Is ‘A Civil Tongue’ only a book now?
today at 10:19 am
I recently began re-reading a charming book, “A Civil Tongue” by Edwin Newman (1975: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Indianapolis and New York). Newman, a former “correspondent” — reporter and anchorman — for NBC News, wrote that when he came into the news business in 1940, he “thought that I had taken an oath to preserve, protect, and defend the English language, as a President swears that he will preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution.”
This places him alongside William Safire as one of my heroes and role models when it comes to the craft of writing and the use of the language.
As Newman wrote, “now it seems to me that American English, vigorous, adaptable, and resourceful, a treasure trove of wit, charm, and inspiration, may soon be lowered into a language interment space” (i.e., cemetery) ” with a a marker erected bearing the words Actuarially Matured. The interment unit diggers are all around us.”
Finding faults, as Newman describes his work in a previous book, “Strictly Speaking,” set him up for lots of letters from people who wrote to him about things they caught (or simply argued with) in the pages. Well, it was 1975 — there were no Internet comments back then.
Here’s Newman about the term “peer support.” He wrote that peer support is the kind of support he wants.
“When I walk into NBC News in the morning and see another correspondent, I say, ‘Good morning, peer.’
” ‘Peer greetings to you,’ the other is likely, in peer-shaped tones, to reply.”
I’m going to enjoy re-reading this and sharing some more of Newman’s useful observations. He would not have appreciated how the language has developed since his death in 2010. But Seriously, I’ll try to take over. Maybe we can figure out how to treat words with more clarity… after all, here come the presidential debates!
Margaret Serious has a page on Facebook.
Keep ‘A Civil Tongue’ in your inbox — subscribe to Margaret Serious! Type your e-mail address in the box and click the “create subscription” button. My list is completely spam-free, and you can opt out at any time.