The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Thursday, June 26, 2003  

Times Columnist Leaves Séance to Catch Up on E-mail

Yes, I know, this post really belongs on the letters page, if even there, but I got a kick out of the entire incident and decided to give it some added prominence.

Regular readers know that I’ve been a little tough on William Safire here. Several times, in fact, going back as far as, well, May 2002, a mere month after the launch of The Rittenhouse Review.

Over time I’ve sent Safire a few links and articles, some pertaining to him, others not, some written by me, others not. I never heard back from him -- frankly, I never expected to nor cared to.

No word, then, from Safire. Until today, that is. In this afternoon’s e-mail there was a message from Safire himself.

It was nothing to get too excited about. The e-mail appears to be an automatic, or at least semi-automatic, response to my June 20 missive to the New York Times columnist, a note that deployed in the subject line a phrase I recently coined in Safire’s honor, “Nattering Nabob of Necromancy.”

And so, the message is a form letter of sorts, as best I can tell, but receiving such from Safire is a first for me. Could it be that I missed Safire’s earlier automatic replies, or was there something about that catchy subject line that caught the old Nixonite’s eye?

Regardless, below is Safire’s e-mail to me, which he didn’t say I couldn’t share, and which, to be honest, really doesn’t say that much anyway.

To: The Rittenhouse Review
From: William Safire
Date: June 26, 2003

Dear Reader:

As you can imagine, I’ve been swamped with e-mails responding to my column in recent months. I read them all, most assuredly, including yours. But I cannot begin to answer them individually or I would have no time left to write a column that delights, illuminates, stimulates[,] or infuriates.

Ergo this automated response. (Curious how “automated” has replaced “automatic.” And why do I use “ergo” when “therefore” will do?)

Don’t take offense, and don’t stop writing. I’ll keep reading what you send me.

William Safire
New York

Curious, indeed. I wonder when and among whom the word “automated” replaced “automatic” as Safire asks, seemingly rhetorically and is if this abuse is running rampant among English speakers and writers generally. It certainly hasn’t occurred among my crowd.

Moreover, why the missing comma in the list of qualifiers Safire presumes to assign to his column? I know most newspapers have dropped the ultimate comma that helps to separate a series of three or more items -- usually to save space, but a convention also dating back to the era when type was set one character at a time -- but Safire really should know better when it comes to correspondence, personal or otherwise.

As for using “ergo” rather than “therefore,” see the American Heritage Dictionary® of the English language, under pretentious: pre·ten·tious adj.: 1. Claiming or demanding a position of distinction or merit, especially when unjustified. 2. Making or marked by an extravagant outward show; ostentatious. See Synonyms at showy. pre·ten·tious·ly adv. pre·ten·tious·ness n.

And who ends business correspondence with “sincerely”? Miss Manners would not be pleased.

Aww, don’t get mad at me, people. I’m just “giving him the business,” as Wally and the Beaver used to say.

I genuinely appreciated receiving Safire’s message. More so, I was pleased he was able to break away for a moment from his latest séance, this one an all-night marathon scaring up the ghosts of his old (and dead, let’s not forget dead) White House pals H.R. Haldeman, John Ehrlichman, and John Mitchell.

This was a big one, folks, a confab I understand was to include a wide assortment of old chums. You know, the really fun dead guys from the `70s, like Mao Zedong, Leonid Brezhnev, Nguyen Van Thieu, Nicolae Ceausesçu, Augusto Pinochet, and Henry Kissinger.

Those last two guys are still alive? And not in prison anywhere or anything? Huh. Really? Are you sure?

Sorry about that. I guess I misread the guest list. Oh, I see, now that I look at it again: Pinochet and Kissinger will be spending the evening sharing the Ouija board with Safire, not being pulled back from beyond the pale by everyone’s favorite nattering nabob of necromancy.

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |