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Moderating the (sometimes) immoderate

Posted by Jan Freeman, keep until April December 21, 2009 09:01 PM

I liked Grant Barrett and Mark Leibovich's Buzzwords report in yesterday's Times -- especially the fact that they included the useful crash blossom on the list, and that they didn't suggest that salahi has any future as a verb meaning "crash a party." (A slippery word like salahied ousting the satisfyingly concrete and crunchy gatecrashed? Not gonna happen. And no, crash blossom is not an epithet for Mrs. Salahi.)

Even better, though, was Barrett's online talkback to some of the commenters on the piece, who'd been invited to contribute buzzwords (but often chose peeves instead). One of them offered a complaint I'd also heard from readers, about "the word 'so' to begin a sentence."  He got a swift (but polite) reality check:

Sentence-initial “so” has had a long run as a discourse marker in English. I’ve had a number of people swear to me that it’s more common than it used to be, but the data show it isn’t. I think some folks are just paying more attention as they grow older and wiser, so it only seems like they’re hearing it more.

If only all comment threads could have monitors on duty to correct misconceptions and reel in the rogue theorizers. But there's a limit to what one author can do. At the end, Barrett tried to point the gloomsters toward the sunny side:

If you took this as an opportunity to peeve about language rather than find something joyful and exciting in it, then, I fear, you have fallen out of love with the best tool you ever had.

Amen to that. But hostility is the default option in so many comment threads that people may now think a peeve (like a shower gift) is the expected contribution. And since any comment represents a reader (or at least a drive-by scanner), newspapers have no incentive to turn off the spigot; bilious readers, in these desperate days, are better than none.

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Rules and realities of English usage from Boston Globe Ideas columnist Jan Freeman.
Jan Freeman, a former Boston Globe editor, has been writing the weekly column “The Word” since 1997. E-mail her at

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