December 10, 2006

William Safire wins Presidential Medal

The White House recently announced that William Safire will be one of ten recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, to be awarded in a ceremony on December 15. But only a select few have known the truth behind this event -- until now.

Not long ago, Safire was nominated for one of the coveted Language Log Awards. In particular, he had the inside track for Best Language Maven. This caused an immense scandal. It was bad enough when a Language Log post praised one of Safire's columns ("To pass into a certain condition, chiefly implying deterioration", 6/30/2004) — whole linguistics departments cancelled their subscriptions en masse, and only a last-minute intervention by Grant Barrett averted a vote of censure at the 2005 annual meeting of the American Dialect Society.

When news of Safire's "Loggy" nomination leaked out, it was ten times worse.

Mr. Verb exclaimed : "Look, it's like this, see: Words, they have, like, meanings!" And he went off muttering, "Award? award?!? AWARD??!!??"

Language Hat just put his head in his hands and moaned: "Mindbogglingly stupid."

And those were the moderates.

Still, we went forward undeterred. But as the celebrities were gathering for the awards ceremony at Language Log Plaza, a klaxon sounded. The Provisional Wing of the LSA had threatened an attack.

Now, it's been rumored for years that the Provos have been stockpiling phonologically active materials, highly enriched in nuclear accents, perhaps even enough to build a primitive phonemic bomb. Experts doubt that this is possible, but the threat is too dire to ignore. I mean, it'd be the Tower of Babel all over again. So we evacuated the building and snuck Bill out through the basement steam tunnels.

Ashamed of my profession's inability to recognize the true value of Safire's contributions, I contacted the White House.   W owes us one (at least one), and I'm happy to say that after a small amount of push-back ("Whaddya mean, put Michael Brown off to next year? Safire writes good stuff about language, sure, but it's not near as good as what Brownie did after Katrina!"), W did indeed put Bill on this year's list for a Presidential Medal of Freedom.

It's not a Loggy; but he'll be able to get through the awards ceremony without any catcalls about nominative suffixes.

Posted by Mark Liberman at December 10, 2006 07:42 AM