Archive for January, 2016|Monthly archive page

“The Single Greatest Country in the World”

In comparatives, redundancy again, thoughtless patterns on January 28, 2016 at 9:49 pm

Marco Rubio campaign ad

So it’s the turn of the third-place scrambler, the one with the fully Hispanic name, and it’s about an English error so common few of my writeous colleagues even notice any more. But I can’t ignore it. This time there isn’t even anyplace to put the excess word.

A superlative like “greatest” is already singular. There is none greater. Often, the “single” is simply misplaced as in, say, “I’d like to thank the single largest donor to my campaign,” one among many. Australia could be the greatest single-country continent, but I don’t see any other way to get to a greatest single country.

There could be great things for a country to do alone — humanitarian achievements, support for the arts, peacemaking — but then we’d probably use words like “solo” or indeed, “alone,” and use identification of the nation to modify something like “effort” or “action.” That might be too specific for a campaign ad, or indeed for this campaign over all.

Come to think of it, there is one thing I like about Rubio’s double superlative: It celebrates the current greatness of the USA, instead of asserting some vague past and greater greatness to which we might return. That may be all Rubio and his writers wanted, to distinguish their campaign from that other one that has made greatness its watchword. And there certainly isn’t any more greatness to which yet another campaign might aspire.


“We’ll do 90 minutes, … mano-a-mano, Donald and me.”

In lost in translation, lost meanings on January 27, 2016 at 9:42 pm

Ted Cruz, Fairfield Iowa, Jan. 27

Either Ted Cruz really wants to physically duke it out with Donald Trump, or I hope his Cuban-born father Raphael will give him a mano-a-mejilla (mejilla de la cara o de la nalga*, I don’t really care) lesson in Spanish.

I’m just sick of this misrepresentation of a phrase that’s come so strongly into use by speakers of English. But even worse, for me, is to hear it misused by someone presumed to have an inkling what it really means, whether through his heritage or his position as Senator from Texas. Certainly it also irks me because it’s so testosterone poisoned, with its implication that males, especially “ethnic” males, enjoy more important kinds of battles than anything involving a “womana.”

What could hand-to-hand combat possibly have to do with running for President, either? Is it some kind of proof of hawkishness, as if a President Cruz or Trump would be taking on opponents on the world stage in this style? While I’d rather see international disputes settled by champions than by armies, I shudder as much at the thought of either of these men playing that role as I do at picturing them at a real negotiating table, where the risks involve such threats as nuclear war. But that’s another discussion for another venue. Here, I’ll try to stick to language.

Maybe he really wants to arm wrestle.

*My advanced-Spanish-student cousin, Sara Kilker, knew enough to question a Peruvian friend, who says mejilla isn’t really used for nalgada, but this being a rant about English, I’m going to stick with the parallel construction, which I find funnier.

Happy New Year’s (and Beyond)

In significant insignificancies, thoughtless patterns on January 1, 2016 at 1:31 am

It’s an annual grumble of mine, mostly in places where I’ve sworn not to pick at people’s grammar, that well-meaning writers, with little more than an apostrophe, limit their good wishes to a single day. It’s clear to me that they don’t know they’re doing that when they leave off the designation “Day” that should follow the -’s. But it’s clearly a matter of carelessness.

Maybe it’s that we’ve forgotten what this “wishing” thing is about. It’s not just something you say, but an expression of hope for another’s well-being, or literally for that other’s happiness. It’s all too easily tossed off, in fact easier in currently fraught contexts than “Happy Holidays” or “Merry Christmas.”

Everyone gets a new year, whether we like it or not, whether or not we make resolutions and see it as a fresh start. But I’m always for mindfulness, for paying as much attention to what I say as to what I do. To say it without thought devalues it, and maybe that’s what makes me question the sincerity of an Internet conversant — or even a grocery clerk — who tosses it to me with the -’s and without the Day. I really would like to have all the wishes for happiness in 2016 that I can get. I do think it matters.

Thus, I wish you happiness in 2016, heartfelt wishes even if I don’t have an opportunity to say it more directly and warmly than in this post. The whole year. Happiness and joy.

While we’re at it, that’s not “well wishes.” Where you get your water is your business.

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