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September 12

I didn’t post yesterday, choosing not to add my inconsequential recollections of September 11, 2001, to the cresting tide. Instead, I went to church, where we prayed for those lost in the attacks, for solace for those who lost family and friends, and for intelligence and restraint in our conduct as a nation. Later, at home, I made spaghetti sauce and a salad and opened a bottle of plonk for Sunday family dinner. In the ordinary rhythms of daily life we affirm that we go on.

Today in 1814 the Battle of Baltimore began, with the British infantry’s futile attempt to take the city and the Royal Navy’s equally futile bombardment of Fort McHenry. This is Defenders’ Day in Maryland.* So the nation has known dark hours before, and we can say today, as a Baltimore attorney said at the conclusion of that bombardment, that our flag is still there.

Your word of the week is hegemony, a tricky business for nations.

September 12 is also the birthday of Henry Louis Mencken, born in 1880. Of his many accomplishments, not the least is his authorship of The American Language, first published in 1919 and periodically revised during the rest of his working life. Though its research is dated, it brims with the Menckenian brio. To commemorate his birth, I will drag out once more one of my favorite passages, a piece of cautionary advice for those of us who write about language:

The error of ... viewers with alarm is in assuming that there is enough magic in pedagogy to teach "correct" English to the plain people. There is, in fact, too little; even the fearsome abracadabra of Teachers College, Columbia, will never suffice for the purpose. The plain people will always make their own language, and the best that grammarians can do is to follow after it, haltingly, and often without much insight. Their lives would be more comfortable if they ceased to repine over it, and instead gave it some hard study. It is very amusing, and not a little instructive.


*And it’s a plural possessive, dammit.



Posted by John McIntyre at 10:46 AM | | Comments (3)


Huzzah for plural possessives (and not those vague and iffy "attributive nouns) in the names of holidays!

Also, if I had written yesterday, it would have been difficult to suppress remarks about the ill-advised and dishonestly presented war in Iraq, in which more Americans died than in the 9/11 attacks. Or to observe that at least Robert McNamara, however belatedly, admitted that he was disastrously wrong about Vietnam, in contrast with the egregiously smug Donald Rumsfeld.

Prof. McI.,

I thoroughly commend you for your consummate restraint this Sept.11th, in not addressing the G.W. Bush Administration's ill-advised rush to attack the Iraquis and ultimately ferret out Saddam Hussein, predicated solely on the basis of bogus intelligence(?) that Hussein was directly complicit in masterminding, or financing the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and further that he (Hussein) was harboring weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

It's abundantly clear that w/ the publication of the glaringly self-aggrandizing, unapologetic memoirs of both former Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, "Known and Unknown: A Memoir", and former Vice President Dick Cheney's recently released, "In My Time: A Memoir', that terminal smugness, self-righteousness, self-denial, hubris-writ-large, and failure to admit nary a scintilla of personal regret, or blame for their questionable actions, and decisions while serving under the employ of then-Pres. Bush, was virtually endemic (pandemic?) throughout the hierarchy of the 'Bush 43' administration.

I do believe the more liberally-skewed, then-Secretary of State during Bush's first term in office, Colin Powell, in retrospect, did publicly express regret, and admit faulty personal judgment in the whole issue of Saddam and those elusive WMD, and the rash decision to declare all-out war on Iraq. It appeared that at least Powell was able to escape the pervasive contagion of ingrained smugness and self-righteousness that seemed to have permeated most of the George Dubya administration's higher echelon-----Rumsfeld and Cheney being the Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dumb poster boys of an out-of-touch, deceiving administration run amok. (WMD-----Wonks of Mass Denial. HA!)

The nationwide, (dare I say worldwide) tenth anniversary observance of the 9/11 tragedy, w/ the moving official dedication of the much anticipated Twin Towers' Memorial Park as the prime focus, was clearly a time for an entire nation to remember, reflect, mourn, and collectively embrace a hopeful future for our healing nation, and literally and symbolically witness the rise of New York City from the ashes of that fateful, sad, horrific day a decade ago.

Political rhetoric and partisan demagoguery could thankfully be largely set aside for at least one day, as those brave souls who lost their loved ones to this unprecedented act of terror hopefully felt some degree of consolation, emotional support, and love from their fellow countrymen, and women; more confident that the memory of the fallen innocent victims of 9/11 would never become a mere fleeting footnote in the annals of U.S. history-----all their names permanently cast in solid bronze along the entire perimeter of those impressive Twin Tower 'footprint ponds' for time immemorial.


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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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