Monday, June 26, 2006

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."


At 4:19 PM, June 26, 2006, Blogger Mike said...

Someone should tell Nathan that only unseasoned grammarians "blindly follow usage guides." Most of us know the general background of the people who write them and where they fall on the prescriptivist/descriptivist continuum. (Heck, just look at David Foster Wallace's excellent review of Garner's "Modern American Usage.")

The problem isn't with the grammar police using these books. The problem is with grammar security guards thinking they can police usage after reading a single manual.

At 8:02 PM, June 26, 2006, Blogger Brian Cubbison said...

Of course, there's the classic scene from "Bull Durham":

You lollygag the ball around the infield. You lollygag your way down to first. You lollygag in and out of the dugout. You know what that makes you? Larry!


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