Monday, December 04, 2006

Safire, burned

William Safire is surely paid more than anybody else alive to spread misinformation about language and how it works (see various posts below or ask any linguist for examples), while sniping at those who disagree with him (the 'gotcha! gang's pajama-top patrol', etc.) As I've mentioned before, he doesn't actually look up stuff in the dictionary before publishing, even though he has an editorial assistant who could do that for him. Occasionally over the years, his assistants have, instead of looking something up, posted queries to the American Dialect Society's ads-l, an open email list anyone can join.

When this happens, I wonder why anyone would possibly respond -- he doesn't typically credit people for their expertise (though sometimes he does) and as I've documented here, he basically can't get anything right. (The archives of ads-l contains examples of him citing something posted there with credit to the source, but creating the impression Safire had talked to the person when he hadn't.) People gripe about this occasionally, but only in a mild-mannered way as far as I recall offhand.

Well, today his poor editorial assistant (can you imagine that job?) asked a very prominent member of the ADS to post a query on his behalf. Now, it wasn't a simple question like 'anybody happen to know the origin of this word?' No, it was a freaking list of six questions, including why the item in question was becoming popular. But today, one of the most famous and I suspect one of the best lexicographers working today (you can find the person's identity in the ads-l archives) had this response:
Y'know, there was a time when Safire or his assistants would look
at the OED before writing about a word ... .
Hear, hear! Hurrah! Again, does the New York Times tolerate such consistently sloppy, inaccurate and downright lazy products in any other realm?

PS: The editorial assistant needed the response a few hours after the query was posted. Hey, do my job for me, and be quick about it!


Rosina Lippi said...

but but but...

what were the questions about?

Mr. Verb said...

You will not believe them ... see the next post.