Sunday, January 28, 2007

Safire's tsunami of tsuris

Safire's nothing if not grossly inconsistent ... After all the hoo-ha about about the integration of the utterly normal English word kvetch last week, this week he focuses on rambling digs at the Democratic "first hundred hours", slipping in the phrase "tsunami of tsuris". (I do note that he still says Democratic, not Democrat, for the adjective. His sense of "good English" trumps his political instincts, presumably.) I'm guessing almost every native speaker of American English knows kvetch, but that large numbers don't know tsuris, another Yiddish loan and one he doesn't adorn with scare quotes or italics.

Let's just set aside any thoughts about language and linguistics and consider this as pure entertainment. Is this level of inconsistency some kind of literary game or related perversion?
I play the super-prescriptivist in my column but actually violate all my own rules by never looking stuff up, not writing clearly and failing to be consistent in ways that a wet-behind-the-ears copy-editing intern would catch. Oh what rich and subversive irony!
Seems hard to imagine — he's just not that smart or sophisticated. Or is he this bad as an entertainer? Mrs. Verb (not her real name) reads murder mysteries and I think it's safe to assume that she'd toss out an author who was this sloppy. Hmmm. maybe he IS consistent at a certain level.


Joe said...

OK, but does Safire use 'tsunami of tsuris' as [ts] alliteration? Or [s]? Or just visual?

Stumblerette said...

Oh, I'm sure it's just for visual effect, it's not exactly a very smart expression (unlike "curled-lip service"). The OED prefers "tsores", which could not as easily be packed into a multiethnic figure of speech.