One-Minute Book Reviews

January 2, 2009

‘Literally,’ a Guide to ‘Annoying Words and Abused Phrases You Should Never Use Again’ (Quote of the Day / Marie Shear)

Filed under: Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:33 pm
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And you though it was bad when Bush said, “I know how hard it is to put food on your family”

Marie Shear writes in the The Freelancer that the NBC anchor Brian Williams — “who reportedly earns $10 million a year” – has said that something is “the exact same” as something else. That’s not the only language abuse that bothers her:

“Within a few days this fall, TV news said that ‘we’re bracing ourselves’ for something; that pupils ‘study up’ on a topic; that a church caught fire ‘at 3 p.m. in the afternoon’ (as opposed to 3 p.m. in the morning); that a plot was ‘frightening and disturbing’ (and redundant); and that a child was ‘brutally beaten to death’ (not murdered courteously). A radio journalist called a U.S. Senate race ‘a virtual dead heat.’ I learned that a town would ‘address the smell’ of sewage in the air (perhaps by saying ‘Howdy, Mr. Stench’).”

Shear reviewed four guides that offer antidotes to “sloppy, repetitious language” – the blather that passes for careful speech in the media and elsewhere. They include Paul Yeager’s Literally, the Best Language Book Ever: Annoying Words and Abused Phrases You Should Never Use Again (Perigee, 194 pp., $13.95, paperback): “Yeager smites ‘transition’ and ‘partner’ as verbs, ‘there’s’ followed by a plural, ‘ATM machine,’ ‘revert back’ and … ‘we’re pregnant.’” And since its publication a Michigan university has come up with a list of words overused in 2008, including “game-changing,” “carbon footprint” and “going green.”

When it comes to language crimes, politicians and bureaucrats the serial offenders. And no book skewers them more entertainingly than a former No. 1 bestseller that didn’t make Shear’s list: Edwin Newman’s Strictly Speaking: Will America Be the Death of English? (Warner, 1975). Newman tweaks the rise of clichés like “ongoing dialogue” and “adversary relationship” in government and others in the fields of sports, business, and journalism.

“A respect for language requires some standards of judgment,” Newman writes, speaking of 1974. “In Washington they are lacking.”

Can anybody say that times have changed enough that we no longer need books like his?

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

August 15, 2008

Why ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ is Bad Poetry and Other Literary Thoughts on the Olympics

Random literary thoughts on the Olympics:

1. Michael Phelps’s underwater dolphin kick is sports poetry.

2. NBC should fire the swimming analyst who keeps saying “he has swam” (as in “he has swam much better than this”).

3. The first word of “The Star-Spangled Banner” (“Oh”) is an example of the literary device known as anacrusis, a lead-in syllable or syllables that precede the first full foot.

4. The national anthem is written in anapestic meter, Dr. Seuss’s favorite. (What, you’ve never noticed the similarity between “And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air” and “I meant what I said / and I said what I meant …”?)

5. Why is “The Star-Spangled Banner” bad poetry? Take in the last line: “O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.” In a good poem, words are not interchangeable. You can’t switch them around with no loss in meaning or effect, because everything in the poem essential. Apart from a rhyme, what would the national anthem lose if Francis Scott Key had written “home of the free and the land of the brave” instead of “the land of the free and the home of the brave”?

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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