Wednesday, October 05, 2005


Jim Lindgren is right: Either Harriet Miers is a lousy writer, or she's had some lousy ghost writers. Lindgren draws attention to several obvious grammatical and stylistic errors in her writing (as quoted in this Time article), but I can't resist pointing out a few more:
The same liberties that ensure a free society make the innocent vulnerable to those who prevent rights and privileges and commit senseless and cruel acts.
Prevent rights and privileges? Usually we speak of people who violate or infringe upon rights and privileges.
We all can be active in some way to address the social issues that foster criminal behavior, such as…
The phrase "active … to address" is unidiomatic. Most native English speakers would say, "active in addressing."
We lawyers are trained in problem-solving and we have the leadership and other opportunities available to professionals in our society.
Leadership is an opportunity? That's what the phrase "leadership and other opportunities" implies. I suppose you could think of leadership that way, but most people would think of leadership as a skill or talent.
The two men who died exemplified individuals devoted to their God, their families, their fellow man, their communities and their profession.
When I use the word 'exemplify,' I mean to show something -- such as a virtue -- by example. That is, you exemplify a quality, not a person. I would have said the two men exemplify devotion to God, family, etc. I might be stretching here, as my dictionary says 'exemplify' can also mean to provide an example of something. But I'd never heard the word used that way before reading the passage above.

I don't claim my editorial judgments are authoritative. No one writes perfectly, and what constitutes good style is unavoidably subjective. But when every other sentence of someone's writing gives you pause, something is very wrong. I agree with Lindgren's conclusion: "[I]f these are representative examples of Harriet Miers' writings, she will be among the least able writers to serve on the Court in recent years."

(An aside: It's hard to write about good writing, because you know that hypocrisy-seeking readers will comb through your every sentence in search of errors.)

1 comment:

Jeff Brown said...

"we have the leadership and other opportunities"

I think the charitable thing would be to assume that she meant to use "leadership" not as a noun there, but as an adjective modifying "opportunities". That turns her construction from nonsense to mere ugliness.