Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Deliver us, O God...

...from falling for every stupid smear that plays to our prejudices and distracts us from discussing important political issues like adults. (More at dotComm.)

Update: Since I know you all like a good blog fight, you may also want to read this follow-up.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

It's true what they say about Dan Brown

He really is a terrible writer, in the most basic sense of the word. That's what I've learned from the Telegraph's list of 20 awful sentences from the collected works of Dan Brown. (I blogged about it at dotCommonweal too.) It doesn't get much worse than this:
Deception Point, chapter 8: Overhanging her precarious body was a jaundiced face whose skin resembled a sheet of parchment paper punctured by two emotionless eyes.
Tom Chivers is correct in noting, "It’s not clear what Brown thinks ‘precarious’ means here." And that's just the beginning of the reasons that sentence is laugh-out-loud bad. In fact, in most cases the commentary from Chivers is unnecessary -- and given the apparent richness of the material, the list is probably not as good as it could have been. (The bit at the end about how "Da Vinci wasn't Leonardo's last name" is particularly weak. There's no need to get pedantic about that when we're dealing with a writer who thinks "precarious" can modify "body.") But there's still enough to make lovers of the language grind their teeth. And to encourage me to stick to my practice of not reading anything by Dan Brown ever.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

You'd think a theatre critic would have seen more musicals

I don't read Terry Teachout regularly, because he's in the Wall Street Journal, which is behind a firewall online and not something I regularly come across in person. But when I got on an Amtrak train to Boston last week I found that day's WSJ in the seat-back pocket in front of me, so I flipped through it, which is how I happened to read Teachout's review of a Boston production of Kiss Me, Kate. And I have to ask: when he says things like this, do you think he's being serious?
If there's a better musical than "Kiss Me, Kate," I haven't seen it.
Wow. I don't like to be the one to break it to you, Terry, but -- there is.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

This is why kids should have to diagram sentences

This has been bothering me for a while, and it seems to be getting worse. So listen up, people: Your favorite expression of moral responsibility and noblesse oblige has more words in it than you think.

You hear it during graduation season -- it's popular in commencement addresses and yearbook quotations. Vicki Kennedy botched it at Senator Ted's memorial service. And I came across it recently in the New York Times Business Section, of all places. Here's what people usually say:

    "To whom much is given, much is expected."

Don't get me wrong: I'm not criticizing the sentiment people think they're endorsing when they say this. I'm always trying to live up to it, in fact, since it's from the Bible and everything. But look again, because what I just wrote above doesn't make any sense. Here's what you have to say in order to be communicating a coherent thought:

    "FROM THOSE [or OF THOSE] to whom much is given, much is expected."

See? You can't start with the "to," because then you've got word salad. Well, unless you do it RSV-style: "Every one to whom much is given, of him will much be required; and of him to whom men commit much they will demand the more." (Luke 12:48)

Bonus fun fact: not that anyone was paying attention to her speech, but this year's Notre Dame valedictorian got the quotation right. In fact, she built her whole speech around it. However, she attributed it to Bill Gates's mom, rather than Jesus. Whoops?