bkswrites

Posts Tagged ‘political usage’

“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.

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“This is unchartered territory.”

In compound expressions, eggcorns, thoughtless patterns on August 26, 2015 at 3:36 am

Gabe Sherman, National Affairs Editor, New York Magazine

 MSNBC 8/25 3:50-ish PM regarding Trump leading his followers away from Fox


No, he’s far from the only one to do this. And I doubt he’ll be the last one in the coming political circus, because it’s becoming a habit among more and more folks on the lookout for longer words to bolster their arguments. So what’s so wrong with it?

Mostly, it creates a dreadful mix of metaphors, robbing the second word of its significance. The original, uncharted territory, is clear and powerful. One pictures pilots of ships, reading the shoreline and the push and pull of currents, wondering about shallows that would be predictable if the cartographers had gotten there first. I never learned to read marine charts, but I love the look of them, with their underwater topographic curves. With the corruption, I’m afraid I lapse over into the Monty Python song about chartered accountants.

I generally prefer to address errors found in print, because you can be more sure someone had a chance to correct themselves. But I don’t think I’ve ever seen this one in writing. Maybe in the act of writing or typing two extra characters, the wrongness jumps out. I don’t understand, though, how it doesn’t register when the -r- in particular has to be pronounced. And today it was just a charter too far.

I’ve recently learned to call this particular kind of error an “eggcorn,” which gives it a category, but doesn’t make it grate any less.

Too Definite an Article?

In legal lingo, significant insignificancies on January 25, 2013 at 9:11 pm

I can’t say that it’s an error, and I’m afraid I don’t even have a direct quote to include. But I’m afraid that from the first moment I heard about the ruling of a federal appeals court on President Obama’s recess appointments last year to the National Labor Relations Board, I was intrigued by the report that part of their ruling of unconstitutional action hinged on the presence of “the” rather than “a” or any less definite word in Article II, Section 2 (Powers and Duties of the President), Clause 3, which empowers the president to fill executive-branch vacancies “during the Recess of the Senate.”

I guess, among other things, we will find out exactly how much care we think the Framers of the Constitution took with the very smallest words. Or maybe we’ll find out how willing we are in the 21st century to be bound by the conditions of early-19th-century America.

It may well be that the definite article appears in II.2.3 only because, at the time it was written, there was only one Recess in the Senate’s work year. The Senators could not fly back and forth between D.C. and their states to hear their constituents one day, vote on an executive appointment the next. Neither could they, as in 2012, send in one or two of their number every day or so during the (same) idle period to bang a gavel and declare that the Senate was not recessed, but in session. But let’s not go further here into the possibly political motivations of the 2012 Senators, individually or collectively. Let’s likewise leave to the politicians and the Supreme Court the questions of the implications of this ruling for President Obama’s other appointment during this particular recess — which he repeated for Senate confirmation yesterday — or for the work done by the five appointees during their possibly unconstitutional tenure.

There are more linguistic nits to be picked in this case, too: Does “Vacancies that may happen during the Recess” mean only vacancies that begin during the recess, or any vacancy that takes the executive out of action? But then, none of the five 2012 appointments was to a post mentioned in the Constitution or remotely contemplated by the Framers.

One of the talked-about expressions from President Obama’s inaugural address a couple of days earlier is his differentiation of “absolutism” and “principle.” I suspect we’ll hear more of those differences as this ruling is mulled, dealt with, and probably appealed. It’s definitely worthy of our consideration.

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