Monday, October 25, 2004

My latest Tribune language column:
On the phrase "in harm's way," which has doubled in use over the last month.
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More from Safire on "in harm's way":
The phrase is rooted in its opposite: out of harm's way, coined by the
English divine Thomas Fuller before 1661: "Some great persons . . . have been made sheriffs, to keep them out of harm's way." Apparently the sheriff's job was a political plum, not then dangerous. ... Thomas Manton, chaplain to Oliver Cromwell, delivered a [17th century] sermon arguing that man's "duty is to run in harm's way" because "there are none so much harmed, maligned and opposed in the world, as those that follow that which is good ... The hoary phrase has more power than the bureaucratic "in the face of impending hostilities."

More on the debates: tranx's and search/more. "Cheney's top three phases were Saddam Hussein (11), fact of the matter (10) and United States (10), while Edwards' were John Kerry (36), American people (28) and tax cuts (16)." More on Bush's pauses (I'm not buying the idea that this is evidence of Bush being wired). Also: Kerry and Bush acc. speech texts.

More on the candidates' language: LL on Kerry and contractions; Bush and tautologies. Kerry said "ladies and gentlmen" 13 times to Bush's 0 in the second debate, which could have come off as patronizing. Bush said "steadfast" four times to Kerry's once (in a "yes, but" rebuttal) and "firm resolve" or "firm and resolve" three times to Kerry's 0. As I wanted to say in the story, you can be steadfast and have resolve and still be guilty of what H.L. Mencken called a "foolish consistency." Also: USA Today noted that Bush said in his acc. speech. "Some folks look at me and see a certain swagger, which in Texas is called walking," and "Now and then I come across as a little too blunt."

Some interesting observations on the candidates' speaking styles--although, as I quoted Mark Liberman in my story and as Arnold Zwicky wrote me by e-mail, let's not go overboard and let these superficial analyses override matters of policy.

Geoff Nunberg on Kerry in July:

Kerry's involuted syntax is less a sign of prevarication than an excess of prudence. He steps into a thought like someone wading into a rocky stream, always probing with his toe for stones. And when he does finally set his foot down, it's cushioned in abstractions -- "We're not maximizing the potential for the outcome we went in there to achieve." When he's finished, it's not always easy to tell if he has actually touched bottom.

Geoff Pullum on Bush and clarity:

For a start, there is nothing indecisive-sounding about this sentence of Kerry's, with its series of illustrative examples and its succession of parenthetical phrases ... Yet there can be plenty of indecisiveness in a stream of fairly simple clauses if they are all over the map in terms of subject matter.

"I don't believe it's going to happen.... I've shown the American people I know how to lead.... I understand everybody in this country doesn't agree with the decisions I've made.... People out there listening know what I believe.... This nation of ours has got a solemn duty to defeat this ideology of hate.... We have a duty to protect our children and grandchildren.... Ten million citizens [in Afghanistan] have registered to vote."

My reading of the whole answer is that we're looking at a man in a panic who has no idea what to say to the question. He has been taught a whole slew of tough-sounding clauses to reiterate, but can think of nothing to do but hurl them around at random. He demonstrates ... real intellectual weakness and indecisiveness when faced with a challenging question. ... Neither of the current stereotypes about styles of speech seems to be true: Kerry does not engage in long-winded unstructured rambling; Bush sometimes does.

James Fallows in the Atlantic this summer:

During his career George Bush's speaking style has changed significantly ... [In a 1994 gubernatorial debate with Ann Richards,] Bush was eloquent. He spoke quickly and easily. He rattled off complicated sentences and brought them to the right grammatical conclusions. He mishandled a word or two ("million" when he clearly meant "billion"; "stole" when he meant "sold"), but fewer than most people would in an hour's debate. More striking, he did not pause before forcing out big words, as he so often does now, or invent mangled new ones. "

• "On the Media" on October surprise. (This year's OS? albeit unplanned)

• Ever since the graphic of a swing (that you swing on) next to this NYT op-ed about polling, I've had this image of a voters swinging back and forth on swingsets whenever I hear the term swing voters.

• In his new book on animals and language, Yale's Stephen Anderson cites an eleven-letter, vowel-less word in Georgian that is monosyllabic: gvprts'kvnis ("he is bleeding us, financially"). (p.123; see #5 here.

• Reading a New Yorker piece from this summer on Reagan by Edmund Morris: "Gorbachev once remarked on Reagan’s “balance” to me in an interview. But he used the Russian word ravnovesie in its wider sense, of psychological equilibrium. The President’s poised body and smooth yet inexorable motion telegraphed a larger force that came of a lifetime of no self-doubt."

From Dave Barry's Mister Language Person: Melba Glock sent in a story from the Lincoln (Neb.) Journal Star headlined ``Volunteers needed to help torture survivors.''

• A memo from our apartment building informed us that "the tuckpointers will be setting up their equipment" this week. Had no idea what that was; M-W: "tuck-point/ transitive verb/ : to finish (the mortar joints between bricks or stones) with a narrow ridge of putty or fine lime mortar"

• The memo also alerted us to a new coffee shop that was a "flavorsome" alternative to Starbucks. I didn't think that was a word, but M-W has it and it gets some 6,600 hits on Google

• Speaking of hits, Red Sox slugger David Ortiz has been hailed by fan signs as papi, which the announcers identified as a term of respect in Central America. Haven't found anything on it yet (I'm assuming it's a variant of papa, which M-W says derives from "French babytalk"; unlike "pappi," a part of a fruit, which comes from the Greek "pappos.")

• On the last "Scrubs," J.D. asks for a milado cookie and is told it's a milano. He's relieved and says: "I always thought that was a little bigoted for a cookie."

• At the store, I wondered, is Lunchables what linguists call a substantivized adjective--an adj. that functions as a noun, as in "through thick and thin"?

From LL:

A friend once told me about an idiom that nearly ended a relationship. He was northern European, not a native speaker of English, sojourning at a university in the midwest. She was American, reading a map in the passenger's seat of the car he was driving. "OK," she said, "at the next intersection, you want to turn right." He was furious. Internally, of course. "How does she presume to know what I want?" There were other issues here, but her idiom crystallized his sense of psychic intrusion, and he brooded about it for days.

• And LL on the NYT's "after boring of the task."

• I came across the adjective a prioristic last week; I forget where. I thought it was suspect. M-W has "apri·or·i·ty" (which would make the adjective "aprioritistic"); Google has 493 hits for "a prioristic" and over 2,000 for "aprioristic."

From "The change [of title] is clear in the movie, as in the song before the credits, the singers interlock between calling the movie "Sharkslayer" and "Shark Tale".

"Interlock between"? M-W: interlock: "1. to lock together: UNITE 2. to connect so that the motion or operation of any part is constrained by another." How about "alternate between"?

• Movies as sponsors are getting strange--yesterday's World Series telecast included something like the "Polar Express Play of the Game"--but an NYT printer-friendly page was confusing, running its announcement and movie title side-by-side:

so that it naturally reads: "Printer-Friendly format I [Heart] Huckabees/Sponsored by In Select Theaters Now."

• Finally, from a Kodak ad: "The best part about photography are the pictures."

It are?

Previous column and inflections

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