“To whom,” said Elbert, “because he had went to night school.” Dorothy Sayers says somewhere that you can tell a man’s education by how self-conscious he is when he says “whom.” It is an odd twist; we ought to say whom, but our problem is to escape that prissy overtone. Like Churchill’s saying “This is the kind of arrant nonsense up with which I will not put.” I like the little boy who kicked everything away when he asked, “Why did you bring the book I didn’t want to be read to out of up for?” How do we speak good English without “putting it on”?
I have had a long and running fight with the language of public-relations experts. I know that they are trying to be polite, but I keep seeing them sitting around a conference table grinding out the awful word they finally choose. This is not to say that I could think of better ones, but I must say that I am getting sick of “motion sickness” for whatever it is that afflicts me in a plane, and “turbulence” for what makes us go ups-a-daisy, and “custom-coach” for what I know is cheaper seating, strictly second-class.
“Should the pressure system malfunction …”—who dreamed up that word “malfunction”? I do wish air hostesses would quit telling me they were glad to have me aboard, which in many cases they definitely were not. And closing off our trip with “good-bye now”—that extra word “now” bothers me for the next hour. One bright young thing said, “Bye-bye, now,” and we had reached the end of the line.
Balliett has written a marvelous review of Henry Miller’s Tropic of Capricorn (in passing he calls Miller a “surrealistic Edgar Guest”—isn’t that wonderful?) in which he defines H. W. Fowler’s word “genteelism” as “the substitution in self-conscious circles of antimacassar ...1
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