Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Around the Word

Today we take a look at the speeches of the past and the queries of the future:
Once the secretary to famed Kennedy speechwriter Ted Sorensen, Gloria Sitrin is something of an accidental political archaeologist: she's unearthed what appears to be the earliest surviving draft of President Kennedy's legendary Inaugural Address. "The draft allows us to see, in a new way, the evolution of the speech," writes Adam Frankel in The New Yorker.
Over the course of editing, Kennedy and Sorensen refocussed not only the content of the address, but also its phrasing, moving from what Frankle calls "the language of the campaign" to the diction of the oval office. And while many of the rhetorical stunners that went on to make history appear here--"Civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is subject to proof," for example--more interesting are the lines that failed to make the cut. "Risking while resisting a Walpurgis Night dance of hideous destruction and death," anyone?

During the pre-Internet dark ages, grammar questions were fielded by dictionaries, reference librarians, and The Elements of Style. And if those let you down? "Sure, there might be an expert with the answer somewhere, but how could you reach him or her?" muses lexicographer Erin McKean. Now, though, thanks to a proliferation of Q & A sites, experts (and "experts") are just a search term away.  In The Boston Globe, McKean breaks down the various options, from the "venerable" alt.usage.english to the buzzy new Quora.com. Do you use any of her picks? Where do you turn when you're in a punctuation pickle?

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