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Saturday, January 24, 2004

Grammar Goddess

The eight parts of speech - not sure that I even knew them.

Neat review by Neal Chandler in Seattle Weekly:

THE EVASION-ENGLISH DICTIONARY by Maggie Balistreri

Making a name for yourself as a stickler requires unusual style —or uncommon restraint. Miss Manners would be nothing but an irritating nag without her legendary wit; Randy Cohen of The New York Times "Ethicist" column might seem a condescending prig without his unwavering neutrality.

Avenging grammarian Maggie Balistreri is hardly short on style, but I'm not sure I'd call her Dictionary restrained. At least her scolding rests on the soundest of ideas — like Orwell, Balistreri contends that the decline of language degrades us. "Change your words, I believe, and you change your deeds," she declares.

For instance, here's how she parses this (seemingly) simple sentence: "I couldn't stop crying but I had a really good support system of friends who sat with me and listened without judging." "Judge" has become a dirty word, Balistreri claims, because "weighing both sides of an issue" (its actual denotation) has been supplanted by an accusatory, negative connotation. In the same way, "support system" puts a positive spin on codependent behavior—what used to be called "neediness" or "clinging" before evasion English came to the rescue. As a result, Balistreri suggests, one finally ought to
substitute "because" for "but"— your friends are implicitly encouraging your tears, with nary a blunt "Snap out of it!" to be found.

Dictionary is a slim work of sociolinguistic muckraking — a leaner, meaner iteration of the Deborah Tannen line of self-help books. There's something noble in Balistreri's attempt to confront us with our everyday evasions, and her taxonomies of "like" and "whatever"— each of which has, like, 13 different usages these days — are good, haughty fun for the well-spoken reader.

Case in point: Among the many misuses of "like," Balistreri translates one as: "Sorry, I'm inarticulate" (e.g., "I was like, wow"). No doubt Nabokov is, like, rolling in his grave. Or whatever. ~ NEAL SCHINDLER"


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