Check your guns at the door
I told you that I’m not going back to the Second Amendment. Instead, I’ll take time to respond to readers.
Patricia Witkin wonders about presently: “I had it drilled into my head that presently=soon, not "at present," which is how I see/hear it (mis)used all the time. People seem to think it sounds fancier than "currently" or, better yet, "now." The only time I encounter the correct usage is when I'm watching old movies, leading me to wonder if this is one of those things that has become forgotten/abused/discarded over time, to the point where the two words are accepted as interchangeable.”
Merriam-Webster’s finds that presently has a long history in both senses, right now and sometime soon, and suggests indulgently that the meaning can usually be inferred from context. Garner’s suggests avoiding the word because of potential confusion. My sense is that you are right in suspecting that the sometime soon sense is increasingly dated and is being supplanted by the now sense. (And yes, it is a windy and pompous substitution, of the sort one finds in office memos.)
For my own part, as a son of Appalachia, I prefer directly, pronounced as my grandmother, Clara Rhodes Early said it, something between d’rectly and dreckly. It is roughly equivalent of manana: “Yes, Kathleen, I’ll put the book down and rake those remaining leaves from last fall directly.”
Steve Merelman writes in annoyance about a headline in a paper published 40 miles south of here ”Bearest Thy Musket.” He’s right; the est suffix in archaic English is properly limited to the second-person singular, as the eth suffix is limited to the third-person singular. And it is not the imperative form. Tsk.
A reader submitted a complaint to my boss, Paul Moore, about a passage in one of our articles, “Chief Legal Council Karen Hornig and Deputy Legal Counsel Ronald M. Levitan,” saying, rightly, that the word is counsel and wondering how we got it right in one place and wrong in one place in the same sentence. Inattention to detail.
Moreover, chief legal counsel and deputy legal counsel are job descriptions, not formal titles, and have no business being capitalized. It doesn’t matter that every Chief Assistant to the Assistant Chief likes a massed formation of capital letters before his name; we don’t have to do it.
And, by the way, it was a reader of this blog, one Bryan, saying, “I enjoy your blog tremendously and count myself among the (usually) silent majority that appreciate the good fight your regular job entails,” who made the suggestion that I explore the sense of the word militia in the context of the Second Amendment. Ah, life in the crosshairs.