Monday, December 10, 2007

"Mitt Romney's ominous verb"

The most reliable person in the lingua-blogging world, Ben Zimmer, passed along this link when it was fresh, but I'm only now getting around to it. (I'm still not quite making enough money blogging to give up the old day job ... maybe soon.)

It's Walter Shapiro's fine piece in Slate on Romney's religion speech and here's the opening:
Reading the advance text of Mitt Romney's speech this morning on "Faith in America," I came upon a very un-American verb. (No, it is not the transitive use of "torture" or "waterboard.") The verb in question -- which is normally innocuous, but in this context is ominous -- is "require."

Here is the passage that troubles me: "Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom. Freedom opens the windows of the soul so that man can discover his most profound beliefs and commune with God. Freedom and religion endure together, or perish alone."
Now, I'm hard pressed to figure out why transitive torture and waterboard are more ominous than intransitive ones — the intransitive "the U.S. tortures" seems at least as bad as a version with a direct object, maybe more threatening. Beyond that, though, Shapiro is dead on the money, that the core statement ("freedom requires religion") "is historically ludicrous". And he decodes the real message, the dog whistle if we can nod toward Ben Zimmer: What Romney might have said is the far more truthful: "Republican politics and religion prosper together, or they lose elections alone."


The Ridger, FCD said...

I think the phrase '"the transitive use of "torture" or "waterboard"' is merely meant to point out that those words are (usually?) nouns, not that the transitive uses are worse than the intransitive.

Mr. Verb said...

Aha, I would never have gotten that reading! Thanks.

zmjezhd said...

Yes, I think it's a case of fearing denominal verbs. In the case of torture, according to the OED, it's been a verb for a little over 400 years: the two earliest, late 16th century citations are from Shakespeare. It's a common morphological process that anybody with an interest in the language ought to have noted ...