Somewhat Interesting

by Jay Nordlinger

A reader writes me a little note about language. It responds to my Impromptus today, which is Part I of a little “cruise journal” — some notes on NR’s just-completed cruise along the Seine River. In that journal, I say I find it “somewhat amazing” that Paris now has an esplanade named after David Ben-Gurion. (This was a highly controversial naming, effected last year.)

Our reader writes, “Can you say ‘somewhat amazing’? Isn’t the state of amazement an extreme reaction to something?”

Hmm. I think it’s possible to be “somewhat amazed” — that is, to have a limited amazement, or mild amazement. I’ll have to think about that.

I recall a discussion I once had with Mark Helprin — about the type of person who says you can’t say “very.” These are the same people who say you can’t begin a sentence with “And” or “But,” or split an infinitive, or end a sentence with a preposition. They are to be ignored, certainly by those who want to write well.

I think I remember what Mark said about “very”: “There’s a difference between ‘fat’ and ‘very fat,’ and between ‘rich’ and ‘very rich.’ The word is needed and valuable. Of course, any word can be misused, overused, or what have you.”

Amen. Well, thanks for the language break, and now I, like you, perhaps, will return to the weighty issues of the day . . . 

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