August 01, 2005

And every lion tongue cast down

The New Yorker has a well-deserved reputation for being carefully (if sometimes eccentrically) edited. As Tom Rossen pointed out to me today by email, however, something strange has happened on page 49 of the current issue. The scene is a gala dinner for Tom DeLay at the Capitol Hilton:

Finally, Tony Perkins, the head of the Family Research council, delivered a benediction. "Heavenly Father," he said, "we are here tonight to thank you for our leader, Tom DeLay. We thank you for him, and we want to pray for him and Christine," -- DeLay's wife. "We lift them up before you, and we ask that you put a shield around them. Father, we pray, your own word over them, that no weapon formed against them would prosper. Lord, that every lion tongue would be cast down. And we pray, Lord, that they will come out on the other side of this, servants more usable in your kingdom. [emphasis added]

[John Cassidy, "The Ringleader: How Grover Norquist keeps the conservative movement together",   The New Yorker, August 1, 2005, p. 49]

I've got to assume that "lion tongue" is a slip of the ear for "lying tongue". The King James Version has 5 instances of "lying tongue", but none of "lion tongue". "Lying tongue" makes sense in the context, while "lion tongue" makes no sense at all. If there were any lions besetting Tom and Christine DeLay with their tongues over at the Capitol Hilton, John Cassidy didn't learn about them. At least he doesn't tell us, and you'd think that if he had, he would have.

Every tongue cast down is perhaps not the most coherent of images -- I see them draped over the landscape like Dali watches -- but extracting the tongues from every member of some relevant set of lions doesn't help. Google has 637 hits for {"lion tongue"}, but they seem to deal with the actual tongues of lions, which as I've said seem to be thin on the ground at the Capitol Hilton. In contrast, there are 22,100 hits for {"lying tongue"}, many of them in religious contexts similar to Perkins' benediction.

The error must have happened when Cassidy (or some underling) transcribed the benediction. There's no indication that Cassidy was was given Perkins' prayer in writing, if a written form ever existed; and if the phrase had come in writing from Perkins, I imagine that Cassidy would either have silently corrected it or added a sic.

And then Cassidy's transcriptional eggcorn made it through the New Yorker's copy-editing process. Not to speak of the famous fact checkers. But I doubt that even the New Yorker fact-checks prayer, so maybe this is a case where theory checkers would have been more advisable: "Mr. Perkins, I'm a theory checker from the New Yorker, and we're trying to make sense of those lions whose tongues you asked to be cast down. Can you offer any coherent story about just where these beasts are, and what they have against the DeLays?"

Posted by Mark Liberman at August 1, 2005 12:27 AM