Archive for November 22nd, 2007

Lowest form of literary boondoggle

November 22, 2007

According to Maud Newton, that is:

If, as Virginia Woolf suggested, visits to an author’s home ought to be condemned as sentimental journeys, seeking information about a favorite writer’s diet must be the lowest form of literary boondoggle.

However, let that first sentence not misguide you; she is all for such recipe hunting:

I have some sympathy for this line of reasoning. After all, knowing Emily Dickinson’s black cake recipe doesn’t get you closer to the ultimate meaning of her poems.

And yet, for me at least, the knowledge of what she cooked and ate creates the illusion of intimacy — just as the recipes written in the back of my grandmother’s cookbook make me feel that some part of her is still alive. (If only she’d left behind instructions for her pecan pie. Was the secret in the nuts, which fell from her own tree? Some unorthodox blend of spices? Karo? Or did she use some other kind of syrup?)

There is a recipe too in that post (and a promise of more to come).

On the usage of “according to me”

November 22, 2007

Geoffrey Pullum at Language Log on the usage of “according to me” by Umberto Eco:

I was surprised to hear Umberto Eco, interviewed on BBC Radio 4 this morning, using the phrase according to me several times. He seemed to think it is synonymous with “in my view”, or “the way I tell it”. It is not.

According to X has the peculiar property of only being properly used by people other than X. We can say, “According to her, the Jews control world banking”, and we mean that this global banking stranglehold stuff is her story about the Jews, and we are by no means committed to it.

The constraint is (somewhat) analogous to a similarly odd fact about lurk: you only describe other people’s actions using it. If I wait around outside your office trying not to be seen (not that I would, but I could), someone might say “Geoff Pullum has been lurking outside your office”, which is normal use of the language describing slightly nefarious behavior on my part. But if I say “I’m planning to come and lurk outside your office”, that would be deeply weird in a linguistic way, unless it was a joke.

I have only ever heard according to me from foreigners who have learned English imperfectly. One tends to think of Umberto Eco as a sort of polymathic cultural and linguistic European academic superstar who would spot this sort of subtlety. But no, there he was, talking about what he says in his new book, and saying “according to me”. Stop it, Umberto. Get a clue. This is not an idiom to use about yourself. Use it when imputing views to others, especially (though not exclusively) when you are skeptical about those views. Never use it to say that something is your own view.

There is also a discussion on logophoric pronouns at the end of the post as an update and footnote. Very interesting stuff; take a look!