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.