Sunday, September 09, 2007

Catching Flak

Ann Althouse takes Josh Marshall to task for his sloppy writing in this post.

Marshall, who writes the
Talking Points Memo, put up a wordy, bloviating post commenting on Osama bin Laden's recent video. At one point, Marshall says he's sure he'll take some "flack" for adopting a mocking attitude on Osama.

Althouse, noting there's been a lot of right-wing discussion of Obama's latest release, takes a different tack with Marshall, who's a lefty blogger:

From me, you're going to first catch flak for writing "catch flack."

“Flak” is WW II airman’s slang for shells being fired at you in the air, so to catch a lot of flak is to feel in danger of being shot down. However, most civilians these days have never heard of “flak,” so they use “flack” instead, which originally meant “salesman” or “huckster.” You need to worry about this only if you’re among old-time veterans.
When you're showing off your expertise about fighting a war, you ought to get your war imagery right. A flack is a press agent. Hacks -- "writer[s] hired to produce routine or commercial writing" -- know more about flacks and not so much about flak, but they need to try not to let it show.
Marshall also spouted some condescending riffs on the comparative coherence of "9th tier" bloggers and drunken bagmen "talking about fascism and Texas oil barons before they get overcome by the shakes or decide to start collecting more aluminum cans."

To this, Althouse remarks on Marshall's absence of crisp, clean prose. She says she gets irked when reading judicial opinions that dredge up the fusty old 19th-century judicial style:

So when a blogger -- who has so much more reason to write in a crisp, modern style -- uses that expression, it means so much more. It is beyond sheer pretension, beyond fusty old gasbaggage, beyond revolting and irksome. It's not surprising that Marshall goes on to write in a weird pseudo-archaic style with locutions like "he well captured the way" and "the world in which we now live" and jocose, verbose images like "a 9th tier blogger or one of those whacks sitting on a stoop in Union Square talking about fascism and Texas oil barons before they get overcome by the shakes or decide to start collecting more aluminum cans."

And by the way, I can understand slamming bloggers, but the assumption that there are tiers of bloggers is awfully hierarchical, especially coming from Marshall, who is, of course, a first tier blogger. Why the snobbery? Plenty of bloggers with small audiences write very well and convey subtle thinking. How liberal-minded is it to look down on people with less traffic? And what sort of liberal sneers about mentally ill street people?
Check the comments to that post as well. I mentioned that some of us bloggers in the lower tiers might be wise to keep a copy of Strunk and White handy!

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