Sunday, August 29, 2010

Verbal Stuff That I Like: Raymond L. Weiss Edition (and this one is serious); and, My Hypocrisy

So far, the items in the "Verbal Stuff That I Like Series" have made the cut by virtue of their quirkiness. This one is absolutely serious. It is from Maimonides' Ethics: The Encounter of Philosophic and Religious Morality (1991) by Raymond L. Weiss, pp. 4-5:
Maimonides himself uses the expression ["philosophic ethics"]. It is even possible that he was the first to do so; at any rate, to my knowledge, he has no predecessor in this matter.
"To my knowledge." It is rare to see a scholarly author acknowledge that a "there is no" statement reflects the extent of their knowledge. And as Weiss notes, a statement about "the first" is a negative statement--it means that there was none earlier. Similarly any statement about "the only," "the largest," "the whateverest"--these are equivalent to saying that there is no other, no larger, no whateverer.

I truly got pleasure from this statement of Weiss's. And after typing up the preceding paragraph, I realized what a hypocritical droplet of whiteout I am. On the occasion once every several blue moons when I come across a parenthetical "to the best of my knowledge," I query the author about it. "This statement about the best of your knowledge could be made about many negative statements in your manuscript," I write. "Why does this one in particular call for the disclaimer?" The question isn't sarcastic, although authors may take it that way. At any rate, they always delete the qualifier.

So why am I pleased by Weiss's statement even though I query it in my own work? I don't know. Maybe it seems more organic in Weiss's case and more thrown in in the others; Weiss's statement, after all, is tentative: "It is even possible that he was the first to do so." I think that's probably it. And what would I have done if I had worked on Weiss’s manuscript? I might have queried it. Maybe, maybe not. A trainload of such tentative statements, each of them carrying the disclaimer, it would make tedious even the most engaging work.

Anyhow, I admire Weiss’s honesty, and that of the other authors who make such a disclaimer, even though I attempt to wave a hatchet at it when it appears on my virtual desk. Go figure.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Verbal Stuff That I Like: Claudia Schmidt Edition

Decades ago, literal decades, when I was just a young ramshackle, I was a fan of Claudia Schmidt, a musician who frequently venued in the greater metropolitan region I then lived in (I mean, it wasn't greater then than it is now, but it is greater than other metro regions). I live there still. A few years ago, I went to hear her when she came on tour through these parts once again. In the intro to a song titled "Banana Moon," she said something about most of our moonage. I like "moonage," and in fact it may be because of similar utterances that I was a fan of hers. In part. The music is good too.

Did she say most of our moonage is nonfull? I'm not sure; in a dream, perhaps.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Verbal Stuff That I Like: Tech Edition

This (with some redactivity to keep the identity of my employer[s] unknown) is from an e-mail from the tech guy at work.

During the maintenance periods, well-behaved servers will queue messages that are bound for unavailable Wherever email systems.

No clue what it means, but I like it. But hey!, I do have some speculation about what "well-behaved servers" means. In The Chicago Manual of Style, 15th ed., in chapter 5 ("Grammar and Usage" by Bryan A. Garner), in "Glossary of Troublesome Expressions" (sec. 5.202), the entry for gentleman reads
This word is a vulgarism when used as a synonym for man. When used in reference to a cultured, refined man, it is susceptible to some of the same objections as those leveled against lady. Use it cautiously. Cf. lady.
This is the only place in the manual where Garner uses vulgarism; nowhere does he define it. (Although he does implicitly define a "cultured, refined" person throughout the chapter; it seems to mean somebody who writes and talks the way Garner wants them to.) But it's likely that vulgarisms are a subset (whether proper or improper, I don't know--we disapprove of impropriety, but if the set is a set of improprieties, is a proper subset itself improper?), and where was I anyway? Right, I remember now. Vulgarisms are probably a subset of those usages that Garner dislikes. So maybe, taking a cue (and/or queue) from Garner, would a well-behaved server be one who says to a cultured, refined male patron "Would Monsieur like an extra shot of horseradish juice?" instead of "Would The Gentleman like an extra shot of horseradish juice?"?

Or whatever. One of these years, I'm going to post my review of Garner's chapter. When I get around to it.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Verbal Stuff That I Like: A New Feature

I gripe too much. Too much negativity. "Jeepolas!, we're all doomed!, somebody said 'therefore' with insufficient support. Yiiiiighhhh!" Well, I guess a flimsy "therefore" can potentially doom us under some circs (and is "potentially" redundant here, or does it provide some needed emphasis? beats me).

Point is, I really do bellyache too much. So I'm going to make a point of posting about verbal or logical stuff that I like. Some of it may be trivial. (But more importantly, I began this graf with "Point is" and then I began the next sentence with "So I'm going to make a point of." Sad.)

So here it is. This blog, as you probably know by now, has no opinion on this article by Jonathan Chait with the title "Deficit Commission Is Harshing My Mellow." But the blog does love that title.