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Add another peever to the list

I can’t resist the rich target that @wordtofiction presented: a classic example of captious peeving, "Le Mot Juste," at

The author, David Bentley Hart, sends an unmistakable signal of what is to come with an early allusion to Rome and the Visigoths. The peevers all think they are embattled Civilization surrounded by Rude Hordes, and Rome always creeps into the text at some point.

Of course, a much more blatant signal was delivered in the first sentence: “It is a truth universally acknowledged that it is only a short road that leads from grammatical laxity to cannibalism.” No, it is a silly overstatement combined with a feeble imitation of Jane Austen.

So we have literary pretension combined with cliche and linguistic peevery. Let’s look at what we can light-heartedly call the substance of the article. He insists that his catalogue of complaints is “not really the dilettante’s catalogue of petty annoyances it might at first appear to be.” Well, we’ll see.

Mr. Hart deplores blurring the distinction between imply and infer. So do I, but I doubt that this frequent solecism will lead to my liver being consumed with a side of fava beans and a rough Chianti.

He disparages people who pronounce idyll like idol. But the American Heritage Dictionary, the Oxford English Dictionary, the New Oxford American Dictionary, and Garner’s Modern American Usage all indicate that the word is pronounced with a long i. If he is suggesting that “iddle” is preferable, he is mistaken.

Of course, those quisling lexicographers are not to be relied on, as we find out when he insists that any dictionary that records a usage of which he does not approve is “a scented and brilliantined degenerate in a glossy lavender lounge suit who intends to teach your children criminal ways while you are away at the grocery store.”

I’ll grant you that Mr. Hart operates with a good deal more verve than the pathetically querulous Queen’s English Society, but he is still a fellow-traveler of that intellectually and linguistically bankrupt assemblage of poseurs.



Posted by John McIntyre at 1:09 PM | | Comments (10)


I believe he's complaining that idyl is pronounced with a schwa for its second vowel (or, to be more precise, a syllable l) rather than being pronounced like EYE-dill.

I'd have to say the original article was somewhat tedious to read and a load of pidyl.

It almost reads like a parody of peevers.

I suspect you're mistaken, Jonathon. Idyl has a history of pronunciation with an initial long i - for example, that was Tennyson's pronunciation of his Idylls of the King.

MelissaJane is right that idyl(l) has a history of pronunciation with a long i-, but the OED (2nd ed.) offers both variants ('aɪdɪl, ɪd-), adding, "Now commonly with pronunc. (ɪd-)." Like many peevers, he's not entirely wrong, just several decades out of date.

Ah — having read John's more recent post, and gone reluctantly back to the original peeve, I think I now understand the situation. Mr Hart, ignorant of the fact that /'aɪdɪl/ is the older, and etymologically justified pronunciation, is criticizing others for failing to use the more modern pronunciation, and inferring from this that they are more ignorant than he is.

Clearly Rome has already fallen! (Personally, I blame Mr David 'Alaric' Hart.)

On a point of information, Mr Chairman, from one who cannot recall ever hearing the "eye" pronunciation, do those who use this form also say "eyedillic"?

Picky, that's how Eye pronounce it.

Eye thank you, Tim

'He insists that his catalogue of complaints is “not really the dilettante’s catalogue of petty annoyances it might at first appear to be.”'

You may want to get to the end of the article, where he more or less admits that his list is, in fact, mostly a list of petty annoyances:

"All right, so perhaps this really is just a list of paltry private grievances, and the fate of civilization does not really hang in the balance."

Your peevery at peevery seems to have been premature, given that the peevery was only half-serious at best

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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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