Go on, try and date me

I don't typically use this space to disparage other people's personal essays (though there was that post about the peach and the old baby spoon last year...after which, hilarity ensued). But the "On Language" column a week ago in the Sunday NYTimes magazine written by one, Jaimie Epstein, a (clearly) young fill-in for Safire, just can't pass without remark from me. And after discovering a new language blog (wishydig) where I came upon some appealing snarkiness
Epstein laments that there is no "12-step program for usage addicts." So she's addicted to usage? Well who isn't. I find I can't get through a single conversation without using usage.
I was prompted to finally give my two cents.

relates the perils and pratfalls of internet dating when one has an "excess language-sensitivity gene" and describes herself as "someone whose ear is as tuned to the pitch of language as a cellist’s is to music." The girl is, as they say, just asking for it. She gallops breathlessly through shakily relevant anecdotes, hackneyed turns of phrase and, ironically, egregiously bad word choices and images:
"a dribble of luck but gallons of patience"
"soothing rock and roll of the ocean crashing and uncrashing"
"‘skillful verbage’? Maybe he liked the way I threw my verbs around, but my nose picked up a whiff of “garbage.”
"Gallons of patience"? What the hell is "crashing and uncrashing"? And what about the unfortunate adjacency of "nose picked"? How this got into the Times (and mentioned on A&L !) is utterly beyond me. Unless it was a delightfully Machiavellian strategy by someone on the Magazine staff: we mete you out the rope in coveted column inches, you go hang yourself.

And now for my story.

In the dim past when I actually went on internet
dates I scrutinized language skills, too.
  • One misspelling was forgivable, two put you on notice.
  • "Their", "they're" and "there" confusion was cause for serious concern.
  • In person, infractions were more blatant. Not knowing a word that I'd considered rather common (not what we used call an "SAT word") could be grounds for dismissal. I once gave someone pause with the word fallow. My interest in the poor fellow slid into "a period of dormancy and inactivity."
  • Misusing a word was a much more serious crime. If you're whipping around mortified or, heavens, machinations you'd better have a license.
I completely admit to going to absurd extremes back in the day. Three random terms gathered over the course of several long-ago dates became a sort of (joking) mental incantation to, well, keep suitors away. Each of these came up (don't ask me how, they just did) and was met with utter blankness:

Anatolia, Huguenot, Fragonard

Mind you, I wasn't seeking an official definition, just a flicker of recognition. Maybe, kinda having heard the term before. I'm fully aware of the irony of my "testing" guys with arguably meaningless terms like Huguenot when I could fail a good many tests myself– not really knowing my Illiad from my Odyssey, and having perhaps not a full enough grasp on my Rove or my Wolfowitz.

And so, with (relative!) age comes wisdom and I've decided to call a truce. Technical proficiency with English, if it's your first language, really is a must in my book... BUT I'll overlook your Anatolia if you give me some leeway with my familiarity with NAFTA.
Now I'm going to go do some research on NAFTA...

Addendum: it's been brought to my attention (with great tact and restraint by one Tayt Harlin) that the title of this post should be "Go on, try TO date me." Well, yes strictly speaking! But as I repeated the words to myself obsessively the "try AND" sounded less stilted. Sort of snappily Rosalind Russell in "His Girl Friday." So I will stick with it, grammar be damned.

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