“You can’t do worse”



Good old Razia Iqbal.  This morning on the BBC’s Newshour program she said, “you can’t do worse” than to listen to Lyse Doucette’s coverage of the UN General Assembly.  I’d think you could do a lot worse, but Ms. Iqbal should know.



“In Tack”

From an e-mail message by somebody in a financial-services company:

Ok, I went back to I think 2009… So I will leave my spreadsheet in tack…

(Ellipses in original.  I don’t know what they’re doing there.)

The Latin word intact means untouched, but a lot of people seem to think that tact (or, here, tack) is a condition that something remains in if it hasn’t been destroyed or blown to pieces:

‘5 Ways to Keep Culture in Tact in a Fast-Growing Startup’ With Stephanie Mardell, VP of People at Button

Headline, “Thrive Global” (web log), 25 May 2018.

Tony Dwyer says the markets fundamentals are still in tact

Headline, “Dwyerstrategy” (web log), n. d.

Even people who know that intact is one word frequently use it to mean something like, “not destroyed”, or “still in one piece”, despite some setbacks or injury; so you’re likely to encounter a description of something as “intact” when it has very much been touched.

I searched for some examples on the Web, but got tired of sifting through all the sites that use intact as a brand-name, often with odd capitalizations:  InTact, inTACT, INTACT, intACT, and so on.  I find this popularity a bit puzzling.  Does the word inspire confidence?




, ,

The verb to question means different things, depending on its object.  To question a person is to ask that person questions, usually in the course of an investigation or a trial.  To question almost anything else is to raise questions, that is, doubts, about that thing.

The latter sense of to question can, of course, apply only to things that may be questionable.  Nobody of sound mind is likely to say,

I question the refrigerator.

We might, on the other hand, question the existence of the refrigerator, or the need for the refrigerator, or the suitability (or any other purported attribute) of the refrigerator.  In which case, of course, the object of the verb to question is not refrigerator, but existenceneedsuitability, or what have you.  In this sense, a refrigerator is not, and cannot be, questionable.

One can, of course, talk about “a questionable refrigerator”, but then, strictly speaking, what is questionable is not really the refrigerator, but some quality thereof, such as, perhaps, its cleanliness.

What are we to make, then, of the following sentence, taken from an e-mail exchange concerning reports provided by a financial adviser to a client?

I have questioned the possibility of eliminating the hard copies and they said I should communicate the matter with Mr. [Tompkins] who is heading the portfolio.

To question the possibility of something usually means to suggest that it is not possible; but that’s not what this writer means.  She or he has in fact raised the possibility of eliminating hard copies, presumably by asking a question about it.

I strongly suspect, also, that he or she was not told to communicate the matter with Mr. Tompkins.

I suspect that this sentence is merely an example of what I’ll call officialese (of which announcementese, which I’ve mentioned before, is one variety), the bizarre language of people who deliver official announcements, instructions, and, as here, business communications that may be read by their superiors.  Somehow, communicate strikes this writer as more business-like than, say, discuss or take up, even though in ordinary English one cannot communicate a matter with somebody.  Apparently, it is better to sound illiterate than informal.

A Description in Dickens


I’m a great admirer of Dickens, and—while he is certainly capable of wearying the reader—when he’s in form, I think there is probably no more entertaining writer in the English language.  I’m currently reading Little Dorrit for the first time, and laughed out loud at his description of a certain

old lady, dark-browed and high-nosed, and who must have had something real about her, or she could not have existed, but it was certainly not her hair or her teeth or her figure or her complexion . . . .

p. 257.

Case Again


From an e-mail message sent by an American in-house lawyer at a major international company:

Please give Mike, Mary or I a call if you have any questions.

(I changed the names, not that anybody would know who the people were anyway.)

“Give I a call”?  How does it happen?  This is not something people think about.  They write and talk this way automatically.  Why does it seem natural to them?  Can anything be done about it?  Should anything  be done about it?  It bothers me a great deal, but it plainly doesn’t bother most people.

“Sexual assault”

Forgive me if I get a little serious for a moment, Dear Reader.

I wish more people read this blog.  I especially wish more journalists read this blog.  I want everybody, but especially journalists, to quit using the term sexual assault.

Assault is

Any willful attempt or threat to inflict injury upon the person of another, when coupled with an apparent present ability so to do, and any intentional display of force such as would give the victim reason to fear or expect immediate bodily harm . . . .

Black’s Law Dictionary, 5th ed. (West Pub. Co., St. Paul, Minn., 1979).

Note that assault does not require actual contact.  Battery, on the other hand, does.  It has been called “the consummation of an unlawful assault.”  In legal terms, it covers any intentional or negligent, unwanted touching that causes injury or offense.  That might be anything from a tap on the shoulder to a severe beating, although the damages or penalty might differ considerably from one case to another.

Black’s doesn’t define sexual assault (at least, the fifth edition, which is all I have, doesn’t).  Merriam-Webster’s On-line Dictionary gives the following definition of sexual assault:

illegal sexual contact that usually involves force upon a person without consent or is inflicted upon a person who is incapable of giving consent (as because of age or physical or mental incapacity) or who places the assailant (such as a doctor) in a position of trust or authority

From a legal standpoint, this definition seems to be wrong, in that assault per se does not require contact.  This seems to me to be the definition of sexual battery.

The definition of sexual is utterly vague in this context:

1: of, relating to, or associated with sex or the sexes • sexual differentiation • sexual conflict

“2: having or involving sex • sexual reproduction

I haven’t looked at any statutes for a definition of sexual assault, because I’m concerned with general usage, not with prosecution.  If there is a crime called “sexual assault”, it has presumably been defined with more precision.

At any rate, I say all this because I want people, and especially the press, to be more precise when they talk about what’s currently referred to as “sexual assault”.  “Sexual battery”, while in many cases more correct, is equally vague.  Either term at present would seem to cover anything from an unwelcome pat to a brutal rape.

Right now, the term “sexual assault” is frequently, but not exclusively, used as a euphemism for rape, and it almost always implies rape, or something approaching it, or at least a willingness, if not an intention, to commit it.  It gives people who want such a thing a way of implying that a man is a rapist, without actually accusing him of rape (which would be actionable if not proved).

No matter how creepy a man (or the rare woman who is accused of “sexual assault”) may be, no matter how offensive his words or his pats or his gropes may be, nobody should accuse him of rape, even implicitly, unless he has committed a rape.  We should not have a term that merely implies rape.  If he has committed a rape, he should be accused and, upon proof, punished for it.  If he has not committed a rape, he should not be accused of sexual assault.  He should be accused of whatever he has done (according to the accuser), in clear and unambiguous terms, and he should suffer the just consequences of that act, but only of that act.