Tag Archives: The New Yorker

Fancy schmancy

A reader contacted me this week to help water my dry spell and to seek my views on the question of pretentious writing.

She offered four examples of what she believes are showy words used by “stuffy” writers; some, she claims, are without meaning. The word samples she offered were penultimate, eponymous, jocund and diktat.

Of those, I knew two.

I saw a Facebook or Twitter post  recently that said, “Never use a long word when a shorter one will do,” a quote I believe is attributed to George Orwell.

It’s a good piece of advice, but I’m not sure I buy into it 100 percent.

Sure, I believe it’s always good to use simple language to get one’s point across. Often the fewer syllables the better. At the same time, I delight in learning new words—and using them. I was once told by an employer to quit using phrases the average Joe wouldn’t know right off the bat. I’m still a little grumpy about that.

My everyday stainless steel flatware, which I bought at Sears in 1984, still works just fine. But every now and then, I enjoy getting out the Reed & Barton silver. It’s as ornate and showy and unnecessary as any fancy language thrown about in The New Yorker. But it’s there and it’s beautiful. Why not use it?

My reader cited The New Yorker’s review of the movie Larry Crowne as she pondered the necessity of diktat, which I learned is a harsh penalty. The review said, “During Larry’s midlife crisis, the world is little more than an extended version of the cheerful diktat that disaster is merely opportunity in disguise.” I think that’s a stretch. Perhaps I misunderstand the definition. I’m going with the reader on this one.

Jocund is a nice word, though I’ve never used it. I might try it out, the next time I need to describe someone who is marked by lively mirthfulness. Come to think of it, I might prefer lively mirthfulness.

Eponymous, giving one’s name to a tribe or place, isn’t a word for which I’ve ever had a need. You?

Penultimate means next to last and I remember the day in college when I first learned it. I find it quite descriptive and know of no synonym. I’m keeping it.

However, I would vote penultimate most misused.

The note from the reader got me thinking about words people misuse when they’re being pretentious; I have a couple of examples. To these people, never use a short word when a longer one will do (even if you use it incorrectly).

I’ve heard people use penultimate as if it meant super-ultimate, or the very best. I once heard a person say, “They have the penultimate thick crust pizza.” That might be true, if there is one left in the oven.

A colleague once apologized to me for putting me in “an awkward juxtaposition.” 

I bet you have some funny examples of your own, or responses to my reader who wants to know, why all the fluff?

In the meantime, I come back to silverware. It’s okay to break out the fancy knives and forks for the right occasion, as long as you put them in the proper places on the table. And provided you’re not using them just to show off and make your guests feel uncomfortable.

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Weird news day

I don’t tweet much. Once a day or so, just to blast out blog updates.

On Twitter, I follow more than am followed. I follow 26 people and only 15 follow me. I really must do something about this.

The reason I follow most of the tweeters I do is to get information. While it might be mildly relevant to know where someone is lunching, I am more interested in newsier Tweets. These often include items that don’t make the major newspapers, are written with esoteric angles or are relevant to narrow industry sectors. Or they’re just plain funny. Those I follow are publications mostly—The New Yorker, Fast Company, Vanity Fair, Advertising Age, Politico. Freaknomics puts out good stuff. I’ll make another pitch here for Fake AP Stylebook.

One night recently, as I was scrolling the latest Tweets before bed,  the most bizarre collection of headlines jumped off the screen.

I wondered how these would look to someone having just awakened from a decade or two of hyperbaric sleep and wanted to catch up on the latest developments in fashion, politics, the environment, cable news or travel. Then again, Twitter in and of itself might buckle the brain of anyone who’s been out of touch for, say, 10 years.

Here is just a sample of the headlines I read within in just five minutes’ time:

New York Fashion Week to Include Designer Sex Toys

Barbara Boxer aide charged with possession of pot

China Beats U.S. to First Offshore Wind Farm

Scandal Glossary: The Complicated Past of Piers Morgan, Larry King’s Replacement

Airport “Naked” Body Scanners Get Privacy Upgrade to Anonymize Your Naughty Bits

Pinch me; I must still be dreaming.

Please remember, there are no blog updates on Sundays. I’ll be opening the Sunday paper with caution.

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Frenzied New Yorker

One of my great indulgences is The New Yorker magazine.  For anyone who savors the delicacy of the written word, The New Yorker is the crème de la crème.

I’ve never subscribed to this weekly magazine.  That would be like having a case of dark chocolate truffles delivered to your home every week.  Instead, The New Yorker always been a special treat, reserved for rare times of prolonged quietude—a coast-to-coast plane ride, a long weekend at the beach.

A few years ago, a friend who was moving out of the country transferred his subscription to me.  I never would have chosen to order this frivolous subscription but I won’t lie, I was aquiver with anticipation. 

The first issue came.  I started with the first pages and read each Going on About Town, including the off-off-off-Broadway performances.  As if I’d have the chance to pop into one.  Each day, I enjoyed a bit of the week’s issue, savoring the essays, poems and cartoons.  But it was a challenge to get through each issue before the next one arrived.  I’d see the new one come in and I’d work to finish the last.  I wouldn’t even peek at one until I’d finished the last. 

I couldn’t do it.  I couldn’t appreciate the writing the way I always had because it had become a chore, a quest.  The weeks went by more and more quickly.  How could it be Monday already when I am only three-quarters finished with last week’s issue?  I was no longer savoring, I was binge reading.

Then it struck me – the image of Lucy Ricardo and Ethel Mertz, scoring their dream job at the candy factory.  They thought it would be enjoyable, even easy.  And it was, until the conveyer belt went into high gear.  The ladies struggled to wrap the truffles as the candies raced by, eating those there wasn’t time to wrap.  Not a bad assignment, enjoying chocolates while doing the job.  Then the shift supervisor shouted, “Speed it up!”  as the candies came at them at an impossible speed.  Cheeks and blouses were bulging with the chocolates that eventually made them ill.

And so it was with The New Yorker—too much of a good thing coming way too fast.  Mercifully, the subscription expired.

The New Yorker and I have made our peace.  We still meet every now and then, usually in an airport news stand in a city far away.  It is sweet.

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