Saturday, January 19, 2008

to cohere, transitive

An alert reader (a card-carrying non-prescriptivist, non-peevologist) writes with alarm …
It's come to this -- cohere as a transitive verb ...
The reference is to David Brooks in his NYT column yesterday:
Social tribes rally for and against certain candidates. Rush Limbaugh is currently going bananas because Mike Huckabee threatens to disrupt the community of conservative dittoheads he has spent decades cohering.
Yeah, that's jarring, if not as jarring as what Brooks has said about science (see here, for example). The verb does have a transitive form, in both Merriam-Webster's and OED, it turns out, "to cause to stick together or cohere" (my paraphrase). In both works, it is the last item given, seventh in the OED, so pretty obscure.

Using the most obscure meaning/sense/form of a word is surely a kind of language snob dog whistle, making it classic Brooks. But note the stylistic whiplash: transitive cohere in the same sentence as going bananas and dittoheads, maybe that's what's odd.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

"Language snob dog whistle" is beautiful, Mr. V. We should all adopt this expression at once.

Mr. Verb said...

Well, thanks, Anon. Brooks isn't exactly a peevologist, as far as I know, but he's an uber-snob, surely, and I haven't gotten tired of the dog whistle thing yet.