Sunday, April 27, 2008

The beer test

Unfortunately, most voters don’t take the trouble really to study the issues before chosing a presidential candidate. They decide based on their impression of the personality of the individual. Some say that the best way to gauge that would be to invite the person out for a beer.

Let’s see how this would work.

First Barack Obama. When it comes time to order at the bar he insists on having a glass of white wine. As a compromise he will accept a California vintage instead of the French one he actually prefers. When the glass arrives, he take only a tiny sip--that’s all. No way with this dude!

Hillary will be glad to accept the beer. This Bud’s for her! She takes a big gulp, and even orders a bourbon chaser. Yet after three hours the fluids remain largely untouched. Not because she doesn’t care for them, but because she has been talking nonstop about her policy solutions for America. She performs better than her suave opponent--but maybe not good enough.

Then there’s John McCain. He says he’s a teetotaler, and will drink only bottled water. But at the bar he learns that they carry his wife's label. He relents and has a beer after all. In fact he has several. As the effect of the alcohol increases, he flies into a rage and starts wrecking the bar. “This kind of thing may go on for a hundred years,” he cries. His aides arrive just in time, and mollify the bar’s owner with a hefty wad of hush money.

Way to go, John!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Matriliny and monogamy

It is generally acknowledged that the people of the Hebrew Bible were both patrilineal and polygamous. They reckoned identity and inheritance by the male line, and men--at least prominent men--commonly had several wives. Eventually the Jews abandoned these two priinciples. This abandonment is one of numerous ways in which modern Judaism is essentially a new faith, related only generically to its Biblical prototype.

Patriliny (also known as patrilineality or agnatic kinship) is a system in which one belongs to one's father's lineage; it generally involves the inheritance of property, names, or titles through the male line as well.

A patriline is a line of descent from a male ancestor to a descendant (of either sex) in which the individuals in all intervening generations are male. In a patrilineal descent system, an individual is considered to belong to the same descent group same as his or her father. This principle contrasts with the less common pattern of matrilineal descent.

In the world of the Hebrew Bible, the line of descent for monarchs and leading personalities was almost exclusively through the male. Tribal descent, such as whether one is a kohen or a Levite, is still inherited patrilineally in Judaism, as is communal identity as a Sephardi or Ashkenazi Jew.

The norm of patriliny was quite naturally maintained in Christianity, as seen in the genealogies of Jesus, which emphasize his David descent.

This situation contrasts with the rule for inheritance of Jewish status in the Normative Judaism of the Talmud, which is matrilineal.

The Talmud (Kiddushin 68b), in a stratum dating from the 4th-5th centuries, claims that the law of matrilineal descent derives from the Torah. The Torah passage (Deut. 7:3-4) reads: "Thy daughter thou shalt not give to his son, nor shalt thou take his daughter to thy son. For they will turn away thy son from following me, that they may serve other gods." To be sure, this interpretation of the Deuteronomy passage seems contestable. This view was anticipated in the Mishnah (Kiddushin 3:12), where it is stated that, to be a Jew, one must be either the child of a Jewish mother or a convert to Judaism. However, this interpretation did not become general until somewhat later. Despite the seeming support of Scripture, this stipulation of matriliny is an innovation that stands in stark contrast to the patriliny that pervades the Tanakh.

Thus, by the time of the emperor Justinian (527-565) the rabbis had come to believe that Scripture supported a neoteric practice that they had come to defend, namely matriliny. This view is the source of the common perception that “Jewish law” requires that a Jewish person be born of a Jewish mother.

Some scholars believe that this stipulation of matrilineal descent was enacted in response to intermarriage. Others say that the frequent cases of Jewish women being raped by non-Jews led to the law; how could a raped Jewish woman's child be considered non-Jewish by the Jewish community in which he or she would be raised? 

During the Middle Ages a minority stream of rabbinic opinion argued in theoretical terms for a rule that, to be Jewish by descent, both one's parents must be Jewish. In practical terms, however, the matrilineal rule remained unchallenged from Talmudic times until the twentieth century.

We turn now to the other reversal, that of polygamy. Polygamy means that one can have more than one wife, or in the case of women, more than one husband. In historical research, however, the term polygamy is generally employed to designate what is more properly termed polygyny. The traditional terminology will be followed here.

Scriptural evidence indicates that polygamy among the ancient Hebrews, though not extremely common, was not particularly unusual and was certainly not prohibited or discouraged. The Hebrew scriptures document approximately forty polygamists, including such prominent figures as Abraham, Jacob, Esau, and David. Their polygamy is taken as a matter of course, requiring little comment.

Polygamy continued to be permitted in Judaism well into the Middle Ages. Yet here are indications of disapproval among Ashkenazi Jews as early as the tenth century. Since the eleventh century, Ashkenazi Jews have followed the ban of Rabbenu Gershom. Since then monogamy has been the norm for them.

Why was this change instituted? Christian pressure undoubtedly had something to do with it, particularly since, under the impact of the Gregorian reforms, the Catholic clergy was insisting on more thorough adherence to sexual and family norms among the flock. The ban on polygamy among the Jews of Eastern Europe may also have reflected the relative scarcity of Jewish women. One could not allow a few alpha males to control more than their share of wives, especially in view of the rulings, a half-millennium before, that having a Jewish mother was a prerequisite for Jewishness.

This disapproval was slow to penetrate among Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews. Those of Yemen and Iran discontinued polygamy quite recently, as the emigrated to countries where it was forbidden. The ban on polygamy may have entered the Mediterranean Jewish world through the French regime in Algeria. There, a law of 1870 made the local Jews became French citizens, requiring that they follow the civil law of the French republic, which does not permit polygamy. Algerian Muslims retained their own laws and customs.

As we know, polygamy was the norm in classical Islam, at least for those who could afford it. While this custom may reflect in part Jewish precedent, it probably derives from the general prevalence of polygamy in the Middle East.

The situation was different in Early Christianity. Or was it? Most of the apostles had wives. Could some have had more than one? This is speculation, and the likelihood is that the circle of Jesus adhered to the official Roman insistence on monogamy.

In the nominally Christian Germanic kingdoms of western Europe, a kind of informal polygamy survived for a time, at least among the elite. Charlemagne had four wives and four concubines. Relations with the wives apparently did not overlap, but with the concubines they almost certainly did.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Experience versus theory

Suppose the following. A wonderful village has been found in a remote part of Greece. In that locale the inhabitants still speak pure ancient Greek. Oblivious to the influence of Christianity, these folk still honor the Olympian gods, to whom they offer appropriate sacrifices. They tell each other the old mythological stories, including some not previously recorded. From time to time, it is said, simple theatrical presentations, complete with masks and a chorus, are given at a hillside location.

What classicist in his right mind would not want to spend some time in this magical spot? Alas, it does not exist, and our knowledge of ancient Greece must still be pieced together in the traditional fashion, by pouring over the texts and examining archaeological finds.

Some hold that when it comes to the culture of the Bible, especially the Hebrew Bible, we do have the equivalent of such a village--in fact many such villages. These are the communities of Jewish Orthodoxy, where one can immerse oneself in an ethos and an atmosphere preserved without change from ancient times.

This is a fantasy. Not only are the dress and customs of today’s Orthodox Jews quite different from those revealed by texts and archaeological finds, but many other things as well. While the inhabitants have a book knowledge of Hebrew, they generally prefer to speak Yiddish among themselves. The pronunciation of their Hebrew is quite different from the ancient one, and they seek to clarify the meaning of terms with dubious etymologies. Most important of all, their understanding of the text of the Hebrew Bible is overladen with a vast amount of accretion. Much of this is not easily cast aside because it is held to belong to the Oral Torah, which counts as equal in authority with the Written Torah. So extensive is the new material that the sages and rabbis who created it have in essence rewritten the Bible.

A recent posting of mine offers a case in point. If one asks a rabbi at random about the attitude of Judaism to lesbianism, one is likely to hear that sexual relations among women are forbidden by the Torah. How can one know this? Well, the Sifra says so. As I indicated in my posting, the Sifra shows no such thing, Our hypothetical rabbi is simply wrong.

To be sure, another rabbi, more enlightened, might provide an answer similar to the one I have given. The point, though, is that one cannot know in advance whether one is getting an accurate interpretation of scripture or a later gloss.

In relation to my current task, the following would be the problem with the project of prolonged immersion in an Orthodox community. One would first have to take on an enormous amount of information, much of it doubtless of considerable intrinsic interest. At a second stage one would have thoroughly to flense this material in order to remove the mass of later accretions. Through this laborious process, possibly, one could approach the core of ancient Judaism.

There is an easier way. Since the middle of the nineteenth century scholars have labored, with much success, to find out what the ancient texts really mean. More recently, archaeology has supplied much precious information. It is this record that guides me in my effort to find the organic links between the Hebrew Bible, on the one hand, and the daughter collections known as the New Testament and the Koran, on the other, In order to do this, I need to study the original Hebrew Bible, as revealed by modern scholarship, and not the elaborate new construction devised by rabbinical Judaism. The latter has its own interest, but it is not the text that influenced the New Testament, with the two together influencing the Koran.

That being so, why should I trouble myself in any way with the material generated from the neo-Judaic religion that prevails among the Orthodox today? There are two answers. First, as seen in the case of the supposed prohibition of lesbianism, this later material has a way of intruding. The second reason is that the additional deposit of interpretation is sometimes of genuine, though tangential interest. It is new, but not altogether new. After all, the sages and scholars who created it were seeking to understand the texts as best they could. It is not their fault that we now have better tools. All things considered, though, the findings of modern scholarship are eminently preferable, especially if one is concerned, as I am, with an accurate delineation of intellectual history, eschewing anachronism.

PS A Jewish friend asks why, since I am interested in many things, I do not seek to increase my knowledge (clearly imperfect) of modern Judaism for its own sake. I trust that I will not give offense if I remark that, in my current mode, I am seeking to DECREASE my knowledge of modern Judaism. Such shrinkage is required for the purposes of my project, which looks to displaying ancient Judaism minus the accretions of the centuries.

To those who find that I am temperamentally incapable of understanding the Judaism of today, this intended abstention may count as a blessing. The question is whether I can keep to it.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Report card for Wayne Dynes

Recently a good friend, whose opinion I value highly, posed an apt question. He asked what I had accomplished over the last 18 years. (The base year is 1990, when the two-volume Encyclopedia of Homosexuality, the culmination of an effort stretching back a number of years, appeared.) Having reflected on the matter, I offer the following balance sheet.

1. Together with my personal assistant, Stephen Donaldson, I compiled a set of 13-volumes culling the best articles on the subject of homosexuality in a number of subject fields. Most of these volumes are still available (overpriced, to be sure) on Amazon. Many research libraries have them.

2. I supervised the compilation of the Concise Encyclopedia of Homosexuality, a task conducted by Donaldson with much new material. Owing to a dispute with the publisher, this work was not published. The texts will shortly be available on the Internet at

3. Returning to my parent academic field in the early 1990s, I completed a text of 1000 pages on “The History of Art History” (not, as often misperceived, a history of art but of the historiography of art). I submitted the completed text to various publishers, only to find it rejected for various reasons. Eventually, this text may go onto a site on the Internet.

4. Out of this vast text, I carved an abridgement known as the “Mind of the Beholder,” printed xerographically for my students. It is still being used by colleagues at Hunter College. A version of this text is available at

5. Encouraged by John De Cecco, editor of the Journal of Homosexuality, I began work on a multiauthored account of the gay pioneers, those who had made their mark before Stonewall. During my visits to Los Angeles in the 1970s I had interviewed a number of these people, and had become convinced that their work had not achieved proper recognition. Because of technical difficulties, I was unable to complete this book. With my consent it was taken over and carried to completion by Vern Bullough. Vern retained two pieces that I had written for the final volume, published by Haworth Press.

6. Two years ago I gave a post-retirement “gourmet” course on Symbolism at Hunter College. This was not limited to art, but sought to address the broad phenomenon of Symbolism as a cultural movement. The substance of the course is available, lecture by lecture, at

7. I created a similar semibook out of my course last year on Medievalism and Modernism. Although the subject has been studied piecemeal with reference to several countries, this is, to my knowledge, the first synthesis. The gist of the lectures is available at

8. For my personal blog,, I created almost 300 short essays on topics that have drawn my interest over the years. My current emphasis is the Abrahamic religions.

9. I will probably be best remembered for my homosexual trilogy--Homolexis; Homosexuality: A Research Guide; and the Encyclopedia of Homosexuality. After my retirement, I realized that the first of these was but tyro work. It needed to be redone from scratch. I had evolved a new way of understanding the origin and function of terms related to homosexuality. I saw them in the light of tropes, or guiding themes. This new work has a home at (be sure to use the “glossary” suffix).

It is clear, then, that I have not been idle over the last eighteen years. Still, in looking over this roster, I find that most of the activity clusters in the opening and closing years of the entire period. The years immediately around 2000 were, relatively speaking, barren. Why did this temporary slackening take place? First, I was trying to create the bases for a new life in retirement with the person I judged my life partner. Through no fault of my own, this relationship foundered three years ago. It was nonetheless an attempt worth making. In addition, like many older people, I was initially flummoxed by the new technology of the Internet. As I came abreast of this I was able to make contributions in the new medium.

I retired three years ago at the age of 70, though I return to the classroom occasionally. My renewed tempo of scholarly activity shows that I am still able to make contributions. I have not withdrawn from the fray.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Gold standard

I continue my current interest in critical examination of the Abrahamic religions. Here I offer a review of R. D. Gold’s fine new book “Bondage of the Mind: How Old Testament Fundamentalism Shackles the Mind and Enslaves the Spirit.” Mr. Gold is an American secular Jew, residing in the Bay Area, who is seeking to sound the alarm against the new aggressiveness (as he perceives it) of apologists for Jewish Orthodoxy. These scholars insist that the Torah, with all of its attendant superstition, intolerance, and outright absurdity, is uniformly the word of God. As such nothing can be subtracted from it. In Gold’s view, this doctrine makes these advocates fundamentalists, just as much as the Christian evangelicals who believe in the inerrancy of Scripture.

Some eyebrows will be raised at Gold’s retention of the term “Old Testament,” which most biblical scholars have discarded as imposing a Christian perspective on the Hebrew Bible or Tanakh. Perhaps the author is making a valid point, though, because the Jewish Orthodox writers regard their scriptures with the same unvarying reverence as evangelical Christians do. For the Orthodox it is their Old Testament. (The Oral Torah, which I have discussed elsewhere, is the Jewish New Testament.)

Gold is a concerned layman, not a professional biblical scholar. He cites only a few books. Yet he excels in two areas. First, his literary style is outstandingly clear and engaging. The book can be read--with much profit, I might add--in a sitting.

Secondly, and most crucially, he subjects the claims of the Orthodox writers to withering, unremitting scrutiny. His conclusions are stark. “[T[he evidence weighs heavily, very heavily, against the truth of Orthodox Judaism. If we apply the same principles of rational belief that we rely on in everyday life, it is difficult--I would say impossible--to reach any conclusion other than that the dogma of Orthodox Judaism is not true. It is false. . . . Far from being divine immutable law, the doctrines of Orthodox Judaism--like fundamentalist dogma everywhere--are an anachronistic absurdity in this day and age, and they spawn a pious ignorance that subverts independent thought.”

Gold also points out that archaeology has failed to confirm any of the key traditional claims of traditional biblical apologetics. Tellingly, he cites the Israeli archaeologist Ze’ev Herzog. “Following seventy years of intensive excavations in the Land of Israel ... this is what archeologists have learned. The patriarch’s acts are legendary, the Israelites did not sojourn in Egypt or make an exodus, they did not wander in the desert, and they did not conquer he land in a military campaign. Perhaps even harder to swallow is the fact that the united monarchy of David and Solomon, which is described in the Bible as a regional power, was at most a small tribal kingdom.” The only thing I would disagree with in this statement is the last. There is no evidence that David and Solomon ever existed.

If God was the author of the texts presenting these fictions, how could he have been so much in error? Or was he seeking simply purveying whoppers to deceive human beings? How naughty of you, Yahweh!

Gold also takes on the Orthodox dogma of the unique survival of the Jewish people, one of their main arguments for the Jews being God’s specifically chosen people. The argument takes this form: No people in history has suffered the way the Jews have. By any reasonable standard, the Jewish people should be extinct by now. Yet, not only have they miraculously survived the Holocaust, but, against all probability, they have returned to Israel and revived their ancient nation. So goes the litany.

And yet, as Gold points out, the survival of the Jewish people for thousands of years is scarcely the unique phenomenon the Orthodox like to claim that it is. The Basques, for example, have been around at least as long as the Jews have, if not considerably longer. In fact, the Basque presence in the Pyrenees predates recorded history. Recent genetic evidence indicates that they have survived in place for some forty thousand years, more than ten times the duration of an identifiable Jewish culture. (I am myself probably a descendent of the Basque diaspora.)

And of course there are many other instances of peoples surviving for millennia: the Parsis, the Armenians, the Latvians--to cite just three.

The Orthodox also assume that only the Torah assured the survival of the Jewish people. Yet the Basques, like many other survivor peoples, have no Torah. Rightly, Gold maintains that the Torah is secondary: it is the creation of the Jewish people, not the other way around.

Like me, Gold seeks to chart a middle course between the true believers, who swallow their Scriptures (whichever they are) whole, and such atheist absolutists as Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens, who see no benefit of any sort from religion. In order to recover the inherent spiritual values it is essential to identify and discount the vast quantities of dross--including admonitions that are sheer evil--that disfigure the celebrated texts. This dunging out is a vast undertaking, and one must look elsewhere for more detailed critical exegesis, verse by verse. Yet Gold has written an invaluable study. It is in fact his first book, and I look forward to reading more by him.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

When did Judaism begin to condemn lesbianism?

Most contemporary biblical scholars agree that the Hebrew Bible contains no condemnation of lesbian conduct. In Judaism the condemnation is sometimes traced to Sifra Acherei Mot 9:3. referencing Leviticus 18;3: “You shall not copy the practices of the land of Egypt.” (The Sifra is a collection of midrashic commentaries on the book of Leviticus, possibly contemporary with the earlier parts of the Talmud.).

This Torah passage, we are told, is glossed as a reference to lesbianism. Closer examination of the text reveals a different story. Here is what the midrash actually says: “And what did they do? One man marries another man, a woman marries a woman, and a man marries a woman and her daughter, and a woman marries two [men].”

The disapproval expressed in this Sifra passage is not directed against sexual conduct, but at four types of marriage: male-male, female-female, marriage of a man jointly with a woman and her daughter, and polyandry. (Note that polygyny, where one man takes several wives, was not opposed; it was normal in the Jewish world at the time.) An odd feature is the neglect of the one Egyptian practice that was in fact anomalous: brother-sister marriage.

We pause to note an intriguing possibility. As a rule one does not attempt to prohibit a practice that is rare or unknown, such as eating chalk or old newspapers. What is prohibited is behavior that is actually happening. Our society, for example, has unfortunate laws against the use of marijuana, not because of some remote possibility that someone, sometime might resort to the practice, but because people are actually doing it. The authorities want them to stop.

Political circumstances in the later Roman empire, when the midrash appeared, were notoriously turbulent. Under those circumstances it is possible that two Jewish men or two Jewish women might form a marriage-like union for mutual support and protection. As far as I know, this possibility has not been investigated.

Still, the main point about this midrash is that it deals only with forbidden forms of marriage, including marriage of women with women. It does not, as has sometimes been claimed, condemn sexual relations between women as such.

Passages occasionally cited from the Talmud are even less helpful. The ban on lesbian relations is clearly of later origin. The prohibition is sometimes traced to Maimonides (1135-1204), who (it is claimed) stipulated whipping as a punishment for lesbian conduct. However, Maimonides is also quoted as saying that the disapproval of female-female sexual relations reflects neither a biblical or rabbinical prohibition.

When then did the condemnation of lesbianism appear in Jewish tradition? So far I have not found any definitive answer to this question. The consolidation of the prohibition seems to have been a gradual process effected in relatively modern times.

Why did this process take place? First, there seems to be a tendency to analogize with male homosexuality, which is clearly condemned in Leviticus 18 and 20. However, the absolute parallel between lesbianism and male homosexuality--so often taken for granted nowadays--is relatively recent, dating from the second half of the nineteenth century.

My tentative conclusion is that the Jewish prohibition of lesbianism is an importation from non-Jewish, specifically Christian sources. In the later middle ages some scholastic sources condemned lesbianism. Beginning in the sixteenth century there is evidence of popular prejudice against female-female sexual relations.

Historically, normative Judaism (which began to take form in the third century C.E.) has been shaped both by opposition to, and imitation of Christianity. The prohibition of lesbianism would appear to be an instance of imitation.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

T. S. Eliot

First, a brief autobiographical prologue. Following the example of my biological father (who really was that mythical creature, a rocket scientist), I was oriented to the natural sciences as a child. While my contemporaries were reading “Dr. Dolittle” and “Lorna Dune,” I was immersed in science-fiction.

In due course, influenced by my stepfather, a writer of fiction and poetry, I decided to defect from science, switching to the humanities. But where to start? The zeitgeist--we are talking about the early ‘fifties--provided a ready answer. T.S. Eliot was a double-barrel instrument in two senses. First he produced a compact, but sometimes powerful corpus of modernist poetry. Alongside this creative work, stood his criticism, ranging from Dante through the Elizabethan and Jacobean dramatists to John Donne. Eliot was a dual threat in another sense. While consummately modern, or so it seemed, he also stressed the importance of tradition--humanity’s heritage (at least in the West).

After Eliot’s death in 1965 a severe reaction set it. In part this shift reflected a rejection of the formalism of the New Critics, who had championed Eliot’s work. Other writers focused on his social writings, and his anti-Semitism. Some observers felt that the anti-Semitism (well-documented in Anthony Julius’ book) was a symptom of a larger fear of life, sometimes verging on inhumanity.

The ‘eighties witnessed renewed interest, much of it biographical. In an codicil added to his will, Eliot had sought to discountenance the writing of any biography. Why? One could say that this wish simply reflected the poet’s insistence on the ideal of impersonality. However, it may be that Eliot had something to hide. Much of his life was haunted, it is fair to say, by his 1915 marriage to Vivienne Haigh-Wood, a mentally disturbed woman.

This relationship was the focus of the London stage play “Tom & Viv” t(1984), turned into a movie ten years later (with Willem Dafoe, an unfortunate choice to impersonate the poet).

Others sought to document more fully Eliot’s American background, which (they believed) was formative. This approach figures in James E. Miller, Jr.’s “T. S. Eliot: The Making of an American Poet, 1888-1822” (2006). Of particular interest is Miller’s attempt to pin down the writer’s sexuality. For a long time those of us who are attuned to such things have been getting gay vibes from Eliot. While Miller has unearthed some suggestive clues, I don’t think that he has actually settled the matter.

I have just finished reading Lawrence Rainey's short book, "Revisiting The Waste Land," which strikes me as the most important TS Eliot publication in recent years. (I have not consulted the companion Yale volume, reprinting ten pieces written contemporaneously by TSE; this seems less essential.)

The foundation of Rainey's study is bibliographical in the technical sense, an effort to discern the rather disparate genealogy (the "strata") of the poem by identifying the typewriters (three) and types of paper. His more substantive conclusion is that the poem demonstrates a greater degree of histrionics, violence, and incoherence (the latter a positive quality singled out by Conrad Aiken as a strength) than previous interpreters have allowed. He is scornful of Westonian Grail approach, and especially of the rereading in terms of the neoclassicism that Eliot attained only in 1927 and after. Rainey particularly excoriates an essay of Cleanth Brooks of 1937. In the main, though, the study is a kind of archaeology of the years 1917-22.

I find all this convincing. What I miss in Rainey's account is that both faces of the Eliot of the 1920s are to be traced to Paris in the early part of the decade. These were the years in which Dada was morphing into Surrealism (with strong affinities with the "oneiric" qualities of “The Waste Land”), as well as the emergence of its opposite, the neoclassicism of Cocteau's manifesto “Le Rappel a l'ordre” and the contemporary works of Igor Stravinsky.

By way of a postscript I wonder whether Eliot’s “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats” (the source for the long-running Broadway musical) could not have been derived, at least indirectly, from the tour de force of the Japanese novelist Soseki Natsume, first published a hundred years ago. In this amusing novel a cat offers sardonic comments on human beings and also about an array of other cats.


Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Mangled pronunciation

Bush continues to mispronounce the word nuclear as “nucular.” I am sure that he has been alerted to this gaffe by his advisors many times. But he pays no heed. In its small way, this stubbornness is emblematic of the arrogance and folly of a man who has done more to damage the United States than anyone I can remember.

It is a curious fact, though, that many who wince at “nucular” insist on inserting an extra ‘n’ in the term that by convention has come to describe the whole talking class, so tha they say “pundints,” a sad distortion of a venerable Sanskrit term.

I am notoriously not a Hispanophile, but I can’t help but be astonished at how little our newscasters care to learn the proper pronunciation of Spanish words. This evening I heard the city named for a distinguished Mexican president called “warEZZ.” In reality the stress should be on the first syllable, the initial “j” needs to be sounded (as “h”), and there is no “z” sound in Spanish. The final letter must be pronounced as “s.” That’s three mistakes in a simply Spanish name.

“No problemo,” you may say. Exactly. The correct word is “problema,” ending in "a." It is of the masculine gender because it is derived from Greek. Idiots!