November 10, 2019

32 writers beg the NYT not to use "quid pro quo" because it's important to stick to words people understand in "these... parlous times."

Writers! Always good to hear from them. Are they really for clear speech? Let's read "A Plea From 33 Writers: Words Matter. Stop Using ‘Quid Pro Quo.’ The writers urge The Times to avoid language that people don’t understand or that underplays the facts":
Please stop using the Latin phrase “quid pro quo” regarding the impeachment inquiry. Most people don’t understand what "quid pro quo" means, and in any case it doesn’t refer only to a crime. Asking for a favor is not a criminal act; we frequently demand things from foreign countries before giving them aid, like asking them to improve their human rights record.

That is not a crime; the crime is President Trump’s demand for something that will benefit him personally. But using this neutral phrase — which means simply “this for that” — as synonymous with criminality is confusing to the public. It makes the case more complicated, more open to question and more difficult to plead.
Sometimes when people are making an argument, they choose the obfuscatory approach.
Please use words that refer only to criminal behavior here. Use “bribery” or “extortion” to describe Mr. Trump’s demand to President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine, making it very clear that this is a crime. The more we hear words that carry moral imputations, the more we understand the criminal nature of the act.
Thanks for making it clear why the NYT is choosing not to make it clear! Let me be clear: If the NYT is clear about what would be a crime as distinguished from what Presidents ought to do when giving aid to a foreign country, then it won't be clear at all that he did it. You would have to guess what was going on inside his head. You would have to make inferences that go beyond the text of the transcript. You would have to fold in your subjective notion that Trump is a bad guy who should never have become President.
Please also stop using the phrase “dig up dirt.” This slang has unsavory connotations.
Yes, it's saying that there is dirt — dirt on Biden and son — and all that needs to be done is to excavate it. Yes, "dirt" sounds bad, but in the previous sentence you were urging the NYT to use "words that carry moral imputations." Did you not notice that you flipped on your own idea? It's pretty embarrassingly obvious that you switched because you want the press to use negative words when speaking about Trump, but you think it's so wrong to be negative when talking about the Bidens.
Instead, please use the more formal, direct and powerful phrase “create false evidence,” or “find incriminating evidence” or the simpler “tell lies about.”
But that makes it easier to say that Trump didn't do it! There's nothing in the transcript where Trump says he wants Zelensky to manufacture evidence. If you state the accusation clearly, the accusation sounds worse, but it also sounds untrue. Why don't these writers consider the potential for bad motives and sneakiness in the press?! These writers seem to be mostly (perhaps all) novelists. Their books necessarily show us multiple characters, so shouldn't they naturally think of all the complexity going on inside everyone who participates in a human activity? Now, I'm giving some thought to the complexity of the intentions and schemes of the writers who signed this letter! What are they really up to? How honest is their little lecture?
Words make a difference.
Indeed. That's why I love your next sentence. It's so revealing!
These are parlous times, and we look to public voices for dignity, intelligence and gravitas.
Parlous! Why would anyone ever use "parlous" instead of "perilous"? This is a question I've had for half a century — ever since I first encountered "parlous" when studying for the SAT. Outside of a Shakespeare play (or a vocabulary test), when do you ever hear this word? I guess in this case, the writers are attempting to display their dignity, intelligence, and gravitas.

Gravitas! Hey, that's funny too! They started off advising against using Latin, and then they used Latin! I looked up "quid pro quo" and "gravitas" in the Oxford English Dictionary. Both have entries, which means both are considered part of the English language. But the usage of "quid pro quo" in English goes back to the 1500s, and the earliest usage of "gravitas" in English is 1924.

The letter concludes:
Please use precise and forceful language that reveals the struggle in which we now find ourselves. It’s a matter of survival.
So it's not a plea for "precise and forceful language" per se.* It's a plea to write with an agenda: We're in a struggle for survival and the NYT ought to choose the words that instill that point of view. Just as you can't "dig up dirt" unless there is dirt, you can't "reveal the struggle" for "survival" unless there is a struggle for survival.

The writers present themselves as experts on the use of words, but a good reader can find many problems in their effort to lecture about language. And it's easy to see that they're not really sticking to their zone of professional expertise, that what they're expressing is their antagonism toward Trump, which is just an amateur opinion. There's no literary depth in their understanding of Trump. In fact, they present Trump as a one-dimensional villain. He's dragging us into a struggle for survival! That's a comic-book level presentation — at best — and it makes me squeamish to see writers displaying themselves so crudely.

____________________

* "Per se," like "quid pro quo," has been used in writing in English since the 1500s. And I say that with gravitas in these parlous times.

145 comments:

rhhardin said...

I dig up soap.

The Bergall said...

Good grief............

J Severs said...

Well done.

rehajm said...

Remember how the Clintons believed they were the dictionary police? Are they the anonymous writers?

tim maguire said...

Nice fisking. At the opening, I was going to comment that, based in my experience as an editor of technical reports, the movement towards “plain language” is 50% a good thing and 50% elitist claptrap (“we can’t use that word, the plebs won’t understand it—they’re not nearly as smart as us”).

But you go much further. The selling point of plain language is to make something more easily readable and understandable, but this essay is an exercise in obfuscation. They say they want to be clearer, but what they really want is to be more manipulative. They don’t want to inform, they want to win.

PB said...

You studied for the SAT? I thought that was only something hyper competitive kids starting about 20 years ago. In my time (mid 70s) I just read the booklet with the application that explained the format of the questions and scoring, then tried to get to bed before midnight the night before the test. Maybe that's why I only got 740/760 on the thing.

Richard Dolan said...

This is Althouse ar her very best. And that's a high standard indeed -- surpassing by far what she has offered in the past as a different one (better than nothing).

whitney said...

33 writers, 11000 scientist, the tyranny of numbers

Mr. Forward said...

Writers who'd you think would know
Say "quid pro quo" has got to go
And "digging up dirt" can only hurt
They scribble on, their brains inert.
Ban those words from your book shelf
And Epstein did not kill himself.

tim in vermont said...

Sometimes you know it’s going over the fence at the crack of the bat.

Amadeus 48 said...

Yeah. They are right. You should never use "quid pro quo" in talking about this. You should something simple, forceful, and direct that everyone will understand.

I propose "total bullshit".

The jokes write themselves on this one.

rhhardin said...

Cheney added to the Bush ticket adds gravitas, media montage, via Rush
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oMO6Ic00or4&t=120

Unknown said...

Great post. This is why I love reading your blog.

tcrosse said...

Vigorous writing is concise.

Wince said...

Excellent take-down by Althouse.

Is there a criticism they posit against Trump that does not doubly apply to them and Biden?

Why would anyone ever use "parlous" instead of "perilous"?

To trap their critics in an errant criticism, and thereby demonstrate their own literary bona fides?

gilbar said...

Professor, If we Ask Nice; could you post a list of the 33 writers, for those of us that can't spend money on the NYT's. 'cause we've spent it on you amazon portal?
thanx!

Amadeus 48 said...

There is a word I'd like to use in connection with this whole matter. Is "nothingburger" considered to be a word with dignity, intelligence and gravitas?

I'm asking for a friend.

h said...

Also, quid pro quo is not a charge that one can make against a President as a generality. It's what is involved in all international relations. The Emperor of Japan agreed to surrender and Truman agreed to stop bombing -- Quid Pro Quo! The US agreed to reduce tariffs on tires, and Korea agreed to reduce tariffs on rice -- Quid Pro Quo! The US agreed to increase food aid to Egypt and Egypt agreed to negotiate an end to hostilities with Israel -- Quid Pro Quo! The focus on "quid pro quo" distracts attention from what the anti-Trump people really believe is the horrible thing -- that the "quid" was use of government resources and the "quo" was intended to help Trump personally (politically).

Breezy said...

In other words, NYT is not succeeding in convincing other people that Trump needs to be removed because what he did was not wrong. They are actually admitting that here.

Amadeus 48 said...

The hell of it is, the 33 writers are actually Ben Rhodes, novelist manqué, in a small, perfectly-formed echo chamber of his own devising.

Seeing Red said...

These are parlous times, and we look to public voices for dignity, intelligence and gravitas.

Who is this “we,” kemosabe?

They’re looking in the wrong places.

Those public voices are and have been willingly hiding a rapist, a sexual assaulter, a murdered pimp and the biggest whorehouse in the world, while pushing a soft coup against a duly-elected, sitting US president.

As for “parlous,” I thought of parlay from “Pirates of the Caribbean.”

Amadeus 48 said...

Epstein did not kill himself.

Pass it on.

Hagar said...

"Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness."

whitney said...

There's someone on comment thread humble-bragging about what they got on the SATs 50 years ago.

Amadeus 48 said...

So...CBS and ABC have soiled themselves on the Robach/Epstein matter. NBC refuses to report it. You can get the straight story on Fox.

Why would you think about watching anything else?

Ailes, you magnificent bastard...

Epstein did not kill himself.

Crimso said...

I regret taking three years of German aufs Gymnasium rather than the four years of Latin my sister took (yes, my public high school offered four years of Latin).

Seeing Red said...

In short, “The rubes ain’t falling for it.”

Is that clear and concise?

Hammond X. Gritzkofe said...

"...the crime is President Trump’s demand for something that will benefit him personally"

You are the top elected official in your County. The mayor of a City in the County might run against you in the next election. You become aware that the mayor's son may be involved in illegal activity in a neighboring county. An investigation could involve the mayor himself. You should:

A: Call the neighboring County Judge and suggest the matter be investigated.

B: Do nothing. Reporting suspected criminal activity is a crime, if you might benefit.

gilbar said...

you know what Would be a quid pro quo?

If you told the Ukrainians that your;
Plane leaves in five hours
IF you don't fire that guy
You don't get the Billion dollars in aid

That's kinda THE DEFINITION (well, example) of quid pro quo

rhhardin said...

Gravitas is energy times gravity divided by the speed of light squared. It's bigger on Jupiter.

Mike Sylwester said...

The bribing of the US Vice President by a Ukrainian company should be a matter of concern for our entire country.

After Vice President Joe Biden was appointed to the be US Government's "point-man" on Ukraine, money began to flow from the Burisma energy company into the Biden family -- specifically into Hunter Biden's bank account.

To say that this bribing of our former Vice President is a matter that concerns only our current President Donald Trump is absurd.

-------

The US State Department was complicit in the bribing of the Biden family and still is complicit in the continuing cover-up.

The State Department is allowing the false story that there was international pressure to fire Ukraine's General-Prosecutor Viktor Shokin, who was investigating the Burisma company and its owner Mykola Zlochevsky.

If there is any proof to that yarn, the State Department should provide it to the public. Release all the State Department's documents proving that there was such international pressure to fire Prosecutor Shokin.

In fact, the State Department's documents will shown only that the initiative to fire Shokin came only from the Bidens.

-----

Because the State Department is complicit in the Ukrainian bribing of the Bidens, independent actors such as Rudy Giuliani have had to do the investigation.

Tank said...

Althouse undressed 32 Writers and Sullivan all in one morning.

In the olden days, way back when, we had "dressers." Althouse is the undresser.

This is why the portal is a useful and deserving tool.

Hammond X. Gritzkofe said...

"The letter was signed by 32 other writers:" the illiterati.

gilbar said...

Crimso said...
I regret taking three years of German aufs Gymnasium rather than the four years of Latin my sister took (yes, my public high school offered four years of Latin).


Jeeze! How many ESL students did your school have? What part of Latin America did they come from?

Rick.T. said...

We deplorables not only know what “quid pro quo” means but we also know “cui bono.”

John henry said...

33

Is the magic number

I had to save the article to pocket to read it behind the paywall. Getpocket.com

Didn't read it but wanted to see who these magical 33 writers are since I identify as a writer myself.

The only name I have ever heard of before was Alix Kates Schulman who wrote memoires of an ex prom queen in the early 70s. I read it in the 70s and remember it as ok.

There's an angela davis-something but i kind of doubt it it the terrorist/professor.

John Henry

stevew said...

Achieved mid 1300's on the SAT when I took them in the mid 70's. Not terrible and not great. Solidly in the middle of the bell curve I suspect. I've seen the word, parlous, before but never looked it up as I could glean its meaning from the context. Why use such an obscure word when perilous works so well? To virtue signal, of course. Which is what this letter is all about anyway. These authors know full well that the NYT will not adjust the style sheet and rules to accommodate the request. And how about the thinly veiled insult of the Times' readers? They can't possibly comprehend the meaning of a simple latin phrase.

Great analysis by our host (and fisking).

Mike Sylwester said...

I have been reading Professor George Lyman Kittredge's commentary on William Shakespeare's play As You Like It. In the play's Act 3, Scene 2, the fool Touchstone is talking with the shepherd Corin and says (emphasis added):

Why, if thou never wast at court, thou never saw’st good manners; if thou never saw’st good manners, then thy manners must be wicked, and wickedness is sin, and sin is damnation. Thou art in a parlous state, shepherd.

Because many people who read Shakespeare are not familiar with the word parlous, Professor Kittredge explains the rare, unfamiliar word:

Line 45. parlous. a shortened form of perilous

-----

Likewise, the Sparknotes parallel text translates the archaic word parlous with the modern word perilous.

Well, if you were never at court, you were never exposed to good manners; if you never witnessed good manners, your manners must be wicked; wickedness is a sin, and committing sins leads to damnation. You are in a perilous state, shepherd.

Anonymous said...

Very enjoyable post.

The list of the 33 authors made me laugh, for some reason. The only vaguely familiar name was some triple-barrel I must have come across on a reading list for one of those required "burning contemporary issues" college freshman courses, a thousand years ago. Guess she's still at it.

(Full disclosure: I have been known to use "parlous", un-self-consciously, in conversation.)

Craig Howard said...

Thus I got into my bones the essential structure of the ordinary British sentence -- which is a noble thing. And when in after years my schoolfellows who had won prizes and distinction for writing such beautiful Latin poetry and pithy Greek epigrams had to come down again to common English, to earn their living or make their way, I did not feel myself at any disadvantage. Naturally I am biased in favour of boys learning English. I would make them all learn English: and then I would let the clever ones learn Latin as an honour, and Greek as a treat. But the only thing I would whip them for would be not knowing English. I would whip them hard for that.”

Churchill said it best.

rhhardin said...

Trump is trying to drain the wetlands.

Mike Sylwester said...

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary definition of parlous includes the following:

1 obsolete : dangerously shrewd or cunning

2 : full of danger or risk

.....

Parlous is both a synonym and a derivative of "perilous"; it came to be as an alteration of "perilous" in Middle English. ("Perilous" is derived from the Anglo-French perilleus, which ultimately comes from the Latin word for "danger": "periculum.") Both words are documented in use from at least the 14th century, but by the 17th century "parlous" had slipped from common use and was considered more or less archaic. It experienced a resurgence in popularity in the 20th century (although some critics still regarded it as an archaic affectation), and today it appears in fairly common use, often modifying "state" or "times."

tim in vermont said...

"There's no literary depth in their understanding of Trump. In fact, they present Trump as a one-dimensional villain. He's dragging us into a struggle for survival!”

Somehow I get the feeling that these “writers” mostly produce propaganda, little propagandist confections that make the ruling classes feel better about themselves that the proles are given this stuff to read so that they don’t get any dangerous ideas.

I guess I should look at the list.

Dave Begley said...

Some thoughts can only be expressed with a foreign phrase and quid pro quo is one. Another is sui generis. Lots of examples.

I was conducting a deposition once and I used the phrase quid pro quo. The guy had no idea. I was flabbergasted. This guy owned part of a self storage place. Now rich.

Bob Boyd said...

Writers! Always good to hear from them.

I'll be smiling about that line all day.

Classic Althouse. Love this stuff.

Temujin said...

I am truly relieved that we have writers hand-picked by the NY Times to make the words in our lives easier to understand. They are the same people who have long stood behind the teachers unions and educators to dumb our country down to this level. Now we're watching Tik-Toc, going to see Mavel movies, and getting our news from Joy Behar, and waiting breathlessly for the next episode of some reality show. Books? Words? Quid pro quo? What say you? (yes, I know...Althouse reads more than I do AND loves Tik-Toc. She's an outlier.)

I am better everyday because of those who direct me on how to live and what to think. I thank them for relieving the stress of me having to think about what that squid word was.

William said...

Parlous is a good word to use for those who wish to palaver about the risks of global warming. The time has come to no longer hedge our bets but to parlay them in these parlous times.....Many people might mistake parlous for those activities that take place in the parlor or worse yet an ice cream parlor and miss the freighted import of the writer's words.

Dave Begley said...

As great as Ann’s post here is (classic Althouse) some pretty great comments ex moi.

rhhardin said...

We deplorables not only know what “quid pro quo” means but we also know “cui bono.”

Sonibono would be a good sound (dative case).

JAORE said...

Good with words, better with emotions, terrible at logic.

Yeah, let's follow their lead.

tim in vermont said...

Karen Bender
Rachel Cline
Martha Cooley
Angela Davis-Gardner
Alex Enders
Pamela Erens
Barbara Fischkin
Lynn Goldberg
Lisa Gornick
Masha Hamilton
Jessica Keener
Fiona Maazel
Celia McGee
Edie Meidav
Susan Merrell
Sue Miller
Mary Morris
Elizabeth Nunez
Maureen Pilkington
Elissa Schappell
Debra Schupack
Christine Schutt
Lynne Sharon Schwartz
Andrea Scrima
Alix Kates Shulman
Jane Smiley
Lee Smith
Terese Svoboda
Amanda Vaill
Katharine Weber
Paula Whyman
Hilma Wolitzer


In case you are wondering, yes Lee Smith is a woman.

tcrosse said...

How many writers does it take to change a Zeitgeist?

stlcdr said...

I’ve known what quid pro quo means for quite some time. But since the media have been using it, I’ve had to look it up several times - searching out obscure meaning, even - to see if it still means what I think it means.

stlcdr said...

“Why would anyone ever use "parlous" instead of "perilous"?”

I thought it was a speeling mistak.

Dave Begley said...

A list if nobodies.

More people read Althouse in a day that read the cumulative work of those writers in a year.

Just an old country lawyer said...

When someone who presumes to lecture me on clear, direct writing uses the word "parlous" I want to reach for my pistol.

dustbunny said...

Bravo Althouse!! (Or is it brava?) THIS should be in the NYT, brilliant, concise and on point.

narciso said...

https://www.americanthinker.com/articles/2019/11/impeachment_mashup.html

tcrosse said...

Inky-dinky parlous voo.

Craig said...

Thank you for pushing back against this BS. Wouldn't it be great if Althouse's post appeared right below the original article?

Ralph L said...

In future years, they'll have the pleasure of thinking, "I was one of the Immortal 33 who turned the tide against Trump in a parlous time!"
From the safety of my parlor.

Michael McNeil said...

Some thoughts can only be expressed with a foreign phrase and quid pro quo is one. Another is sui generis. Lots of examples.

As Althouse points out, these are not foreign phrases, they're English phrases in recognized dictionaries.

Bruce Hayden said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Seeing Red said...

“Quid pro quo, Clarice.”

Tank said...

@Begley

Jane Smiley is not a nobody. She’s written a number of very good, successful and highly acclaimed books.

She is a committed lefty.

She is the only one I recognized.

Bobb said...

The NYT should stop using words like racism, tolerance, evidence and the like, since it is clear the NYT, it's writers and readers do not understand these words.

Dave Begley said...

Smiley’s people.

Bruce Hayden said...

“I was conducting a deposition once and I used the phrase quid pro quo. The guy had no idea. I was flabbergasted. This guy owned part of a self storage place. Now rich.”

Now, it would have been really bad if it had been opposing counsel who didn’t know the definition of that phrase.

Great post Ann. Great comment thread here. Thanks for the entertainment.

Jamie said...

So basically these... ladies want to ensure that the NYT loses its final tattered shred of any claim to objectivity. I guess that's fine; if the Times wants to come out full-throated D, it will only surprise the same people who were saddened by Liberace's not marrying.

It is frustrating, I'll admit, that if you were to try to engage any of these *writers* on this subject, pointing out perhaps that what they're calling for is a clear and wildly premature presumption of guilt in a (some say "the") major newspaper, they'd blink at you and claim first that they were talking FACTS, not opinions, and second that even if they were stepping on a vital legal principle just a wee bit, it was obviously justified because TRUMP. There would be no way to get through that shell of self-righteous dudgeon.

Ann Althouse said...

"You studied for the SAT?"

I didn't take a prep course (or even know about such things), nor did I even know of the idea of buying a book to teach tricks (which I could have used because I actually set out to read those awful passages you were told to read before answering the questions). But I believe we were taught vocabulary (in school) in a way that was oriented to the standardized tests — you know, "lugubrious" and "lachrymose" and "pusillanimous" and "belligerent," that sort of thing. I remember "parlous" as being about the stupidest word I learned in those days. I hated it because "perilous" is a perfectly normal, comprehensible word. What does "parlous" add?! Shakespeareanness? It's like slurred speech gets to be a word. And the "parl-" part of the word reminded me of the "parl-" words in French, so I could see that if I had guessed intelligently, I would have fallen for any multiple choice answer that had to do with speech. So credit would go to the memorizers over the analyzers, which pisses me off.

Bruce Hayden said...

Following cleaned up and reposted.

“I regret taking three years of German aufs Gymnasium rather than the four years of Latin my sister took (yes, my public high school offered four years of Latin).”

In my high school (and Jr High), I was the last year to get 4 years of Latin (9-12). My next brother took Russian through Jr High, then switched to Latin in HS (10th grade). Maybe coincidentally, we were the two who ultimately followed our father into the practice of law. The youngest three took Russian all the way through. I was elected president of the Latin Club, by promising a lot of orgies. Then I took a couple more years in college because the prof was so good.

What high school Latin student can forget “Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres, quarum unam incolunt Belgae, aliam Aquitani, tertiam qui ipsorum lingua Celtae, nostra Galli appellantur”? Except that I have had “Omnia Gallia in tres partes divisa est” stuck in my brain for the last half century. This is, of course, the introductory sentence in Commentarii de Bello Gallico by Gaius Julius Caesar.

Latin did help a bit on the SATs, and maybe a bit in law school, esp since the legal gobbly gook isn’t goobly gook if you can translate it. Or, after almost a half century from my last Latin class, if I can translate some of it. I compare how I write, with a lot of subordinate phrases, to how most normal people here do, and I blame much of that on my later years of Latin. Esp, I think Virgil my senior year. Horace, in college, was even worse, but not really from a sentence construction point of view, but rather for all the embedded Greek (suggesting that educated Romans were literate in Greek while our Educated English speaking ancestors were literate in Latin).

Ann Althouse said...

"Professor, If we Ask Nice; could you post a list of the 33 writers, for those of us that can't spend money on the NYT's. 'cause we've spent it on you amazon portal?
thanx!"

The main writer is Roxana Robinson and here are the other signers (all women, I think, and I checked for Alex Enders and Lee Smith):

Karen Bender

Rachel Cline

Martha Cooley

Angela Davis-Gardner

Alex Enders

Pamela Erens

Barbara Fischkin

Lynn Goldberg

Lisa Gornick

Masha Hamilton

Jessica Keener

Fiona Maazel

Celia McGee

Edie Meidav

Susan Merrell

Sue Miller

Mary Morris

Elizabeth Nunez

Maureen Pilkington

Elissa Schappell

Debra Schupack

Christine Schutt

Lynne Sharon Schwartz

Andrea Scrima

Alix Kates Shulman

Jane Smiley

Lee Smith

Terese Svoboda

Amanda Vaill

Katharine Weber

Paula Whyman

Hilma Wolitzer

Unknown said...

Just read this, thought it was relevant here:

https://blog.simplejustice.us/2019/11/10/when-33-writers-have-no-quo-in-their-quid/

robother said...

" So credit would go to the memorizers over the analyzers, which pisses me off."

Like so many of these pompous words,I have only seen "parlous" used to describe these times. Think of it as the parlous times tables, Ann.

Howard said...

33 writers who are finding it difficult to adapt to the meme heavy world we live in cries the use of an effective meme by scribblers who have struggled mightily over the last 20 years to keep their jobs hahaha

WhoKnew said...

My high school drop-out kid decided he might want to take the ACT and asked if I'd foot the bill and buy him the prep book. I said sure. A couple of months later he called and asked if a 27 was good. Since all my friends had college bound, hard studying, good kids, I asked them what a good score was. All their kids were getting 21-24. So I called him back and said it was, in fact, very good. His reply: "I wonder how I would have done if I'd opened the book"

Michael K said...

In my time (mid 70s) I just read the booklet with the application that explained the format of the questions and scoring, then tried to get to bed before midnight the night before the test. Maybe that's why I only got 740/760 on the thing.

In the 50s when I took it, we were told we were taking a "test" and marched down to the study hall. We took the test and to this day I don't know my score. It must have been enough to be a National Merit Scholar the first year they named them.

I wonder how many of the 33 writers were among the 11,000 "scientists" who signed the thing to Trump about global warming/climate change?

Michael K said...

I assume the Lee Smith is not the author of "The Plot Against the President."

tim in vermont said...

“Parlous” is a good word for a writer to know. He might want to put it in the mouth of the kind of character who uses the word “parlous.” I can imagine that there are cases where it would be good to use, but I can’t imagine any actual cases.

gilbar said...

Thank You Professor! I'm off to the Portal to buy Miranda Lambert's new Album!!

Bruce Hayden said...

“Please use words that refer only to criminal behavior here. Use “bribery” or “extortion” to describe Mr. Trump’s demand to President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine, making it very clear that this is a crime. The more we hear words that carry moral imputations, the more we understand the criminal nature of the act.”

I was surprised at how much better I did on my verbal SATs than most of the girls did who were getting the As in English. Looking back, I think that it was a combination of lack of both reading comprehension and logic on their part. And I expect that these authorettes probably fit into that category. Everyone has had the transcript of the telephone call available since the day after this latest fake scandal erupted. Did they actually read the transcript, and not understand what was said there? Or are they basing their position here on third and fourth hand hearsay? I am thinking that they are probably basing their interpretation (indirectly) on Schifty’s “parody”. Something like that. Trump was actually better on the call sticking to the point and not going off on tangents, than he usually seems to be. They are very clearly reading a lot of nonsense into the call that wasn’t there originally.

Douglas B. Levene said...

Ann, I’m the same age as you and I didn’t study for the SATs and neither did any of my classmates, so far as I know, except for one brainiac who read a bunch of Mencken to improve his vocabulary. Yes he went to Harvard and became, I think, a physics professor.

wild chicken said...

To read Matt Taibbi and Lee Smith, the whole media is a corrupt asskissing fucking joke now anyway.

If you want something done, ask Perkins Coie.

MD Greene said...

Should have known it was a political thing.

If these people (speaking as "writers") are going to strip common language of concepts that the little people don't understand, the job will be much bigger. It will involve pronouns, subject-verb agreement, adverbs, adjectives and more. Vocabulary is the least of it.

Reading a newspaper today is torture for those of us who attended serious elementary schools.

JAORE said...

"The main writer is Roxana Robinson and here are the other signers (all women, I think,.."

All women?

[Repeats to self] Correlation is NOT causation. Correlation is NOT causation.

Except where it is.

Gunner said...

Trump doesnt personally benefit if Joe Bidens dumbass son gets his fake job exposed.

Mark said...

I guess you could call manipulators of language "writers," just like you could call Orwell's Newspeak a kind of language.

Ingachuck'stoothlessARM said...

oh to have Althouse at the NYT-- Well done!

...kicking ass and taking names.

"All the News That's Cruelly Neutral"

RK said...

33 journalism majors want more power and influence than they already have. It's never enough.

Sam L. said...

As I've said before, I despise, detest, and distrust the NYT. (The WaPoo, too.)

Alison said...

@Althouse, this is brilliant. Thank you.

Char Char Binks, Esq. said...

The MSM and the Derp State originally used the term QPQ because it SOUNDS like a crime, as does “collusion”. Now they’re switching tack because they’ve been called on their bullshit,

Lurker21 said...

I got about half-way through the signatories before the Times asked for money and I didn't recognize any of the names.

Sorry for using the highfalutin word "signatories" (and the word "highfalutin") but these are parlous times - perilous even - and I feel parlous to do anything about them.

Mary Beth said...

When I read, "parlous times", I think "perilous times", but in my head I hear it in Foghorn Leghorn's voice, so it sounds like "parlous".

These are parlous times. I say, I say, boy, do you hear? Parlous!

CWJ said...

"These authors know full well that the NYT will not adjust the style sheet and rules to accommodate the request."

Ah, but publishing the request is just as good. The NYT puts the more manipulative interpretation out there without doing it themselves. Authors/NYTs win win.

Wince said...

These lefty writers' lamentations are simply, ahem, "parlous for the course".

Ingachuck'stoothlessARM said...



All the signatories of the Declaration of Independence were men.

compare and contrast

Narayanan said...

Since forever in
https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.urbandictionary.com/define.php%3fterm=quid%2bpro%2bquo&amp=true

F said...

Brilliant essay Professor. Reminds me of Saffire’s work, at his best! Bravo.

somewhy said...

Agree with Tank that Jane Smiley is a good writer. I'd particularly recommend "Horse Heaven" if anyone wants a taste.

That aside, the Althouse analysis of the NYT33 was a pleasure to read.

Narayanan said...

Trump rhetoric of asking voters : what have you got to lose is making people more aware of quid pro quo in Civic life.

And problem for left liberal.

buwaya said...

Power struggles (between elite factions) are always crude. They often happen inside a fog of complicated details and inaccessible information, but if one could blow that fog away, or penetrate the obscured zone and touch the real thing in there, the nut of it is always very simple.

Tribal wars are even more crude.

What you now have is something of both, which will continue until the thing devolves entirely into the latter.

Michael K said...

Why I still subscribe to the Chicago Tribune. To read John Kass's column.

If the Democrats want to be fair about this, two witnesses must be called and sworn in under oath to testify and be questioned by Democrats and Republicans so that Americans, now focused, can also begin at the beginning.

The first witness should be the so-called “whistleblower,” the government employee who brought the complaint to Schiff about that phone call to Ukraine.

And the second witness should be Schiff himself.

LA_Bob said...

The message from the ladies to the NYT seems to be, "Dammit, make sure the public understands Trump is guilty! Write it so they understand that!"

"Parlous" just sounds like "perilous" spoken by a rural Southerner.

Yancey Ward said...

I think if the "writers" were capable of being honest, the real problem they have with quid pro quo is that the phrase has been attached to Joe Biden as "Quid Pro Joe".

mockturtle said...

Would that be the Angela Davis?

Yancey Ward said...

"Trump is trying to drain the wetlands"

Althouse drained the fen.

Yancey Ward said...

Seeing Red wrote:

“Quid pro quo, Clarice.”

Indeed, that movie is probably where I first heard the phrase itself. I can't remember ever coming across it before.

iowan2 said...

Nice fisking. Our host has made the genre her own. Should be re-named. "Althousing" does not roll of the tongue like fisking. What to do?

Tyrone Slothrop said...

By all means, use words like "bribery" or "extortion". Then you will be crystal-clear in observing that no "bribery" or "extortion" took place. Read the damned transcript.

khematite said...

"Asking for a favor is not a criminal act; we frequently demand things . . ."

It takes 32 writers to create a sentence that turns "asking for a favor" into a "demand" with nothing more than the mild intervention of a semi-colon?

Clark said...

The impeachment play must not be going as planned in the minds of these authoresses. A giant cloud of assumed wrongfulness around the neutral 'quid pro quo' has been the main driving force of this latest attempt to bring down the President. They must think the cloud is dissipating if they are now trying to hurry the phrase off stage.

Kevin said...

Great post Althouse, now do Global Warming.

Kevin said...

Shorter Writers: Come on NYT, swamp it up!

DavidUW said...

Follow Orwell’s rules on using Anglo Saxon words rather than greco Latin borrowings and your writing will be stronger.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

Like Tank, I recognized only Jane Smiley, who really is good (read Moo if you haven't already).

The Authors Guild [why no apostrophe after "Authors," btw?] doesn't, on its face, purport to be gender-restricted. What are the odds that 33 signatories taken from its ranks would all be female?

Tyrone Slothrop said...

I have some serious questions for lefties and I would really like some serious answers. So Trump musn't encourage investigation of Biden by a foreign government for the sole reason that Biden is his political opponent. Who, then, is entitled to make such a request? Only Democrats? Is there any sane person alive who would credit the Democrats with such a forthright act? Or is Biden immune to any investigation of the corruption he's boasted about simply because he's a candidate?

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

mockturtle, I don't think that's the UC/Santa Cruz "history of consciousness" professor and CPUSA VP candidate Angela Davis, no. That Angela Davis was married briefly in the 80s, but not to anyone named Gardner.

My longtime mental image of "quid pro quo," btw, is probably by now classed as offensively racist, but here goes: It's two Mafia dons in conversation, one saying "You scratch-a my back, I scratch-a yours."

Narayanan said...

I posted on Powerline.

Does Trump qualify?
I say yes.

TOP DEFINITION in Urbandictionary for
Whistleblower
The heroes that expose crimes and corrupt activities even though they will be punished harshly by the government for daring expose their dirty secrets.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

Tyrone Slothrop,

Good question. I think it's reasonably obvious that no one would hire a man for $50K/month for several years to sit on the board of a company whose field he knows nothing about, speaking a language he doesn't speak, unless there are other compensations -- and the only one I can think of is the Biden surname. And Joe Biden just happened, coincidentally, to be named "point man" on Ukraine at just about the same time, and used his own Vice-Presidential power to demand that the man investigating Burisma be fired in the next 6 hours, or Ukraine could kiss that !B in aid goodbye. Joe's defense consisted entirely of "He wasn't investigating my son, and anyway everyone wanted him fired." Sure, but not everyone is the Vice President of the US, with a billion dollars to withhold.

FullMoon said...


Gravitas is energy times gravity divided by the speed of light squared. It's bigger on Jupiter.
11/10/19, 6:57 AM


Beat me to it.

Jon Ericson said...

@William:
I tip my chapeau.

FullMoon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Marc said...

A delight to read in the morning sunshine with breakfast after Mass!

For whatever reason, the OED's sense 2.b ('risky to deal with; awkward, difficult, tricky') is what sticks in my head and is what distinguishes the word from 'perilous', even though they are also synonymous in current usage. 'The major commodities brokers are facing parlous circumstances after the SEC's recent decision'-- 'perilous' would suggest to me that assassins might be lurking in the parking garage. As the OED notes, 'perilous' was 'formerly used to denote serious danger (of death, damnation, etc.); now frequently used in weakened sense'.

Yancey Ward said...

"It takes 32 writers to create a sentence that turns "asking for a favor" into a "demand" with nothing more than the mild intervention of a semi-colon?"

If you want a good taste of this, read Vindman's testimony under cross by Representative Ratcliffe- Vindman literally ties himself into a Gordian Knot trying to do the exact same tranformation.

Clyde said...

"Parlous?" O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!

John henry said...

I wondered what the qualifications for membership in the authors guild.

Not much to qualify for professional membership. (I qualify) even less for associate membership.

Some nice benefits and not a lot of money in dues.

I am considering joining but:

1) I would have to be associated with these loony bints

2)do I really want to be in an outfit that would allow people like me to be members?

John Henry

Bill Peschel said...

Jane Smiley also wrote "A Thousand Acres," based on "King Lear." No idea of she did anything with "Romeo and Juliet."

I do recall that she wrote a 2004 Slate column in which she lambasted her extended family for voting for Bush. The column reads as fresh today as if it was written by Andrew Sullivan.

I've heard of a few of the other writers. Lee Smith is a good Southern writer, and Jessica Keener writes YA and (IIRR) ran a blog tour for me for "Writers Gone Wild" back in 2010. Or maybe she reviewed the book.

The irony of writers asking the NYT to dumb down its language for its readers is too rich for my blood.

hombre said...

These are a bunch of journalistic douchenozzles who know there is no quid pro quo and want the Democrat oinkers in the house and their media accomplices to use harsher, more inflammatory terms for which there is also no evidence.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

Marc,

That sense of "parlous" is the main one for me as well. I wonder if there's some sort of cross-contamination from "fractious"?

loudogblog said...

These people are so snobby and elitist that they can't admit the possibility that most people know what "quid pro quo" means. They have proven themselves the unintelligent ones. Q.E.D.

Ray Fowler said...

Regular reader, seldom commenter, but I have got to say, this is one of the best things you have written here. Kudos, Ann! This is a great takedown exposing the inconsistencies and hypocrisies involved in the original article.

Lurker21 said...

When we talk about crime we use words that have acquired an ugly sound. If we're trying to find out if a crime has been committed we tend to use other words so as not to prejudice the inquiry. I thought that went without saying.

I think most people probably know what quid pro quo means by now. They may not have when this story broke, but they do by now. Still, it does sound a little strange and "foreign" and people might well ask why the media are using it instead of something closer to daily English usage and why they are using it so much. The phrase becomes a cliche, like "gravitas."

When George Will or somebody first applied the word "gravitas" to contemporary politics whoever it was must have seemed educated and imaginative. After everybody in Washington began using it, those who did looked undemanding and unimaginative.

Ditto with "charisma": as somebody said, if you used that word in 1960, you were brilliant, but if you were still using in 1970 like it was something new and significant, you showed that you were behind the curve.

During the Clinton era, everybody on one show kept saying "bully pulpit," and they sounded like parrots or a chorus of frogs. When everybody else is using the same expression, it behooves you to think of a different way of saying the same thing.

P.S. Sorry about the "behooves."

Lurker21 said...

Jane Smiley wrote that incredible screed after Bush was elected in 2004. She ran down everybody who voted for Bush, including her relatives back in Missouri. Some of them wrote back saying that they had actually voted for Kerry. The others weren't too happy about all the things she said about them either.

Alix Kates Shulman is another familiar name. It sounded vaguely soft-core porny. You know, beach and airplane novels, but actually she was a once well-known feminist writer. Google tells us:

Her son, Theodore Shulman, is a pro-choice activist; he was arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in February 2011, on charges of making interstate threats to anti-abortion advocates. On October 3, 2012 he was sentenced by federal judge Paul Crotty to 41 months in prison.

Funny thing. I don't recall having read that in the newspapers.

Sue Miller and Lynne Sharon Schwartz are also vaguely familiar. Hilma Wolitzer is probably better known as the mother of Meg Wolitzer, who also writes novels.

I guess if you are a novelist nowadays, this is just what you do: write protest letters about Trump to the Times.

Susan said...

I guess they don't realize that it's not that the rubes don't understand them. The rubes don't believe them. Using smaller words to say the same thing won't help.

They could try not lying to us but I suppose that is right out.

No idea who the writers are but I have made it a point to avoid the kind of writers who use words like parlous in them unless done for comic effect.

h said...

replying to Susan at 4:56.

Very insightful. There is a widespread view that the only reason Americans could have elected Trump is because those American voters are stupid. That view just plays right into Trump's philosophy.

Charlotte Allen said...

Jane Smiley is famous for her 2007 HuffPost article about George W. Bush, "Not Only the Worst President But the Worst Possible President":

https://www.huffpost.com/entry/not-only-the-worst-presid_b_38703

I guess she's found an even worse president and worse possible president.

Mr. Forward said...

“Quid Pro Quo”
Jane Smiley
Huffington Post
09/24/2007 04:59 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Zach said...

Ironically, the one helpful trick I learned about the SAT is:

The correct answer on a reading comprehension test is always directly supported by the text.

So if you were to read a transcript where a President asks another leader to do something for him, and you see

A) The President is asking for a favor.
B) The President is making an official request.
C) The President is offering a quid pro quo.
D) All of the above
E) None of the above

you should *not* answer C! A quid pro quo has two elements, and making a request of another leader is only one element.

Zach said...

Regarding the authors' point, a quid pro quo is a legal term of art. Whatever it means in Latin, in America it means trading one thing for another.

If you're talking about a legal proceeding or a quasi-legal proceeding like an impeachment, you should use the correct legal term instead of "plain English" terms like corrupt bargain, because "quid pro quo" has a specific legal meaning, while "corrupt bargain" only has an informal, colloquial meaning.

Michael The Magnificent said...

We deplorables not only know what “quid pro quo” means but we also know “cui bono.”

Amen!

And Hillary is corrupt, Bill is a rapist, the Bidens are on the take, and Epstein didn't kill himself. Rot in hell, lefties, you unapologetic hypocrites.

Gospace said...

Funny.

I understand what quid pro pro is.

I also understand when it's A: Legal and B. Not legal and C: Questionable.

Hunter Biden's job with Burisma? B: Not legal.

Donations to the Clinton Foundation followed by (or just after) favorable state department action? C: Questionable, deserving of further examination.

Anything Trump had so far been accused of? A: Legal

I haven't seen any conservative bloggers who misunderstand this, but many put the CLinton Foundation donations clearly under B.

Seems to be only liberals/Democrats have trouble understanding.

DeepRunner said...

33 writers say: "He's a criminal. Crook. Orange Man Bad. WRITE ORANGE MAN BAD!!!!!!"

Looks like there are no Y-chromosome writers in this group, and many if not most or all are parlous old. All good, I guess, but it would lend more...gravitas?...if the petitioners were more diverse, another consideration for these parlous times.

jamzim said...

I first heard "quid pro quo" when it was spoken by Hannibal Lecter: https://youtu.be/Ynpm1a5lgBU

Bilwick said...

When I hear "quid pro qup" these days, I think of Walter Williams' explanation why he preferred a free market to the various statist alternatives, Williams said that he preferred seduction to rape. "Seduction," he said, "is 'you do something nice for me and I'll do something nice for you."" Rape, he went on, is "you do something nice for me, or I'll do something bad to you.'"

"Liberal" quid pro quo is, "You pay whatever taxes I impose on you, however high; run your business the way I tell you to; and in general be a docile, obedient serf--or I'll send my armed goons to your house and do something bad to you."