September 07, 2004

The globalization of daring and originality

I agree with David Beaver. We should "not allow mere facts to stand in the way of good journalism", which makes such a crucial contribution to what H.L. Mencken called

the daily panorama of human existence, of private and communal folly--the unending procession of governmental extortions and chicaneries, of commercial brigandages, and throat-slittings, of theological buffooneries, of aesthetic ribaldries, of legal swindles and harlotries, of miscellaneous rogueries, villainies, imbecilities, grotesqueries, and extravagances

all of which, as he went on to say,

is so inordinately gross and preposterous, so perfectly brought up to the highest conceivable amperage, so steadily enriched with an almost fabulous daring and originality, that only the man who was born with a petrified diaphragm can fail to laugh himself to sleep every night, and to awake every morning with all the eager, unflagging expectation of a Sunday-school superintendent touring the Paris peep-shows.

Mencken's goal in the quoted essay was to explain why he chose not to join so many of his fellow Americans in emigrating:

Their anguish fills the Liberal weeklies and every ship that puts out from New York carries a groaning cargo of them, bound for Paris, London, Munich, Rome and way points-anywhere to escape the great curses and atrocities that make life intolerable for them at home.

But in this era of globalization, there's no longer any need to travel in order to verify that the rest of the world has caught up to America in the production of "rogueries, villanies, imbecilities, grotesqueries and extravagances" -- if indeed there was ever an "imbecility gap" outside the perceptions of provincial intellectuals. Perhaps the foreigners have even surpassed us. I believe that if you search our weblog's archives for Reuters, the Guardian and the BBC, you'll find even more "fabulous daring and originality" than if you search for the Associated Press, the New York Times or the Washington Post.

And this is not because we treat domestic outlets differently from foreign ones. Here at Language Log, we try to share with others our own innocent delight at this parade of wonders, whatever the source. The world, and our weblog, would be a duller place without it.

Different people applaud in different ways, of course. When Geoff Pullum wrote that

The claim quoted is thus not just false but, staggeringly, overwhelmingly false. It is perhaps the falsest claim ever discussed on Language Log (though of course this is debatable; the BBC's science reporting constantly struggles to stay ahead in wild falsehoods). It is a very good example of the sort of claim we think people should stop making about language use. Difficult to find a case of "bisexual" that does not have "chic" after it is what he said. Utterly untrue. These things can be checked, often in under half a second of Google time.

he was celebrating this marvelous example of Australian daring and originality in his own special way. And when David Beaver wrote that "I couldn't find myself disagreeing more strongly with Geoff", he was agreeing in his own characteristic fashion. I, of course, agree with both of them.


Posted by Mark Liberman at September 7, 2004 03:38 PM