The Corner


Pronouns and Other Fighting Words

Caitlyn Jenner at Vanity Fair‘s Oscar party in Beverly Hills, Calif., on April 3, 2018 (Danny Moloshok / Reuters)

My Impromptus today is headed “Splitsville, &c.” Why? I lead with Bill and Melinda Gates, who are getting divorced. This is not only a personal matter, I think, it is also a blow to society. You may differ (as always).

What else? I have some Vladimir Putin in my column. He is a very, very good hockey player — though maybe not as good as Kim Jong-il was a golfer, or Elena Ceausescu a chemist.

I also touch on Liz Cheney, George Will — and Jack Fowler, that pillar of National Review.

Language, too. My column includes some notes on language, as it usually does, and I’d like to do some more typing on the subject, here in the Corner.

I often say that I’d last about a week — maybe three days? — on a typical college campus. I’d use the wrong pronoun or something, there’d be a blow-up, and I’d be gone.

Language is a minefield. You never know what you’re going to step on. In my column today, I use the word “accompanist,” to describe a pianist who plays in a voice recital. A lot of people don’t want you to use this word. They want you to say “collaborative pianist.” I have not quite gotten with the program. (When do I?)

I smile at the memory of one musician, who when called a “collaborative pianist” said, “No, I’m an accompanist. ‘Collaborator’ makes me sound like a Frenchman on the wrong side in World War II or something.”

My Impromptus on Monday led with Caitlyn Jenner, who is a minefield unto herself — himself? A lot of people feel very, very strongly about this. Some readers thought I had used the wrong pronouns, and they let me know, in no uncertain terms. I say: I have resisted the language cops all my life. Usually, they come from the left. But I’ll resist them wherever they come from.

One of the reasons I rejected the Left, long ago, was that they were always telling you how to talk. They were always saying what you could say and not say. They were language cops. The American rebel in me says: Get stuffed.

There is policing on the right, too. I’ll give you two examples, beyond the pronouns thing. I have been admonished for saying “gay marriage,” instead of “homosexual marriage.” Also for saying “Fourth of July.” Oh, you don’t like American independence, do you? Don’t you know it’s “Independence Day”? You think it’s just another date on the calendar? Do you refer to Christmas as “the Twenty-fifth of December”? Why are you trying to erase Independence Day?

To which I can only say, as our forefathers did, Ay, caramba.

There are a million more things to say about language, and I have said many of them — half a million? — over many years of writing. There is this essay, for example: “Adventures in Lexical Fashion: Today’s progressive term may become tomorrow’s slur.” Bottom line, if I have one: Good will means a lot. Good will über Alles.

Which brings up another language issue (in English, not German): Do you like good will or goodwill? There was a debate at The Weekly Standard, way back. I think that good will and goodwill are pronounced differently. I think the stress in goodwill has to go on the first syllable, which I dislike.

But we can debate this little question another time. Again, for today’s Impromptus, go here.


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