Date: Mon, 14 Apr 1997 14:04:05 EDT
Subject: Re: With friends like this...

Thanks for your comments. I agree entirely; in fact the same class of mine I
referred to in my message (the one in which we've been discussing retronyms and
clones of the "volunTEER volunteer" variety) we've just gotten through discuss-
ing the chapter you mention, Pinker on "The Language Mavens" re Safire et al.
In fact I took the occasion of their having read Pinker's exigesis of the
Barbra Streisand line to get my undergraduates to come up with their own
similar deconstruction of Safire's 4/6 column on "SEH-muh-null" as taboo
avoidance. At the same time, I (like Pinker) do get more out of reading
Safire than out of reading most of his ilk; he doesn't always condemn new
usage out of hand, he often comes up with interesting examples and cites--al-
though I grant that all too often he speaks with unearned authority and with
an often careless and sometimes insulting disregard of previous scholarship
on particular issues--cf. inter all too many alia his coverage of NOT! back in
March '92, when he cited a syndicated column by Linda Shrieves of the Orlando
Sentinel without bothering to track down the linguists Shrieves cited, or his
various "discoveries" of lexical and grammatical constructions some of us have
spent many years analyzing and writing about. But despite his carelessness,
he does have a love for language as a vibrant entity and for speakers as
creative sources of innovation, which in itself distinguishes Safire from the
Edwin Newmans and John Simons who seem to be interested in nothing more than
standing on their soapboxes to shout out the imminent destruction of English
(and to blame the permissivism of the sixties for this demise).