The Prompter Room

For Tuesday, August 1, 2017:

 

Yesterday’s TV news reports reminded me that this might be a good time to rehearse the meaning of an oft-used word that is usually used incorrectly: ‘fulsome.’  James J. Kilpatrick, my favorite go-to source for all things grammar, has this to say:

It always is a shock for a writer to discover that a familiar word doesn’t mean what he thinks it means.  So it is with fulsome.  For a good many years I thought fulsome was a friendly word.  Many others thought the same thing.  In 1983 a Midwestern newspaper reported on astronaut Sally Ride: ‘Ms. Ride, appearing fresh and spirited despite her trail-blazing, six-day voyage, modestly accepted President Reagan’s fulsome praise.’

No, no, no!  Fulsome does not mean abundant, or copious, or florid, or excessive.  Its primary meaning is insincere, phony, offensively effusive.  Members of the Senate engage in fulsome speech when they speak of an ‘able, distinguished, erudite, and dedicated’ colleague.  This is spatula speech, the kind of no-cal icing that may be piled upon a pound cake.

James J. Kilpatrick, FINE PRINT: REFLECTIONS ON THE WRITING ART (1993)

 

(See my page above, ‘Those Fulsome Wordplay Blues,’ for more on this word and others that tend to trip up even the best writers.)

 

 

Advertisements

The Prompter Room

For Thursday, April 7, 2016:

 

“Justice is the grammar of things.  Mercy is the poetry of things.”

Frederick Buechner

One of my favorite editing clients was a longtime circuit superior court judge for the U. S. state in which he lived until his death last fall.  As we worked our way through his memoir and then a series of smaller pieces he was compiling, we became fast friends.  We had regular and wide-ranging email conversations about theology among many other subjects, and I treasured his thoughtful insights.

I wish I had found this quote from Buechner while the judge and I were still working together.  It would have been the perfect epigram for his memoir, for one thing.  It’s also a good metaphor of our working relationship, especially as it grew into friendship and mutual respect.  As well-educated and well-read as he was, he was generous enough to let me to judge the structure of his writing, which was a mercy to and for me.

But that’s how he was with his court cases, too, so that’s not surprising.  I was privileged to read his accounts of the many times – names and circumstances changed, of course, for privacy – when he felt it was more important to tip the scales on the side of mercy rather than judicial strictures.  Those were the times when he was a poet of the bench.

The judge was as thoughtful and hospitable, too, with his comments about our work on and for his memoir and the collection he was compiling.  “Genie,” he wrote early on, “you definitely make my writing simpler and more forceful.  Thank you!”   A later comment was truly humbling: “Thanks for the great job you have done.  You are not only an excellent editor, but you are also a valued advisor and mentor.”  Coming from a man of such stature and 20 years my senior, that one still leaves me breathless.

His balance of justice and mercy from the bench extended to our work together.  The judge was a good and treasured friend.  I miss him to this day and always will, but his example is a model I will continue to follow in both work and life.  I think he would appreciate that because he knew that, for me, writing equals relationship.

Letter to Ford Motor Company

For years I’ve suffered through Ford’s print and television advertisements. Today I finally did something about it.

If you’ve read my page about apostrophes, ‘Apostrophe Alert,’ you know the story of a late friend who was an apostrophe vigilante.  Well, I’ve taken a page from her book and written to the advertising department at Ford Motor Company about their ads that proclaim ‘Go further.’

While there are no apostrophes in that tagline, there is a grammatical error.  Simply put, it should read ‘Go farther,’ and that’s what I wrote today in an email to Ford.

If you think about it, it’s a matter of distance.  I presume Ford wants their customers to drive far in their vehicles.  So one should say ‘farther.’  One does not say, for instance, ‘You’ll go fur,’ but ‘You’ll go far.’  ‘Further’ is a philosophical construct — ‘I’ll have to think about that further,’ for instance, for ‘I’ll have to think about that some more.’

Of course, I have no idea if my one email will make a difference in Ford’s ads, but stranger things are known to happen. Since we’re talking about English here, it’s possible — even likely — there are exceptions to my assertion, but I’m pretty sure it’s safe to say that if we remember the ‘fur/far’ distinction, our writing will be correct — in this instance, anyway — and customers will send us letters of praise.