July 17, 2002
What's Wrong With Brendan O'Neill?

Brendan O'Neill doesn't like my objections to his now-notorious post, and adds a further sneer about bloggers with "silly names". Some of us prefer 'silly' names because they are more memorable. I have no trouble remembering the difference between Little Green Footballs and Sine Qua Non Pundit, or Protein Wisdom and The Illuminated Donkey, or Insolvent Republic of Blogistan and The Weigh In, though I do sometimes confuse the names of their proprietors, Charles Austin and Charles Johnson, Ken Goldstein and Jeff Goldstein, Justin Sodano and Justin Slotman. It would help if all bloggers had uncommon names like Den Beste or Palubicki or Yourish -- or Meryl, for that matter. Since they don't, distinctive blog-titles are a good substitute. They are not fool-proof -- a blogger recently quoted Cold Fury but attributed the words to The Sound and Fury -- but they help. Of course, another reason to choose a silly name is to irritate the people who dislike them: they generally deserve it.

Turning to the two points at issue:

1. Editing the words of Clint Eastwood to make them fit the standards of British English is inexcusable. I tried to give O'Neill an out by suggesting that his single brackets meant paraphrase rather than direct quotation, but he declined to take it and insisted that he was right to put the word 'arse-hole' in Eastwood's mouth.

Of course, there are circumstances in which such editing is perfectly proper. I have published a few articles in British journals, and all were rewritten to conform to British orthography and punctuation. Fair enough. However, I'm fairly certain that Eastwood did not submit his words to O'Neill's journal (or his web-page) for publication, and it is therefore wrong to change them.

Consider an analogy. Suppose someone in, say, Tuscaloosa were to quote "Winston Churchill" as the author of the following words:

Now this here ain't the endin'. It ain't even the beginnin' of the endin'. But it might could be the endin' of the beginnin'.

The attribution would be a lie. What Churchill said was quite different:

Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.

I don't suppose O'Neill understands that his rewrite of Clint Eastwood sounds just as stupid and wrong to American ears as my rewrite of Churchill will sound to just about anyone who reads it.

Finally, both O'Neill and Jak King should know that "arse" is neither "proper English" nor "English (real English, not the limited American-English subset)", it is British English -- and not all that proper, either.

2. I did not recognize O'Neill's phrase "hard graft", and the loathsome Jak King has criticized me for this at length on WarbloggerWatch and in my own comments section. I would feel more ashamed of my ignorance if it were not so widespread -- and justified. The Oxford English Dictionary lists this use of 'graft' as slang and gives only 4 quotations, none from literary sources and all from the 1890s. Dictionary.com does not know it at all, though it does list the opposite meaning: "A 'soft thing'' or 'easy thing;' a 'snap.' " (Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary). I have consulted half a dozen well-educated Americans of my acquaintance, and none of them had ever heard of 'hard graft'. The usage is not only slang, but British slang, and should therefore be avoided by anyone who aims at an international audience. Readers outside the Commonwealth should not have to consult unabridged dictionaries or do a Google search just to read O'Neill's blog.

So why did O'Neill use the phrase? Did he not realize that his usage was so very parochial? Did he not care? Or did he not want Americans (and Indians, Israelis, Norwegians, and others) to understand what he said? If he writes only for his fellow Britons, why did he send e-mails to so many American bloggers (not including me) asking them to read this particular post? These are rhetorical questions: I don't really care.

As for Jak King, his statement (in my comments) that I "got it entirely wrong" is a lie. Scroll down and see for yourself. I never said that "hard graft" was not English, I said that neither of the common uses of 'graft' fit the context (true) and wondered whether it was a mistake for 'craft'. My tentative prescription was wrong, but the diagnosis still stands: language that is unintelligible to well over half the target audience is not in fact "beyond reproach".

There is one more misrepresentation to correct before I sign off for the night. O'Neill wrote:

Perhaps Weevil missed the part where I said: 'If you're a British blogger, do not use American spellings just to please American audiences....'

Neither I nor anyone else asked him to use American spellings when writing his own words, just when he is directly quoting an American. And that's 'Dr. Weevil' to you, bud.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at July 17, 2002 11:56 PM

[Offensive remarks by a moron deleted here.]

Posted by: Owen Smith on July 18, 2002 03:30 AM

The funny thing is, O'Neill turned right around and pinged you for misspelling "criticize"...because the English spelling is "criticise". Clearly the boy's got no sense of irony.

Good stuff, Weevil. Non fatuus carborundum, and all that.

Posted by: Fleming Ayniss on July 18, 2002 08:13 AM

Never attribute to a lack of a sense of irony what can best be explained by stupidity in the extreme.

Posted by: Robin Roberts on July 18, 2002 11:07 AM

For some reason I have this image of you dueling an opponent who's armed with a rubber sword. Good stuff!

Posted by: Dave Trowbridge on July 18, 2002 11:56 AM

With apologies to Mike Myers, you should have written, "I didn't go to graduate school for 6 years to be Mr. Weevil."

Posted by: Charles Austin on July 18, 2002 07:39 PM

O'Neill also spelled "judgment" incorrectly as "judgement," after harping on spelling errors in other people's blogs. But perhaps the gratuitous "e" is a British spelling. They seem fond of adding extra letters to words.

Posted by: Joanne Jacobs on July 20, 2002 08:01 PM


JudgEment is indeed the British spelling of the word.


PS, for those of you with rods exploring into your posteriors, I intentionally capitalized the word "judgement" wrong in order to effectively communicate my message which, after all, is generally the point of writing.

Posted by: R. Alex on July 20, 2002 09:45 PM

"Editing the words of Clint Eastwood to make them fit the standards of British English is inexcusable. I tried to give O'Neill an out by suggesting that his single brackets meant paraphrase rather than direct quotation, but he declined to take it and insisted that he was right to put the word 'arse-hole' in Eastwood's mouth."

The British actually use single quotes instead of double quotes, and use double quotes to indicated quoted material inside of quoted material -- the reverse of what us Americans do. So it wasn't much of an out. Not that he deserved one.

Posted by: Pontifex on July 22, 2002 04:55 PM