A rather subdued day yesterday at Casa McIntyre: The Son and Heir spent most of the day in his room with some sort of gastric distress that he generously shared wth me, and She Who Must Be returned ill from a conference. Today's main excitement will be experimenting with food other than soda crackers and plain pasta.
I did, however, finish reading David Herbert Donald's splendid biography of Abraham Lincoln, which I heartily commend to you. It demonstrates, quite readably, too, how slowly and painfully Lincoln transformed himself from an inexperienced and mistake-prone executive into one of our greatest presidents.
And I can pass on to you a fine little bit of verbal abuse to add to your arsenal. Professor Donald quotes Murat Halstead of the Cincinnati Commercial calling General Grant "a jackass in the original package."
That in turn leads to some reflections on jackassery.
If you read yesterday's post about Joan Acocella's New Yorker article on prescriptivism and descriptivism, there's a useful corrective to Ms. Acocella's obtuse understanding of descriptivism in at Kory Stamper's harm-less drudg-ery blog. In describing dictionary-making to a would be lexicographer (the whole post is a hoot; read it), she writes:
It is not a good idea to come in thinking that you are All That as regards grammar and usage. You will have to set aside your grammatical prejudices in light of evidence, and if you are nothing but swagger and self-aggrandizement, then you will fall particularly hard the first time the Director of Defining tells you it’s totally idiomatic to use “nauseous” to mean “feeling sick.” Swagger and self-aggrandizement are not part of the lexicographer’s idiom. Fidgeting, social awkwardness, and a penchant for bad puns are.
"In light of evidence" is what has led an increasingly exasperated Mark Liberman to call George Will a liar. The occasion is Mr. Will's repetition of the canard that President Obama uses first-person pronouns excessively. Professor Liberman, a linguist who knows what first-person pronouns are, and who additionally is able to count, has demonstrated repeatedly that "Barack Obama's rate of using first-person-singular pronouns is low compared to the usage rates of other recent presidents."
He uses the term liar because "it seems that Mr. Will is trying to convince us of something that is patently untrue, rather than just trying to puff himself up without any particular concern for whether what he says is true or false."