Tense Present Democracy, English, And The Wars Over Usage

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Summary of “Tense Present Democracy, English, and the Wars over Usage” Published in April of 2001 by Harper’s Magazine, David Foster Wallace’s essay is both a review of A Dictionary of Modern Usage by Bryan A. Garner and an interjection into the present day “Usage Wars.” Wallace’s thesis for his essay is stated after a list of grammatical errors that are overlooked on a daily basis and a few paragraphs defining SNOOT. His thesis states, “Issues of tradition vs. egalitarianism in U.S. English are at root political issues and can be effectively addressed only in what this article hereby terms a “Democratic Spirit.” A Democratic Spirit is an attitude a person can have only by being fervent in his/her beliefs while also recognizing and respecting the beliefs of another. After sorting out what constitutes a Democratic Spirit and how to maintain such an attitude the author questions who has the authority to write a dictionary and, thus, determine which words go into the book and which words are left on the wayside. Wallace praises Garner for his “full discloser” statement, which acknowledges Garner’s principles and gives background information to his text. Next, in his essay, Wallace notes Garner’s use of Ethical Appeal. The use of ethos, Wallace says, is refreshing because it is hardly ever used in dictionary. Most dictionaries are political battle ground in a war that is fought between the Prescriptivists (linguistic conservatives) and the Descriptivists (linguistic

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