Words Fail Me

Books, Language, Politics & Current Events

The new edition of William Safire's Political Dictionary is out, and I'm thinking about picking it up. The Amazon interview with him makes it sound fascinating:

Amazon.com: Do you think it possible to write a truly objective political dictionary? Or did you find yourself imposing checks and balances?

Safire: Of course it’s possible if you’re willing to knock yourself out to be bipartisan. Not nonpartisan, which is colorless, nor partisan, which is slanted, and not even postpartisan, which I slipped in at the last moment before the Oxford printer snatched my final draft–a nice coinage taking over from above politics and is being applied to the Obama campaign.

I was for three decades a lonely writer on the right on the op-ed page of the New York Times, and in this dictionary, whenever modesty afflicts me, I cite as a source "a vituperative right-wing scandalmonger", a sort of nom de plume. However, in this determinedly down-the-middle dictionary, for every bleeding heart, knee-jerk, double-domed liberal, there is a mossback, troglodyte, hidebound conservative, as well as a contingent of me-too, mainstream, opportunist centrists.

Even within some entries, the reader will find colorful antonyms: the scholarly etymology of moonbat, born as an epithet hooting at leftists in 1999 and popularized two years later on the libertarian website Samizdata, gets fair and balanced treatment by my straight-faced analysis of wingnut, an updating of the 1960s"right-wing nut" used in a 1999 interview with website muckraker Matt Drudge.

It's tiresomely common to refuse to read such things because the author is a notorious liberal or conservative, but (1) Safire has a genuine love of and command of the English language that will make his take on political terms into a good read whether or not the definitions are not neutral, and (2) as NPR pointed out this morning, he defined waterboarding as a form of torture, so clearly he's not completely captured by feckless ideology.

Last 5 posts by Ken White

4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Mike  •  Apr 11, 2008 @5:39 am

    He was on The Daily Show last week and Jon Stewart indicated he enjoyed the book (if I'm to believe from their banter that he read parts of it prior to the interview).

  2. N  •  Apr 11, 2008 @8:07 am

    Stewart shills 80% of all books his guests bring on board. Unless idealology-different from that of Stewarts primary viewership (and that's not always the case, he sometimes "loves" those books as well), there's a zero percent chance of him panning a novel he holds up and smacks down on his desk in front of his guest.

    I wouldn't take his "I really really enjoyed reading this," as a reason to pick up a book. Though, this one looks like a fun read for folks who're into this sort of thing.

  3. Ken  •  Apr 11, 2008 @8:21 am

    Did you just call me a whore, you crass consonant?

  4. Chris  •  Apr 11, 2008 @9:13 am

    I've seen Stewart pan a guest's book. It doesn't happen often, but it's hysterical when it does.