Saturday, February 05, 2005

GrammarGrinch Reviews La Blumner's Writing

Critique of Woman's Grammar To Balance an X with a Y

The errors of this piece enjoy copyright. My corrections do not.

Free speech is bad words, too; [STATE Edition] I don’t understand exotic newspaper capitalization of titles. Perhaps fallback to lowercase obviates learning quite simple title-capitalization rules. Abstract (Document Summary) One or the other suffices. Parenthetical explanation condescends to the reader or preens faux journalistic erudition.

ROBYN E. BLUMNER. St. Petersburg Times. St. Petersburg, Fla.: Jan 23, 2005. pg. 7.P

Nowhere in the Constitution is there a guaranteed freedom from being offended. Awkward, wordy: "The Constitution guarantees no freedom from offense." It is not a right that comes with American citizenship, like the right to vote. The comma cuts off a restrictive prepositional phrase. The writer refers to the right to vote, not the right to free speech, privacy. or to bear arms.

Just the opposite. If the Constitution had a warning label, it would read: Dead-wrong colon: an independent clause should precede it.

Caution, your right to freedom of speech means others have a parallel right, which is highly likely to occasionally provoke anger, annoyance, disgust and offense. Best split-infinitive advice comes from The New York Times Manual. It says grammarians accept split infinitives but that they irritate many readers. It advises that “when a graceful alternative exists, avoid the construction.” My comment: The readers irritated are often CEOs. Reverence for this rule seems to emerge from the fusty world of boarding schools and other rituals of wealth. CEOs don’t tolerate renegades, rhetorical or otherwise. Moreover, CEOs addicted to don’t-split-infinitives obsessions can fire you. Strunk & White recoils from the two underlined stocking-stuffer modifiers. Dump them.

The seminal case is the 1971 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Cohen vs. California. The facts involve a young Paul Robert Cohen who, in 1968 at the height of the Vietnam War, walked into the Los Angeles County Courthouse wearing a jacket with the words "F-- the Draft" emblazoned on the back. For wearing a profane jacket, Cohen was charged and convicted of disturbing the peace. He was sentenced to 30 days in jail. Wordiness: Delete underlined phrase. A comma follows the second “Cohen” to mark the beginning of the nonrestrictive adjectival “who” clause. Edit for wordiness: “The profane jacket caused Cohen’s conviction for disturbing the peace and cost him thirty days in jail.” Dump the green verbal padding. The Supreme Court threw out his conviction on free-speech grounds. Justice John Harlan wrote in ringing eloquence of why society must tolerate bad language: "(W)hile the particular four- letter word being litigated here is perhaps more distasteful than most others of its genre, it is nevertheless often true that one man's vulgarity is another's lyric." (Could he have known that Eminem was coming?) Hurrah for Justice John. He has verbal flair, rare on the bench. Ms. Blumner’s plodding style would benefit from pruning wordiness. Cutting unneeded words should rank high for a newspaper writer. Doing so saves newsprint. The New York Times years ago bought a paper mill or some such to cut down on newsprint cost. The management never thought of reining in reporters’ blowsy style to save paper. The writer’s defense of the First Amendment is admirable. Her rhetoric does not equal her free- speech convictions.

Not feeling that I have earned my pay, I add rebuke to the departing William Safire, soi disant grammar maven at The New York Times. I will miss him, not for his political opinions—almost always wrong—but for his grammar and punctuation errors.

Mr. Safire, this is your last column, isn't it? I expect to see you talking head on more shows. You will wax insufferably wise. How fitting that you, putative grammar maven at The New York Times, depart the premises in full flout of possessive-before-the-gerund rule-- twice in the same sentence. Your Times Style Manual warns about fused participles on page 252, but I infer you to have been too busy dropping names of your legions of intimates on the world stage--"so I confided to Yasser..."-- to have reviewed it.

Pat Oliphant drew a cartoon showing "Crusher Clinton" in the ring with "Slugger Safire" and a referee holding us apart, saying "Boys, boys," and a spectator shouting "Gummint doesn't get any better than this!" President Clinton's reaction had made me the envy of every columnist.

You depart with your invincible ignorance of commas intact and afflicted with your wrong-headed political views. The only correct opinion you expressed ever was defense of privacy. But have a nice day nonetheless. May good luck follow you into talking-headdom. I pray not to witness you again saying “I feel badly [sic]” on one of the Sunday morning shows. lee drury de cesare


Blogger Matt said...

Just the opposite. If the Constitution had a warning label, it would read: Dead-wrong colon: an independent clause should precede it.

"It would read" IS an independent clause.

6:47 AM  

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