Let a Simile Be Your Umbrellaby William Safire, Terry Allen (Other)
William Safire, America’s favorite writer on language, offers a new collection of pieces drawn from his nationally syndicated “On Language” column. Laced with liberal (a loaded word, but apt) doses of Safire’s wit, these pieces search culture (high and low), politics, entertainment, and the word on the street to explore what the old but livelier-than-ever English language has been up to lately.
With a keen wit and a sure grasp of usage, Safire dissects trends and traces the origins of colloquialisms that have become second nature to most Americans. He examines everything from whether one delivers “a punch on or in the nose” when offended to whether a disgraced politician should “step down,” “step aside,” or “stand down.” Safire gives us the answers to these and many more quandaries, questions, and complexities of our contemporary lexicon.
As always, Safire is aided by the Gotcha! Gang and the Nitpickers Leaguereaders who claim to have found the language maven making flubs of his own. His comments and observations create a spirited, curious, and scholarly discussion showing that William Safire and his readership are wise in the way of words.
- Crown Publishing Group
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- 6.44(w) x 9.50(h) x 1.25(d)
Read an Excerpt
Adultery and Fraternization
Every scandal has its own lexicon. There stood Kelly Flinn, Air Force first lieutenant, pioneer female B-52 pilot, accused of adultery and its coverup.
"How can they accuse her of adultery?" asked a colleague. "She's single. The married guy was the adulterer."
Yes and no. The noun adultery, which appeared in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, comes from the Latin verb adulterare, "to corrupt," from which we also get adulterate. (It's not the root of adult; that's from adultus, past participle of adolescere, "to grow up.")
The word is poetically defined by the O.E.D. as "violation of the marriage bed." Other dictionaries use variations of "voluntary sexual intercourse between a married person and someone not his or her spouse." In general speech, adultery is "an extramarital affair" or, more informally, "playin' around"; in politics, the candidate so playing is said to have "a zipper problem."
"Whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adulterie," reads a 1590 translation of Matthew 5:28. But the act lost its male identity and was dramatized by Nathaniel Hawthorne in his 1850 novel, The Scarlet Letter; the "A" for adultery was "embroidered and illuminated" on Hester Prynne's bosom as a punishment.
Under most religious law, the married participant is an adulterer and the single one merely a fornicator. Under the old common-law rule, however, "both participants commit adultery if the married participant is a woman," Bryan Garner, editor of Black's Law Dictionary,tells me. "But if the woman is the unmarried one, both participants are fornicators, not adulterers." Seems unfair; why? "This rule is premised on whether there is a possibility of adulterating the blood within a family. Offspring from adulterous unions were called adulterism."
What do courts say today? "Under modern statutory law," Garner says, "some courts hold that the unmarried participant is not guilty of adultery (that only the married participant is), but others hold that both participants are adulterers." The Armed Services Manual for Courts-Martial, Article 134, "Adultery," says that the act has occurred when sexual intercourse has taken place and "the accused person or the other person was married to someone else."
Both participants in an adulterous relationship have come to be understood as engaging in adultery, no matter which one is married. When adulterer or the less common adulteress is used, however, it usually identifies a married participant. Nobody calls the kids adulterini anymore.
Meet the Author
William Safire, Pulitzer Prize–winning political columnist for The New York Times, began writing his “On Language” column in 1979. He is the most widely read commentator on the state of the English language today. He lives near Washington, D.C.
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This is a very interesting and informative book on where and how phrases originate. Clever and witty. I highly recommend this book!