Florida Polytechnic “University” (it isn’t accredited) is making headlines this week by opening a bookless library. Instead of checking out traditional codex books, students will be forced to read class material on tablets, e-readers, and/or laptops. According to the middle-aged librarians and bureaucrats who run the school, a bookless library will appeal to the youth.
President Obama told a German audience today that the U.S. lags behind other countries because Americans don't speak enough foreign languages. It’s not the first time he’s expressed the sentiment: back in 2008, Obama said, “It's embarrassing when Europeans come over here, they all speak English, they speak French, they speak German. And then we go over to Europe and all we can say is merci beaucoup, right?"
Of the making of books, Ecclesiastes informs us, there is no end. But of some books, perhaps, there should never have been a beginning. One such book, or so many believed when it first appeared, was Webster’s Third New International Dictionary of the English Language, Unabridged.
‘Modern proverbs” is surely a contradiction in terms—unless “modern” is being used in its unmodern sense of “commonplace,” as in Shakespeare’s “wise saws and modern instances.” The word “proverb” inevitably connotes the idea of age and seasoning—wisdom that has been tried by time. Indeed, a proverb is usually so old that its original author is unknown.
The fifth edition of the American Heritage Dictionary, published by Houghton Mifflin, was released last fall. In the typecast world of dictionary publishing, American Heritage is the “conservative” dictionary. Developed in the 1960s in the wake of company president James Parton’s failed attempt to wrest control of the G. and C. Merriam Co., which had recently become notorious for the publication of the “permissive” dictionary, Webster’s Third, the first edition of the American Heritage Dictionary was deliberately marketed as the choice of squares and fogeys.
There is an old saw that if you torture statistics enough, they will tell you whatever you want to hear. Words are like this, too. In the interest of clarity during the current campaign season, here is a brief lexicon of how Democratic officials use words:
In the musical My Fair Lady, snooty dialectician Henry Higgins searches in vain for “purity” of expression in English; he winces at the Scots and the Irish, shudders at the Cockney London accent. His parting shot is, however, fired across the Atlantic: There even areplaces where English completely disappears, / InAmerica they haven’t used it for years! sings the Englishman.
In Gambit, Rex Stout’s 1962 mystery novel, the quirky and housebound detective Nero Wolfe sits before a fireplace on a too-small chair, “tearing sheets out of a book and burning them. The book is the new edition, the third edition, of Webster’s New International Dictionary, Unabridged.” Why? “He considers it subversive because it threatens the integrity of the English language.” Able to cite “a thousand examples of its crimes,” including using infer and imply interchangeably, the detective calls it “a deliberate attempt to murder” the language.
The apparent fall of the Qaddafi regime, and the likely capture (or killing) of the tyrant himself, will signal the end not only of four decades of internal repression and external terrorism, but one of the more vexing orthographic challenges in modern American journalism: the spelling of the colonel's surname.