and thank god I had a great mother who pushed me to excel. Thank god also for a great university like Tufts in assisting students financially like me who would not otherwise be able to afford such an expensive university. I come not from some ivory tower where everything is handed to me but rather extremely humble roots. Now I admit I was sloppy in this post, everyone makes mistakes, but that doesn't call for some sort of angry swarm to form. Call me out on my mistakes, fine, but do so on the merits, or rather demerits, of my mistakes, not on my background, youth, or other extraneous factors. Listen, I'm here to defend myself, and at least I have the balls to do so in a calm manner without making assumptions about anyone else. Take my words for what they are, but by debasing me, my past, and my present, you are in the process also debasing yourselves.

#114 ::: Doug ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 06:18 PM:

And I've just spent much of my day wrangling em dashes, en dashes and hyphens. Nonsense like the post at Tapped would get laughed right back to the writer.

#115 ::: Doug ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 06:22 PM:

The Question of the Day was whether either part of "business casual" was a noun, when quoted in German, and thus in need of capitalization.

#116 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 06:27 PM:

Doug, what was the decision on where the caps go? I'd think that they're followed by 'attire' (implied in English, but we're casual anyway), and that's where the cap goes, but I don't do that sort of thing on a regular basis.

#117 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 06:35 PM:

Adam,

Welcome to Making Light. I'm somewhat disappointed that you didn't put a little more effort into the composition of your post, particularly since you've just joined a discussion of writing skills. I agree that it is a bit harsh that the writing skills under closest examination are yours, and salute your courage in joining in.

(This is the nice way of saying, "Please, please, please tell me you don't think that your posting was well written.")

Please understand that most of the comments about your age are an attempt to excuse the style of your prose. If you would prefer that we not take that into account, that is of course acceptable, but it hardly helps your cause.

Please tell me. What was your major? I presume, from the style of your composition, that it was not English, Rhetoric, or Classics. (Not that recent graduates of those disciplines cannot write excerable prose, but their sins are different than yours.)

Doug,

Intriguing question. I second the plea for the answer.

#118 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 06:50 PM:

Before anyone says it, yes, I do favour the Oxford comma ("English, Rhetoric, or Classics"). I usually edit them out before posting, but failed in this case.

Mea culpa.

#119 ::: Wrye ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 07:00 PM:

Adam, your motives--and thus what everyone on this blog will make of you for decades to come--will be demonstrated by what you write next.

It simply comes down to: do you care what we think?

#120 ::: Andrew ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 07:14 PM:

abi, why eliminate the serial (aka "Oxford") comma? Especially here in Making Light, where the proprietors are known to cite that unfortunate book dedication that eschewed it: "This is for my parents, Ayn Rand and God"

#121 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 07:24 PM:

Andrew,

I tend to use too many commas. It's a weakness, like excessive drink or compulsive Jerry Springer viewing. In order to hide this secret sin, I try to conform to all of the most comma-sparse linguistic rules. It's my modern equivalent of classical Victorian hypocrisy.

#122 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 07:34 PM:

Dave, I've posted while under the influence. No, that's underplaying it. I've posted while I was drunker than I've ever been before nor ever will be again. The difference is that I did it in my own weblog, and I didn't write about politics.

#123 ::: Ulrika O'Brien ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 07:37 PM:

Abi:

"Different from" surely?

Adam:

"strove"

#124 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 07:38 PM:

Despite going to a Grammar School, I have to admit that I have no recollection of any formal teaching of grammar. My strong suspicion is that you only got taught the jargon if you chose to study Latin, which seems a slightly indirect way of learning to recognise a subjunctive. Even out teacher of French, who ran a local poetry magazine as a hobby, and could speak of the CRS with all the snarling vehemence of being on the "wrong" side of a Parisian student riot, left the details of grammar lurking on the textbook pages, unexplained.

On the other hand, I acquired a love or Shakespeare, and a sense of relief at the promise of never ever having to read a book as a set text, ever again. Never.

That may also be why I got a certain joy out of discovering, and reading, Fowler. His derision of the idea of there being a rigid, prescriptive, grammar that didn't allow a split infinitive allowed me to escape the sense of ignorance. It was, for me, the equivalent of learning that I had been writing prose all along.

The problem is that English grammar is a moving target, and using it is a practical skill, not some regurgitation of formal structure. The whole power, and joy, of the language is implicit in one simple sentence: in English you are able to verb nouns.

But words are a drug, and the most poserful drugs are the easiest to abuse.


#125 ::: Andrew ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 07:40 PM:

Adam, serious question: why "perhaps"?

You're the only one who can know why you wrote a post here at Making Light. If you intended it to be a defense, then either say so or (even better) let your actual words stand. The same applies to an admission of culpability.

Many writers have tics; your first sentence here demonstrates two of yours: starting a sentence with "Well," and the overuse of "perhaps".

In your original "Midterm Madness" post, I was surprised to see 60% to 36% called "nearly doubled" (it's one-third short of that). I also wanted to see an expansion of "(and a minor Morrison scandal)" because I've seen precious little mention of that scandal as a factor in the Tester/Morrison results post-election. It would be useful to know how many voters, seeing the Abramoff scandal as a major Burns weakness, feared even a minor Morrison scandal could neutralize the Democratic advantage, and switched to Tester from Morrison.

Andrew

#126 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 07:54 PM:

Ulrika,

I am midatlantic in my differences. I come from "different from" territory, and now live in "different to" land. Somewhere over the Pond, I picked up a case of "different than" that has proven hard to shake.

#127 ::: Mary Aileen Buss ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 08:07 PM:

My high school grammar teacher, old school stickler that she was, insisted that "different than" was correct and "different from" a barbarism. (This being America, none of us had ever heard of "different to.")

Oh, and I had grammar classes starting in fourth grade at the latest. My mother, on the other hand, learned most of her English grammar in high school Spanish class.

--Mary Aileen

#128 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 08:19 PM:

Webb may have the DC Democratic establishment behind him, but the primary is here in Virginia on Tuesday. I don't trust Webb, I'm voting for Miller.

(Now, in VA, you don't have to declare a party allegiance, so it's possible for Republicans to come to the Democratic primary and vote for Webb. Virginians are supposed to be too mannerly to do this.)

#129 ::: Chad Orzel ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 08:36 PM:

If you're not from a privileged background, you have to work harder to get into an Ivy League university (Russell Group in the UK); you have to be willing to take on an enormous amount of debt; you have to be willing to do ridiculous amounts of paid work in a week, on top of your academic work.

OBNovel: Joe College, by Tom Perrotta. I was only at Yale as a post-doc, but I attended an elite private college, and he gets most of the feel right.

I do feel compelled to note, as someone who has spent a great deal of time at elite private schools, that the active "we deserve to run the world" sense of entitlement isn't really all that common. It tends to be pretty memorable when you do run across it, but very few of my classmates or students are openly obnoxious about their status.

A sort of casual ignorance of how the less affluent live is very common, though, and may or may not strike you as offensive, depending on how sensitive you are to that sort of thing.

#130 ::: John Emerson ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 09:01 PM:

I have an editing error in a comma series to report, though it is not an Oxford comma issue.

Max Weber wrote a book about music in which a phrase was translated "The twelfth, fifth, and seventh octave". The seems clumsy, as though it perhaps should read "The fifth, seventh, and twelfth octave."

But actually the "fifth" is not sequential like the "twelfth" and the "seventh", but a musical interval like the octave.

The translator probably wrote "The twelfth fifth and the seventh octave", only to have the editor correct him. (In the German it would have been clear because of capitalized nouns: "The twelfth Fifth and the seventh Octave".)

Is that geeky enough for all y'all?

#131 ::: pat greene ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 09:11 PM:

I was not one of the priveledged ones as alleged, and it would suit all of you arrogant folks out there to not make assumptions based on superficial perceptions.

Adam, I actually was willing to cut you some slack until that statement.

You may have not been privileged from birth, but you are privileged to have attended a well-respected private university. The fact that you did not come to Tufts with a sense of entitlement gives me hope that you were not corrupted by the experience.

You are privileged because of where you went to school. Not as much as someone who went to Yale, but much more so than someone who went to San Jose State. I know, I came from a humble background, too, and went to a Seven Sister college. Am I privileged as a result? Damn straight I am. That privilege brings you opportunities not available to others who might be just as bright or capable as you, or who might in this case have more perceptive political insights.

Your youth is relevant, if you choose to make it so. At a young age you have been given quite a bully pulpit. You owe it to people to do a decent job of it the same as every one else.

#132 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 09:13 PM:

John, you give great geeking. (Not sarcastic - I love that kind of thing.)

#133 ::: pat greene ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 09:13 PM:

Um, that was *not* intended as a slap at SJS. It doesn't have the social cachet of Tufts, is all.

#134 ::: Lisa Goldstein ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 09:25 PM:

Andrew: abi, why eliminate the serial (aka "Oxford") comma? Especially here in Making Light, where the proprietors are known to cite that unfortunate book dedication that eschewed it: "This is for my parents, Ayn Rand and God"

Ah, but there's a counter-example where the lack of a serial comma would have made all the difference: "She lives with her husband, an akita, and three cats."

#135 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 09:28 PM:

Mark DF: I learned grammar in 3rd or 4th grade, got it drilled in over the next couple of years and was expected to know it in high school.

Hmm. I learned grammar when I studied German, in my early thirties.

This is not to say that my English grammar was bad before then, just that I used it instinctively. I simply ignored grammar lessons, particularly that abomination called a sentence tree.

I also feel compelled to say that I think twice before I hit the post button here on ML, and almost invariably find some sort of mistake or awkward construction about five seconds afterward.

***

Adam: There can be a bit of a piling-on effect and a lot of topic drift here. The comments about writing and depth of analysis were directed at you, and on the whole I'd say that we'd all like to see you be an effective spokesman for progressive causes.

The comments about privilege were more general observations. For what it's worth, my circumstances were not all that different from what you've shared in your post, and I've had to work harder and self-promote more aggressively simply to get the same kind of recognition that less-qualified but better born colleagues seem to get as a birthright.

Think about what you've written above, and re-read this thread carefully. You may just find this to be a pretty welcoming community.

#136 ::: Calton Bolick ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 09:28 PM:

Here's a story. It isn't necessarily about Ivy League graduates...

Teresa, you must send that story to Romenesko Letters.

#137 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 09:58 PM:

Here's another debate on grammar. Is, are or am - choose one!

#138 ::: Andrew ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 11:00 PM:

Lisa: :)

Of course, you could safely retain the serial by swapping the singular canine with the multiple felines...

#139 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 12:05 AM:

I say "different from" (for which I have occasionally been corrected) but I write "different than." I don't know why. I am completely unfamiliar with "different to."

We have professional editors here; may we have a ruling from the bench?

#140 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 12:12 AM:

Until this thread came along, I think the last time I ever heard the word feckless was in an episode of West Wing when the Prez is alone in a church and he is so angry at God that he calls him a feckless thug before switching to Latin to injuriate him.

#141 ::: Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 12:56 AM:

drunker than I've ever been before nor ever will be again

Never say never...I gather the first one snuck up on you. But let's hope for your sake that it's so.

As to the whole subject of this post: I am often sorely tempted to correct people's online grammar, spelling, and solecisms, but unless I'm being paid to do so, I usually limit my corrections to the work of my friends...

...and thus: Teresa, you mean "or," not "nor."

#142 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 01:05 AM:

Serge - I wonder what feck is, and for that matter, why nothing is ever feckful.

#143 ::: Adam Blickstein ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 01:07 AM:

I love a civilized conversation, and it is refreshing to find an intelligent rather than reactionary discourse. I can take criticism; in the end it doesn't faze me. I know there is much for me to learn, about writing, about approaching conversation, and about growing intellectually. To look from a purely objective viewpoint, though, one must admit it is amazing that such a small post on a website can turn into such an interesting conversation. I for one have discovered a new blog and a new community to be a part of from it!

back to the latin from the west wing episode discussed above:

Haec credam a deo pio? A deo iusto? A deo scito? Cruciatus in crucem! Tuus in terra servus nuntius fui officium perfeci. Cruciatus in crucem. Eas in crucem

#144 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 01:21 AM:

My Latin is, to say the least, rusty, Adam, but let's see if I can figure it out:

Do I believe in a God who is good? A just God? An all-knowing God? Christ on a cross!You're on this Earth to serve us somethingsomethingsomething. Christ on a cross. You're on a cross.

I know, my translation sucks. What can I say? My Universal Translator was on the blink.

#145 ::: Nikki ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 01:23 AM:

Jules: I take your point about debt being the same whatever university you go to, especially in Britain. And average debts have gone up a lot in the past few years, so maybe I was generalising too much. However, as a graduate of an honorary Russell Group university myself (Durham), I can remember exactly the sort of casual arrogance that Chuck Orzel refers to.

I consider 'middle class' to be 'privileged' - I wasn't just talking about the very rich. I probably am over-sensitive about this though. The point is, the middle class never see themselves as privileged (I don't, and I am, and I make myself sick sometimes). Like the girl in one of my sociology classes who insisted that the 'average British family' had two cars, one a Land Rover or equivalent, and two properties, one house in the country, one flat in London.

Adam Blickstein: I'm so glad you joined in. Criticisms of your background and age, at least from me, weren't exactly criticisms of you - only insofar as they perhaps prevented you from reaching out enough for the Democrats, and only that because you didn't seem aware of the possibility. I will admit this is entirely subjective and perhaps this attitude was set up in me by Patrick's post title. And a lot of these criticisms were actually attempts to understand your writing style and how and why it came about.

Writing skills - well, nobody's perfect. The difference when it comes to you is that you are setting yourself up as someone who knows and should be listened to. But why should you be listened to, when people have to struggle to understand you? Nobody in the UK listens to John Prescott in dense and rambling mood. We can't; he doesn't make sense. Larry Brennan's right when he says people want you to be an effective advocate of progressive causes.

I called you arrogant on the grounds that you didn't realise just how privileged you were. Perhaps I read too much into your arrogant responses to the comments, and extrapolated it too far. Reading your posts here I don't think I did read too much into it.

#146 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 01:25 AM:

Larry Brennan... I also couldn't find what 'feck' means. I'm afraid to ask if someone knows.

#147 ::: Adam Blickstein ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 01:26 AM:

by the way, the Morrison scandal has to do with his affair and nothing to do with Abramoff...

#148 ::: adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 01:37 AM:

Some of the better young musicians in Fayetteville were in a band called Feck. I admired that.

#149 ::: Aquila ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 01:52 AM:

Well my first thought was the Irish use of feck, which is the fourth and fifth definition in the online OED, but I suspect the first definition is the one related to feckless:

"feck, n.1
Sc. and north. dial.
[app. aphetic f. EFFECT n.]

{dag}1. = EFFECT 2b. The purport, drift, tenor, or substance (of a statement, intention, etc.). Sometimes coupled with form. ? Obs.
With first quot. cf. Chaucer Merch. T. 153 Theffecte of his entente.
c1500 Lancelot 2938 This is the fek of our entent. 1535 STEWART Cron. Scot. II. 684 In forme and fect as it wes wont to be. c1550 A. SCOTT in Sibbald Chron. Scot. Poetry III. 148 Wald ye foirsé the forme, The fassoun, and the fek, Ye suld it fynd inorme, With bawdry yow to blek. 1600 HEYWOOD 1 Edw. IV, IV. iv, So the feck..of all your long purgation..is no more..but the King wants money."

#150 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 02:23 AM:

Adam:

I'm not claiming here to speak for anyone else, but since a bunch of these folks are my friends, I'm going to guess that they're thinking along some of the same lines I am.

We're up against an opponent that is well-entrenched, well-organized, and profoundly evil. I don't use that last word lightly - I wouldn't use it of a bunch of groups I disagree with politically, but I see the Bush administration and its supporters as a serious threat to law, peace, justice, prosperity, and health, all over the world. They pursue their aims in ways that do unnecessary damage, too. It is possible to run an aristocratic tyranny in ways that don't so brutally suppress everyone else, but they go out of their way, time and time again, to increase the suffering of those outside their circle of buddies.

We feel a sense of desperation about the struggle. Opinions within our circle vary as to whether it is for sure too late to get peaceful change (thanks to election rigging along with media subservience and the rest), likely too late, or only maybe too late. None of us, though, feel that the prospects are very good, or that we are facing an opponent prepared to play fair or do anything at all for the good of the system unless it is very directly to their benefit against rivals.

We are deeply, thoroughly, profoundly disgusted with the failure of the Democratic Party to respond usefully. Its leaders seem not, in general, to grasp that they're facing opposition nastier than Olympia Snowe or someone out of a '50s Chamber of Commerce. They don't act in unison, or confront the Republicans on issues of importance that seems obvious to the rest of us, or acknowledge let alone try to reflect growing public conviction on key matters. Furthermore, they don't seem to ahve any clue how to speak or write effectively.

So that's the context in which we think about analyzing current developments, proposing and critiquing principles and tactics, and serious planning for the future.

You have a bully pulpit. Many of us here can only wish for such a good megaphone. You have the advantages of a respected platform and substantial freedom (or so it seems, at least) in what you provide.

Seeing that pissed away with a comment that, it turns out, you shouldn't have written - or at least shouldn't have posted - at all...it's like salt in the wounds. We have blatant irresponsibility covered, in the world of Rick Santorum and Ann Coulter. Those of us who feel that the republic as we've known it is hanging on by the skin of its teeth, if it hasn't already fallen off the edge, genuinely get a moment's ache at sloppy rambling full of incorrect data and implausible reasoning in one of the few sources at all open to what we regard as truth and the American tradition.

Yes, that is, a drunken ramble does - it looks from here - affect the struggle to save or restore the republic. By itself, not a lot. But as setting by example the baseline for acceptable conduct, it adds up. If American Prospect as a group and you as an individual settle for this kind of thing you will cost us a useful voice at a time when we really don't have a lot of voices to spare. So we'd much rather you agree that it was a really, really, really stupid sort of mistake and shoot for a higher standard in the future. We would be very glad indeed to make future endorsements of TAP and you with fewer reservations, and "they learned from experience" is a very fine thing to say of anyone.

#151 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 02:26 AM:

Oh, one quick addendum. This wasn't the first thing that's provoked this kind of irritation in those of us who see clear thinking and exposition as particularly important right now. As Patrick's original comment suggests, TAP is (like a lot of outlets) prone to a lot more sloppiness than we tend to think wise or safe. The wishes I express above also apply to your co-writers there, and to their counterparts at a bunch of other places.

#152 ::: Jonathan Shaw ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 02:59 AM:

Here's my pass at the Latin:
Shall I believe [that] these things [come] from an honourable god? from a just god? from a god who is known? Crucified on the cross! As your slave on earth I have been your representative; I have performed my duties. Crucified on the cross. Go onto the cross!

#153 ::: Nikki ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 03:41 AM:

Chad Orzel: I'm so sorry, I called you by the wrong name. Apologies!

#154 ::: Keir ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 03:53 AM:
To Graydon: I'm unfamiliar with any actual societies, cultures, or civilizations that lasted more than a single generation that did not have an elite that functioned as a ruling class. I'd welcome counterexamples.

Look at Aneurin Bevan. Working class lad from Wales, and implemented the biggest change in British health care ever. (Unless you count the Tribune set as an elite, which wouldn't be too insane.)

Of course, if you mean an elite as in an the Parliamentary elite, then I suppose I can offer New Zealand as a counter example, given that an ex-Prime Minister now works as a law professor at a `state' university.

As for acoountability, I've always felt that the Westminster system of Ministerial responsibility was a Good Thing. That, coupled with Question Time, seem to keep Westminster Governments accountable.

#155 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 04:40 AM:

The use of the word "evil" oftern worries me: it has been turned into an excuse for not thinking. "Evil Empire" "Axis of Evil" Those are phrases from the Republican side of the line, indiscriminately blackening their enemies.

Is "Evil" a word with any useful meaning in politics?

But if you have any passion for the cause, how can you not use the word?

And that's part of what builds my disdain for Mr. Blickstein. Even drunk, even in a state in which control mechanisms tend to be suppressed, he is bland. There's no sense that he cares about anything. I see a shortage of Bows of burning gold and Arrows of desire, while it's clear that the Chariots of fire are securely locked in the garage.

Politics without passion is worthless posturing.

#156 ::: John Stanning ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 05:58 AM:

Since we've got onto the Irish use of "feck", I can't any more resist mentioning that "feckless" is an adjective for an Irishman who isn't getting any.

#157 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 06:04 AM:

So, that's what Martin Sheen was saying to God... Thanks, Jonathan Shaw.

#158 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 06:08 AM:

I learned English grammar in Latin class, and very few of my cohort studied Latin. Our teacher was writing a master's thesis called something like The decline of Latin and Greek in Irish Secondary Schools at the time.

Greg, the thrust of Patrick's criticism isn't that Adam's grammar is bad; it's that his writing is lazy and vague in the way criticized by Orwell in 1946. Orwell wrote of his defense of English: It has nothing to do with correct grammar and syntax, which are of no importance so long as one makes one's meaning clear, or with the avoidance of Americanisms, or with having what is called a "good prose style."

#159 ::: Ulrika O'Brien ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 10:56 AM:

Abi-

Ah. Yes, as I have become more attuned to lately, porting the English language across the Atlantic can have some enamel-piercing consequences. I guess if the worst that happens to you is a case of the different-thans, you've probably gotten off lightly.

#160 ::: Andrew ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 11:17 AM:

Adam, thanks for the link on Morrison. I knew he wasn't connected to Abramoff. Any hint of an ethics problem -- whatever the source -- will be used by Republicans to neutralize Burns's own Abramoff problems.

#161 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 11:27 AM:

"But if you have any passion for the cause, how can you not use the word [evil] ?"

One can get along fine without it. As you know, Dave, I've decided one is better off without it.

By the way, most people in politics, with a very few exceptions, are people for whom the posturing is the point; they are interested in the process rather than the result.

#162 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 12:40 PM:

Ulrika,

For the most part, I have escaped with no further damage. I can switch between the two at will. I find myself using American colloquialisms for emphasis more than I do out of habit.

I do have a few Scottishisms that have crept in and attached themselves to my brain. I am fond of "whilst", and deeply enamoured of "outwith".

Adam,

Thank you for taking the time to write a more considered posting to this group. If you can bring that level of attention to the writing you do for the wider world, I am sure your readers will appreciate it.

My elder brother, first into the workforce in our set, once complained that "at work, you have to turn in 'A' quality work all the time." It's true for what you write for public consumption as well.

#163 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 01:44 PM:

I think that there is a place for personal ramblings, even drunken ones, in the midst of political analysis. I think that things that remind us of the humanity of those doing the reporting tend to help, in the long run. It's just that these things also call for a care of a sort in writing, and above all need to be separated from anything purporting to be a serious analysis. Report when one is able to report; ramble; don't mix.

#164 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 02:10 PM:

Bruce, thank you for summing up clearly and reasonably.

Adam, I hope you decide to stay. I'm not one of the regulars here, but I enjoy the conversations on this blog. They always lead me to learn something, or at least think about things in new ways. (Also, many of them contain hilarious poems. Unfortunately, this one is, so far, an exception.)

#165 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 02:21 PM:

Adam, I AM one of the regulars here, and I also hope you decide to stay. These conversations just get more and more interesting as long as everyone remains civil. In the TAPPED comment thread, by contrast, you can pinpoint exactly where I became bored.

#166 ::: Mark DF ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 02:23 PM:

Welcome, Adam Blickstein. I hope you at least to lurk if you decide not to join in. Here, it is almost always civil, multi-topic and definitely intelligent (or, at the very least, smart, tart, and amusing) but it is not an uncritical bunch.

Threads get long. Things extrapolate. But you will definitely learn stuff.

If you cross the line, you will be disemvoweled (sic., stick around you’ll know what it means). And if you really cross it, you might be sternly upbraided, in grammatically correct Middle English, to the delight of many. But the occasional sins are usually forgiven.

I was going to say we’re publishing people, but we’re not. We are Word People, which is much more dangerous.

Kudos for the mea culpa. I never think twice before hitting the post button here. It’s usually thrice.

#167 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 02:29 PM:

Note to self: add 'Kudos for the mea culpa' to list of "favorite sentences containing three or more languages."

#168 ::: Glenn Hauman ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 02:51 PM:

One note on the quality of a Tufts education: A friend of mine was the valedictorian of Tufts back in the late 80's-early 90's (I'm obscuring for what will be obvious reasons). He told me he skipped at least a quarter of his classes, possibly as high as three-eigths of them. My memory fades on the exact number.

His friends and I begged him to let us write his graduation speech. "I blew off over 30% of my classes and I ended up here. Geez, how many classes must you have blown off?"

FWIW, he graduated in a hard science field, too, and passed all the relevant examinations for accredidation. He also is very highly respected in his field.

#169 ::: Doug ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 03:00 PM:

In answer to the question (way, way) above, I have to admit the English-side folks punted. We said that "business" was definitely not a noun in that context, thus not requiring capitalization, and could be counted as either modifying "casual" or forming a compound adjectice with "casual." This second option raised the question of whether there should be a hyphen between the two words. At which point we punted.

If it had been entirely my text to edit, I would have done something like "Man traegt 'business casual' Kleidung am Freitag." Although if it had been my text to write, I would have dropped the Anglicism entirely. (I probably would have gotten several other things wrong, too, since German has had a significant spelling and grammar reform since I learned it. I've not learned the changes to date, on the grounds that learning German once is enough for a given lifetime.)

But I'll ask the German-side copyeditors what they finally chose.

#170 ::: Adam Blickstein ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 03:00 PM:

Yes, it seems that everyone here is a word person on a very nuanced and subtle level (slight understatement there) , but as I've said it's a fortuitous development for me to have stumbled upon this site. If anything, all the comments above have made me stop and think more critically about the manner in which I write.

#171 ::: Ulrika O'Brien ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 04:03 PM:

Abi-

If you retain the ability to hear the differences and switch at will, you're doing very well indeed. I understand that Chris Priest's wife is American by birth, and does read his mss before they go out, and yet she let him get away with American characters refering to a group of footbal players as a "side" and a sedan as a "saloon car". Owowowowowowow.

Adam- I won't go as far as the dear, departed Richard Mitchell and claim that if you can't write clearly you can't think clearly. There are *some* types of thought which aren't verbal. But in general, the better you get at writing clearly, the better you become at thinking clearly as well, and that's always to the good. So by all means pull up a chair and set a spell.

#172 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 04:07 PM:

Adam,

I am an irregular here, with none of Xopher's standing (for instance). It's a welcoming crowd on the whole. I'd invite you to look around. Most threads are not such grammatical minefields. (I suspect my prose has been dissected to the degree it has because I invited it with my Oxford Comment.) Don't be afraid that someone is secretly diagramming your sentences every time you post. (Or perhaps I should start being afraid of that? What are the rules here?)

You can learn a lot by hanging out with these particular word people. There are some very good poets around, everyone's widely read, and some of them are pretty damned funny. We can get erudite comic sonnets when all the stars are in alignment.

Xopher,

Note to self: add 'Kudos for the mea culpa' to list of "favorite sentences containing three or more languages."

I recall reading something somewhere... "Except for the useful abbreviations i.e., e.g., and etc., there is no real need for any of the hundreds of foreign phrases now current in the English language. Bad writers, and especially scientific, political, and sociological writers, are nearly always haunted by the notion that Latin or Greek words are grander than Saxon ones, and unnecessary words like expedite, ameliorate, predict, extraneous, deracinated, clandestine, subaqueous, and hundreds of others constantly gain ground from their Anglo-Saxon numbers."

Neener.

#173 ::: Ulrika O'Brien ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 04:09 PM:

Xopher-

Er? Kudos is from Greek, but it isn't itself Greek is it? The Greek word appears to be kydos.

#174 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 04:10 PM:

Ulrika,

It takes a lot of effort to switch back to American mode - I usually have to swap accents as well before I can hear any out of place phrases.

I speak in a mildly English mid-Atlantic accent most of the time, because pure American is incomprehensible to some British people over the phone. I live in Scotland, but have never been able to do a Scottish accent at all.

I've had friends jump out of their skins when I go all American on them. Fun.

#175 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 04:15 PM:

Ulrika,

It is kudos (kappa upsilon delta omicron sigma). You may have hit an odd transliteration.

(In case anyone wonders how I know Classics graduates are capable of unbearably pretentious prose!)

#176 ::: Adam Blickstein ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 04:19 PM:

Poetry eh? I've actually written quite a bit of poetry, and though the volume I've produced has waned since I left university, it is still an activity I continue to enjoy.

#177 ::: Ulrika O'Brien ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 04:24 PM:

Abi-

I think Orwell's just wrong there. Whether initially or by drift, the borrow words tend to have subtly or substantively different meanings from their Anglo-Saxon counterparts, such that you lose some quantity of meaning when you substitute one for the other. That's even true of some of the more ghastly MBA buzzwords. Much as I loathe the word "incent," meaning 'to provide incentive or motivation to,' I have yet to come up with an exact replacement. "Motivate" is close, but not really better, being subject to syllable inflation.

The one clearcut case I've seen (again from Mitchell, I think) of completely gratuitious import is 'utilize' for 'use'.

#178 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 04:29 PM:

Ulrika,

I know - but we've been so big on that Orwell essay that I just had to use it.

"Utilisation" makes me want to whimper. My favourite use of it came in a newsletter for part of my (IT) division. One of the goals of our latest data centre reorganisaton was said to be "to decrease floorspace utilisation". Of course, that means to decrease the efficient use of floorspace. I'm sure they did not mean that.

Adam,

You'll be up agains the best. Me, I was born under a rhyming star, but not, sadly, a poetic one. My muse sings in doggerel. Others here, however, do very well.

#179 ::: rm ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 04:30 PM:

Adam, you're a mensch for sticking around past the initial swarm of criticism, and for realizing it wasn't really much about you, but about the question of how much good writing matters (see Bruce Baugh's posts above).

I'd like to point out that in your last three posts, when you seemed to relax and realize that you are not being personally vilified, your writing got better. Much better. You wrote simple sentences, with ordinary diction, in a voice that I can believe is your own.

You should write like that when you are On Stage and Under the Spotlights over at TAP, too. The stage is elevated, but your diction does not have to be.

If you spend some time editing and thinking about being direct and simple in your style, you might find that the content is better. As you wrote that post, you might have realized that you were in fact not certain what "trends" we should "look for" in all cases. Because when you have to say it simply, you have to face what you are really saying. Sometimes I realize I am not saying much when I edit that way. Some of those convoluted pronouncements might have turned into simple questions. It would have been shorter and more provocative for not playing crystal-ball games.

#180 ::: Ulrika O'Brien ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 04:33 PM:

"My muse sings in doggerel." Gosh I like that.

#181 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 04:37 PM:

Ulrika, yeah, that y-shaped letter is pronounced oo as in boot. Or maybe ü as in üpsilon, the German name (so I was taught) of the letter we call wye in English. People who don't know it's Greek often think it's a plural. (On MySpace they don't quite make that mistake, but they do think it's countable: one kudos, two kudos. I'm almost certain it's non-countable, like 'air'.) I'm always freaking out other Wiccans when I insist on saying dee-oh-NÜ-sos for 'Dionysos' instead of DIE-on-EYE-sus the way most of 'em do. I say af-ro-DEE-tay too.

Adam, just wait 'til we start one of our verse-offs. You'll love it. Mike Ford (he's the one labeled "John M. Ford" (and no, the M is NOT for 'Michael') above, in much the same fashion that 6th Avenue is labeled "Avenue of the Americas") will win, of course, but it's often interesting to see who will come in second!

#182 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 04:42 PM:

Ulrika again, see my comments...somewhere...about how there are no true synonyms. Also, more than HALF of English vocabulary is ultimately from Latin (much of it via Norman French) these days.

rm, I agree with you that Adam is showing Menschlichkeit here.

Adam, I agree with rm.

#183 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 04:44 PM:

It's from a quatrain I didn't post:

I am a stranger, don't you see,
To Erato and Calliope.
My artistry? Bugger all.
My muse sings in doggerel.

#184 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 04:49 PM:

*thinks hard about writing up the story of the expelled Muse Flatula, Muse of Hack Verse, thinks better of it, falls asleep*

#185 ::: JR ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 04:50 PM:

Blickstein's last comment shows him on his best behavior. It happens to all of us when our writing is criticized- we start to write like we're walking on thin ice. Adam, stop trying so hard. It's a lucky thing, not a fortuitous development. And it's the way you write, not the manner in which you write.

#186 ::: Mark DF ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 04:59 PM:

Adam,

Go check out the Quatrains in American History thread. Funny and/or political/history poetry. I bet you couldn't find a bus with stuff nearly as good.


#187 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 05:05 PM:

Xopher,

You are much more merciful to the readers of this blog than I, and I salute you for it.

(And I did actually like "Kudos for the mea culpa", but the Orwell quote just rang in my head.)

#188 ::: Sandy B. ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 05:12 PM:

Until this thread came along, I think the last time I ever heard the word feckless was in an episode of West Wing when the Prez is alone in a church and he is so angry at God that he calls him a feckless thug before switching to Latin to injuriate him.

1) You need to listen to the Clash more. Everyone does, really.

"How you get so rude and reckless
Don't you be so crude and feckless
You been drinking brew for breakfast
Rudie can't fail."

2) I looked up "feckless" once. I realized that, even though I would use it in conversation without blinking, I didn't actually know what it meant. (I like to think I was sufficiently embarassed.)

Apparently it is from the same root as "ineffective". Lacking in effect.
[note: I had to step away for a while; this may have been covered in detail and uncovered as an urban legend by the time I post.]

#189 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 05:14 PM:

Niall, thanks for the answer. I'm trying to keep up.

;)

#190 ::: JR ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 05:50 PM:

Blickstein's problem is not one of style. More precisely, the style is the symptom, not the disease. What does Blickstein know that you and I don't know? Not much. Since he has no expertise, his capabilities extend no further than rehashing conventional wisdom from various sources. The lack of knowledge comes through in the writing, which is insincere, arch without being witty, and without conviction. He bloviates.

Another young blogger, Ezra Klein, understands that he has to have some base of knowledge to stand on, and he is trying to make himself an expert in health care policy. What is Blickstein an expert in?

#191 ::: Andrew ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 06:12 PM:

Xopher, how long is your "favorite sentences containing three or more languages" list, and what is your favorite with five?

#192 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 07:50 PM:

Adam:

Time for me to talk about myself. :) My academic background is in history; these days I write rolepplaying games. Gaming writing is a hybrid of documentation (here's how the rules work, here's how to translate your desires for your character into outcomes) and something more like fiction (here's the mood and workings of an imaginary environment). The single hardest thing for me to learn about communicating with the public has been how to simplify. I know there's much more I could learn about it, too.

What I do is seldom political, at least overtly. (It can have a political dimension whether I intended or not, and sometimes I have political symbols in mind.) But Orwell's advice in "Politics and the English Language" applies. I was, basically, writing too hard. I had - still have to, sometimes - clear away a lot of the flourishes to let readers see the important stuff. My average sentence length has gone down quite a bit in the last decade, and so has my sentence structure. When I have an appropriate time to get complex and flourishing, I can, and I like to do it, and I think I do it well, but the fact is that it's seldom the right thing.

Good public writing - whether it's campaign analysis or instructions in collaborating on the making of stories about vampires and ghosts - turns out to almost always be simpler than someone with an academic background in the humanities wants. Simpler words and simpler sentences force meaning up to the surface, and expose implications, strengths, and weaknesses. Many of us here mastered the art of puffing up a bit to hide weaknesses in essays and such, but in public writing we have to do exactly the opposite.

It's hard, but it's actually the opposite of subtle.

#193 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 07:59 PM:

I think "evil" is a religious word and that we've got the comparisons mixed up. It should be "sacred and evil" and "good and bad," not "good and evil."

#194 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 08:16 PM:

Adam:

Get a copy of Richard Lanham's Revising Prose.

Much much better than Strunk and White, and not for freshman, but for people who write.

#195 ::: pat greene ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 09:32 PM:

Yes, it seems that everyone here is a word person on a very nuanced and subtle level

Adam, you really must watch out for generalizations. As for me, my prose has never been described as "nuanced" and I am satisfied if I can get away without my mind bringing up the voice of Mrs. Kogar, my high-school English teacher, yelling at me about my grammar.

I just hang out here to watch for people getting disemvoweled. Even though I can't generally read disemvoweled prose.

Oh, that and free beer.

I am glad to see up thread that use of the "Oxford comma" (like I knew it had a name!) is acceptable. Now I can tell my husband "Neener neener" when the subject comes up.

#196 ::: Lisa Goldstein ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 09:37 PM:

What I want to know is -- what does German business casual look like? A slightly loosened tie?

#197 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 09:54 PM:

Lederhosen?

#198 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 10:02 PM:

Andrew, it's very short. Always looking to add to it though.

#199 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 10:04 PM:

My ultimate grammarian was Dr. Bremner, god of copy editing (he wrote a book on it). He was my editing professor back in the day at KU.

He looked my vision of Jehovah himself, well over 6 feet tall, built like a sturdy tree trunk, a former Jesuit who left it for a woman (a former nun), curling white locks of hair and a long, curling white beard. If you crossed him or answered wrong in Editing 1, he yelled at you. I'm given to understand that he'd tossed a chair out the window of Flint Hall one day, in his rage of frustration at a stupid student. While I was in his class, at least one chalkboard eraser went out the semi-open window. A girl I'd known since grade school burst into tears regulary if he so much as mentioned her name in class, if he asked her something, even if she knew it, she swore the thought drizzeled out her ear if he asked it.

Kids these days get it easier, even in college. And nowadays Dr. Bremner would likely get written up for abuse. I just thought it was learning to be in newsroom or real life.

#200 ::: rm ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 10:36 PM:

Paula,

Did Professor Bramner ever turn a student into a weasel and levitate him? Did you ever have to stay for a midnight detention in his dungeon office? He sounds like the type.

Bruce,

Some of us English profs do know from simple prose. Those of us who work in the trenches of composition, mostly. And those of us who teach business or tech writing. Writing simply takes constant effort.

Lisa,

I second the rec for Lanham's Revising Prose. He's good.

#201 ::: rm ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 10:39 PM:

Bremner, not Bramner. It is a truth universally acknowledged that everything written on the topic of good writng contains some kind of writing error.

#202 ::: rm ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 10:44 PM:

Aaarrgh. I should have said "to write simply takes constant effort" to avoid ambiguity. See how hard it is?

#203 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 11:04 PM:

rm...both parses of your original are true, though...like my line from a horror story I wrote: "Her smile must be still on her pale face when they find her." Someone tried to edit 'be still' into 'still be'. No, no, no!

#204 ::: Andrew ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 11:13 PM:

Xopher, dang. I was really hoping to see that five-language exemplar.

#205 ::: Erin Kissane ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 11:16 PM:
Adam, stop trying so hard. It's a lucky thing, not a fortuitous development. And it's the way you write, not the manner in which you write.

I comment here very rarely, but this made me wince. Context: I'm a professional editor. I care deeply about clear thought and clear language. I loathe clumsy writing and sloppy argumentation and I just completed a two-day slush-reading stint full of both.

And yet...JR, if you're really trying to encourage Adam to become a better writer, do you honestly think that chiding him repeatedly even after his (remarkably civilized) responses is a good way to go about it? Don't you suspect that relentless aggression is rather more likely to sour him on your argument? Urgh.

Adam, I was going to send you a private note congratulating you on your graceful response to your critics, but then I'd be a lurker who supports you in e-mail, and that would do you no good at all. :)

And while I'm here:

It should be "sacred and evil" and "good and bad," not "good and evil."

It's possible that you're being sarcastic and I"m missing it. If so, please ignore me.

Surely "profane" is the opposite of "sacred." Or "unholy." Neither is synonymous with "evil" except in the minds of certain religious extremists. I think you're conflating the ethical/philosophical "good" (let's call it Good), which properly opposes Evil, with the measure of quality (high quality vs. low quality). The two meanings sometimes overlap, but often do not.

A piece of fruit might be good or bad, but not Good or Evil. A piece of art might arguably be good and Good, good and Evil, bad and Good, or bad and Evil. (I'm not inclined to judge art in those terms myself, but please bear with my slightly sloppy example.)

#206 ::: Andrew ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 11:28 PM:

Lisa and rm: Amazon lists a new trade paper edition of the Lanham book with a publication date of 1 Sept and a price of thirteen bucks (ten after discount), as opposed to the current textbook that runs over forty bucks (no discount), though used copies can be had in the mid-to-upper teens. The new title is The Longman Guide to Revising Prose: A Quick and Easy Method for Turning Good Writing into Great Writing. Both books run 131 pages, acto Amazon.

I was pleased to see so highly recommended a book being released in an affordable edition.

#207 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 11:38 PM:

RM: Oh, yes! If I'd heeded some of my profs about simple, clear writing, it wouldn't have been such a struggle later. What I meant to say is mostly that students can get away, usually, with some levels of snow job that are really a bad idea when dealing with the rest of the world. I didn't mean to suggest that profs were all in on this, but I see I set a really bad context for it. My apologies to all good teachers (and assistants, graders, and all the rest).

#208 ::: Katherine ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2006, 12:09 AM:

I went to Yale and still got rejected by the Prospect three separate times. What does that say about me?

The unpaid summer internship probably plays hell with newsroom diversity. I only did one in journalism, and didn't have enough time for the school paper because of work study. And I am not all that poor, though I sure felt that way in college--I could've afforded to take out extra loans one more summer to improve my chances of getting an interesting job after graduation, but I didn't know this at the time. And plenty of people can't afford it.

I think you guys have a point, I think there are tons of more insightful writers who would love to get paid for this. I also think this is a pile-on that is devolving into "kids these days". Maybe that response was a brush off, maybe not. There is no good response at all to criticism like that.

#209 ::: Ulrika O'Brien ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2006, 12:20 AM:

It is a truth universally acknowledged that everything written on the topic of good writng contains some kind of writing error.

Ah. Now Kate Schaefer will appear and mention how very fond she is of the German word, and concept, schlimmbesserung. Perhaps it will amuse her that I have done it for her.

#210 ::: Ulrika O'Brien ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2006, 12:21 AM:

Andrew: Whoever did the retitle obviously didn't read the book.

#211 ::: Andrew ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2006, 12:33 AM:

Ulrika: neither have I, but I infer from your comment that the method is neither quick nor easy.

#212 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2006, 12:47 AM:

Andrew

I shold come clean; I'm a grad student in English at UCLA where Richard Lanham is an emeritus faculty member. He's also a good friend and a mentor. The book really is good; I've used it with undergraduates and with professional writers of various sorts. It does work. This edition combines two books, Revising Prose and Revising Business Prose, and it's much stronger for it. It's also the first Rime Richard has beeen able to convince the marketing folk to offer it as a trade book rather than a text book, hence the reasonable price. The title really is The Longman Guide to Revising Prose.

#213 ::: adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2006, 01:07 AM:

Katherine and Erin have a point about the piling on. Adam has taken this with fairly good grace. I appreciate that. It's not easy to have your writing ripped up under any circumstances, and in public is probably the worst of those.

I read Midterm Madness regularly. I'm expecting and hoping to see better writing from Adam in the very near future.

#214 ::: Andrew ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2006, 01:22 AM:

Lisa, I had decided earlier this evening, when I discovered the upcoming trade edition on Amazon, that this looked to be a book worth studying and adding to my collection. I see no reason to change my decision. I do appreciate the disclosure. :)

Longman has added the subtitle on the book's cover (it's there, if in small type, below the title), so Amazon isn't making it up; I sense an attempt by marketing to make the book more "commercial."

Mark Schmitt recommended the Poynter.org's "writer's toolbox" in the Midterm Madness comment string, and after reading the first few entries I've bookmarked the site for further study.

#215 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2006, 05:05 AM:

Shorter incent: pay.

#216 ::: Doug ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2006, 05:05 AM:

The one-time Muse known as Flatula
Was run out of 'Lympos with a spatula
Midst the mortals in Thrace
She said without grace,
"I couldn't even end my congratula-"

(Sorry Xopher)

#217 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2006, 08:43 AM:

<Darth Vader>Apology accepted.</Darth Vader>

#218 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2006, 08:44 AM:

BTW the Muses live on Mount Helikon, not Olympos. But who's counting.

#219 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2006, 08:45 AM:

Or, if you're using incent as a noun, "perk". Covers all those things that aren't money.

#220 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2006, 08:46 AM:

Oh, and The Tenth Muse was the name given to Sappho by the poets of her own time and after...yes, some of the most patriarchal people in the history of the world, who considered women, shall we say, not really capable of serious thought, thought she was the greatest of all poets, exceeding even Homer.

And thanks to Christian extremists, we have a tiny fraction of her body of work.

#221 ::: Andrew ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2006, 11:10 AM:

Dave, I don't think "perk" works as a substitute for "incent," since a perk is more something that's "expected as one's due".

Ulrika: for some reason, every time I hear about management wishing to "incent" employees I imagine said employees becoming incensed rather than gratified. As for syllable inflation, "motivate" isn't the only word subject to such unfortunate growth; I give you "incentivize" from American Heritage. (Yes, I prefer "motivate" to "incent.")

#222 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2006, 06:25 PM:

candle, from waay back upthread: But if English teachers were to focus on promoting well-crafted arguments and analysis, wouldn't that do more to ensure better, clearer writing than hammering away at grammar and spelling? Isn't that what they used to teach separately as Rhetoric? (And if so, does anyone still teach it now?)

On the "different" business: Somewhere back in olden times, I was taught that "from" was correct and "than" was wrong. Since everyone uses "than" these days, it seems like a more recent development.

Adam: I'll add to the chorus of welcomes. And if you ever want to be forced into concision, try to write haiku!

#223 ::: Mary Aileen Buss ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2006, 06:55 PM:

On the "different" business: Somewhere back in olden times, I was taught that "from" was correct and "than" was wrong. Since everyone uses "than" these days, it seems like a more recent development.

I will concede that I have been remembering it backwards all these years. If so, Mrs. Davis would be extremely ashamed of me.

--Mary Aileen

#224 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2006, 07:26 PM:

As far as I'm concerned, "incent" is one of those words you fix by reorganizing the sentence. "We offer employees a variety of rewards for this kind of effort." It seems like a lot of jargon comes from being unwilling to use a general verb and some specific nouns.

#225 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2006, 08:09 PM:

Candle wrote: But if English teachers were to focus on promoting well-crafted arguments and analysis, wouldn't that do more to ensure better, clearer writing than hammering away at grammar and spelling?

And Faren asks:

Isn't that what they used to teach separately as Rhetoric? (And if so, does anyone still teach it now?)

Of late, I've been teaching prose revision to corporate and think-tank sorts of people. I teach pretty much the same sort of things I teach undergraduates. Quite often, I spend as much time showing people how to see text, how to really read it, as I do teaching them how to revise it.

In undergraduate composition, that's exactly what we try to teach, and yes, it's still rhetoric, and people still get degrees in composition and rhetoric.

Lanham, whose book I suggested as a remedy for over-written under-thought prose, is a rhetorician.

#226 ::: Lisa Goldstein ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2006, 09:31 PM:

Strunk and White says: "Here logic supports established usage: one thing differs from another, hence, different from." I know there are problems with old S & W, but this seems remarkably sensible.

#227 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2006, 10:30 PM:

Erin, I meant what I said. I think people misuse "evil."

#228 ::: Andrew ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2006, 12:18 AM:

Marilee, I'm stumped; I can't find a common use of "evil" that I think is a true antonym of "sacred". I'm starting with "evil" as meaning "morally wrong" (or "morally bad"). It definitely has a religious component, but the jump from its opposite -- moral goodness or rectitude -- to sacred is a huge one in my understanding.

Can you please explain further?

#229 ::: Larry Kestenbaum ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2006, 01:51 AM:

I graduated from a well-regarded public high school in 1973, followed by a bachelor's and law degree at two lowly state universities, and later graduate work at an Ivy.

In all that time, I don't remember any training in grammar or parts of speech. For example, I still do not understand the meaning of the word "preposition".

In my public and political roles, I write a lot of text. If I write well, and I think I do, it is through care, revision, and practice, not through any education in the basics.

#230 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2006, 04:33 AM:

I learned some grammar in high school Spanish (I still remember the aha! of finally understanding indirect objects). It wasn't until college Latin and Greek that I began to be able to describe the function of the various elements of a sentence.


Larry,

My old Latin grammar is on my shelf here (Allan and Greenough...the smell of the pages brings me back 15 years in an instant). It defines a preposition as "a word that shows the relation between a noun or pronoun and some other word or words in the same sentence".

But forget the formal definition and remember the Snoopy definition. A pronoun is any word that fits in the following sentence:

Snoopy went _____ the doghouse.

#231 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2006, 04:49 AM:

abi, so "poo-poo" is a preposition?

#232 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2006, 04:53 AM:

No, "in" is the preposition, as in Snoopy went poo-poo in the doghouse. "On" "under", and "beside" are also possible values.

"All over" would be a prepositional phrase, and gross besides. What is Charlie Brown feeding him?

#233 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2006, 05:10 AM:

I think a part of the problem with the teaching of grammar is that there is still a confusion between it being prescriptive and descriptive. Formal grammar, as the basis for describing sentences, doesn't have any obvious use, while it's rarely brought up in the context of telling people what a proper sentence should be like.

We end up knowing more of the structure of our language that we have formal labels for. We think in terms of "I" and "you" and "he", rather than first, second, or third person.

As for the labelling of verb tenses...

(Googling on "preposition" and "grammar" actually brings up a quite useful, practical, exposition.)

My own experience has left me with the vague feeling that a lot of the more subtle technicalities--some of the fanciet verb tenses for instance--might matter to a foreign language, but Have no real equivalent in English. Instead we somehow composite the effect, like the difference between "have taken" and "had been taking".

And our internal model of the language, which we use for creating our texts, need not be the same as the model that can describe them. Labelling that phrase as a single verb, of particular tense, only describes the end result.

Even when reviewing a text, we may be able to handle the errors without needing the formal labels. We don't need to know the formal name for a particular verb tense to know that it is different from the others in a passage, and different to what we wanted to say.

(Sorry, did somebody's head just explode?)

The labels are not the language. The map is not the territory. And the connections which exist are warped by the purpose. Most obviously, maps will, because of the limits of printing and eyesight, show roads as over-wide, in proportion to their surroundings. The roadmaps of grammar are similarly limited in how they can plot the pathways of language.

#234 ::: Nikki ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2006, 05:38 AM:

I'm a TEFL teacher, and when I teach grammar, I usually do it partly in the course of discussion, and partly as a separate session. There are two difficulties. One, the students absolutely love grammar, and want to learn it at the expense of more important things, especially if they're from France or other countries with very formal and traditionalist ways of teaching. Two, I didn't learn any grammar at school, and had to learn it all as I was going along, and I can still get stumped on explaining really complicated points. I can use them, but articulating them so that someone else can understand is really, really hard.

Before I began TEFL-ing, I really didn't know any grammar as separate from vocabulary etc; I learned it through reading. It does worry me that people with university degrees seem unable to learn basic grammar points through reading.

But I think lots of people choose to mess up their grammar, to fit the group they're in - I do it at home, dropping aitches etc, purely because if I don't, I'm accused of talking 'posh' and getting above myself. And I think messing up grammar is also seen as informal, and blogging is quite an informal activity.

#235 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2006, 10:00 AM:

A pronoun is any word that fits in the following sentence

Your subsequent posts make it clear that you meant 'preposition', not 'pronoun', but some may be confused.

#236 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2006, 12:35 PM:

Yes, Xopher, a preposition. My bad.

#237 ::: Erin Kissane ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2006, 02:00 PM:

Marilee -- as Andrew notes, we'll need more information if you want to talk about your opinion. I could make up a number of arguments that result in the statements you've made, but that wouldn't be productive or respectful. If you'd like to break down your position, I'd be interested in discussing it.

#238 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2006, 06:39 PM:

"Sacred" was probably the wrong argument, although I've heard "holy" used as well. I just think that "evil" is a religious word, so is inappropriate in "good vs. evil."

#239 ::: candle ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2006, 08:47 AM:

Isn't that what they used to teach separately as Rhetoric?

Well, yes - there was a rhetoric department in my Liberal Arts college (which I've just left), although I wasn't entirely sure that forensic argument is what was taught there. (In general it seemed to be a version of media studies.) But I think of history as a branch of rhetoric, and maybe English too. But in any case, I don't know that rhetoric is taught much in high schools.

a deo scito?

Jonathan Shaw has the translation right, I think, but the Latin itself is a little odd. They presumably meant "from an all-knowing God" or something here, unless this is a technical church term for the "revealed" God. And "eas in crucem" isn't an imperative, but I'm not at all sure what it was supposed to mean in context. But I missed that episode of the West Wing. And I'm too tired to think properly about Latin today.

Yes, I learned English grammar from Latin, and before that from French and Italian. I never had a single lesson in English grammar at any stage of my education. But, if it means anything, I was the first person in my family ever to go to college, and I ended up at a Russell Group institution. I wasn't exactly a member of the privileged classes when I went in, but it would be pointless to deny that I am now.

#240 ::: Doug ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2006, 09:33 AM:

In re: German business casual.

Unfortunately, the person I was helping edit copy is now on vacation for ten days, and no one can remember which article (or even which magazine) the phrase appeared in. So I will try to post it in an Open Thread when she returns. 'tschuldigung.

(Or, as modern Germans are actually wont to say, "Sorry.")

#241 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2006, 12:52 PM:

Marilee, you should read my whole...treatise? rant? on the difference between 'holy' and 'sacred'. But of course you can't, until I write the damn thing down.

#242 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2006, 08:49 PM:

Doug - the Swiss would say "Pardon". But they'd say it with a Swiss-German accent, so nobody would understand them anyway. (Saying "Entschuldidung" and my bad accent always made the Swiss flip into Hochdeutsch - or English.)

#243 ::: Doug ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2006, 05:11 AM:

"Sorry" seems to be creeping in because "Entschuldigung" carried too much debasement, or perhaps contrition. So "Sorry" can be used where I would say, in English, "Pardon me." It can also be used to be flip, or to mean "too bad" with very little sympathy. It's also age-dependent; never heard it from someone who appears 40+.

When I want to get past someone, on the U-bahn for example, I usually say "Pardon" in a way that sounds sorta French. Mostly works. Similarly, a friend of mine says that "Madame!" is almost universally effective in getting a woman's attention if you don't know what language she speaks.

World Cup has gotten even the people who work in the kiosks in the U-Bahn to speak English, which is weird

#244 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2006, 11:17 AM:

Doug: How weird is the English spoken by the U-Bahn staff?

#245 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2006, 11:33 AM:

When I want to get past someone, on the U-bahn for example, I usually say "Pardon" in a way that sounds sorta French. Mostly works.

I daresay this is partly because of the reputation of the French with regard to driving.

As for 'Madame', I told you the dropped-purse story, right?

#246 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2006, 11:50 AM:

Doug: "Pardon me." It can also be used to be flip, or to mean "too bad" with very little sympathy.

Makes me think of Steve Martin - Well excuuuuse me!

It would never occur to me to say "Sorry" while trying to speak German. One word of English and the whole effort falls apart. As it is, when saying American place names in German, it's hard not to overlay them with a Germanesque pronounciation (e.g. Zan Francisco or Zee-ahttle)

Xopher: If you don't like they way the drive in France, stay off the sidewalk.

#247 ::: DaveL ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2006, 03:31 PM:

Isn't that what they used to teach separately as Rhetoric?

Interesting! My daughter is taking Rhetoric (or was -- she graduated last Saturday). I don't recall her saying anything about it being more than marginally about grammar, though the composition part is big.

When I was in Junior High School (a term which gives some indication which decade I'm speaking of), we had grammar, including diagramming sentences, long segments on the parts of speech and their definitions, and verb tenses. There was a series of books for seventh through ninth grades (and maybe beyond, I forget) that covered the topics in increasing detail each year. They were small but thick, and each year's was a different color.

When I first encountered UML (Unified Modeling Language, for those who aren't geeks), I had a strange case of deja vu, and finally realized UML connectors reminded me of the more arcane appendages in sentence diagrams.

#248 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2006, 06:29 AM:

Lisa Goldstein wrote:
Strunk and White says: "Here logic supports established usage: one thing differs from another, hence, different from." I know there are problems with old S & W, but this seems remarkably sensible.

Ah, but if you try relying on logic too much, you run into all sorts of problems. For example, we have "dependent on" but "independent of" or "independent from" -- I've seen cases where non-native speakers get misled by thinking logically and write "independent on" in their scientific papers.

(I'll admit that "different from" seems more natural to my ears than "different than".)

#249 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2006, 07:23 AM:

abi wrote:
"All over" would be a prepositional phrase, and gross besides. What is Charlie Brown feeding him?

To be really fussy: a "prepositional phrase" is a preposition + its object (usually some sort of noun phrase). So "all over the doghouse" is a prepositional phrase; "all over" is not really anything other than a pair of words. Perhaps you could call it a "modified preposition" or a "compound preposition", though I'm making those terms up and have no idea what a linguist would think of that terminology.

#250 ::: Dorothy Rothschild ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2006, 10:23 AM:

Abi: I've been in Scotland for nearly five years now, and I will use 'outwith' for the rest of my life regardless of where I end up. It's like the random Yiddish phrases that got passed down from my great-grandparents (I presume; my grandparents were rapidly assimilated): it works perfectly, and there's just no truly equivalent word in English.

#251 ::: candle ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2006, 11:08 AM:

it works perfectly, and there's just no truly equivalent word in English.

Isn't "without" an exact equivalent, albeit carrying the risk of being confused with the sense in which it means "lacking"? Indeed, isn't "outside" the same thing as "outwith"? Or am I misunderstanding how it is supposed to be used. (I've only ever seen it used as the opposite of "within".)

#252 ::: candle ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2006, 11:10 AM:

(Oops, missed out a question mark on the third sentence there.)

#253 ::: Mina W ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2006, 05:32 PM:

I can remember being taught English grammar in early high school (diagramming sentences). This was in a small Western town with a land grant college in the '60s. I can remember its not making much sense to me. I can remember that the current fashion in foreign language texts had no grammar at all—only conversational examples.*

The good French teacher, and the even more organized German teacher, provided many pages of grammatical information that they typed & mimeographed. I remember that after that, grammar of my native language began to make sense. Now I would say that those teachers had built the conceptual shelving that the English language examples then naturally fit into. I was lucky that I took French & German, from the point of view of elucidating English. The school had stopped teaching the "dead" language of Latin, but I got some exposure to word roots in a speed-reading course that helped with understanding words, and was especially useful to a Biology major.

Then my senior year, I was exposed to Japanese in its native habitat, where I at least learned enough to hear it, and afterwards to the very different grammar. That, by its differences, completed an awareness of English grammar started by the similarities of a romance language & German. I don't think that I would have gotten anything like it from the English classes alone.**

Maybe someone knows if the English texts were also influenced by the distaste for grammar that crippled the foreign language texts? Was it not just my style of learning that did not fit the style of teaching? Did all (any of?) the teachers who came from that era of students get enough understanding of the grammar of their native language to be able to teach it well? And in subsequent years, foreign language requirements were cut back.

I notice quite a few others here who say they only learned English grammar in foreign language classes. Sounds like that's not true of non-Americans. (Or is it that Europeans, for instance, all have much more acquaintance with languages foreign to them than Americans do?) Is it that we don't teach it, don't teach it well, or that it only makes sense by counterexample, when we see that other constructions are possible? Other ways to think, in effect, for those who are verbal thinkers, not visual.


* The text series publishers & school board apparently believed in learning languages by osmosis, although we were of course well past the age for that. And the schools taught no foreign languages before high school, when that method might have worked.***

**I don't claim anything but slight familiarity with any of those languages today, unfortunately. Or formal grammar.

***By the way, I think that my sibs & I gained some advantage in later language-learning by an early exposure to English as a foreign language (compared to American). We were all better at it than our scientist parents.

#254 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2006, 10:08 PM:

Mina -- the dates you quote put you around my age; I remember grammar being taught from late elementary school through late high school, but I suspect we're older than most of the people who've discussed their lack of training. Prescriptive teaching became unfashionable in parts of the country in the later 60's; I don't know whether the pendulum ever swung back. (I won't get into a religious argument over phonics vs see-say for learning to read, but I get the impression see-say also rose in that period.)

#255 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2006, 03:55 PM:

candle,

"Without" in the sense of "outwith" is almost dead in the vernacular. The closest equivalent I can think of is "outside of", but it doesn't have the same parallelism with "within".

(been away for a few days in London - ugh - taking an exam)

#256 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2006, 04:03 PM:

Composition and Rhetoric is still an active academic field. The following is the course descrption of the "freshman comp" class from the UCLA catalog:
3. English Composition, Rhetoric, and Language. (5)

Lecture, three hours. Enforced requisites: satisfaction of Entry-Level Writing requirement, course 2 or English as a Second Language 35 (C or better). Rhetorical techniques and skillful argument. Analysis of varieties of academic prose and writing of minimum of 20 pages of revised text. Completion of course with a grade of C or better satisfies Writing I requirement. Letter grading.

Most of us do cover grammar at the start, in a very crude fashion, concentrating on basic parts of speech, so that when we're working with students in class or one on one, we can talk about what words and phrases are doing in a text and how to revise text.

#257 ::: Karl T. ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2006, 07:28 PM:

Animated (vivacious, not Flash) discussion on use of "outwith" here, for Scots and non-Scots alike.

#258 ::: Shannon ::: (view all by) ::: July 04, 2006, 01:26 PM:

On the other hand, the engineers at Cornell work like dogs. As do the premeds. (The premeds, as a rule, seem to care about nothing on earth but their GPA, but they certainly do work hard.)

As a graduate of Cornell, I can definitely attest to this. I wasn't an engineer, but I had friends who were, and most of them worked their asses off for their degrees. Those who slacked off either got crummy grades or had to spend more than four years to get their full degrees. Even though I was in two highly ridiculed departments (Communication and Natural Resources), I know I worked very hard to accomplish what I did. Sailing through is possible, but the dedicated student can definitely get a very good education.

As for graduate students teaching your courses, I mainly had them for sections of larger lecture classes. The only classes I had that were strictly taught by a graduate student were my two freshman writing courses. The first one was just as good or better than if a full professor had taught it - my writing seminar teacher was all about cutting the pompous crap and writing with clarity. Unfortunately, my second teacher wasn't quite as good. Either way, a PhD neither guarantees or denies teaching skills.

Before I began TEFL-ing, I really didn't know any grammar as separate from vocabulary etc; I learned it through reading. It does worry me that people with university degrees seem unable to learn basic grammar points through reading.

I too struggled with teaching grammar to English as a Second Language students when tutoring, since I didn't know the technical bits myself. Unlike some of my fellow grammar-geek English major tutors, I learned grammar through my own reading and writing.

As for how to improve the clarity of your prose, take a journalism class. A good class will help make your writing both concise and straightforward in a way that no academic writing class can. Even better, actually write for a paper. Then you get the word count and deadline issues as additional challenges.

#259 ::: Triane ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2007, 10:27 PM:

Re: the West Wing Latin translations (way) above..

Your translations appear to be virtually literal, word-for-word translations. While that will convey the general tenor of the statements, it leaves a lot out. The character of President Bartlet was raised in a Catholic tradition pre-Vatican II and speaks CONVERSATIONAL latin. While your translations are (somewhat) accurate, they leave out the nuances of a conversational interpretation. These phrases have been translated (conversationally) online as:

Gatias tibi ago domine
I give thanks to you oh Lord.

Haec credam a deo pio? A deo iusto? A deo scito?
Am I to believe these things of a loving god? a just god? a wise god?

Cruciatus in crucem!
To hell with your punishments!

Tuus in terra servus nuntius fui officium perfeci
I was your servant here on earth, I spread your word and did your work

Cruciatus in crucem. Eas in crucem!
To hell with your punishments, and to hell with you!

As you can see, there's a lot of "colour" that gets left out of a strictly literal latin-to-english translation.

Ref: Google Search

#260 ::: praisegod barebones sees no spam ::: (view all by) ::: February 22, 2011, 08:08 AM:

I wish I'd caught a glimpse of that one before it went...

Welcome to Making Light's comment section. The moderators are Avram Grumer, Teresa & Patrick Nielsen Hayden, and Abi Sutherland. Abi is the moderator most frequently onsite. She's also the kindest. Teresa is the theoretician. Are you feeling lucky?

Comments containing more than seven URLs will be held for approval. If you want to comment on a thread that's been closed, please post to the most recent "Open Thread" discussion.

You can subscribe (via RSS) to this particular comment thread. (If this option is baffling, here's a quick introduction.)

Post a comment.
(Real e-mail addresses and URLs only, please.)

HTML Tags:
<strong>Strong</strong> = Strong
<em>Emphasized</em> = Emphasized
<a href="http://www.url.com">Linked text</a> = Linked text

Spelling reference:
Tolkien. Minuscule. Gandhi. Millennium. Delany. Embarrassment. Publishers Weekly. Occurrence. Asimov. Weird. Connoisseur. Accommodate. Hierarchy. Deity. Etiquette. Pharaoh. Teresa. Its. Macdonald. Nielsen Hayden. It's. Fluorosphere. Barack. More here.















(You must preview before posting.)

Dire legal notice
Making Light copyright 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 by Patrick & Teresa Nielsen Hayden. All rights reserved.