Site Map
Other Editorials

Words to live by

Signs of the End of Days

Kerry vs. Bush. Enough said.

Why I live in South Dakota

Why do I live in South Dakota, you ask? The answer is simple: I prefer living in a third world country that is not too far from the land of the great PX. I don’t even need a passport to visit the US. As to Baja Canada (aka North Dakota) I can’t witness for its existence – I’ve never been there. I am told, though, that people who live near the border of that accursed land speak fearfully of “the shadow of the North”. The full truth of this I do not know but I do know this: Migrating pigs that fly north into Baja Canada never return.

A convenient machine

It seems that my lawn mower has my welfare at heart. It will mow grass for two or three hours and then decide that it has had enough and stop operating for a while. It knows that I shouldn’t put in too many hours mowing grass.

Fly Fishing

The trouble with flyfishing is that sometimes you inadvertently cast to the wrong place and a fish grabs the hook. It helps if you only use a sinker and omit the fly and the hook; however a really determined fish will swallow the sinker.

Useful phrases

One of my faithful correspondents remarked on my remarking on the virtues of the word “opine”. He had, he said, noticed its use by other, equally profound and insightful essayists, and had taken to using it himself. It is a useful word; indeed it is the right word, which is why I use it. Consider the alternatives:

Never use “I feel”; it is a wussy, new agey sort of expression best left to giggling teenage girls who dot their “i”s with hearts and smiley faces. Feeling is what you do in the dark when the power fails.

“I believe” will do if one is concerned with belief rather than opinion. All too often belief is an act of desperation. Beliefs are a product of necessity, not of reason. For example consider:

“I believe that all will turn out well in Iraq.”
This might be said by any well-meaning Republican whose beliefs are necessarily conditioned by his allegiances. He might more honestly say, “I hope that all will turn out well in Iraq.” However, as we all know, hope is the mother of belief.

Compare this with:

“I opine that all will turn out well in Iraq.”
The speaker offers an opinion about affairs in Iraq. It is a rather non-commital phrasing. It carries no serious endorsement of the validity of the opinion. (Just as well, given that opinion.) A believer fears being wrong; an opiner does not.

“I think” is presumptious.

The formula “in my opinion” is pedantic and passive. Those are its merits, such as they are. Beyond that, it is a tediously cumbersome expression.

There are other phrasings that I am fond of. (And not “of which I am fond”, a construction that only a style-blind pedant could countenance.) In the preceding paragraph there is “beyond that”, which makes a stronger claim than the more pedestrian “In addition”.

Then there is “Be that as it may”, which asserts that regardless of the relevance and/or accuracy of the preceding material, that which is about to come is to the point. Since much of what I say is neither relevant nor accurate, I find it to be a useful phrase indeed.

Another useful phrase is “That said”. It can be used to mark a new point in the argument.

In his essay, Politics and the English Language, Orwell said in effect that by using polysyllabic latinized English one could write on autopilot without thinking at all. I have in mind the same object, but I propose to use a more colorful and more idiosyncratic vocabulary.

History, Science, and the Humanities

In Kuhn’sThe Road Since Structure, a collection of his later essays. he makes the striking observation that Science is continually erasing its history. Older versions of texts are replaced by newer versions; the new texts delete old material and replace it with new results. The upshot is that science operates in a window that is a decade or so wide. This is quite different from the humanities, where the past is present indefinitely.

Links to other editorials

This page was last updated June 1, 2004.
It was reformatted and moved September 7, 2006

table of contents