The Dictionary and Us

David Skinner:

The chairman of the usage panel, Edwin Newman, was on hand. His book Strictly Speaking was the Eats, Shoots & Leaves of its day, a number-one bestseller. In it, Newman lodged the usual complaints against hopefully, malapropisms, redundant phrasing, and cliché-mongering (marathon talks, swank hotel, uneasy truce). He asked in the book’s first sentence, “Will American be the death of English?”

American English, however, was not really the problem, as any careful reader would have discerned. What truly bothered Newman was the scripted melodrama of press secretaries, speechwriters, and journalists. He disapproved of how these spokesmen of the educated class recycled favored tropes and hyped their own minor insights into major revelations. And he reserved a special contempt for the legalese of the Watergate proceedings, not just the infamous banality “at that point in time,” but the whole pompous subspecies of circuitous Nixonian blather.

“In Watergate,” Newman observed, “nobody ever discussed a subject. It was always subject matter. The discussion never took place before a particular date. It was always prior to. Nor was anything said, it was indicated; just as nothing was done, it was undertaken. If it was undertaken, it was never after the indications about the subject matter; it was subsequent to them.”