TAKE MY WORD FOR IT by William Safire
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Another collection of columns from Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times columnist Satire in his guise as custodian emeritus of the English language. Following upon the success of On Language, Satire sticks to his winning formula of reproducing his Sunday magazine columns, with the addition of retorts from the legion of his apprentice-protectors who feed Satire's ego and popularity with their correspondence. There are several sorts of language defense extant in our country presently. First, there is the heavily intellectual approach of such as John Simon. Secondly, the sane, serious, truly concerned tone of Edwin Newman, who can hold forth for whole chapters on individual abuses. Then there is the verbal fireworks of Satire, who bludgeons the reader by clever repartee into submitting to his verdicts. The trouble is, he is right so much of the time. Our language has suffered the abuses of verbal relativists and copycats who pass down incorrect usages through the omnipresent media for too long. The problem is how to separate this from the genuine dynamism of American English that Mencken haïled in his The American Language and that the editor of the Oxford English Dictionary has recently conceded as the true repository of English today. There is a place for Satire's analysis--such as in providing hints on choosing that or which, which even he confuses. In complaining about daily attempts to communicate in exciting, eye-catching ways, which is the crux of the media, Satire does overstep the line into churlishness. But then maybe it is churlish to quibble over a book that is so much fun. (Anyway, shouldn't the Times ad-line be, ""These times require the Times""?) Quintessential Satire--love him or hate him, he is someone up with which we must put.

Pub Date: Sept. 30th, 1986
Publisher: Times Books