Friday, April 25, 2008

Today's Word—Twain on Editors

Letter to the Editor:

It’s no secret that Mark Twain had his own writing style and had little patience for editors. These excerpts from a 1890 letter to his editor is a useful reminder to overbearing editors today:
• “Amongst. Wasn’t ‘among’ good enough?”
• “Have you failed to perceive that by taking the word ‘both’ out of its proper place you have made foolishness of the sentence?”
• “And don’t you see that your smug ‘of which’ has turned that sentence into reporter’s English?”
• “‘Quite.’ Why do you intrude that shopworn favorite of yours where there is nothing useful for it to do? Can’t you rest easy in your literary grave without it?”
• “You have a singularly fine and aristocratic disrespect for homely and unpretending English. Every time I use ‘go back’ you get out your polisher and slick it up to ‘return.’”
• “You are really perfect in the great art of reducing simple and dignified speech to clumsy and vapid commonplace.”
• “I will remind you once more that clarity is a good thing in literature. An apprentice cannot do better than to keep this useful rule in mind.”
• “It is curious and interesting to notice what an attraction a fussy, mincing, nickel-plated word has for you.”
• “Have you no sense of the shade of meanings in words?”
• “It was English before you decayed it. Sell it to the museum.”
—Mark Twain (1835-1910), writer, 1890 (from Mark Twain’s Letters, edited by Albert Bigelow Paine, 1917)

On This Day . . .
. . . In 1507, German mapmaker Martin Waldseemueller named the huge New World land mass of the Western Hemisphere to honor Italian navigator Amerigo Vespucci.
. . . In 1792, Nicolas Jacques Pelletier, a highway bandit, became the first person executed by guillotine.
. . . In 1898, the United States declared war on Spain.
. . . In 1901, New York became the first state to require automobile license plates (and the dreaded DMV was born?).
. . . In 1945, American and Soviet troops reached each other on the Elbe, severing Nazi forces.
. . . In 1959, the St. Lawrence Seaway opened.
. . . In 2003, Georgia legislators voted to eliminate the Confederate cross from the state flag.

76 . . . Meadowlark Lemon, Harlem Globetrotter
68 . . . Al Pacino, actor
63 . . . Bjorn Ulvaeus, singer (ABBA)
62 . . . Talia Shire, actress
44 . . . Hank Azaria, actor
Edward R. Murrow (1908-1965), American radio and television broadcaster
Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658), Lord Protector of England, Scotland and Ireland
Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893), Russian composer
Guglielmo Marconi (1874-1937), Italian Nobel Prize-winning physicist and inventor
William Brennan (1906-1997), associate justice of the Supreme Court (1956-90)
Ella Fitzgerald (1917-1996), American jazz singer

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