I admit to being somewhat displeased by the Inauguration speech yesterday. It had its finer moments, certainly. But someone should have slashed it by at least a third, maybe two thirds.
Side note: the invocation should never be longer than Lincoln's second Inaugural--700 words. Yesterday's invocation reached new lows of ridiculousness. The benediction, however, was delightful.
Back to the main rant: the Inauguration is not the time or place to stick it to the previous administration. It's all about the peaceful transfer of power, not stomping on your predecessor. True, a significant chunk of the population craves hearing that utter rejection and condemnation of the last eight years--and may have especially relished watching the outgoing President sit there and take it. Nevertheless, that speech should have been saved for the State of the Union. There, it would be appropriate to update Congress on our disastrous situation and the new President could simultaneously scold Congress for its own role in creating it. But the Inaugural speech should not be about recriminations, however subtle.
Similarly, I found the speech heavy on statements geared toward the foreign audience. True, leader of the free world and all that, but you must lead your own country before you can lead the world. I wouldn't have cut every reference to our friends and enemies abroad, but I would have encouraged heavy pruning.
But these points are merely signposts to the crux of the speech's problem: it lacked a central theme. He tried to say too much to too many. There was no distillation of message or sifting of priorities. It was a shotgun speech, a blunderbuss, even a bit of a mess.
I've been writing for a long time. My grandmothers were both English teachers. Sometimes I think I've forgotten more rules than some people ever learn. And still, sometimes, something new makes life interesting.
An issue came up recently, which prompted me to do some research. Lo, I discovered many details of which I was unaware--some of which sent a shiver of pure paranoia down my spine. This is me, people; I can be paranoid about anything up to and including the finer points of grammar. Anyway, I think it's that very paranoia that would have saved me from committing unpardonable error. At least, that's what I'm telling myself. Repeatedly.
In other news: if anyone has recommendations for a good Securities hornbook, please let me know. Or if you have suggestions for current, unresolved, First Amendment issues, I'd love to hear them.
And while you're handing out recommendations, know any good tax accountants?
I knew this year was going to bite us in the rear.
Is it Poetry Month? Bah. Every day is a day for poetry.
The other day I was musing about the Greek dramas I have read, which are all poetry. They're lovely and all that, but a bit long.
I was talking recently about someone who's real first name is James, although he goes by something else, and it brought to mind one of my favorite poems ever, by A.A. Milne:
James James Morrison Morrison Weatherby George Dupree Took great care of his Mother, Though he was only three. James James Said to his Mother,' "Mother," he said, said he, "You must never go down to the end of town if you don't go down with me."
And on it goes. She doesn't, of course, listen to him. There's nothing even the King could do. Isn't it charming?
Today's words of the day are: venal, copious, autocrat.
The venal autocrat had copious supplies of fine champagne.
Do you ever notice the real-person verification letters suggest words? The one on Blogger does it most consistently I think; Typepad's is too random. Typepad's has numbers too, which might ruin the fun.
I can usually solve jumbles within a second or two of looking at the letters. But I consistently misread signs when I see them out of the corner of my eye.
Sometimes people discover they're dyslexic when they try to read Latin. Words such as "minimis" can throw off almost anyone.
I stumbled upon a lovely little grammar and usage site by Jack Lynch, an English professor. He's good, and forthright about his pet peeves. Those of you who are fans of proper grammar and strong writing will enjoy the site -- even if you don't have a paper to write!
He also recommends reading George Orwell's essay, "Politics and the English Language." It's a marvelous essay; I stole the title to this post from it. I have noticed so often, and especially when reading theoretical works, the problems Orwell addresses. Sloppy thinking reveals itself in tortured writing. Clear thinking produces clean and even graceful writing.
Here is a snippet of the essay:
Now that I have made this catalogue of swindles and perversions, let me give
another example of the kind of writing that they lead to. . . . I am going to translate a passage of good
English into modern English of the worst sort. Here is a well-known verse from
I returned and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor
the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to
men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance
happeneth to them all.
Here it is in modern English:
Objective considerations of contemporary phenomena compel the conclusion
that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to
be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the
unpredictable must invariably be taken into account.
No wonder I considered so much of the theory I read over the last year so much horseshit. It all strongly resembled the second sentence. Here's another marvelous bit:
A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that
he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus: 1. What am I trying
to say? 2. What words will express it? 3. What image or idiom will make it clearer?
4. Is this image fresh enough to have an effect? And he will probably ask himself
two more: 1. Could I put it more shortly? 2. Have I said anything that is avoidably
ugly? But you are not obliged to go to all this trouble. You can shirk it by
simply throwing your mind open and letting the ready-made phrases come crowding
in. They will construct your sentences for you -- even think your thoughts for
you, to a certain extent -- and at need they will perform the important service
of partially concealing your meaning even from yourself. It is at this point
that the special connection between politics and the debasement of language
I spend a lot of time reading: weblogs, the paper, books, news sites, all sorts of stuff. I cannot count the number of times in the last few weeks I have seen someone write "phased" instead of "fazed."
From typing "define phase" in Google:
(physical chemistry) a distinct state of matter in a
system; matter that is identical in chemical composition and physical
state and separated from other material by the phase boundary; "the
reaction occurs in the liquid phase of the system"
arrange in phases or stages; "phase a withdrawal"
(astronomy) the particular appearance of a body's state
of illumination (especially one of the recurring shapes of the part of
Earth's moon that is illuminated by the sun); "the full phase of the
adjust so as to be in a synchronized condition; "he phased the intake with the output of the machine"
From typing "define faze" in Google:
scare or worry, as in: The flash-flood warnings didn't seem to faze him at all.
disturb the composure of
Or see this: 1830 Amer.Eng. variant of Kentish dialect feeze "to frighten, alarm, discomfit" (c.1440), from O.E. fesian, fysian "drive away," from P.Gmc. *fausjanan.
And this: L. sing. phasis was used in Eng. from
1660. Non-lunar application is first attested 1841. Meaning "temporary
difficult period" (especially of adolescents) is attested from 1913.
The verb meaning "to synchronize" is from 1938, from the noun.
Discomfit is a good synonym for faze. I like that. It does NOT mean the same thing as synchronize, the verb form of the noun "phase."
And while we're discussing inappropriate uses of nouns, please allow me to add that I despise the use of the word "impact" as a verb. It is a noun, people, a noun without a verb form!