Sunday, May 8, 2011


We tend to be loose with our grammar these days, as though it were more decorative than functional. I came across an amusing example of why grammar sometimes does count in yesterday's New York Times. It was in Joe Nocera's column, You Call That Tough?, where the Manhattan-based US Attorney Preet Bharara is damned with faint praise for bringing a case against Deutsche Bank in which all those ultimately responsible--the executives who perpetrated the alleged fraud--are spared criminal indictment. "Every lie is not a crime," Bharara reportedly responded, when asked why no criminal charges had been brought. What he intended to say was, clearly, "Not every lie is a crime."

I wonder if the attorney's sloppiness with language is a reflection of the lack of clear focus and intention in the case he brought? Does the slip betray some deeper inattention or indifference to, um... the truth?

Is it picayune to draw attention to such lapses in the use of the English language? Not, in my opinion, when they distort meaning in the way this one does. I'm sure that readers will find some such grammatical errors (and certainly typos!) in The Buddha Diaries, but I do work pretty carefully to avoid the worst of them. And this one reminds me that it's important to be vigilant, even with language.

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