Thursday, November 30, 2006

"An abuser of the English language"

Wow, language still counts for something -- as a political bludgeon, at least. George Will (yup, he's still not dead) has published a scathing attack on the man who defeated George Allen (Racist, Virginia) in today's Washington Post:
Jim Webb, Democratic senator-elect from Virginia, has become a pompous poseur and an abuser of the English language before actually becoming a senator.
Once I managed to stop laughing at George Will calling somebody pompous, I naturally wondered exactly what the verbal felonies might be. Looks like there were a couple:
When Bush asked Webb, whose son is a Marine in Iraq, "How's your boy?" Webb replied, "I'd like to get them [sic] out of Iraq."
Here, Will lets the 'sic' do the talking: It's apparently a mismatch between Bush's question (about a single person) and Webb's answer (with a plural pronoun). Even assuming that a reporter didn't misrepresent a highly reduced pronoun -- 'm could come from him or them, at least in my English -- it's stupid to put a 'sic' here: Webb's intent is presumably to get his son AND OTHERS out. This isn't even necessarily messiness in a tense conversation, but could be a conscious shifting of the ground, taking the focus away from the senator-elect's personal sacrifice (Bush sure doesn't have kin in Iraq) to the more general issue.

And then, this quote from Webb:
America's top tier has grown infinitely richer and more removed over the past 25 years. It is not unfair to say that they are literally living in a different country.
Will's gets het up about Webb's use of literally meaning 'completely'. How quaint. He then goes into a serious tirade about Webb using infinitely to mean 'vastly'. These are common patterns in American English, of course, and the evolution of new intensifiers like these is literally (in the old sense), maybe infinitely (in the new sense) unsurprising.

Wow, compare those crimes to the inarticulate soup of your typical Bush statement. Or to Allen hurling racial slurs at somebody. I don't think Will has made much of those little incidents.

1 comment:

T.L.D.L.T. said...

I agree with George Will.