Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Always Use a Shorter Word

At least if you do not want to discredit yourself right away.
Nancy Lemon, a Berkeley Law Prof, does herself no favor in responding to Christina Hoff Sommers' essay, Persistent Myths in Feminist Scholarship. She'd likely have been better off settling happily for the fact that Sommers did not put "Scholarship" in quotation marks.
Instead she wades into it with:

Sommers first contacted me by e-mail on February 21, 2009, and told me she had been traveling around the United States criticizing me and my textbook. The timing of her e-mail message was fortuitous, as I was working on the final edits of the most recent edition.

I suspect the timing was in fact fortuitous, though that is clearly not what Lemon means, as the context makes clear, at least to those of us who remember when it was not a substitute for 'fortunate'. A linguist descriptivist like me might agree that the two words are now synonyms in relatively poorly-educated circles, but the usage here is entertaining to me, as someone has used a somewhat complicated word to describe a simple notion, a temptation those wanting to sound learned lean to. Why say the timing was 'good' when a really long and not-often-used word is available? Well, because then you might write what you meant.
Now I will confess that I almost quit reading Lemon at that point, but am glad I went past this obstacle, allowing me to hit this passage:
she asserted that Romulus of Rome, who is credited in my book with being involved with the first antidomestic-violence legislation, could not have done this as he was merely a legendary, fictional character, who along with his brother Remus was suckled by a wolf.
In fact, Plutarch and Livy each state that Romulus was the first king of Rome. He reigned from 753-717 BC, and created both the Roman Legions and the Roman Senate. He is also credited with adding large amounts of territory and people to the dominion of Rome, including the Sabine women.

Enough said, I think. That settles it for sure. Along with the wolf mother, no doubt. Ahh the pleasures of the academic life. Sommers gets a chance to respond and it is not pretty.
As she puts it:
Essentially everything in Professor Lemon's response is wrong.

A law prof at Berkeley?


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