Monday, March 22, 2010

From the sublime to the meticulous

or Picky Picky Picky

This is very odd. I have, uhm, a relaxed attitude towards Grammar (and a much much more relaxed attitude about spelling). Yet I note something odd about NY Times copy editing. There are two recent op-eds which use knows as adjectives.

In his beatiful magnificent column on health care reform which you should just read, Paul Krugman wrote "health reform went from being highly popular to wide disapproval,"*.** The adjective popular is paired with the noun disapproval. I guess he listed to the commenter who advised "ignore the style sheet and just do what yuan do."

Maureen Dowd's opened her remarkable Thersites approved column on Nuns' sense of justice with this sentence "Angry nuns have been calling Congressman Bart Stupak’s office to complain about his dismissive comments on their bravura decision to make a literal Hail Mary pass, break with Catholic bishops and endorse the health care bill."

What's wrong with that sentence. Well first of all I don't see how the Nuns' brave decision was literally a pass (what did they throw -- ink ?). But second what is the word "bravura" doing there ? Bravura is and Italian (and maybe Spanish for all I know) noun. Why is Dowd using it as an adgective ? It is clear she means "very brave." Why didn't she write "very brave"? Furthermore, in Italian, bravura has nothing to do with bravery. The translation is "ability" or, more exactly given current usage, "outstandingly great ability."

It is related to the ajective "bravo" or able (with hints of "good" or "virtuous" but no hint of "brave") in the way that "redness" is related to "red."

Now believe you me most use of words from a foreign language with meanings different from their meaning in that language goes the other way. The English words "opera" and "piano" have meanings only remotely related to "work" and "soft," but you will probably not guess what the Italian word "body" means and I am still trying to understand what Italians mean by "feeling."

Still the misuse of a foreign word distracts from the bravura otherwise demonstrated by the column.


*Could be "Public opinion on health care went from wide approval to wide disapproval" or to avoid excessive parallelism and clarity "Public opinion on health care went from enthusiastic approval to wide disapproval"


** see what I said about my relaxed attitude. Look at all those punctuation marks in idiosyncratic order

1 comment:

Alan said...

Several dictionaries of American English list "bravura" as an adjective. I believe it serves as an adjective in the often-used phrase "bravura performance."