Monday, September 19, 2016

Praising Bryan A. Garner

On p. 104 of the October 2016 issue of The Atlantic, a handful of people offer their answer to the question "What concept most needs a word in the English language?" Bryan A. Garner replies,
We need a word for the mental suffering that results from someone else's misuse of a word or phrase in one's presence, the distress being magnified by an abiding sense of politeness that precludes correcting the other person--coupled with an intensifying melancholy about the confused changes that so many words are undergoing as a result of mass indifference to linguistic tradition. I suggest wordschmerz. (emphases that were required by the magazine's editorial style omitted, since it's possible Garner isn't responsible for them)
I'm very unfavorably impressed by Garner's "grammar and usage" chapters that appear in recent editions of The Chicago Manual of Style (and who knows?, maybe I'll find an opportunity to dwell on this in later posts). Nevertheless, I'm happy to read that in encounters in real time in the real world, Garner chooses to be polite. It gives me pleasure to have an opportunity to congratulate him.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

very cool parentheticals

This is from Megan Garber, "The Many 'Bro's of Kanye West," The Atlantic, August 31, 2015. Now, if you've gone to the link and started reading the article you might think the winning sentence is
During last night's Video Music Awards, accepting the show's Video Vanguard Award for his contributions to the form (an award presented--put away your "imma let you finish" jokes, they have already been made--by Taylor Swift), West gave a long, seemingly off-the-cuff speech about artists and commercialism and politics and pot and the many things we owe to the next generation.
To which I say, "Not bad." No, the really cool one--and, like the one quoted above, it has some embedded parenthicality, but in this case it's the placement (location location location, as they say in the real estate biz, which, make no mistake, I'm not mocking--some of my best friends, as well as some people I don't much care for, are in the biz)--is this.
On what level of reality was this declaration—greeted, the New York Daily News reports, with "much applause and laughter, making it unclear whether or not [West] was serious about a political run, especially after he admitted to rolling 'a little something' before the show"—operating?
I'm not mocking Garber any more than I'm mocking realtors (or maybe it should be Realtors), since it's pretty likely she intended that the parentheticalities be funny.

Thursday, March 17, 2016


The Atlantic has published "How Did the Oklahoma City Bombing Shape Merrick Garland?," by David A. Graham. At least one paragraph of it seems not to make any sense:
On one occasion in the Oklahoma City case, Garland displayed some skepticism of the presumption of innocence. [Michael] Tigar, defending [Terry] Nichols, pointed out that his client had turned himself in to the police shortly after the bombing. (McVeigh fled after the bombing.) Quoting the Bible, Tigar said, "The guilty flee when no man pursueth, but the righteous are as bold as a lion." Garland dismissed the contention out of hand, with a somewhat confusing reply: "He came in voluntarily after he knew he was being looked for. That does not suggest innocence." (Would running away have been more exculpatory?)
Let's assume for the sake of argument that it makes any sense to use a biblical verse when deciding whom to prosecute. Says the first part of the verse, "The guilty flee when no man pursueth." This doesn't apply to Timothy McVeigh, who was in fact being pursued. The verse is flawed for our purposes.

"Garland dismissed the contention [if that's the right word] [viz., the contention or whatever it was of the second half of the verse] out of hand." Good idea on Garland's part. "He came in voluntarily after he knew he was being looked for. That does not suggest innocence," said Garland. Garland was right; it doesn't suggest innocence because it doesn't suggest anything. Or it does suggest anything you're inclined to have it suggest, which means it doesn't suggest anything. (Yes, that's right. Because it suggests anything, it doesn't suggest anything.) It could suggest innocence, it could suggest that he wanted a better deal, or it could suggest he didn't want to get his whatsits shot off while fleeing. Or some combination. In hindsight, we now know that Nichols wasn't innocent, suggesting that Garland was right to reject the contentionoid.

In spite of all this, the most troubling part of the paragraph comes at the beginning. "Garland displayed some skepticism of the presumption of innocence." This appears not to be true. Furthermore, the prosecutor doesn't need to presume the defendant's innocence; it might even be a bad idea.