Sunday, September 12, 2004

More reading to do

I've added another book to my wish list: William Safire's "The Right Word in the Right Place at the Right Time."

This review gives a taste of what the book, a collection of his "On Language" column in the New York Times, has to offer. It includes this excerpt:
"Ten years ago this week, I received in the mail a census form that began, 'Please use a black lead pencil only.' Naturally, I objected to the loose placement of the 'only,' preferring 'use only a black lead pencil' or the even more direct and simple 'use a black lead pencil.'

"This year, reflecting the leap forward in technology, the United States Census 2000 says, 'Please use a black or blue pen.' I have a blue pen that writes with black ink; I suppose that's OK. But I also have a black pen that writes with red ink; is that impermissible?

"The clear intent is 'use black or blue ink.' But if the Bureau of the Census, conscious of literal correctness, wrote those words, millions of people unfamiliar with the details of writing instruments would respond, 'I don't use ink; I use a ballpoint pen. Does this mean I have to fill this out with a fountain pen? There'll be big inkblots all over the form. What do they want from my life?'"
I love it.

But before I dig into this, I'll need to finish "Tears of the Giraffe" and "The Da Vinci Code."


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