The brilliant Richard Burton exulted in his love of English. “I am as thrilled by the English language as I am by a lovely woman,” exclaimed the great actor. Bill O’Reilly, however, kills it—the English language, that is.
The TV personality has a segment on “The Factor,” where he introduces his listeners to English words that he supposedly uses, but whose pronunciation he often botches. Botched this week was the verb “cavil,” pronounced by Mr. OReilly as “kevile,” emphasis on the last syllable. Evel ‘Kevile’!
Mr. O’Reilly once introduced his viewers to the noun “chimera.” The “ch” he enunciated as you would “ch” in “chimp.” It is pronounced as a “k.” Listen. Conjugation doesn’t come easily on the host’s “Talking Points.” These are festooned with errors like, “Laying around,” when he means “lying around.” Too many American writers have a problem with the verb to “lie.” Why? You’re lying on the bed, you lay on the bed last night, and you will lie on it tomorrow. And by the way, a politician can both “lie” through his teeth and be made to “lie” down on The Rack. They’re a nimble lot.
In the early 2000s, when Mr. O’Reilly’s column was featured on WND, he would make this same conjugation error. I was sufficiently piqued to drop him a polite note. He failed to reply. The mistake, however, was quickly corrected. Myself, I thank my readers profusely when they save me from myself, as they often do, and take this opportunity to ask that they keep their eyes peeled for future faux pas.
Another common error in enunciation is “macabre.” The Americanized dictionary supports the native habit of saying “macabra.” Sorry. The “re” in “macabre” is silent. Still on enunciation: “PundiNts.” Greg Gutfeld and Hillary Clinton, among many, share the habit of inserting an “n” between the “i” and the “t” when pronouncing the word “pundit.” It’s not there. “Flaunting” laws instead of “flouting” them is an especially infuriating error of meaning even Colin Powell makes (although killing English is the least of the man’s offenses, given that he helped lie the country into a bloody war).
I recall running for cover, last year (1/3/2013), as Bob Costa, National Review’s youthful editor, spoke about a GOP revolt against House Speaker John Boehner. Costa said the following on the “Kudlow Report”:
“… if he lost 17 Republican votes, that means he would have went to a second ballot.”
Noooooo. Flog him! Costa should have said, “He would have GONE.” Together, let’s conjugate the verb to “go,” Mr. Costa. “I am going. I will go. I went. I have previously gone. I had gone. I would have gone.” (My conjugation drill sergeant back in Israel was an ace English teacher from Germany; a Yekke, in every way.)
Still, Bill O’Reilly and his ilk are semantic saints compared to the rotten writing—it comports with the aberrant thinking—taught in the American English department. In its December 12, 2008 issue, the Times Literary Supplement had some fun exposing the incomprehensibility factor in the impenetrable prose of a pompous graduate in the postmodern tradition:
“Once the habit of writing comprehensible English has been unlearned, it can be difficult to reacquire the knack. Here is an example of a sentence which purports to be written in English, but which, we propose, is incomprehensible to all but a few. It is taken from ‘Coincidence and Counterfactuality’: Plotting time and space in narrative fiction by Hilary P. Dannenberg”:
“Historical counterfactuals in narrative fiction frequently take an ontologically different form in which the counterfactual premise engenders a whole narrative world instead of being limited to hypothetical inserts embedded in the main actual world of the narrative text.”
About Jane Austen’s “Mansfield Park,” the Dannenberg dolt writes that it “undertakes a more concerted form of counterfactualizing, in which both the character and the narrator separately map out counterfactual versions of the concluding phase of the novel’s love plot.”
In studied contempt, the TLS marveled that “Coincidence and Counterfactuality” “is published by the University of Nebraska Press. Just think: someone read the book and endorsed its publication, someone edited it, someone else set it in type, designed a cover, compiled an index, read the proofs—yet hardly anyone can understands what’s in it.” [Nobody reads these books.]
Now that’s pellucid prose everyone gets.
A friend—she’s a successful novelist—related this amusing incident:
“I once got hired by the University of Chicago to edit their academic press. The manuscripts were atrocious. I could not understand what was written, and used a red pen heavily in the margins of the manuscripts. After my corrections arrived, I was fired immediately. They told me I was not ‘intellectually sophisticated’ enough for the job. To which I replied: ‘You’re right: F-ck you.'”
Incongruously—after bemoaning the progressives, and how, having infiltrated America’s institutions, they toiled to alter the meaning of the Constitution—Glenn Beck proposed revisionism of his own: rewrite the “Federalist Papers” so that Americans may understand these brilliant, but difficult, debates.
The founders’ English, like Richard Burton’s, is an essential part of the American heritage. Let’s not lose it in translation.