Safire on language
Thread poster: Jacek Krankowski
Moving over here from http://www.proz.com/?sp=bb/viewtopic&post=40167#40167
\".... A tangential cavil: to me, an acronym is a pronounceable word created out of the initials or major parts of a compound term, like NATO, radar, or TriBeCa. But G.O.P is universally pronounced gee-oh-pee -- by its initials -- and never as the word \'\'GOP,\'\' rhyming with \'\'cop.\'\' Though not all dictionaries agree, I say that makes G.O.P. an initialism or abbreviation. In the same way, the initialism for the Securities and Exchange Commission is S.E.C., pronounced sibilantly ess-ee-see, not, dryly, \'\'seck.\'\' And R.I.P., gravestone initialese for \'\'Rest in Peace,\'\' is pronounced as individual letters, not \'\'rip.\'\' ....
Here\'s the plank in my platform: it\'s true that not everybody knows the derivation of G.O.P., but it\'s just as true that not everybody has to know its root to know what it means. Etymology is an elective, not a course required for newspaper comprehension. If a word or set of initials communicates meaning to most people and it\'s not vulgar, use it.
My kids plan to give me a DVD player for Christmas. That stands for \'\'digital videodisc,\'\' and by the time I finish this sentence I\'ll have forgotten the whole phrase. All I need to know is \'\'who can hook up the DVD?\'\' \"
[ This Message was edited by:on2002-12-19 20:24]
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DVD stands for Digital Versatile Disc...
I am not totally sure about what \"DVD\" stands for, but I believe you. Your comment on the \"DVD\" spell out will certainly interest Mr. Safire. In one of his books (Quoth the Maven), Safire publishes letters from many readers who bring up errors or misconceptions in the words or concepts expressed by Safire.
That\'s why I think Mr. Safire would like to hear about the Aabreviation -not acronym \"DVD\".
You may want to write to Safire to Random House, in NY.
Going to Pot
By WILLIAM SAFIRE
\"Is America Going to Pot?\'\' asked Time magazine on its cover recently. The article was about the battle over legalizing marijuana, and the headline was wordplay on the familiar expression going to pot (synonymous with \'\'going to hell in a handbasket\'\'), which the headline writer tied into the slang term for the hemp plant.
Scholarly potheads know the derivation of pot, the controlled psychoactive substance: the word is rooted in the Mexican Spanish potiguaya, which are marijuana leaves after their pods have been removed. The word may be derived from potacion de guaya, a potation (from the Latin potere, \'\'to drink\'\') that causes guaya, \'\'lamentation\'\' in Latin American Spanish. Apparently, this was \'\'the wine of grief\'\' in which marijuana buds were steeped. (The word marijuana could come from Mariguana, one of the Bahamian islands, or from a seductive Maria Juana -- Mary Jane. It\'s a mystery.) ....
The phrase collector John Ray in 1670 defined to go to pot as \'\'to perish; to be done for; as by death, bad seasons, pecuniary difficulties and so forth.\'\' A decade later, the poet John Dryden wrote, \'\'Then all you heathen wits shall go to pot/For disbelieving of a Popish plot.\'\'
The cannibalistic origin of the metaphor -- to chop people up into edible portions and stew them in a pot until tender -- disappeared over the centuries. The meaning is now \'\'to deteriorate; to fall apart; to go to seed.\'\' Colleen Barrett, president of the profitable, no-frills Southwest Airlines (bring your own lunch), told reporters recently, \'\'A nongrowing company is the quickest way to have morale go to pot.\'\' ....
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| Andrzej? (see no. 12 below) || Jan 5, 2003 |
Culpa for Mea
by William Safire
1. When the self-described language maven wrote, \'\'Such past experience
should remind us, . . . \'\' David Prentice of Sheenboro, Quebec, a member of
the Squad Squad policing redundant tautologies, noted coolly, \'\'I wonder
what other kind of experience there is?\'\' (O.K.; when dealing with
experience, lose past.) ...
3. Conjunctionitis: \'\'Burton\'s likely successor is the fabled G.O.P.
fund-raiser Tom Davis, though Representatives Chris Cox or Christopher Shays have much more investigative experience.\'\' The charge of the Boo-Boo Brigade was led by Frank Gado: \'\'Cox OR Shays HAVE? Shame!\'\' The plural verb have
would have been correct if the two names had been tied together with and, but by introducing the conjunction or, the careless writer separated the two individuals. If such separation was desired, its purpose would have been served with \'\'Cox and Shays each have.\'\'
4. In that regard, the law of proximity: \'\'Henry [Kissinger] is one of the
few who has the trust of the keepers of the secrets.\'\' Ken Paul e-mails:
\'\'The antecedent of who is \'the few,\' and thus the verb should be have.\'\'
The Yip Harburg rule of agreement: if you\'re not near the antecedent you
love, you use the antecedent you\'re near.
5. The right to be left: \'\'Brent Scowcroft and his leave-Saddam-alone
acolytes on the president\'s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board.\'\' Writes
the purist Alvin Hattal: \'\'Leave Saddam alone? Not let?\'\' He\'s correct in
his pristine prescriptiveness: to leave alone is \'\'to allow to remain in
solitude,\'\' while to let alone is slightly different: \'\'to refrain from
disturbing.\'\' It\'s a nice distinction, often ignored by good writers but
worth preserving, remembering Justice Louis Brandeis\'s defense of privacy as
\'\'the right to be let alone.\'\'
6. Present laughter: \'\'William Bulger . . . is presently the respectable
president of the University of Massachusetts.\'\' And again: \'\'Just because
the F.B.I. brass hats are presently computer-literate. . . . \'\' John Di
Clemente of Tinley Park, Ill., says, \'\'I was taught that presently meant \'in
a short while\' and that currently meant \'now.\'\'\' The maven was taught that,
too, and presently forgot, but is currently reminded. Nothing beats now and
soon for plain comprehension. ...
8. Mistake detector: In a blast at the sweat machines known as lie
detectors, the maven wrote, \'\'That was one fewer career lost to the
predatory polygraph.\'\' Bob Davidson of New York consulted his trusty
high-school grammar book, which said, \'\'Use fewer if the word it modifies is
plural; use less if the word it modifies is singular.\'\' Unless the maven
studies that old grammar, he\'ll have one less career.
9. What, never? In an article protesting Singapore\'s suppression of a free
press, the maven thundered: \'\'The New York Times, which willingly corrects
itself when in error, does not settle libel suits for money. Never.\'\' Wes
Pedersen of Washington writes: \'\'I served under an early \'word man\' who
would have nailed my embarrassed hide to the city-room wall for a gaffe like
that. To him caning would have been far too mild a punishment.\'\' The never
following the not formed a double negative, even though it was tacked on as
a sentence fragment. A repeated negation, however, is not a double negative;
the fragment tacked on for emphasis should have read \'\'Not ever.\'\'
10. Hawkish on dove. In the same castigation of Singapore, the gaffe-prone
vituperator claimed that a news executive he tried to reach \'\'dove under his
desk.\'\' By analogy of the verb pair drive/drove, the past tense of dive was
mistakenly thought to be dove. Longfellow used dove in his \'\'Song of
Hiawatha\'\' but changed it in a later edition. It is currently (now) widely
accepted as an American variant, but not by hard-nosed grammarians who read
this column from their posts high on the ramparts. ...
12. Play it, Sam: \'\'DVD stands for \'digital videodisc.\' \'\' Buncha surly
nit-pickers insist it means \'\'digital versatile disk.\'\' Now it does, but
only because rival manufacturers got together in 1995 to change video to
versatile so as to emphasize its ability to store everything from music to
data to movies.
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| The whole world listens when a president speaks || Jan 18, 2003 |
By FRANK ABATE
(Frank Abate is a lexicographer and president of Dictionaries International,
a consulting and editorial services firm. William Safire is on vacation.)
President George W. Bush pronounced malfeasance without its s in July 2002,
adding to the growing collection of his verbal gaffes, dubbed Bushisms. Web
sites listing Bushisms are legion. Bush has a well-documented habit of
tripping over words, especially when, as with subliminal and malfeasance,
they\'re somewhat bookish. (...)
So, in his pronunciation of nuclear, Bush is in line with a national trend
as well as bipartisan presidential tradition. Indeed, from the founding of
the country, American presidents have had their way with English, for good
or ill. I scoured the Oxford English Dictionary, now out as version 3.0 on
CD-ROM, and was struck by the many words for which U.S. presidents provide
the earliest-known dated evidence.
George Washington referred to his presidential tenure with the word
administration, the earliest example given in the O.E.D., dated 1796.
Notable, too, is that he did not use government, the already established
British term for the elected leadership in power: \'\'In reviewing the
incidents of my administration, I am unconscious of intentional error.\'\'
The O.E.D. also quotes Washington for the earliest examples of such common
words as ravine (1781, for \'\'a deep narrow hollow . . . worn by a
torrent\'\'), tin can (1770, though George spelled it Tinn can), tow path
(1788, for a path next to a canal; the British term is towing-path), corn
row (1769, for \'\'a row of planted corn\'\') and even Newtown pippin, a variety
of apple named for the town on Long Island where it was introduced.
As in other presidential matters, Washington set the tone for his
successors. Familiar terms like normalcy (popularized though not coined by
Warren Harding), belittle (from Thomas Jefferson\'s \'\'Notes on the State of
Virginia,\'\' 1782) and lunatic fringe (from Theodore Roosevelt\'s \'\'History as
Literature,\'\' 1913) are so well established that their presidential roots
are a mere etymological footnote. (...)
Other everyday terms got a boost from once or future presidents, whether or
not presidentially coined. Here\'s a rundown, all first examples in the
O.E.D.: public relations (Jefferson, 1807), squatter (Madison, 178,
caption (Madison, 1789, in the sense \'\'a heading in text,\'\' used instead of
the British terms title or heading), relocate and relocation (Lincoln, 1834
and 1837), point well taken (Lincoln, 1863) and come to stay (Lincoln, 1864,
referring to peace: \'\'I hope it will come soon, and come to stay\'\').
The whole world listens when a president speaks, so we should expect that,
in prepared remarks, presidential words are very carefully chosen. In
January 1998, President Clinton famously said: \'\'I want you to listen to me.
I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.\'\'
The choice of the term sexual relations is a very formal way of putting it;
one might have expected something like \'\'I did not have an affair with that
woman\'\' or \'\'I did not have sex with that woman.\'\' I turned to Webster\'s
Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged, a standard authority in
American legal practice. There, sexual relations is defined as \'\'coitus.\'\'
Given the facts of the Clinton-Lewinsky affair as they have generally been
reported, Clinton spoke the truth, albeit deceptively.
Did the Clinton White House check its Webster\'s Unabridged before the
president spoke and script his words in line with its definition, thus
sidestepping out-and-out perjury?
This trove of president\'s English could go on: bully pulpit (Theodore
Roosevelt, 1909), military-industrial complex (Eisenhower, 1961), a thousand
points of light (George H.W. Bush, 198. Listen closely as President George
W. Bush, from his bully pulpit, delivers the State of the Union address
later this month. But for now, to adopt Truman\'s words (1945), the buck
By ELISABETH BUMILLER
President Bush said recently that the United States has a \'\'fabulous\'\'
military. On other occasions, he has proclaimed himself proud of such a
fabulous country, and of his fabulous cabinet. Texas and Alaska are both
fabulous states. Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, is a fabulous
Laura Bush is doing a fabulous job as first lady, and Mr. Bush\'s father is a
fabulous man. Last fall, Mr. Bush attended a fabulous World Series, and last
summer proclaimed baseball a fabulous sport.
That was around the same time that Mr. Bush said he hoped to make \'\'some
fabulous history\'\' with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia. Last year,
despite all the tragedy, was a fabulous year for Mr. Bush and his wife. He
expects 2002 to be fabulous, too.
One of the jobs of the president of the United States is repeating himself,
whether it is calling for tax cuts or promising to smoke out the evil ones.
Still, students of the presidency have noticed that Mr. Bush says
\'\'fabulous\'\' an awful lot.
It is particularly noticeable when Mr. Bush uses the word alongside his
trademark Texas frontier talk, or when he shouts it out, as he did last
month at Eglin Air Force Base in the Florida Panhandle, to a hangar filled
with thousands of roaring American troops.
\'\'We\'ve built a fabulous coalition of many nations!\'\' Mr. Bush said.
Lyndon B. Johnson, another president from Texas, did not say fabulous, at
least according to Michael Beschloss, the editor of two volumes of Johnson\'s
White House tapes. If Mr. Johnson used a superlative, Mr. Beschloss said, it
was often \'\'wonderful\'\' -- but drawled out without the d, as
\'\'wunnnnnerful,\'\' almost the way Lawrence Welk said it.
Presidential verbal tics are nothing new. Former President Bill Clinton used
the phrase \'\'a big deal\'\' all the time -- on more than 75 occasions between
January 1993 and May 1996, in fact, to describe everything from a pending
crime bill to a Western buffalo preserve to the joys of homeownership to the
deer population of Arkansas. At the time, Mr. Clinton\'s excessive use was
cited as an example of a president sounding too many notes and failing to
distinguish what was really important from what was not.
Former President Ronald Reagan had some verbal tics, too. \'\'Forgive me,
but,\'\' he would say repeatedly -- a genial, gentlemanly disclaimer before
letting someone have it. (...)
Jesse Sheidlower, the principal editor of the Oxford English Dictionary\'s
North American editorial unit, said that all people, not just presidents,
have individual \'\'ideolectal\'\' patterns that distinguish their speech.
\'\'Everyone speaks particular dialects, which are usually regionally and
socially distinguished kind of language,\'\' Mr. Sheidlower said. A person\'s
ideolect, for example, encompasses pronunciation, vocabulary, grammar, tonal
qualities and speed. Presidential ideolects, Mr. Sheidlower said, are simply
noticed more than others.
Mr. Bush used \'\'fabulous\'\' in public on Friday at Fort Bragg, N.C., though
he converted it from his usual adjective to adverb, as in \'\'these are
fabulously trained soldiers.\'\' Mr. Bush was referring to troops who had just
staged a mock liberation of what was supposed to be a United States embassy
from anti-American forces, a military exercise that left him impressed.
\'\'That was exciting,\'\' he said to reporters afterward, dropping, for the
moment, his favorite word.
Still, it is notable that Mr. Bush uses \'\'fabulous\'\' more often outside of
Washington, and in settings where he speaks from note cards, not a prepared
text, before thunderously adoring crowds. For Mr. Bush, fabulous is also a
good-times word, something he reaches for when he is feeling, well,
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| When in Rome, romanize as the Romans do? || Jan 18, 2003 |
Roh or No?
By WILLIAM SAFIRE
In print, the name of the new president of South Korea is spelled Roh Moo
Hyun. But in transcripts of broadcasts, the family name as spoken by
American newscasters is spelled not Roh but Noh, reflecting the way it is
pronounced. Which is it -- Roh, as in \'\'row your boat,\'\' or Noh, as in \'\'a
thousand times, no\'\'?
Answer: It is spelled Roh but pronounced Noh. How come?
Reached in Seoul, the new president\'s media adviser, Ben Limb, says: \'\'It is
common practice for people in Korea whose family name is Noh to
transliterate it Roh. Roh Tae Woo, former president of Korea, also spelled
his name this way.\'\' Sorry, \'\'common practice\'\' is no explanation.
At Sogang University in Seoul, a British-born monk who has taken the name An
Sonjae offers this: Korean syllables are pronounced in three parts --
initial consonant, middle or peak vowel, final consonant. The Korean
alphabet, known as Hangul, contains a symbol that is usually romanized
(spelled in English) as r. When this symbol comes first, it is pronounced as
\'\'a liquid n\'\' if the vowel following is a simple one, but disappears
completely if it is followed by a diphthong, a gliding sound like oi. So?
\'\'The English spelling Roh,\'\' An says, \'\'reflects the original Chinese
pronunciation more accurately than the spelling in Korean does, but the
pronunciation Noh reflects the modern Korean pronunciation.\'\'
Wait a minute. If the name in Korea is pronounced with what we romanize as
an n, why do we write it in English to make it sound like an r? That defeats
the whole idea of transliteration -- imitating the sound of one language in
the alphabet of another. Makes no sense.
The Korean Embassy in Washington sticks to the party line: \'\'The r spelling
is a function of the Hangul letter,\'\' says an uncomfortable spokesman, \'\'and
how it is pronounced when that Korean initial letter is followed by that
vowel. It is a weird grammar rule.\'\' Ah, but here is the anecdote that may
shed light on the n that is masked by an r. In 1987, Howard Chua Eoan wrote
in Time magazine about the previous President Roh: \'\'As a young military
officer, he wore a small brown identification tag with his name inscribed in
English as NO. It was the most common pronunciation of his surname. Quickly,
however, the unpropitious English meaning of \'no\' got to him. Using a less
frequent but acceptable pronunciation, No Tae Woo became Roh Tae Woo. Said
Roh: \'N-o is negative, and I am a positive person. So I prefer R-o-h.\'\'\'
That \'\'less frequent\'\' pronunciation -- with the nonnegative r -- was
obviously a media manipulation by a smart politician determined to overcome
the problem of the English meaning of the Korean sound of \'\'no.\'\' But roh
with an r is not the way most Koreans pronounce the Korean name, nor is it
the way Jim Lehrer and his broadcasting brethren properly say it on
What to do? When in Rome, romanize as the Romans do: spell the word in
English the way it sounds to most Koreans, north and south. Should we call
the new president No, and with sublime consistency spell his name No, or to
give it a foreign flavor, Noh? I say yes.
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| Smoking guns and class warfare || Jan 25, 2003 |
By WILLIAM SAFIRE
...\'\'U.N. Inspectors Criticize Iraqis Over Arms List\'\' was The New York
Times\'s more objective headline, with the hot phrase in the subhead: \'\'But
search teams find no \'smoking gun.\'\'\' ...
When did that phrase first become the favorite figure of speech meaning
\'\'incontrovertible incrimination\'\'? ...It was made famous during the Golden
Age of Political Coinage. The Watergate era coined or popularized Saturday
night massacre, stonewalling, cover-up, dirty tricks, straight arrow,
expletive deleted, third-rate burglary, plumbers, Deep Throat, Big
Enchilada, enemies list and my personal favorite, twisting slowly in the
wind. That was when Doyle\'s smoking pistol, which had changed in occasional
usage over 80 years to smoking gun, blazed its way into dictionaries.
It first appeared in The New York Times on July 14, 1974, in an article by
Roger Wilkins: \'\'The big question asked over the last few weeks in and
around the House Judiciary Committee\'s hearing room by committee members who
were uncertain about how they felt about impeachment was \'Where\'s the
smoking gun?\'\'\' The question was rooted in a Nixon defense strategy, to
narrow the grounds for impeachment to a provable crime. ...
Today, in applying the phrase to the inspection of Iraq for evidence of
making weapons of mass destruction, those opposing an attack on Saddam
Hussein\'s regime have adopted the defense strategy of Nixon\'s lawyers: to
demand incontrovertible physical evidence, which journalists and United
Nations officials agree to call the smoking gun. ...
The opening salvo came from the Democrats. \'\'The tax break the president is
proposing ... is the wrong idea at the wrong time to help the wrong
people.\'\' President Bush fired back: \'\'I understand the politics of economic
stimulus. Some people want to turn it into class warfare.\'\'
...The phrase\'s origin was in the 1848 Communist Manifesto of Karl Marx and
Friedrich Engels: \'\'The history of all hitherto existing society is the
history of class struggle\'\' -- in German, Klassenkämpfen. The German Kampf
(as in Hitler\'s Mein Kampf, \'\'my struggle\'\') is sometimes translated as
\'\'battle\'\'; it is not quite Krieg, meaning \'\'war\'\' (as in Blitzkrieg,
...That war was condemned by anti-Communists. In 1927, Aldous Huxley decried
\'\'those who would interpret all social phenomena in terms of class
warfare.\'\' As the 20th century progressed, and especially in its latter half
as the nature of the Soviet Union was exposed, the phrase was anathematized
in the West. Politicians of all stripes knew that class warfare was
something most people were against, along with categorizing people in
classes. (\'\'Working class\'\' is O.K.; \'\'chattering class\'\' is used with a
sneer at pundits; \'\'lower class\'\' is out.)
Today, class warfare is a phrase conservatives use to blast liberals, and
that liberals, long on the defensive about it, are at last beginning to use
to attack conservatives.
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