Language column roundup
The meat of William Safire's column is devoted to the history of lollygag. It's a delightful word; still you might get more enjoyment out of his complaints about acronyms and initialisms. (And you Safire haters, take note: He closes the column with a correction -- and word that he's taking a vacation.)
It's been six weeks since Tony Snow called a problem a "tar baby," and some people are still calling for his firing. Jan Freeman discusses the origins of the term both the "sticky trap" meaning and the racial epithet. The racial sense isn't used much today, and Freeman notes that the problem sense, although tainted, could still win out.
We're all deft jugglers of multiple senses, as Jon Stewart demonstrated (wittingly or not) by including faux-racist homonyms in his "Daily Show" commentary on the Snow flap: "I'd hate to expose any chinks in his armor, especially since his reputation has been spick and span." Nobody blinks at these innocent usages, of course.In James Kilpatrick's column: A speaker is seldom follows up frankly by being frank. Despite the inevitability of death, it can still called unexpected at times. And one of the only may not be grammatically correct, but it's an idiom; so there.
Nathan Bierma discusses the folly of the grammar police (that'd be us) in blindly following usage guides that are seldom written by linguists: "The manuals tend to make subjective, selective and shaky suggestions. The authors pass off their own personal preferences or folk customs as gospel truth."