Kurt Andersen had his list of “Words We Don’t Say.” As the editor of The Paris Review, what are some of yours? —Tom Michaels
Usage snobbery is a poor man’s snobbery. It has no place at The Paris Review. When Kurt Andersen compiled his list of peeves, he had the excuse of working at New York—a magazine that pretty much exists to market snootiness on a budget. You will notice that most of his verbotens come from the tabloids, the trades, or lifestyle magazines. (There is something, not just ironic, but deep about a lifestyle magazine banning the word lifestyle.) Which is to say, Andersen was doing his job. He was maintaining a tone.
Here at the Review we have no such excuse. All we’ve got are hang-ups. I blame mine on The Worth of Words, a late-Victorian usage manual that I picked up at a yard sale during high school and subsequently destroyed. It was too late. The Worth of Words had singed it onto my brain that the phrase due to should be used only in instances of someone actually incurring a debt of gratitude, that aggravate must never be used except in the sense of adding to, and that partially means only “with bias.” (Google Books has now reunited me with this manual and its insane author, Ralcy Halsted Bell. Entry one: “ABORTIVE means of untimely birth … To speak of an abortive attempt or act is hardly short of the ridiculous.”
I do not recommend The Worth of Words, and I offer this tiny (partial) list of my own in a spirit of confession and contrition. Recently our managing editor, Nicole Rudick, cured me of an aversion to forthcoming (in the sense of “soon to be published”) with the help of the OED. Here, off the top of my head, are some more:
Home (for house)
Hopefully (for “I hope”)
Disinterest (for “lack of interest”—yes, even though I know it’s totally correct)
Delicious, Spicy, Tangy (used metaphorically)
Tasty (ever, but especially in reference to a “lick”)
Pleasantry (except in the sense of “joke”)
Following (to introduce a list: as in “the following”)
Contact (as a verb)
Relationship (ever, ever, even when it’s the mot juste)
Impact (unless we’re talking about, e.g., a car crash)
I could go on. (Couldn’t you?)
In his new book, The Tao of Travel, Paul Theroux suggests ten essential rules for budding globe-trotters. Rule number eight is “Read a novel that has no relation to the place you’re in.” This seems counterintuitive, so I would like a second opinion, lest my summer holiday be ruined by inadequate reading material. I am making my first trip to the United States in a few weeks (to Los Angeles and San Francisco). Should I be foolish enough to think that reading Bukowski in L.A. will enhance my experience there? Or should I do a complete one-eighty, as Theroux suggests?
I’m with Theroux. To read about a city is always to read about a place that no longer exists. If you go searching for Bukowski’s downtown, you’ll only be disappointed—or will make yourself feel and see things that aren’t there. And so much is there. Rent a convertible in Los Angeles, walk all over San Francisco, keep your eyes peeled, and save Bukowski for when you get back to Bristol: let the influence go the other way.
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