Clinton Lays an Egg

Weekly Standard, July 7, 1997.


During the latter years of a teaching career extending over more than four decades, I became accustomed to university students who could not spell or punctuate and did not know the rudiments of English grammar and syntax. “Supersede,” I would write in the margin of many a term paper (and, before I became tired of doing so, I would add, “Super, from the Latin super, meaning above, and sede, from the Latin sedere, meaning to sit; hence, supersede, literally to sit on top of”), and “This is not a sentence,” or ” This is a dangling participle,” or “The semi-colon belongs after the quotation mark,” or “See Fowler’s Modern English Usage on that/which.” I’d like to think that I did some good, but when I suggested to a graduate student that she purchase — worse, that she study — Kate Turabian’s Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations, she left in a huff and dropped the seminar.

Then, like everyone else who watches televised football games, I also became accustomed to announcers and “commentators” who (when a running back is tackled behind the line of scrimmage or a quarterback throws an interception) utter such barbarisms as “Between you and I he shouda went inside” and “He shouda took the loss.” I mostly suffered in silence, but once I wrote what I thought was a friendly letter to an announcer who consistently said “fortuitous” when he meant “fortunate.” I got no response.

Weekly Standard