Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Snarky New Yorker

It pains me to write this, after loving and subscribing to the New Yorker for over 15 years.

In the October 13 issue, the magazine carried an article by James Wood called "Verbage," in which he mocks Sarah Palin for allegedly mis-using the English language.

In my 15 years of subscribing to the New Yorker, I've never written a letter, but here's my first, which I just sent in tonight:

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I've got several problems with the ridiculously snide "Verbage" article "authored" by James Wood, in which he mocks Sarah Palin's use of the English language.

First, why does Wood insist on putting "authored" in quotes, as if Palin had made the word up or was using it incorrectly? The two reputable English-language dictionaries that I double-checked both included "to author" as a verb, with the definition being "to write."

Similarly, the same two dictionaries each listed an acceptable pronunciation of the word "verbiage" as "verb-ij" (as Palin pronounced it). While "verb-ee-ij" is more common, "verb-ij" is also correct; I'm puzzled as to why Wood would think that Palin was making up a new word, "verbage," in her pronunciation.

Finally, Wood snarkily (in the dictionary as an "informal" word) excoriates Palin for her "hazy phrases" such as "I do take issue with some of the principle there with that redistribution of wealth principle that seems to be espoused by you." Here Wood deliberately deletes the dash that should indicate the pause in speech that Palin actually made. Insert the dash where it should be, after "there," and the sentence reads perfectly clearly. (I experimented with mentally deleting the dashes in Wood's own sentences in the article; they, too, were thus reduced to "haziness" and open to ridicule.)

Such ill-founded criticism doesn't hurt Palin with non-ideologues; it just makes Wood look like he's playground-taunting rather than pointing out actual flaws.

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