Mighty Red Pen

September 29, 2009

David Foster Wallace: “More syllables is just puffed up”

Filed under: Word wars,Wordsworthy — mighty red pen @ 7:55 pm
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David Foster Wallace responds to the question, “What’s wrong with genteelisms like ‘prior to’ and ‘subsequent to’?”

Become an agent of goodness and light . . .

Hat tip to cinetrix and Brainiac.

1 Comment »

  1. Where to begin.

    He says that if we say “prior to” to mean “before” then we should say “posterior to” to mean “after”, instead of “subsequent to”. This is the etymological fallacy, the belief that in order to find out how to use English, we need to look at a different language.

    And why can’t it go in the other direction? “Subsequent” comes from the Latin for “following”, so it makes sense “technically, given the Latin roots”. By this logic, why couldn’t we say “procedent to” (from the Latin for “proceed”) instead of “prior to”?

    He says “in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred”, “use” should be used instead of “utilize”. This is untrue; Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage notes that almost invariably, the meaning of “utilize” in actual usage is “to turn to practical use or account”.

    Why are more words evil, and less words light and goodness? Why did he just take up one third of a second of my lifetime making me parse “careful and attentive” rather than just saying “careful”?

    Comment by goofy — September 30, 2009 @ 11:29 am | Reply


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