“Tense present” – DFW

This marvellous (and long) essay by David Foster Wallace is, in essence, about uses of the English (or American) language.

Did you know that probing the seamy underbelly of U.S. lexicography reveals ideological strife and controversy and intrigue and nastiness and fervor on a nearly hanging-chad scale? For instance, did you know that some modern dictionaries are notoriously liberal and others notoriously conservative, and that certain conservative dictionaries were actually conceived and designed as corrective responses to the “corruption” and “permissiveness” of certain liberal dictionaries? That the oligarchic device of having a special “Distinguished Usage Panel … of outstanding professional speakers and writers” is an attempted compromise between the forces of egalitarianism and traditionalism in English, but that most linguistic liberals dismiss the Usage Panel as mere sham-populism? Did you know that U.S. lexicography even had a seamy underbelly?

In actual fact, though, and as the above passage demonstrates, it’s about any given topic or idea about which two groups hold their own interpretations and views.

 

 

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rich_w

Man of letters & numbers; also occasionally of action. Husband to NTW. Dad of three. Friendly geek.

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