October 14, 2005

Grammatical micturation??

I'm not getting this. Michael Tortorello read the David Brooks New York Times piece on Harriet Miers' bland writings in the Texas Bar Journal and commented:

Miers hasn't just micturated on the grave of Strunk and White; she has desecrated the whole cemetery.

Now first, I don't believe these oft-linked gentlemen ended up in the same grave. Strunk died in 1946 and White almost 40 years later in 1985. Perhaps Tortorello means the grave of the book. But unfortunately it is not dead; a new illustrated edition (can you believe that?) is coming out this month. But never mind that. What's this suggestion about Miers' writing constituting a metaphorical peeing on the putative grave of The Elements of Style? That's what I'm interested in. Let's take a look at this writing, shall we?

Here are the quotes from Miers that David Brooks provides:

"More and more, the intractable problems in our society have one answer: broad-based intolerance of unacceptable conditions and a commitment by many to fix problems."

"When consensus of diverse leadership can be achieved on issues of importance, the greatest impact can be achieved."

"An organization must also implement programs to fulfill strategies established through its goals and mission. Methods for evaluation of these strategies are a necessity. With the framework of mission, goals, strategies, programs, and methods for evaluation in place, a meaningful budgeting process can begin."

"We have to understand and appreciate that achieving justice for all is in jeopardy before a call to arms to assist in obtaining support for the justice system will be effective. Achieving the necessary understanding and appreciation of why the challenge is so important, we can then turn to the task of providing the much needed support."

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm as much opposed to intellectual mediocrity, and the kind of vacuous drivel that gets written in newsletter editorials, as the next man. This is a rather rare case of me agreeing with Ann Coulter, in fact: Miers should not even be allowed to play a Supreme Court judge on TV. The above excerpts are evidence of a profoundly dull and cliché-clogged mind. But I'm interested in the idea that Strunk and White's stupid and old-fashioned little collection of platitudes and warnings about writing English is in some way dishonored here. As far as I can see, after several almost unbearably dull readings, there is absolutely nothing in the above excerpts that contravenes prescriptive grammar at its most benighted, or Strunk/White style at its most clipped. The writing is pathetic; but there is simply nothing wrong with its grammar or the formal aspects of its style. Do not bring this woman up before the grammar court. Release her. She is dull-witted, yes. She will never win prizes, but grammatically and even stylistically, she is innocent.

Posted by Geoffrey K. Pullum at October 14, 2005 09:26 PM