Archive for August, 2012

Wherefore Art Thou, Edwin Newman?

There is street, curb, and sewer line reconstruction going on in our neighborhood this summer.  Between the tooth-rattling vibrations, the piles of broken concrete, and the mountains of dirt, the block seems more like a combat zone than a tranquil suburb.  My pets aren’t sure what to think.  The activity draws them to the front window – reality T.V. for house cats – then sends them scuttling under beds once the earth-tamping starts.  

All this digging and scraping disrupts the morning dog walk routine, too.  The pup strains to head north despite the specter of menacing, noisy earth-moving machinery that dwarfs her by a magnitude of thousands-to-one.  I tug and pull, and eventually have to carry her a block away from the turmoil before she agrees to go another direction.  Gives new meaning to the term “doggedly.” 

She has an engrained habit.  We have walked a pre-breakfast six block circuit north-to-east-to-south and then west back to our front door for several years.  She is stubbornly resistant to altering that route, no matter what.  This, I regret to say, reminds me of…me. 

I just finished reading the double-volume book Edwin Newman on Language.  For those of you who don’t remember him, his 2010 New York Times obituary describes Newman as “the genteelly rumpled, genially grumpy NBC newsman who was equally famous as a stalwart defender of the honor of English.”  Stalwart says it well.  In addition to publishing Strictly Speaking and A Civil Tongue, about gross misuses of our mother tongue by news outlets, academics, ad agencies, social scientists, and – of course – government officials, Mr. Newman wrote I Must Say, a series of essays on the sometimes sorry state of contemporary culture. 

“Witty, incisive, churlishly frank, and opinionated,” according to one of his critics.  I’d love to be taken seriously enough to be called all those things.  But beyond that, reading these books got me to thinking about my own use of the language, so I decided to review all of my previous posts.  (more…)

August 23, 2012 at 3:23 pm Leave a comment


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