The Times It Is A-changing

It was about a week ago that I looked up from my (on-line) reading of the New York Times to announce “the end of civilization as we have known it.” I can’t even remember now what it was that led me to say it. But it happened again yesterday.

It was a headline that got my attention first: “In Vacuum of Silence, Coughlin Sits Tight.” The article did nothing to answer the questions raised by the headline. Is a vacuum of silence, the presence of noise? If nature abhors a vacuum, how does it feel about silence? If nature abhors a vacuum, how does it feel about one containing Coughlin? Is a vacuum containing Coughlin an oxymoron? If Coughlin can exist in a vacuum, how substantial is Coughlin?

I could go on, so I did. I read about a football game between teams from Florida and Ohio. There I read that “Coach Urban Meyer’s Gators grinded through the regular season with a collection of close victories.”

Having contemplated that sentence for a while (and I had an hour in the dentist’s chair this morning to ponder it at length), I must admit I’m as ready to blame the English language as the hapless Times writer (and editors, if there are still editors at the Times). Consider, first of all, the parallel verbs. Most of them are past tense to begin with. Dined, fined, lined, mined, pined, shined, wined, are examples that come to mind. Not even a Times writer would write “dineded” or “wineded” and obviously “grind” is not the past tense of “grine.” So what else do we have for guidance? It would seem that the Times writer had a choice between “mind” and “minded” on the one hand and “bind/bound” and “find/found” on the other. Logic is never a safe place to begin in attempting to think through English usage, so the fact that “mind/minded” is more logical than the “find/found” parallel should have made him/her wary.

But that is to apply the logic of illogic to an unlogical subject – and that’s what the Times person, not surprisingly, failed to do.

What’s the solution? Grow up in an English-speaking environment wherein all those with whom you associate speak English correctly. If such places exist – and I must admit to being doubtful – you will then hear frequently of people who have ground their teeth while reading the Times and not be seduced by the glittering image of a logical language.

Lacking an abundance of such places to grow up, a better suggestion to the Times might be to out-source their writing and proofreading to Bangalore where they learn English from a book and understand that with English logic is irrelevant.

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