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The naked lapel

Like Barack Obama, I do not wear an American flag lapel pin. Unlike Barack Obama, I have never worn one.

No doubt that leaves ample room to question my patriotism — craven toady of the East Coast liberal media establishment that I am — never mind that I pay my taxes, without complaint; vote in municipal, state and federal elections; and obey the statutes. But it is hard for someone my age to look at an American flag lapel pin without summoning up the image of Richard Nixon, lapel pin prominently on display, insisting on his probity.

I did not always present a naked lapel to the world. There was a time when I sported prize buttons won in speech competitions, but I put them away after graduating from high school. And I have a pin somewhere bearing the logo of the American Copy Editors Society, of which I am a charter member, that I have worn at ACES events. But that seems a little odd — they already know I’m a member, and no one else knows what ACES is.

I also have an orange-and-navy-blue-striped necktie that announces to the knowing observer that I attended Syracuse University. A gentleman once approached me after church to ask, “Is that a Princeton tie?” “No,” I said, “Syracuse.” (Princeton is orange and black.) “Too bad,” he said.

The whole lapel pin kerfuffle looks even sillier that the usual rodomontade* that passes for political discourse in the Republic. Does any sane person — that is, anyone outside the confines of talk radio — seriously imagine that any of the presidential candidates, Republican and Democratic, is anything less than a patriotic citizen? Or that any candidate, by pinning a flag to his lapel, could add a cubit to his stature?

Flaunting flag lapel pins is of a piece with wearing clothes that show designer logos. (I don’t wear those, either. Any clothier who would like for me to be a walking billboard should pay me. I’m a newspaperman; that’s how advertising works.) Designer logos speak to middle-class status anxiety. Wearing designer clothes shows that I am one of the Quality. But since my fellow middle-class worriers lack the nous** to identify the good stuff without prompting, I have to wear something that blares the announcement to them.

All clothing is, of course, costume, and we all dress for the roles that we choose to play. It says something about us as a people, and it’s not something flattering, that the kind of political theater we prefer to attend can spend days on buffoonery about lapel pins.

[Yeah, I’ve gone off-topic again. Sue me.]

* rodomontade. A fine old word meaning “arrogant boasting or blustering, ranting talk.” (Thank you, Webster’s New World.) It derives from Rodomonte, the boasting Saracen in Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso.

** nous. Transliterated straight from the Greek for mind or intellect, used in English since at least the 18th century to mean practical intelligence, common sense, knowledge and judgment. My daughter, Alice, as I have bragged previously, holds a degree in Latin and Greek, and I feel a paternal responsibility to uphold the classics.



Posted by John McIntyre at 1:14 PM | | Comments (8)


A fine off-topic discussion. I've had similar ones with a number of me colleagues. Any amount of outward appearance doesn't - and will never - make one more or less patriotic. It is sad that so many people are easily deceived by such outward displays.

So long as you opt to use a wide (and later defined) vocabulary, we forgive you your off-topic transgressions.

I adore you. This entry made my morning!

Excellent post. I especially enjoyed the observation about designer clothes and free advertising. Also, I'm fascinated--how has your daughter applied her classics degree to the work world?

With regard to the designer vs everybody else question, British writer Dorothy L.(she was quite insistent about the L.) Sayers nicely solved the problem for me. Her aristocratic detective, in a discussion about an evening hat sans label, points out that the brand doesn't guarantee the quality - the quality should guarantee the brand. And speaking of quality, I believe the splendid Alice teaches Latin to the ignorant someplace near Princeton, which her father did not attend. He's probably the better for it. The Ivy League, with the possible exception of St John's, Annapolis, has much to answer for.

Alice, as it happens, has forsaken New Jersey and accepted a position teaching Latin at the Garrison Forest School, outside Baltimore.

I can also endorse the remark about St. John's, Annapolis, where my son, J.P., accomplished chef and our home technical support adviser, has read the Great Books. He is serving the needs of the Annapolis business community at the moment at the Bank of America on Church Circle.

What a lovely discourse, on so many levels. I, however, confess to looking at tie labels. For example, I love Liberty of London ties; have several (including a probable knockoff bought for a dollar on a NY street). Sometimes I see a tie that looks like a Liberty, and just have to check. And I do get your drift, especially the Polo thing (though do have a few things with the logo). Anyway, with the solecisms I'm seeing here in the Syracuse paper, I'm guessing that Newhouse's grads ain't what they were in your time. (I need to fish out a recent grand dangling participle.)

The flag pin thing is such an irritatingly poor excuse for a news-worthy issue! How long have such things even existed? Were they the required presidential jewelry for Nixon and Kennedy? I don't think so. When was this new dress code instituted? Do other countries make the same meaningless noise about patriotism? Why are so many Americans unable to distinguish between a symbol and the real thing?--(Investing so much emotional energy in protecting the symbol, without apparently noticing that the real thing is going to wrack and ruin.)

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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