May I have a word with Mr. Mordechai Schiller?
In a response to a letter to the editor (“Words, Words, Words,” Feb. 3), Mr. Schiller wrote, “I have been accused of being too highbrow in my column. I often worry about that. …”
Please, oh please, do not be swayed. Your column is perfect. The way a language column should be. “Going Through a Phrase,” and your occasional letters to the editor (and responses to readers’ letters), are my favorite parts of Hamodia.
I appreciate your quick wit, occasional highbrow-technicality, and your mind-boggling ability to bandy secular names and kosher-yet-borderline ideas in Hamodia! Packing James Joyce and Pooh Bear in the same basket certainly offers something for everyone to savor. (Though they both dispense a healthy dose of literary symbolism.)
While I agree that “a piece of writing should be useful,” many readers in, as the letter writer described, the “unavoidable, capricious and strangely beautiful (what a wonderful way to describe myself) audience” demand words that are not only easily understood, but also thought-provoking, obscure and perhaps, highfalutin. It is actually a joy to occasionally find a word to look up. As to your quip to save “questions about prepositions for the end of the sentence,” I love Ammon Shea’s take:
“The no-terminal-prepositions restriction brought a knife to the gunfight with common usage, and it now lies supine and bloodied on the floor. … Our greatest hope in overcoming this nonsense lies in the fact that the college students to whom these warnings are addressed will likely pay them no more mind than anything else they are taught. Shortly after graduating they may have some notion that there is something that one shouldn’t do to a preposition, but will be unable to recall quite what it is.”
Sounds like he got our generation!
Mr. Schiller, you made the right decision:
“Writing a column on language, I have to give it its head — keep a loose rein and let it gallop where it wants to.”
Keep your horse galloping; we are enjoying the ride.
S.J. Perelman, West Hurley, N.Y.
Mordechai Schiller responds:
Thank you for your generous compliments. Mark Twain said, “An occasional compliment is necessary to keep up one’s self-respect. The plan of the newspaper is good and wise; when you can’t get a compliment any other way, pay yourself one.”
You saved me the trouble. But I may have trouble fitting into my hat now.
As for mixing A.A. Milne’s Pooh Bear and James Joyce, you got me wondering. Am I the first to serve this heady cocktail? So I did what I always do. I looked it up. Lo and behold, C.S. Lewis beat me to it: “As a child I enjoyed The Complete Tales of Winnie-the-Pooh. Now, as an adult, the grammar, punctuation, and toying with literacy have made Milne to me a veritable James Joyce; which is to say, a giant and parent of that which is interesting about literature.”
You probably know the fake history of Winston Churchill slamming a pompous bureaucrat’s criticizing him for ending a sentence with a preposition. Legend has it that Churchill replied, “This is the type of arrant pedantry up with which I will not put.”
Excuse me, my horse is champing at the bit (all things being equine, chomping is also acceptable, but a bit toothier). Gotta ride off. Adios.