28 February 2008

Melancholy Matters

Last night I had the painful honor of speaking at a memorial service for my friend Lana Schwebel, killed at the age of thirty-five in an auto accident in summer 2007. My recollection is nothing special, but those who knew Lana may enjoy being reminded of some of her charms.

Doing Shockingly Well;
This Is Not a Eulogy

I was traveling in the south of France when I heard the grim news. I gave a moment's thought to cutting the trip short and flying home for the levaya service, but word reached me too late — I couldn't possibly make it to New York in time. A few days later, though, I made the melancholy trip to pay my respects to Lana's family, still sitting shiva. There Lana's father told me that, when she was a child, she didn't speak at all for a very long time. Even after she was able to speak, she rarely said a word.

I felt a strong temptation to stick my head out the front door and look for the name "Schwebel" on the mailbox, because I was pretty sure I had wandered into the wrong shiva. Someone who didn't speak? — that's not the Lana Schwebel I knew. There must have been two bereaved families in Queens, because the Lana I remember could hardly be persuaded to stop talking.

I knew Lana for nearly fourteen years, beginning when we started in the graduate program at Penn, and for much of that time she was my closest friend. This makes speaking today one of the most difficult things I've ever had to do. It's difficult for the obvious reasons, of course; it's hard to say anything without breaking down. But it's also hard to reduce fourteen years into fourteen minutes. I was asked to say a bit about Lana Schwebel as a scholar, but I'm no expert on her area of expertise, medieval literature; even if I were, I couldn't hope to explain her insights into traditions of purgatory in the Middle Ages with the same clarity she could. We'd talked to each other over the years about our work, but only recently did I read her doctoral dissertation, a learned work of 261 pages, drawing on history, literature, theology, and economics with ease and authority. What came through to me as I read the dissertation, though, wasn't the research into late-medieval culture, but Lana's distinct voice. I hope you've never had to fight your way through doctoral dissertations; they're dryasdust ordeals barely preferable to undergoing root canal. But not Lana's. In turning the pages of her dissertation I found myself laughing aloud in the library. Others might have said similar things about pardons and indulgences, but no one else could have said them so wittily.

So I'll talk not about her research, but about her writing — or, more egocentrically, about my writing. Lana was, and is, always present to me when I write; she's what many writers call an "ideal audience," especially for a writing guide I compiled in grad school, which appeared in print last month. She'd made countless suggestions, and often nagged me about publishing the thing, which is what prompted me to write the following dedication:
Finally I have to express a debt to Lana Schwebel, one of the finest writers, best teachers, quickest wits, and dearest friends I've ever known. She taught me a great deal about writing, about teaching, and about how to use the language, and I've shamelessly filched many of her ideas in my own writing, here and elsewhere. Over nearly a decade and a half she helped me in more ways than I can tally, and it pains me that she's not around to read this book and tell me how to make it even better. All that's left is for me to dedicate it to her memory.

For me, to talk about her memory is to talk about her voice. Stories are the usual way we remember departed friends, but my years with Lana don't resolve into many narratives. What I remember instead is a voice, a long series of conversations. Sometimes it seems like a single conversation, one that happened to take place over the course of years, with only momentary interruptions. It began as soon as we met. We must have been introduced at some mixer, but were more or less anonymous for the first few weeks of grad school. We became aware of each other one evening in the library — I was carrying a stack of eight or nine books, she was hunting down some obscure reference. We passed, kinda recognized each other, tried to recall names, asked about classes taken, all the usual beginning-of-the-school-year stuff. Before I knew it, we were talking up a storm on more subjects than I can count — and, I feel obliged to note for the record, drawing nasty looks from people studying in library carrels. (We'd lower our voices for a few minutes and then allow them to swell again, renewing the dirty stares.) It was maybe ten minutes into the conversation that I realized my arms just weren't going to bear that stack of books much longer, so we found somewhere to set them down. Ninety minutes later I realized I'd already missed two buses home. Over the years we made a habit of that: after a day of visiting museums, I'd head back to New Jersey, and we'd say our goodbyes at the subway station. Oh, wait — that reminds me of something else, and something else, and we'd stand there at the entrance to the Number 6, often in bitter cold or sweltering heat, as I silently noted one missed train after another. Eventually I'd tear myself away. But when we'd get together again — even after being out of touch for weeks — Lana would begin almost mid-sentence, as if not a moment had passed. And when we were unable to stay in touch in person, we carried on an E-mail correspondence that stretches to more than 800,000 words, more than 50 percent longer than War and Peace. If Baby Lana had little to say, Grown-Up Lana more than made up for the silent years.

One of the things I like most about those hundreds of thousands of words is that you can read them for days without finding a single cliché. I don't mean cliché in just the narrow, conventional sense. The novelist and critic Martin Amis declared a "war against cliché," reminding us that there are clichés not only of the pen, but also of the mind, the heart, the spirit. Not in Lana's writing. Cliché is simply laziness, and she was never lazy — notwithstanding the many mornings she decided to skip the gym in favor of pancakes with me. Her life was one of constant intellectual adventure: she studied art and English and history and philosophy and classics and religion. In an age of narrow academic specializations she taught nearly as many subjects: medieval doctrines of redemption, Latin ablative absolutes, twentieth-century sacred music. She was a regular at half the cultural institutions in New York, to the point where coat-check agents at the Metropolitan Museum of Art knew her by sight. She also thrived when visiting obscure corners of the planet — a little summer jaunt to Iceland or a weekend in Mongolia. And of course there was her love of languages. Not many people would go to the trouble of studying Chinese for a month before heading to China, and she had just finished a series of Russian lessons when she set out for her final trip. (In languages, I was always the lazy one. "Yo, Schwebel," I'd E-mail. "Translate this Latin, Greek, Hebrew for me. I can't be bothered to look it up.") She even decided to start a blog of her travels — but, concerned that blogging was itself becoming a cliché, she subtitled it, "This Is Not a Blog." She needn't have worried about blending in with the crowd: who else would have noticed that St. Petersburg's Hermitage Museum was bright green, and dubbed it "a veritable Kermitage"? I suspect it's the first time Catherine the Great's Winter Palace has been likened to an amphibious Muppet.

Lana's whole life was a struggle against cliché, which is to say a struggle for originality and distinctiveness. It was evident even in the shape of her whole academic career — on the one hand, she was a woman of faith in an aggressively secular profession; on the other, she was an Orthodox Jew studying the Christian Middle Ages. Those who didn't know her were baffled by those choices, and twisted themselves into strange shapes trying to accommodate her without giving offense. She was never quick to take offense, though she'd sometimes roll her eyes in exasperation at good-intentioned boneheads who took it for granted that she was following a more obvious career path.

I was honored to be invited to the memorial organized by Lana's students in September, and one thing in particular struck me that night. I expected to hear "life-changing teacher," "challenged me," "showed me what I was capable of," all the usual praise for a good teacher. But "usual praise" seemed unfitting for her, precisely because it was usual — and therefore a cliché. I was delighted to hear almost none of that. Not that her students didn't declare Dr. Schwebel life-changing, challenging, and all the rest. It's just that they didn't fall into the conventional forms of praise. I like to think Lana had something to do with that. The writer I've studied most, Samuel Johnson, had a lovely zinger about a despised rival author: "He is not only dull himself," Johnson said, "but the cause of dullness in others." Lana was not only fresh and original herself, but the cause of freshness and originality in others. I felt, as I listened to each speaker that bittersweet evening, that it really was Lana Schwebel who was being memorialized, not some generic teacher. It wouldn't have fit anyone else. May we all be remembered so well.

It was that liveliness of voice, that refusal to lapse into hollow pieties and empty phrases, that haunted my mind as I tried to compose my talk for today. Memorial services are usually an opportunity to extract some larger meaning from horrible events, to try to make sense of what happened, to deliver some hard-won wisdom. But I have nothing profound to offer, other than profound sadness that she's gone and profound joy that I knew her as long as I did. It's almost impossible, at least for the likes of me, to talk about life's big questions without falling into mental, emotional, or spiritual laziness. I could start spouting mindless commonplaces, but I'm sure Lana would have none of it. She'd be gentle in her chastisement, but she'd roll her eyes and put me in my place. In such cases, I think it's best to follow the lead of young Lana, who hardly said a thing — sometimes silence is better than empty words.

Luckily for me, I've got no shortage of Lana's words in my head, including some of her last words. Three weeks after I got home from France, a long-delayed postcard arrived, sent from Irkutsk the morning of the accident. It must have been among the very last things she wrote. "Doing shockingly well," she said, and I don't doubt it. I'm terribly sorry to have lost her but, as another long-time friend put it, "I can't stop smiling when I think of her, or even do any wishing she hadn't been on that bus. That bus is where she belonged." I think that's true, however strange, even heretical, it sounds to say it. To wish she had been somewhere else is to wish she had been someone else, and I'm sure that someone else would have been much less interesting. Hollow commonplaces aren't for Lana Schwebel. I prefer to remember an unfailingly lively friend making me miss train after train, a dedicated teacher pushing her students to the same liveliness of mind she showed, a witty writer composing a blog that wasn't a blog, and a vivacious traveler going to new places — all the while doing shockingly well.

20 February 2008

Mr. Popularity

I've occasionally passed on the results of polls on GWB's job approval, as approval figures fell from the 90s, to the 70s, to the 50s, then to the 30s, and even into the high 20s. After a while, though, it began to seem too easy — fish-in-a-barrel stuff — so I laid off.

Today, though, American Research Group released a new nationwide poll of 1,100 American adults. Here's the highlight:

Among all Americans, 19% approve of the way Bush is handling his job as president and 77% disapprove.

To put that in perspective, Richard Nixon on the eve of his impeachment was in the mid-20s, with disapproval only in the 60s. (Nixon's lowest approval rating in any poll was 24%, though other polls put his nadir at 27.5%.) Carter dipped as low as the high 20s. I've never seen a reputable nationwide poll putting a sitting president below 20%.

Mind you, presidential approval numbers below about 35% are very difficult to achieve. (Ditto for individual members of Congress — while "Congress" rates appallingly low, most people give their own Representative and Senators high marks.) To get below 25%, you really need to be seen kicking nuns in the shins. To get below 20%, you need to be caught on camera raping puppies.

We're not likely to see such a low approval rating again in our lives.

The whole poll result is at http://americanresearchgroup.com/economy/.

17 February 2008

Shakespeare & Modern Politics

I'm just back from a lecture before the English Speaking Union of Monmouth County (two days after addressing the ESU in Greenwich, Conn., on my beloved William Henry Ireland). In Red Bank I gave a talk called "The Politics of Shakespeare, the Shakespeare of Politics." It touches on many of the themes in Becoming Shakespeare, and even steals a few paragraphs from the book (with minor adaptations). It's not at all scholarly, but it seemed to go over well enough. The opening few paragraphs:

There are few questions on which the supporters and the detractors of our president can agree, but I've managed to find one: George W. Bush is King Henry V. Not necessarily the real president, but the one who shows up in the work of a thousand spinmeisters. And not necessarily the real king, but the one who showed up in three of the plays of Shakespeare nearly four centuries ago. I'm not the first to think it up — it's the work of more journalists and critics than I can count. So common has this association become that some scholars refer to the connection between Bush and Henry as "W=V." In my talk today, though, I'd like to put this political use of Shakespeare's play in a historical context, looking both backwards and forwards.

For those who haven't read the Henry plays
in a long time, a quick refresher. The two parts of Henry IV focus on the king whose name provides the title to the play, but all the most memorable scenes focus on the king's son and his rowdy chums. That son is Prince Hal, a party animal addicted to bad company and given to playing wicked tricks on his friends, especially the fat and jolly Falstaff. Most of the time we see Hal as roisterer and ne'er-do-well. But Falstaff and the other ruffians have a serious change of fortune at the end of Part II, as the prince realizes it's time to grow up. In the most powerful scene, Hal banishes Falstaff from his presence as a sign of his new maturity. The follow-up play, Henry V, focuses almost exclusively on Prince Hal, now King Henry. There we see him standing up to the bullying French, rallying his English troops to action, himself leading his "band of brothers" against a dangerous foreign enemy.

It's not difficult to see why George W. Bush's supporters would find much in this story to appeal to them. As a young man, Bush was universally allowed to be unruly. We've never heard the details, but the president admits frankly to being an alcoholic, and rumors of serious drug use have never been denied. But, for the president's supporters, that irresponsible youth gave way to impressive maturity as it came time for him to assume the mantle of national office. As early as Halloween 1998, when there were hints that a second Bush might occupy the White House, Julian Borger wrote in London's Guardian about "The Making of a Dynasty," and saw "a sort of Texan Prince Hal putting aside his debauched youth in preparation for his ascent to power."

Not all the early allusions, of course, were quite so complimentary. In 1999 — by which time the comparison had become almost de rigueur for journalists who fancied themselves literary — the Washington Post worried, "Just how shallow is the frontrunner?" They pointed out that "Prince Hal is only charming if you know he'll ditch Falstaff and morph into King Henry V." And in December 1999, the libertarian columnist Howard Troxler criticized Bush's raucous past. Calling Bush "the Prince Hal of our time," he impatiently wondered, "How long do we indulge" him? The title of his piece leaves no doubt where he stands: "A Mighty Big Office; a Mighty Small Mind."

But the story of the shallow Hal gave way to the profound Henry V after September 11, 2001. As the nation rallied behind the president — even likening Bush on the ruins of the World Trade Center to Henry giving his stirring speech on St. Swithin's Day — the comparisons became inescapable. Probably the most famous was Michael Kramer's story for the New York Daily News on 21 September 2001. Under the headline "Prince Hal Now Henry V," Kramer declared that "George W. Bush became a leader a great nation will follow into battle with confidence." And as the "battle" changed from a metaphor to actual war — first with Afghanistan, then with Iraq — Bush's supporters returned over and over again to a plucky young man made good, a reformed wastrel, now the focus of national pride. (And it certainly didn't hurt that, in Shakespeare's play, the enemy was the arrogant French.)

But what had been a favorite comparison on the political right soon got adopted by the political left and turned against its inventors, especially as the fighting in Iraq began to strike people as less heroic than a blunder of world-historical magnitude. As the New York Daily News put it in May 2003, "This year's Shakespeare in Central Park production is about the leader of a country who diverts the people's attention away from the dubious way he came to power by invading another country. President George W. Bush? No, Henry V." The story critics like this took from Shakespeare was not about a callow young man turned into a national hero, but about a drunken and irresponsible lout thrust into a position he was unprepared for.

They also turned their attention to parts of Shakespeare's text that Bush's supporters had ignored. Henry IV stole the throne from Richard II — the thought of a ruler who owed his power to the extra-constitutional meddling by his father and his supporters began to take on a new resonance on the left after the Florida fiasco. Henry V's justification of his war with France — based on a very tenuous reading of the old Salic Law, backed up by legal scholars paid to tell the king what he wanted to hear — reminded some critics of the arguments in favor of invading Iraq. As reports of cruelty came in from Fallujah and Abu Ghraib, some began to think about Henry's speech outside the gates of the French city of Harfleur, in which he vows that "The gates of mercy shall be all shut up," and the English troops

       shall range
With conscience wide as hell, mowing like grass
Your fresh fair virgins and your flow'ring infants.

Henry also notoriously orders the execution of all the prisoners of war at Agincourt, a shocking violation of the laws of war. And one of the most widely quoted bits of political Shakespeareana during the Iraq War was the exchange between Henry and one of his soldiers. Henry, traveling among his troops in disguise, muses, "I could not die any where so contented as in the king's company"; clearly looking for positive feedback from his soldiers, he adds, "his cause being just and his quarrel honourable." Just and honorable? "That's more than we know," says one of the soldiers, who goes on to worry that "if the cause be not good, the king himself hath a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and arms and heads, chopped off in battle, shall join together at the latter day." This is the scene that prompted London's Observer to say, of a National Theatre production of the play in 2003, "if there is any topical resonance in Shakespeare's play, it comes from the story of a national leader going to war on highly dubious grounds and who, in the play's best scene on the night before the battle, is put on the spot by one of his common soldiers: 'The king hath a heavy reckoning to make if his cause be not good.'"

Now, it's not for me to settle the questions about the president's character and the wisdom of the war in Iraq. For one thing, I'm no more qualified to have opinions on these than anyone else here. More to the point, offering my own opinions on any of these subjects to strangers would be sure to alienate someone in this crowd, and savvy lecturers know it's foolish to offend the people who feed and transport them: it's a long walk home to Lawrenceville. I can, however, discuss the use that both the political left and the political right have made of Shakespeare's texts, starting with the obvious question: is this a fair thing to do to Shakespeare's works? When we invoke him to back up our political positions, it's as if we're claiming his authority. The question, then, might be — which position would William Shakespeare back if he were alive today? I'll be glad to tell you in detail everything that we know about Shakespeare's politics: exactly nothing. As the critic Paul Fussell writes, with only slight exaggeration, "What we actually know about Shakespeare as a person can go on a 3 x 5 card without crowding. But the writings confidently telling his life story and delineating his personality, morals, temper, and character would fill moving vans."

The problem is that almost all we have from Shakespeare is plays, and every sentiment, radical or reactionary, Protestant or Catholic, is put in the mouth of some character or other. "The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers," for example, wasn't spoken by Shakespeare to posterity but by Dick to Jack Cade. References to Purgatory and prayer for the dead have led many people to think Shakespeare had Catholic sympathies, but again, Shakespeare himself doesn't say these things; his characters do. And because the playwright gives us brilliant and compelling speeches on almost every side of every question, it's easy to find evidence that Shakespeare agreed with your own positions — just read long enough and you'll find something that seems to agree with you.

I can't claim to settle the question of whether this kind of appropriation or co-opting is fair, then, but even during his lifetime, Shakespeare found himself thrust into political debates, his authority being used to sell political programs that he may have admired or may have despised. He's been treated as a spokesman for every position you can imagine, and from the very beginning. Look, for instance, at his Richard II...

If you're curious, the full paper is available here.

12 February 2008

Mr Justice Bauer

Oh, goodie — we've got a Supreme Court Justice who's a fan of 24.

Justice Scalia argued that courts could take stronger measures when a witness refused to answer questions.

"I suppose it's the same thing about so-called torture. Is it really so easy to determine that smacking someone in the face to determine where he has hidden the bomb that is about to blow up Los Angeles is prohibited in the constitution?" he asked.

"It would be absurd to say you couldn't do that. And once you acknowledge that, we're into a different game.

That's from the so-called BBC.

09 February 2008

A Modern Spiritual

This may be the most wonderful piece of video I've seen in the last decade or two.

The Age of Johnson, vol. 18

When I started grad school in 1993, my dissertation director, Paul Korshin, asked me to come on board as editorial assistant to the journal he founded in 1987, The Age of Johnson: A Scholarly Annual. I spent most of my grad career taking care of the grunt-work of scholarly editing — scanning typescripts, translating word processing formats, copyediting, proofreading, printing camera-ready copy, all that fun stuff.

I finished my Ph.D. in 1998, and Paul was gracious enough to ask me to come on board as co-editor. He said he had considered calling a halt to the journal after ten volumes in 2007 — being essentially the entire staff on a 500-page annual can wear you down — but he thought that, if we shared the work, it would be easier for both of us. He said that he'd step down someday and hand it over to me, but we continued to work on it together for a few years.

In March 2005, though, Paul succumbed to lymphoma — which, quite aside from the shock of losing someone who'd been a mentor and good friend for just under twenty years, left me with all the work on The Age of Johnson. I finished vol. 16, for which he was reading page proof in his hospital bed, and I finished vol. 17, which we had begun together. (I also had the good sense to ask a pal, and a distinguished scholar in his own right, to serve as review editor. John Scanlan of Providence College has been handling the entire review section for the last few years, and has been keeping up the high standard set by Paul in the early years.)

Volume 18 has just appeared; it's one of our biggest volumes yet. (Vols. 12 and 13 have more pages, but they were in a smaller trim size. I haven't done the calculation, but I suspect vol. 18 contains more words.) It's also the first-ever special issue of the journal: apart from the review section, which John has managed as well as ever, it consists entirely of contributions from Paul Korshin's friends, colleagues, and former students. Most of the volume consists of scholarly essays on eighteenth-century topics, though it also contains a special section of more personal recollections.

Here's most of the text of the Preface, which offers more details on the volume. Anyone interested in a copy can get it from AMS Press, but call them and ask for the individual subscribers' price — it's much less than the $182.50 they list on their Web site, for institutional subscribers.

Volume 18 is the first special issue of The Age of Johnson, and bears the volume title Korshin Memorial Essays. The articles in this volume have been solicited from friends, colleagues, and former students of the founding editor of the journal, Paul J. Korshin, who died in March 2005.

Previous volumes have featured special sections and occasional solicited essays, but the bulk of every annual number has been devoted to refereed scholarly articles. It would not be wise to abandon the standard of peer-reviewed publication altogether, but the strength of the contributions to this volume justify the exception in this case. The articles show a degree of coherence that excuses a one-time departure from the professional norm.

Paul Korshin always valued broad and deep learning above all. I remember praising one critic’s writing, but Paul’s question was, “Yes, Jack, but does he know things?” It’s therefore appropriate that this volume should open with Robert Folkenflik, one of our most learned Johnsonians, who knows plenty. Here he turns his attention to the politics implicit in the Dictionary, offering new insights in an ongoing conversation on the nature of that endlessly rich book—one that Folkenflik describes as “an encyclopedia, an anthology, a commonplace book, a collection of aphorisms.” And Thomas M. Curley, whose knowledge of the Ossian affair has no rivals, documents Johnson’s friendship with William Shaw, one of the more prominent combatants in the debate over Macpherson’s putative translations.

In John Wilkes: The Scandalous Father of Civil Liberty, Arthur H. Cash disavows any claims to having written the definitive biography of his subject, but anyone who has read the book will disagree with his modest self-assessment. In his contribution to this volume he provides further details on Wilkes and his relationship with Johnson—not only from their famous dinner at the Dilly brothers’ table (perhaps the most famous single scene in Boswell’s Life), but also the disagreements over political principles that made Boswell so keen to stage their meeting. Another kind of highly charged meeting is the subject of Howard D. Weinbrot’s article, the first account of a hitherto neglected genre—“meeting the monarch.” The form has even twenty-first-century exemplars, but Johnson offers one of the most important eighteenth-century royal encounters.

Paul’s career-long fascination with the difficulties of interpretation is evident in a series of contributions. Paul’s own scholarship was regarded as traditionally historicist, but he went out of his way to invite theoretically informed contributions to The Age of Johnson. It’s therefore fitting that Philip Smallwood’s article on Johnson’s place in global studies offers a consideration of a major figure from English literature in the wider field of world literature, as “world” is being redefined around us. James Cruise’s learned and wide-ranging meditation on hieroglyphics in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Britain is informed by Paul’s interest in secret languages. In “Novel or Fictional Memoir,” Maximilian Novak explores the publication history of Robinson Crusoe and its relationship to the line between truth and fiction. Truth and fiction are at the heart of my own contribution, on the problems of identifying forgery, which grew out of a series of discussions with Paul.

James Gray not only accounts for differences between the acting theories of Diderot and Garrick, but also offers to English readers extracts from Diderot’s often neglected Paradoxe sur le comédien. Lisa Berglund, sorting through a shelf of editions of Hester Thrale Piozzi’s Anecdotes, demonstrates in the process that “Piozzi’s reconstructive and critical editors have supplied new narrative contexts for Anecdotes, structures that discount her psychological insights and artistic preferences.” In “Truths Universally Acknowledged,” Mona Scheuermann gives an incisive reading of the place of social class in Austen’s Mansfield Park. George Justice revisits Paul’s fascination with the history of education in his commentary on John Gibson Lockhart’s early nineteenth-century novel, Reginald Dalton. Gloria Sybil Gross rounds out the essay section with the first systematic account of Stanley Kubrick’s interest in the eighteenth century.

After the essays comes a bibliography of Paul’s writings, which is followed by a special section. “No Writer nor Scholar Need Be Dull” collects personal reminiscences from a wide variety of friends, colleagues, and former students, who together offer a composite portrait of Paul Korshin the scholar, the teacher, the mentor, the colleague, the man, and above all the friend.

08 February 2008

More for the User's Guide

It's been a few weeks since I've posted anything — a symptom, I'm afraid, of the beginning of the semester, about which more as I find time to write.

Meanwhile, though, I'm already making notes toward a future edition of The English Language: A User's Guide, which appeared only a few weeks ago. It'll be a while before a new edition sees the light of day, but I'm already thinking of new entries on these subjects:

  • -able versus -ible
  • among, amongst; amid, amidst
  • analysis, analyses
  • anymore v. any more
  • at the end of the day
  • author as a verb
  • brackets
  • Notes on "colloquial"
  • deconstruct
  • dependant, dependent
  • diagnosis, diagnoses
  • "going forward" as future tense marker ("We don't know what the prices will be going forward")
  • have went, must have went, and other past participle goofs
  • heroin v. heroine
  • ideology as a loose term for "thoughts" or "ideas"
  • Is all you ever ...
  • more perfect
  • not prefixes (in-, a-, un-, de-, dis-); uncomfortable but discomfort; unstable but instability
  • "philosophy" (for auto makers, &c.)
  • portray
  • quotation marks for emphasis, &c. (as in Dave Barry's example, try "our" hot dog's)
  • reference as a verb
  • sentence adverbs
  • sometime, some time, sometimes
  • takeaway (for important points)
  • 'til, till, until
  • tired metaphors:

    • from baseball: step up to the plate, eye on the ball
    • from cards: show your hand, &c.
    • from politics: fig leaf, litmus test, olive branch, send a message

Haven't figured out what I'll be saying about them, but I trust something brilliant will come to me if I just open my mind to the cosmic vibrations.