YiLeng Chen-Josephson’s roundup of top dictionaries on the market (“Word Up: Which dictionary is the best?“) summons wordsmiths and grammarians into the Fray. As a self-admitted “lexi-geek”TransMun feels exonerated by the piece:
YiLing Chen-Josephson’s “Word Up” piece is a spoonful of marzipan to lexi-geek like me. TransMun then fires a shot on behalf of hard-core descriptivists:
When I find utter excitement in books like Jepperson’s “Growth and Structure of the English Language” or “The Professor and the Madman,” my wife, my friends and my associates all think I’m nuts.
Dictionaries began as a reflection of the English language in the 18th century. They have no business prescribing the law through which we speak and write. Those grammarians who cling steadfast to prescription will find in fifty years that they’re left standing there looking for their dangling participles… In the same spirit, radical desciptivist David Foster Wallace laid out the case against descriptivism, here, in the pages of Harper’s in April 2001. Here, TransMun prefers a briefer analysis (sans footnotes) by Utah-transplant-cum-humorist, Tommy Kirchhoff. Some Fraysters, such as Harry_BW, want to know when Web dictionaries “will make the cut.” Here, HBW confesses that he gets warm fuzzies when Merriam-Webster’s “word of the day feature” appears in his inbox. Back in August, andkathleen noted that “Merriam-Webster has a sense of humor.” To yuk it up with the marketing folks at M-W, click here. Here, when paragenic wants to judge a dictionary beyond its cover, “the first word I look up is ‘fuck.’ ” So far as etymological efficacy goes, The Dictionary of American Slang by Robert L. Chapman, editor of Roget’s Thesaurus, is a favorite of Fraywatch … KA9:10 a.m.
Thursday, December 4, 2003
Fray boomers take stock own draft decisions, take aim at Christopher Hitchens, and take the New York Times Book Review out to the blue bin.
Subject: “Kinsley on Vietnam Draft”Re: “Skiing Through Vietnam: Does it matter if a candidate dodged the draft?”From: JimmytheCeltDate: Thu Dec 4 1402hKinsley’s two reasons why military service-avoiders of a certain edge shouldn’t feel guilty are, to my mind, valid: 1) the prosecution of the war did not require, or ask for, a mass effort of millions of conscripts; and 2) it was a bad war. It was a “bad war,” by the way, not only from the bleeding-heart moral point of view but also from the professional, Clausewitzian point of view.
The reason for feeling guilty – and I felt and feel guilty – was because of disparities of class and education. Among the kids with whom I went to parochial school in a small New York town (pop. 6000), many were drafted and four were killed. They were close friends. Among my college classmates at Ritzy U, few were drafted and only one died. Me and my college buddies (like George W. Bush and Howard Dean) had a network to plug into that provided letters and medical reports and whatever you needed to avoid combat. Now it’s useful to remember that, with the huge exception of the Second World War, American combat formations have never included significant numbers of the bourgeoisie. Vietnam was the historical norm, not the exception. But still, it felt bad to know that I could get off but non-college-boys couldn’t, or at least didn’t.
So what social good is served by “feeling bad?” Good question. …[Find this post here.]Subject: “Let slip the dogs of peace”Re: “The Liberal Left: Have opponents of the war been vindicated? Not so fast.”From: gtomkins1Date: Thu Dec 4 1323hMr. Hitchens might reflect that perhaps he encounters dogged literal-mindedness so frequently because he induces it. The last, desperate defense when confronted with his mental gyrations, for that majority of us who are limited to the operations of Sense and Reason in our understanding of the world around us, is to insist that words mean what they say, and not the opposite of what they did a paragraph, or a month, ago.
Blair and Bush were very literal-minded in their statements about the imminence of the WMD threat. The “dodgy dossier” gave us a very specific number for the latency period of this threat – 45 minutes. Had the actual latency been a matter of hours, or days, or even weeks – perhaps even those of us whose minds are limited to a classical mechanics world-view would be able to allow for enough of an uncertainty cloud to let that pass…Up until now, Hitchens has savaged those of us with the temerity to even suggest that perhaps Saddam was more symptom than cause of Iraq’s woe, that this country might be inherently so conflict-ridden as to require a brutal hand to keep in check an underlying chaos of even worse consequence than his regime. Now our reluctance to invade is upbraided as an unwillingness to assume the mantle of the brutal enforcer that Iraq needs to prevent chaos, a mantle that would soon have slipped from Saddam’s shoulders even if we had not invaded. A certain moral agility is definitely in order if Mr. Hitchens is to remain in support of a US occupation that will evolve into Baathism without Saddam. Just today they floated the trial balloon of bringing back the Mukhabarat to maintain order in Iraq. Near the beginning of a long career of support for factions all over the political map, Mr. Hitchens had been accused, falsely, of being a Fellow Traveler and Useful Idiot for the most extreme left tendencies. Now he actually has been these things – for the radical right.
Plato maintained that dogs were natural philosophers because they are so apt at recognizing, and then barking at, what they don’t know – a capacity he thought more humans should emulate. No one disputes Hitchens in his recognition of what we all know, that Saddam was evil. But the folks who brought us the war and occupation of Iraq let that knowledge of Saddam’s evil lead them imperceptibly on into what they didn’t know, how to improve on Saddam’s regime, without recognizing that they were moving beyond their knowledge. For myself, I try to be at least as smart as the dogs.[Find this entire post here.]Subject: “O’Rourke on the NYTBR”Re: “The Wonder Years: When people loved the New York Times Book Review.”From: hazbeenDate: Thu Dec 4 1406hO’Rourke’s sketch of the Leonard era is accurate and well-composed……[S]ome questions that O’Rourke never gets around to asking: How did a publication that she calls a goliath become such an intellectual midget? Is it inconceivable that the culture czars at the Times actually like having a midget in goliath’s clothing? Maybe they don’t mind cranking out an innocuous product every week; after all, they’ve been doing it for years. Or has week after week of innocuous product hurt the section’s bottom line, dooming it to be even more innocuous?
On the whole, the NYTBR is nowhere near as opinionated, intelligent, or pungent as some other weekly newspaper and magazine book sections. If you’re looking for something to catch the crumbs of your toast on Sunday morning, it’s fine; if you’re hungry for nourishing commentary on books and ideas, it’s often worthless. In fact, the NYTBR would have to do a lot more than return to the Leonard formula, since what the NYTBR did well under Leonard others now do better. Just look at the weekend book sections of the LA Times, Wash Post, and the Guardian; the back of the book at The New Republic; the London Review, the TLS, the New York Review.[Find this post here.]
Power of Understatement: “When you are using American credibility as a tool, please take proper care of its integrity, if you don’t mind.”
—Narcolepticus, here, in Fighting Words Fray.
Fray Notes: Christopher Hitchens replies belatedly to Edward Jay Epstein’s “Prague Revisited.” Hitchens qualifies his remarks by first stating that, “Anyone who knows either of us knows that Mr. Epstein and I dislike each other intensely, so I thought it only right that I should confirm one aspect of his essay from my own knowledge.” Hitchens goes on to deliver an account of his visit with Jan Kavan, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Deputy Prime Minister for Foreign and Security Policy of the Czech Republic. … The_Bell delivers the Fray’s best analysis of the proceedings between the SCOTUS and Allan J. Favish, who—under the Freedom of Information Act—is trying to get his hands on snapshots of Vincent Foster, post-Army Colt .38 Special … KA 9:55 p.m.
Tuesday, December 2, 2003
WVMicko, back after his autumn hiatus, fired off this call to arms to the Democratic Party just before the Fray’s Thanksgiving recess. WV calls out the eleven Democrats who voted with the majority on the Republican-sponsored Medicare package, in addition to Joe Lieberman and John Kerry. What follows is a fierce rebuttal from a fellow Kausfiler who all but calls WV a Stalinist for his fire-eating.
Subject: “WV Micko, the ‘centrist’ Democrat”Re: “ Party? What Party?”From: PubliusDate: Mon Dec 1 1432hMr. “Centrist” himself – Micko – would cleanse the Democratic Party of these deviationist swine who might think their first obligations are to their constituents or, heaven help us all, to something they might actually think and believe when we all know they ought to kowtow to The Party.Naturally, WV responds accordingly:
The absurdity of Micko’s charge against 13 Democratic U.S. Senators (not to mention his wish that they be defeated in primaries even if that were to mean fewer Dems condemned to be a minority for god knows how long provided they were a “disciplined” lot) would be laughable if it were not a serious sign of the danger today’s Left presents to the Democratic Party and its future. …Who then “belongs” in Micko’s exclusive Democratic Party or doesn’t? The snotty arrogance of this attack on fully a third of the Democratic Party is of a piece with the Left’s near-frenzied effort to take advantage of the 2004 primaries to force a political “realignment” through harsh attacks on anyone who does not toe the “Party” line. The result will be, of course, an electoral defeat of epic proportions for the Democratic Party.[Find this post here.]
Is your problem with my politics that I’m wrong, or just that I’m too far ahead of the curve? Is it more comfortable to be against this stuff when it’s too late to do anything about it? At least Pub and WV agree on something:
But to the point … party discipline. Again, that’s a case of looking at tomorrow’s problems – an area in which our party has been sadly deficient. It has caused us to be beaten about the head and shoulders repeatedly by the disciplined and forward-thinking GOP. In that you yourself are a long-standing if minor Democratic pol, I hold you personally responsible. …I’ve said it before … how in the hell is the Democratic party supposed to function as a living, breathing political force if we cannot get behind a party position and stick to it?
As far as punishing the defectors goes, I prescribed political heat for them, up to and including primary challengers and the efforts of the party and the grass roots to replace them. Do all of them deserve that ultimate opposition? Of course not. There are many ways for we party peons to make our displeasure known and to light a medium-warm fire under some unreliable butts. …Party discipline is how the Republican Party built their now-formidable power base. Being like the GOP is, of course, anathema to any good liberal, even though “more of the same” has gotten us nowhere.[Find this post here.]
Our differences not withstanding, Micko and others have more to say than Kaus.Dean backer, RicNCaric, agrees with WV that:
It’s the same stale old DLC stuff that’s been around since the mid-eighties. The crime of it all is that it’s been moderate Democrats who have been the Democratic party since the early 90’s. Moderate Democrats got their clocks cleaned in the 1994 Congressional elections and again in 2002. The moderate leadership in the Senate has had their hats handed to them by the Bush administration again and again. In fact, the performance of the Democratic leadership on the invasion was so bad that Daschle and Gephardt have a substantial responsibility for the ensuing debacle. The Democratic leadership kept complaining about the lack of a debate, but it was the Democrats not the White House who were unwilling to debate.Other good stuff in the thread can be found from Joe_JP here, with final words from WV here and Pub here. Fray Notes: Thomas, here, wonders if the speech and debate clause precludes any grounds for a bribery charge for those who dangled cash and prizes in front of Rep. Nick Smith in exchange for the Congressman’s vote on the Medicare package. (See Chatterbox, “ Who Tried to Bribe Rep. Smith?“) A well-informed Scythe does some research and reports his findings here … KA8:35 a.m.
Wednesday, November 26, 2003
Too Many Cooks: Sara Dickerman enrages everyone from the Orthodox Union to chowhounds with her “Turkey Derby: Which bird is the best?” Even the east coast contingent of the MaryJane Butters Society chimes in when Dickerman crowns the frozen Butterball Best in Show over an organic bird, a phony baloney vegan gobbler, and the too-cool-for-market selection from eastern Oregon. John Baker, president of organic outfit Giving Nature Foods, writes:
We at Giving Nature Foods found your taste off for the Best Turkey unprofessional and unscientific. The results imply an absolute condemnation of organic turkey production, but are based on one regional supplier of organic turkeys compared to the behemoth factory farming organization known as Cargill. Factory farming companies can mask much of their products inferiority by adding sodium and water as you mention and by using these and other unnatural feed additives to create product quality standardization.
GNF’s entire post can be read here.
“Oy, Gevalt!” RickinBoulder is off his Rocky Mountain chai because he can’t believe that Dickerman…
*buttered* a kosher bird?! Tsk, tsk. For those of us who need to keep our kosher turkeys, well, kosher, is there a good alternative (short of rendering a chicken for some nice shmaltz)?
There’s plenty of schmaltz over in BOTF as the holiday hastening and chastening has apparently already begun.
Strange Birds: “Ever tried beer-can turkey?” asks maestro:
The basic concept is to insert an open can of beer in the bird’s body cavity while grilling with an indirect heating method at a low temperature (275F-350F). The beer steams the bird from the inside while the grill crisps the skin on the outside. I have never tasted a more tender and juicy bird regardless of the original cost or quality.
The most elaborate recipe in Foods Fray goes to Alinator, who insists that “there will be no need for a carving knife,” if you pay attention.
Holiday Cheer: Adam_Morgan on the under-doggedness of the dudes on NBC’s Average Joe, as reviewed by Dahlia Lithwick (“All Geek to Me: Nerd Love on Average Joe“):
The pretty boys, on the other reality shows Dahlia describes, probably have learned the lesson that these chumps haven’t: the prettiness of a woman is a temporary illusion. After the sex, and after the romance of walking around with a statuesque thing that other men crave, what matters is who she is.
The chumps haven’t yet discovered this. The temptation of the cheerleader, I’m gonna speculate, perverts the difference between what men think of love and sex. Undoubtedly, some of these men probably do think they’re in love. And, women like Dahlia probably believe it is.
The truth, most likely, is that each is receiving what they want to believe, while disregarding the obvious, that a man’s motivation is often for sex and the woman’s is for love. That is, if these men weren’t so desperate and the woman wasn’t so pretty, the illusion, like in other reality shows and, you know, life, would have been outted earlier.
Nattering nabob or evolutionary genius? You decide … KA4:30 p.m.
Monday, November 24, 2003
A relatively quiet weekend prevailed in the Fray, with the exception of a few biologists, psychologists, and other -ists jumping into Press Box Fray to toss a copy of The Globe into the face of Jack Shafer. Readers continue to pepper the Fray with both invectives and praise for the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruling, though the Fray, to Fraywatch’s knowledge, has never fielded an official marriage proposal—same-sex or otherwise. If I’m incorrect, please let me know.
Subject: “Yes, he would”Re: “Low-Yield Nukes: Why spend money on useless weapons?”From: ArlingtonDate: Sun Nov 23 1041hMost presidents could be convinced to use the “baby nukes” if the Pentagon said they were really, really necessary, the only way to accomplish the mission.Fray notes: The astral restoration project continues, with Meletus reclaiming a star granted in August, then promptly relinquished in the anti-star revolt of summer 2003 … KA1:50 p.m.
Thinking back over the presidents I can remember, I can kind of rank their reactions to proposals to employ small, tactical nuclear weapons:
Eisenhower: “No. I won in Europe without them. Show me how this is like the situation in Japan. See, you can’t. Forget it.”
Kennedy: “No. I faced down the bearded guy with the cigar when it looked like the end. I’m sticking to conventional military threat and back channel diplomacy.”
Johnson: “No, goddamnit. You don’t drop one of those things on a goddamn outhouse without my say-so.”
Nixon: “No. My (expletive) enemies list is long enough without adding a bunch of (expletive) anti-nuke Euro-fairies. I am not a crook.”
Ford: “No. I’m afraid the thing might go off course and hit an innocent spectator.”
Carter: “No. I was a nucleah engineer and I understand the destructive power of what you propose to unleash.”
Reagan: “No. When I said we’d bomb the Evil Empire, I meant real bombs, the kind we used when I flew with the Hellcats of the Pacific. No, wait … that was submarines, wasn’t it? Well, torpedoes then, but no nuclear torpedoes.”
Bush 41: “No. Wouldn’t be prudent. Not at this juncture.”
Clinton: “No. My polling people tell me it wouldn’t be good. That’s too much pain to feel.”
Bush 43: “Sure. As long as you’ll teach me to pronounce nucaler the right way.” [Find this post here.]Subject: “Evolutionary Psychology”Re: “Doing the Celebrity Rag: Evolutionary psychology explains the appeal of the Star, US Weekly, and People.”From: e_coliDate: Fri Nov 21 1119hWhile the premise of this article is terrifically amusing, you should realize that in logical and scientific terms, its argument would not survive natural selection … For example, consider that many arguments based on evolutionary psychology start with the undeniable truth that biology motivates males and females differently: while a male can participate in a stupefying number of pregnancies at the same time, limited only by the supply of available females, a female can participate in only one. Thus, to the first order, a woman need not focus much attention on competition from other women, since a desirable man can (and wants to) provide genetic material to any and all willing women. On the other hand, a woman should be very interested in competition among men; since she can incubate genes from only one at a time, it is very important for her to figure out which one of them is superior. By contrast, a man needs to concern himself with comparing the available women against each other to figure out which ones are most worth striving for against his male competitors; and of course he needs most of all to concern himself with his male competitors, since he is engaged in a zero-sum struggle with them for the opportunity to promulgate his genes.
This explains why men are more interested in gossip than women, since they need to scope out not just potential mates but also existing competitors. It also explains why, to the extent that women are interested in gossip, they focus almost exclusively on gossip about men rather than other women.
Hm. This conclusion seems to be at odds with the one we wanted. Oh well. Never mind. We still know from first principles that everything is determined by the genes we inherited from our cave-dwelling ancestors.[Find this post here.]Subject: “I’ve been to some gay weddings”Re: “It’s the Commitment, Stupid: How to sell gay marriage.”From: Dar-al-IsalamDate: Thu Nov 20 2028hI’ve been to some gay weddings … the only thing missing from the ceremony was a piece of paper from the government recognizing the marriage.
Gays can and do marry, sort of, in churches and elsewhere. These unions are marriages in every sense of the word except for legally. Gays can and do have legal protections for their unions if they engage the services of a competent lawyer. Female Gays can and do procreate, often with the assistance of male gays (use your imagination, ok). Gays can and do adopt children, often children that are less than optimal adoption material. Gays work. Gays pay taxes. Gays vote. Gays buy houses, they live down the block, next door, maybe even in your house. Gays are children and fathers and husbands and brothers and sisters and moms and soldiers and sailors and politicians and beggars and thieves.
The one thing that gays can’t do is denied to them by the state solely because they are not a male/female couple. A gay man can marry a gay female and the state doesn’t bat an eye. A gay man can marry another man, providing that one of them has been surgically altered to represent a female and this surgical alteration has been duly recognized and registered with the state. Gays can cohabitate, raise families, pay taxes, work, love, live, kill and pay bills. But, by God, they can’t get married. To each other, to their lover, to their life companion because … because … because?
Because it upsets us?
Don’t ask, don’t tell and please, please, please by God don’t think we are going to let you get married!
That is just too much because, like, I’m married and if you gays got married then we would have something in common?
Something in common other than all that other stuff, I mean.[Find this post here.]
Subject: “THG is a steroid, and steroids are CHEATING”Re: “It’s the Commitment, Stupid: How to sell gay marriage.”From: dirqDate: Mon Nov 24 1103hThe fact that the stuff is not illegal, and therefore we should ignore how tons of professional athletes have been shooting THG is morally deficient. The fact is that THG is a STEROID, and our morally bankrupt professional sports leagues are dedicated to LIP SERVICE against steroids. And as such, this is CHEATING. The author argues that there’s no law against THG. Pure bunk—THG is a synthetic steroid, and is DOUBLY dishonest to use—firstly because it is a steroid, but is rationalized to be legal because it was just invented, and kept SECRET, so that laws couldn’t be written up spelling out that it’s illegal, and secondly, because there is (WAS) no test for it, its biggest appeal to athletes was that it was supposedly UNDETECTABLE. A popular method of CHEATING for all athletes is to build strength in training using steroids, and then clean up in competition when the spotlight is upon you. If the spotlight cannot detect the steroid you are using, however, you can use it ALL THE TIME, thereby increasing your nefarious edge in competition. Make no mistake—these professional athletes TOOK this drug, the KNEW it was a steroid, and Barry Bonds, quite frankly, has completely rewritten the baseball record books with it.Our author may not care about historical standards of greatness, but no clearer example exists of how these standards can be ruined by CHEATING other than Barry Bonds. The amount of damage these steroids have done to the credibility of professional sports is incalculable. If our author has his way, however, the damage may not be so great, as he is willing to do what cheating professional athletes want all sports fans to do, which is to look the other way. If no one cares, then there’s no problem. But I’m sorry, I care.[Find this post here.]