Kelli Gemmer WEPO MW 2-3:15 SRR 3 Wallace I have encountered David Foster Wallace’s writing before and am somewhat pleased to be reading another article of his. The only thing that drives me nuts about his writing is his excessive use of footnotes. Last week in my contemporary literature class I read “The Host” by Wallace, about a talk-show radio host. Half page of each page of the article was covered in paragraph long footnotes, distinguished by different colors. My professor then showed us a book of his where some footnotes were so long, they took up an entire page. An example in this article is on page 41 when he describes in a half page footnote about snoots. Nevertheless, he makes reading about the most boring of subjects, entertaining, through his quirky comments and comical tone. For example, he explains that the people who will most appreciate Garner’s Dictionary of Usage are the people who need it the least. He also has comical interjections, like the Super 8 motel chain being ignorant of the word suppurate. Wallace makes it blatantly obvious what his article is about by naming one of the section titles “Thesis Statement for Whole Article” (41). In the first line, he tells us that his thesis is “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’”. He relates this “Democratic Spirit” to usage by explaining that there are no correct answers and that things have to be worked out instead of simply found like in a science textbook (42). This, in short, is what The Dictionary of Modern American Usage entitles: a record of one trying to find answers to very difficult questions. It is not a textbook nor is it a bible, just simply a way for people to increase their knowledge. This willingness is explained by Wallace as Democratic Spirit. Garner, according to Wallace, is aware of the “Authority Crisis” in modern usage and responds to this crisis through rhetor. Another key point that Wallace establishes is that The Dictionary of Modern American Usage lexicographical and rhetorical. In this Democratic Spirit of usage, there are likewise two groups, like in politics. The conservatives are known as Prescriptivists while the liberal linguists are referred to as Descriptivists. Descriptivists believe in adapting language to the change as affected by society in spoken language, like adding slang terms to the usage dictionary. Prescriptivists, on the reverse spectrum, believe in standard written language. While trying to explain the extremities of these two groups, Wallace reveals that there is a medium between the two, where there are various dialects other than Standard Written English and the ability to use both of these is of utter most importance. Wallace is the master of this skill because in his writing, his is able to use correct SWE while weaving in modern spoken language. Wallace regards The Dictionary of Modern American Usage as genius, although it is not perfect. He manages to take his voice out of the text and make it simply educational without being opinionated. He “does not deploy irony or scorn or caustic wit, nor tropes or colloquialisms or contractions ... or really any sort of verbal style at all” (57). Wallace claims that this book solves the “Usage Wars Crisis of Authority” which took up a significant section of his article. He describes this book as both “a collection of information and a piece of Democratic rhetoric” (58). The thesis of Garner’s work is that the expert’s language and the reader’s language become identical, correcting this usage war and crisis of authority.
Published on Dec 7, 2011