UD remains embarrassed by her readiness…

… to believe the original Rolling Stone article on the University of Virginia rape. She simply had a confidence in that publication that she of course no longer has.

RS has now retracted the story, following a Columbia Journalism School investigation that found the article full of elementary journalistic errors.

Scathing Online Schoolmarm Says: There’s a Kind of Bad Writing You Can Only Learn at College.

Here’s an example, from a Georgetown University senior who argues in the school paper (the piece has now been taken down) (the piece seems to have been put back up) that his recent mugging by gunpoint in Georgetown was a product of economic disparities.

Who am I to stand from my perch of privilege, surrounded by million-dollar homes and paying for a $60,000 education, to condemn these young men as ‘thugs?’ … It’s precisely this kind of ‘otherization’ that fuels the problem …

As young people, we need to devote real energy to solving what are collective challenges. Until we do so, we should get comfortable with sporadic muggings and break-ins. I can hardly blame [the muggers]. The cards are all in our hands, and we’re not playing them.

Amid this clutch of cliches, a single word really stands out – otherization.

The writer has enhanced this already lovely term by growing quotation marks for it.

************************

The conservative press is having lots of fun with this student’s effort to understand his mugger. SOS, as always, is more concerned with the lamentable prose he has brought to his claims, the learned raid on the articulate (to mess with TS Eliot a bit) this writing represents.

Especially if you’re going to argue something unpopular (people in our cities who stick guns in our faces and force us to the ground at night in order to take all of our goods should be objects of sympathy), you need your writing to be really good. In this particular case, you somehow need your words to convey your grasp of the complexity of the problem of crime, and your understanding that most of your readers aren’t going to agree with your position on it, even as you defend your non-standard take. Instead, this writing seems to flaunt the superior morality of the writer, a person able to rise above the lowly rage and terror the rest of us are likely to have felt in his situation. SOS knows he didn’t mean to convey this, but precisely the use of super-abstract jargon like otherization suggests a weirdly disengaged, hyper-theoretical disposition …

Wonderful scathe of bad sex writing…

here.

Scathing Online Schoolmarm Says: The answer to bad writing is not more bad writing.

In response to the Tom Perkins Kristallnacht letter (go here for details), a Fortune writer asks us not to judge his investment firm just because it happens to have been founded by the dude.

KPCB has been subject of numerous media brickbats over the past few years (including some from yours truly), for issues related to both its investment strategy and firm management. Depending on your perspective, most of it either has been deserved or most of it has been overkill by a media that likes to tear down those it first builds up. But no matter your general feelings toward KPCB, the firm in no way deserves to be tarred with the spuriousness sentiments of its co-founder. Hopefully it will not be.

Gevalt. Where to start?

KPCB has been subject of numerous [Use “many”; it’s simpler, less pretentious.] media brickbats over the past few years [Drop “over the past few years”; it’s unnecessary.] (including some from yours truly), for issues related to both its investment strategy and firm management. [Drop “both its.”] Depending on your perspective, most of it either has been deserved or most of it [Get rid of the repetition of “most of it.” And by the way, notice how many of the words in this short paragraph are the deadly ‘it’?] has been overkill by a media that likes to tear down those it first builds up. But no matter your general feelings toward KPCB, the firm in no way deserves to be tarred with the spuriousness sentiments [Right – “spuriousness” makes no sense here. And even if he’d used “spurious,” it would designate exactly the opposite of the Perkins letter. There was nothing fake in the writing – it was a model of sincerity.] of its co-founder. Hopefully it will not be. [The final sentence is classic vacuousness, the equivalent of “Only the future will tell.”]

A chief academic officer who talks – writes? – like this does more damage to a school’s reputation than inflated numbers.

Here’s Tulane’s provost, commenting on Tulane’s business school having for years made up US News and World Report numbers.

In a statement, Tulane Provost Michael Bernstein, the university’s chief academic officer, said: “I sincerely regret that these events occurred and that one person could so negatively impact how others see us as a place of learning. I am, however, proud of the manner and rigor by which Dean Solomon, Tulane and Jones Day took to get to the bottom of this concern and create an even stronger framework for future reporting.”

The first sentence simply stitches cliches together – including the hideous “negatively impact.” “Negatively impact” is precisely the wordy vacuous pomposity Orwell went after so long ago in Politics and the English Language.

The second… Read it again.

I am, however, proud of the manner and rigor by which Dean Solomon, Tulane and Jones Day took to get to the bottom of this concern and create an even stronger framework for future reporting.

Basic grammar seems beyond this man, the highest-profile voice for a “place of learning.” This man has failed to write a simple, correct sentence. Tulane seems to have no one in its administration to scan official statements and edit them.

A suitably grotesque image for Halloween.

Wearing pressed prison khakis with a pale logo on the back (INMATE—NEW HANOVER COUNTY), his hair is thinning, and all white.

Atlas Wriggled

Hitch-22 was a title born of the silly word games we played, one of which was Titles That Don’t Quite Make It, among which were A Farewell to Weapons, For Whom the Bell Rings, To Kill a Hummingbird, The Catcher in the Wheat, Mr. Zhivago, and Toby-Dick

Salman Rushdie remembers a fun word game he played with Christopher Hitchens.

Over breakfast, Les UDs have started coming up with some of their own:

To Have and Not Have
The Siblings Karamazov
Pride and Prejudgment
Darkness at Eleven-Thirty
The Way of All Skin

“An evening of whisky, terrible poetry, haggis and general mayhem.”

Many thoughtful people consider Scotland’s William Topaz McGonagall the worst poet in the history of the English-speaking world. His best-known poem, The Tay Bridge Disaster (here it is in full), has achieved renown, and remains constantly read and quoted.

Readers are especially drawn to its last stanza (the 1879 poem commemorates the deaths of passengers on a train that fell into the Tay River when the bridge over it collapsed):

It must have been an awful sight,
To witness in the dusky moonlight,
While the Storm Fiend did laugh, and angry did bray,
Along the Railway Bridge of the Silv’ry Tay,
Oh! ill-fated Bridge of the Silv’ry Tay,
I must now conclude my lay
By telling the world fearlessly without the least dismay,
That your central girders would not have given way,
At least many sensible men do say,
Had they been supported on each side with buttresses,
At least many sensible men confesses,
For the stronger we our houses do build,
The less chance we have of being killed.

Writing like this never gets old, and very much lends itself to recitation. So on January 25, in a sign of McGonagall’s yet greater reach, pubs all over Scotland will celebrate not Robert Burns (January 25 is in fact Burns Night, when everyone’s supposed to be celebrating him), but McGonagall.

This year’s winner of the Bad Writing Contest…

… has been announced.

The winning sentence:

Cheryl’s mind turned like the vanes of a wind-powered turbine, chopping her sparrow-like thoughts into bloody pieces that fell onto a growing pile of forgotten memories.

Other goodies:

The victim was a short man, with a face full of contradictions: amalgam, composite, dental porcelain, with both precious and non-precious metals all competing for space in a mouth that was open, bloody, terrifying, gaping, exposing a clean set of asymptomatic impacted wisdom teeth, but clearly the object of some very comprehensive dental care, thought Dirk Graply, world-famous womanizer, tough guy, detective, and former dentist.

As the young officer studied the oak door, he was reminded of his girlfriend — for she was also slightly unhinged, occasionally sticky, and responded well to being stripped and given a light oiling.

Convinced that the fabled Lost Treasure of Eggsbury was concealed within the statue of the beloved Sister Mary Francis in the village square, Professor Smithee would steal away in the darkest hour of each night to try to silently chip away at her impervious granite vestments – a vain and fruitless nightly exercise, he well knew, but it was a hard habit to break.

Like a bird gliding over the surface of a Wyoming river rippled by a gentle Spring breeze, his hand passed over her stretch marks.

“They had their cynical code …

… worked out,” writes George Orwell, in Keep the Aspidistra Flying, about the employees of an advertising agency.

The Independent’s Johan Hari, about to be stripped of the writing prize that bears Orwell’s name, has his own cynical code, its writerly implications described by Guy Walters, who notes

… the 42 quotes in his ‘interview’ with Malalai Joya that Hari lifted from her ghosted autobiography; the 545 words plagiarised from the Daily Mail that Hari inserted into the mouth of his interviewee Ann Leslie; the lies about his Sky appearance with Richard Littlejohn; his fabrications and distortions of quotes in his prize-winning piece on Dubai; the startling familiarity of quotes in his interview with George Michael; his copy-pasting in his interview with Antonio Negri; his outrageously fabricated quotes for his piece on the Central African Republic; his quotes pinched from the New Yorker for his interview with Hugo Chavez; his alleged posting of unpleasant and defamatory comments online under the name of David Rose; his invention of names for interviewees whose quotes he had taken from Der Spiegel …

Beyond the plagiarism, UD has been struck by Hari’s lazy writing, the sort of writing a “tired hack …mechanically repeating … familiar phrases” produces. What would Orwell make, for instance, of Hari’s pointless attack on Prince Philip for having had the gall to turn ninety? Start with his pointlessly contemptuous and juvenile title:


SPARE ME THE FAWNING OVER ‘PRINCE’ PHILIP

No one fawned. The event barely registered.

And the marks around ‘prince’! Wow!

In the piece itself, a way-random series of hits on a man Hari ends by praising, Hari calls the monarchy “a snobbery-soaked institution” – precisely the sort of verbal political hackery Orwell hated.

Johann Hari …

… learns what an interview is (“[A]n interview is not just an essayistic representation of what a person thinks; it is a report on an encounter between the interviewer and the interviewee.”).

Give that man the Orwell Prize!

Similes drawn from the animal kingdom…

… win this year’s Bad Sex in Fiction Award.

This year’s winner of the Bad Sex in Fiction Award…

… will be named on November 29. While we wait, here’s one of this year’s judges on the sort of thing they’re looking for.

[Christos] Tsiolkas’s Booker-longlisted novel, The Slap, was cited for a passage in which two characters “fucked for ages” …

“It’s very repetitive,” he said, “the sheer laziness of saying ‘they fucked for ages’ is just one example of slack writing.”

The creator of the film ‘Bad Writing’…

… explains to an interviewer that he was a hideously bad writer until…


What turned you around?

Going to school was the big thing for me. I read voraciously but I don’t think I understood half of what I read. Taking a simple lit analysis class was eye-opening. I was able to see the technique that went into great writing. It’s more than drinking a lot and scowling.

College – at least college as it used to be, complete with lit analysis classes – can make a difference.

The Wall Street Journal article includes a clip from the film.

Here’s the film’s trailer.

Scathing Online Schoolmarm…

… enjoys this description of a bad book. The book is Dildo Cay, and the person describing it is Jonathan P. Eburne of Penn State.

It is so earnestly bad as to call its own existence into question… [The novel is] the product less of an unsteady hand than of a resoundingly tin ear, [with prose] so categorically graceless as to supersede camp and plunge straight into ontological confusion.

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