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Column One

The mail

By Paul Greenberg

This article was published August 3, 2014 at 2:18 a.m.

Dear Unhappy with Me,

It was wholly a pleasure to get your email raking me over from stem to stern. Thanks, I needed that. Your detailed message got my juices flowing and allowed you to let off steam. Which strikes me as a mutually satisfactory arrangement.

At one point, you urge me to follow the lead of one of my (many) heroes, Walker Percy, the last gentleman himself, and go easier on the politicians who tend to take the brunt of our editorials.

It occurs to me that you may never have read some of Dr. Percy's more biting essays, including what may be the most widely circulated letter to the editor that the New York Times declined to publish, or even acknowledge receiving. That was the one pointing out the unwholesome antecedents and all too clear consequences of making abortion not only legal but a kind of secular sacrament.

That he was a gentleman only sharpened Walker Percy's criticism of the decadent society he saw a-borning all around him, and that by now has reached aggressive adolescence, with everything from traditional marriage to religious liberty in its sights.

You may also have missed Walker Percy's definitive evisceration of NPR and its regular feature, This I Believe, a program that might best be described as a compilation of platitudes trying to pass itself off as philosophy. Platitudes like: "I believe in people. I believe in tolerance and understanding between people. I believe in the uniqueness and the dignity of the individual--Everyone on This I Believe believes in the uniqueness and dignity of the individual. I have noticed, however, that the believers are hardly unique themselves, are in fact like peas in a pod." And they may be so nice they insist that the rest of us be just as nice in just the same uniform way. Or else.

The only disappointing aspect of your fine email, Dear Unhappy, which is a perfect example of so many that find their way to me, is that, when I asked permission to use it as a letter to the editor, generically nice as you are, you declined. Because: "I don't do Letters to the Editor, as I don't care to be identified." Why? Even if your letter draws some criticism, much like my columns, you might learn something from your critics. I do.

Here's hoping you'll yet decide to come and jump in the (hot) water someday. It can be invigorating.



Dear Fan,

It was wholly a pleasure to get your fan letter. Which may be why I hasten to respond to your one request: "I do have one question for you," you write. "In emails I have several times been given an opportunity to 'like' you on social media, or link up with you on Linkedin. Or it may be to 'friend' you on something or another . . ." and so why, you ask, do you never hear from me?

Because I don't do Linkedin or other "social media," having more than enough to occupy my meager talents churning out editorials and columns. Not to mention dealing with cries of outrage from irate readers. As well as well-reasoned criticisms from readers who have a point.

And, no, I don't have a blog. Heck, I don't even have a cell phone, let alone a whole array of apps to insulate me from everything that's going on around me, like passing panhandlers and God's blue sky.

Just sign me


Dear Stickler,

It was wholly a pleasure to hear from another Alert Reader, in your case alert to the finer and more formal points of English grammar. Are you sure you're not my old high school English teacher reincarnated?

Having noted my passing reference to some of Jeb Bush's grammar--let's just say it can be informal at times--you have a nit of your own to pick. With me. Namely, my having written a sentence like "The crazies in their party seem to have got them buffaloed." Getting out your red pencil, you explain that the grammatically correct phrase should have been "have gotten them buffaloed." Which strikes my ear as less grammatical than stilted. But that's what makes horse races and debates about the language.

But you might could be right. That's another usage some might find objectionable. How do you like them apples, or rather double modals? In my younger days, I was even tempted to try a triple modal or two in friskier moments. Without a safety net.

Thank you, sir. I've enjyed it, as the old folks back home used to say. Which brings up another whole field of delightful contention, the use of dialect in print. Whenever we risk it, we're bound to hear from more formal types. The sort who would object to starting a conversation or even a book with an example of atrocious grammar like this one:

"You don't know about me, without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, but that ain't no matter. That book was made by Mr. Mark Twain, and he told the truth, mainly. There was things he stretched, but mainly he told the truth. . . ."

If only my columns were as readable as Sam Clemens' Huckleberry Finn, and as truthful, give or take a few stretchers. Would you believe that not only was I exposed to such subversive language as an innocent child, but was required to read that book in a graduate course in American literature? Now some have proposed censoring Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn as unfit for children. Where will it all end--in a language as grammatically sanitized as our society is now politically correct?

Thank you for your indulgence, sir. I do tend to get carried away by words and their use or misuse, depending on your preferences, which in my case can amount to convictions.

You be well and keep sticklin',

Inky Wretch

Paul Greenberg is editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. E-mail him at:

Editorial on 08/03/2014

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