Sunday, May 13, 2007

Dear Bill, or "Safire unloaded"

Look, Bill, I know I haven't been writing much lately. Been really busy at work and stuff. Bill, this is hard; I've never written a letter like this before. But I just have to tell you: This isn't working. Sure, in the early days, when literally nobody was reading this blog, it was kinda fun to write this:
One of the real reasons every working linguist needs a blog is because it offers a chance to heap scorn on William Safire ... I figure that people just can't pound on his wretched, prescriptivist, Nixonian butt enough.
Seen in the light of your role in American history and your stunningly ill-informed rants and ramblings about words, that was gentle ribbing, just a couple old guys kidding around about how people talk. But the fire has gone out, Bill. You're not letting this relationship work: You need to be just wrong and stupid enough for me to mock and correct, but not so wrong and stupid to make that pointless.

Today's column is the end of the road for us, Bill. Your little thing about how "you're welcome" is turning 100 years old goes too far. I didn't even have to break out the dictionaries or google around to see how wrong you were: ads-l has posts by Barry Popik and Michael Coarrubias ripping you to shreds here. The former pulled a book off the shelf (I know, that's not your game, but you have a paid assistant to reach up there!) and found a pile of attestations before 1875. The latter sent you a damn Shakespeare quote with the phrase in it, which it sounds like you (lege: your assistant) ignored.

One of the real joys of teaching and research is seeing things develop: Students and colleagues learn new skills, find new evidence and we see things in new ways. You're not like that, BIll. You're a bug stuck in amber, Bill, never moving for all eternity. You should be ashamed of yourself. Go work on your golf game.

Goodbye, Bill.

Image from here.


Oscar Madison said...

So you're not going to rag on Safire anymore?

The Ridger, FCD said...

Frankly, I don't know how you kept it up this long. I remember Lila Gleitman's "nightmare" back in 1994:

I believe the worst nightmare for any linguist would come in these three parts:

1. being cited by William Safire in the NY Times
2. being cited approvingly by William Safire in the NY Times
3. being cited approvingly as claiming the opposite of what one has claimed by William Safire in the NY Times

Mr. Verb said...

Oscar, that iced coffee sure looks appealing. Yeah, I'll no doubt find occasion to rag on Safire in the future, but he was a raison d'ĂȘtre for this blog, and he's just not that important at this point. In the end, he's simply not good enough at what he does to be an object of ridicule.

Yeah, Ridger, it was starting to wear: You just expect some limit to how wrong and wrong-headed somebody can be, but he lacks limits.

Brett said...

These breakups can take time to get over. But the best thing to do is make a clean break, Mr. Verb. Then you can both move on. Or rather, you can move on and on Bill can move.

Wishydig said...

Hey thanks for the mention. Sometimes I wonder who's listening. (ADS-L helps.)

I'm embarrassed to admit it but about 15 years ago I started off on my little linguistics journey with every intention of keeping up with Mr Safire. Then I got my education and realized he needed one too.

nb - it's Covarrubias: believe me, the mispronunciations are much worse than the misspellings.

Mr. Verb said...

I'm sure Safire's left a trail of debris in his wake -- even leaving aside his work for Nixon.