Nature is making another run at me, so you’re just getting some disconnected fragments this afternoon.
Disconnect the damn grammar-checking function: Microsoft’s grammar-check is driving me nuts at work, flagging things as errors that are perfectly OK, and because I sign on to CCI’s version of Word from a network rather than from my desktop computer, I have to remember every day to shut it off.
Now, I find out from Patricia T. O’Conner that it also fails to flag whole categories of constructions that are flat-out wrong.
Shut it down. You’re still going to have to learn grammar and usage on your own.
Which dictionary to use: Mindy McAdams asked me on Facebook what dictionary I prefer to consult. Here’s a version of my answer.
At work and in my editing class at Loyola, I use Webster’s New World College Dictionary, because it is the basis for the Associated Press Stylebook. It is a serviceable enough dictionary, but it is by no means the best one available.
The American Heritage Dictionary, in both the main and college editions, is an excellent dictionary. Merriam-Webster, in both the unabridged and desk versions, is also reliable. I frequently use Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary for quick reference. The online version also has a useful thesaurus ready to hand. Why the AP persists in preferring the mediocre Webster’s New World when these two plainly superior sources are readily available I can only attribute to their continuing cluelessness.
But the dictionary I most like to use, even though it is a little unwieldy, is the New Oxford American Dictionary, a handsome, well-edited, and comprehensive dictionary. The etymological information is particularly helpful. And it is now out in the third edition, offering a lot for your money.
Name-calling: Alexander Ackley, an old friend and former student with whom I have been in touch periodically over the past thirty years—he’s editor of The Reactionary, which expresses political views not found on these premises—sent me an article from The Wall Street Journal on the prevalence of name-calling in what passes for political discourse these days.
James Taranto quotes Charles Krauthammer deploring that opponents of President Obama’s policies are routinely branded as racists, that supporters of Arizona’s immigration law are dismissed as nativists, that supporters of Proposition 8 in California are labeled homophobes, and opponents of the Islamic community center in Manhattan are merely Islamophobes and bigots. “Who can possibly govern a nation of racist, nativist, homophobic Islamophobes?” he asks.
Then it turns out, after such a promising beginning, to be no more than a screed about how the “literal elite” hates Americans. You see the sleight of hand there? That there are expressions of bigotry abroad cannot be denied—c’mon, you’ve seen the signs brandished at rallies, and you can read explicitly vicious comments online. If you speak out against these expressions of bigotry, you must hate Americans.
Thus Mr. Taranto comes implicitly to the same conclusion he levels against the liberal elite, that bigotry is the norm in America. There is nothing novel here. The insistent references in Palinology and Beckistry to “real Americans” is surely meant to be understood that anyone who disagrees cannot be genuinely American. And it is not hard to hear echoes of the remembered (not fondly) expression of forty and fifty years ago, “If you don’t like it here, why don’t you go back to Russia.”
Conservatism ought to be able to do better than this stale stuff.