Monday, November 5, 2012

Random Notes from a Crank

I've had John Brereton's The Origins of Composition Studies in the American College, 1875-1925: A Documentary History for a long time, and I finally got around to reading it the other day. I usually enjoy examining writing from the 19th century because it's fun to read an older style of writing. I was reading a report by Adams Sherman Hill, and here's a passage that demands attention: "Awkward attitudes, ungrammatical or obscure sentences, provincial or vulgar locutions, fanciful analogies, far-fetched illustrations, ingenious sophisms, pettifogging subtleties, ineffective arrangement--all come in for animadversion; and corresponding merits for praise." It reads exactly as you would expect the Boylston Professor of Rhetoric and Oratory at Harvard to write, but I like the word pettifogging, which is a derivation of pettifogger, defined by the American Heritage Dictionary as a "petty, quibbling, unscrupulous lawyer" or "one who quibbles over trivia." I want to work that word into my vocabulary, and I may get a chance soon since tomorrow is Election Day.

I recently read "Ecosystems on the Brink" by Carl Zimmer in Scientific American. SA only gives you a preview unless you're a subscriber, but the upshot is that researchers are using mathematical models and empirical research to create early warning systems to try to stop ecosystems from crashing. The research is interesting and important, but what I'm more concerned about is whether homo sapiens really gives a damn about the environment and if  we're willing to actually do something about tipping points and the results of data-driven, scientific research. 


Sandy Longhorn said...

Ooooooh, pettifogging! Love it! Thanks so much.

Quintilian B. Nasty said...

Lots of pettifoggery going on by mountebanks.