Saturday, January 10, 2009

Safire's back!

One of the things I regret about the newspaper days is that I never had one of those view-with-concern, point-with-alarm sort of jobs where you could just make stuff up when you ran out of other things to talk about. You know, like Bill Safire:

Y’know reached its usage peak among teenagers in the 1980s, later replaced by I mean, then by like and of late by an elemental uh.

Did it occur to anybody -- specifically, anybody who edits copy for the Times magazine -- that there are two sorts of testable claims in there? One about frequency, and one about time sequences? And that neither one comes with the remotest shred of evidence (aside from the speaker's authority, which is more or less nil) to support it?

Sports writers, you might have noticed, tend not to do that -- I mean, make unsubstantiated assertions about frequency ("free-throw shooting was at its best in the 1980s") or order (the Cards defeated Boston the year after they lost to Detroit) and expect to be taken seriously solely on the size of their mavenhood. I expect that's because sports writers know they're fairly likely to be called out, by readers if not first by editors, should they start inventing stuff at random. Other parts of the paper ought to follow the same general approach. When you say something peaked, whether it's cancer deaths, paper acceptance rates, editorial support for Republican candidates in U.S. daily newspaper editorials, or whatever, you put your data on the table or your babblings don't get put in the paper.

Look, you know, a grunted uh, I mean — which is what I use to fill up a silence to show I’m conscious while I’m groping for a word — is, like, prelinguistic language.

Words, like, fail me.

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