Unlocking the Word-Hoard

by John Derbyshire

A report on the Gates of Vienna website includes the following sentence:

To the extent that the effects of mass immigration on social capital are mentioned at all, they tend to be referred to obliquely, as self-appointed gutmenschen chirp inanities about “cultural enrichment” over their lattes.

A friend notes:

Here, “gutmenschen” is mentioned casually, as if the general reader can be expected to know what it means. The word is lowercased, English-style, but is pluralized German-style. The German word Gutmensch is, it says here, used to refer to persons or groups denen ein übertrieben moralisierendes oder naives Verhalten unterstellt wird. (“who have become subordinated to an exaggerated moralistic or naive demeanor”). From the subsequent text it seems that a Gutmensch is a PC-compliant good-hearted naive person who has a socially correct outlook.

But it is odd that this writer would resort to a foreign loanword when English already has a perfectly good word meaning the same thing: bien-pensant.

Cute. In Newspeak we have of course the adjective “goodthinkful,” which is at least organically connected to the Old English wordhord (vocabulary).

And the Gates of Vienna writer has violated the principle my schoolmaster taught me: If you are doing anything that emphasizes the foreign-ness of a foreign word — e.g. capitalizing German nouns, forming plurals or grammatical cases in the native style — the word should be in italics. So “zeitgeist” is OK but Zeitgeist needs italics (and the quotes are then optional). Likewise “the data is ready,” using the English aggregative noun “data” (cf. “the rice is cooked”) is fine; but if you want to say “The data are ready,” you are pluralizing on Latin rules, and need italics.

I once had an argument with Bill Buckley on that latter point (sigh).

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