Posts Tagged ‘samuel johnson’

Against Patriotism

America: At least it's got a pretty good flag...

It’s the Fourth of July, which means it’s time for barbecues, fireworks, and celebrating America. I’m definitely in favor of the first; I’m iffy at best on the second (though not necessarily as opposed as Josh). But I’m adamantly against the last one.

There have been a lot of famous, pithy criticisms of patriotism: George Bernard Shaw said, “Patriotism is your conviction that this country is superior to all others because you were born in it.” Bertrand Russell said, “Patriotism is the willingness to kill and be killed for trivial reasons.” And, of course, Samuel Johnson most famously called patriotism “the last refuge of a scoundrel.”

And yet none of that wit has changed the fact that people generally regard patriotism as a virtue. Every year—most vocally on the Fourth of July, but not just during this time of year—we hear about how important loving your country is. Pundits and politicians are constantly arguing over what constitutes “true patriotism,” and attacking each other for not being sufficiently patriotic. And if you start questioning someone’s patriotism…well, few things piss people off more.

But why is this? Why should someone love his country? I’ve never understood why patriotism is seen as an admirable quality. Continue reading

In Defense of Grammar

Hi, I’m Tim, and I’m a language pedant.

I’m a corrector; you know, one of those guys that corrects you when you say something incorrectly. Think you can get away with disinterested/uninterested mishaps around me? Just ask Rick Reilly. Use reference as a verb when you mean refer and you’ll get a scolding. Same goes for legitimize instead of legitimate (that’s a long a sound at the end: legitimāte). Don’t get me started on the subjunctive mood. I prefer my friends be accurate there, and I don’t think this is particularly unique of me because nothing can be particularly unique.

The Elements of Style sits within reach on a shelf of my desk; I don’t have time to go walking to the other side of the room (and the real bookcase) in case of a grammatical emergency. In my abandoned novel, William Strunk, Jr. was a prominent character.*

*Probably one of the reasons for the adjective “abandoned.”

Although I’m what most would call a stickler, there are some suggestions I don’t always listen to. And clearly, I like to audaciously flaunt some of the basics. Can’t end with a preposition? Please. No starting with a conjunction? Ever hear of transitions? I can’t remember the last time I didn’t split an infinitive. This isn’t Latin.

Nevertheless, Ammon Shea’s attack on “language pedants”—his words—in Sunday’s New York Times Magazine felt personal. Shea expresses his frustration with “inveterate correctors” and reveals his own plan to topple them: via precedent!

Continue reading