I've been trying to lay off William Safire—we all know his limitations and he's frequently amusing and occasionally even informative, so why keep thumping him?—but sometimes he says something so mind-bogglingly ridiculous I can't be satisfied simply muttering at my copy of the newspaper, I have to go public.
Well, I don't know Safire's limitations because I don't usually read his column, and if I do, I don't analyze it to see if it's correct. Actually, I probably wouldn't be able to catch all of his mistakes because I'm more of a language lover than a linguist. But apparently there are a lot of annoyed linguists out there who often think he's wrong.
Safire's column was about the word "good...one of the basic words of the English language - originally used in the place of God to avoid irreverence." It sounds preposterous, and it is, according to LH: "The OED knows of only one such use...I can only conclude that our boy William dashed the column off before his first cup of coffee and (as usual) nobody at the Times bothered to even read it over before sending it to the printer."
Okay, may I ask why Safire doesn't have an assistant who can check up on this stuff? He writes for the New York Times, one of the most important, influential newspapers in the world! Someone over there has got to have the skill to verify what he's writing. And if no one wants to bother, then he should get someone to help out. I'm sure there are tons of people, including highly educated ivy-types, who would love to work for him. And I'm sure he has the dough to pay them, unless he's cheap.
So hire someone, please, before you embarrass yourself even more! Be responsible! Or step down, let someone else do that column--correctly.
MJ, you should get yourself a copy of Language Myths by Bauer & Trudgill. It's more for the language lover than the linguist. It serves to dispel myths that have been created by the Bills of the world. Why oh why is much of the lingua-info published in the papers done by non-linguists?
oh, and if it's any relief to you, i consider myself a mini-linguist as well as a language lover, and i certainly wouldn't be able to pick out many of the mistakes others do. it's all in what you know. you can't be an expert in everything!
Maybe I'll do some research to find out what Safire's bio is to see how he got that column-writing gig. Actually, I've found that some blogs are better than some columns in newspapers, which is why I don't read a lot of them anymore.
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