Jewish World Review May 23, 2014 / 23 Iyar, 5774
The great bobwhite question, or: In defense of the American vernacular
By Paul Greenberg
What's happening to all the bobwhite quail
Yes, the bobwhite quail may look like a quail, sound like a quail, even be a quail, but it is not a bobwhite quail because there is no such thing. And I now have the testimony of a Certified Wildlife Biologist to prove it -- in writing and complete with signature, officious tone and bureaucratic exactitude.
To quote Mr.
That's telling us. Mr. Davis' letter to the editor was the kind that makes a fella want to stand up and cheer, like a hard right-to-the-body in a heavyweight title bout at
This is scarcely the first time I've been accused, and thoroughly convicted, of linguistic malpractice. Years ago, I made the common mistake of referring to those little pin oak leaves that fall by the bushel in, appropriately enough, the fall, as, yes, pin oak leaves. You know the ones if you're from around here. They get into every corner, cranny and crack of your house, or even person. They may look like, behave like, and generally proliferate like pin oak leaves, but they're really something else, as I was promptly informed by a tree-ologist of some certified sort. Just what they really are, we've now forgotten, but those pin oak leaves are definitely not pin oak leaves, and we were duly rebuked.
It was a rebuke we still hold dear. Like finding out, thanks to some scholar of English literature, that the shorter Pepys was actually written by the longer Pepys. Or having a classicist reveal that the epic sagas of Homer weren't written by Homer at all but by another blind Greek of the same name. Gentle Reader can only imagine my chagrin. What next? Are the winged scavengers we in our rustic innocence here in
Something must be done about the plethora of common errors that now mark the decline of Western civilization. Happily, there is no shortage of certified experts, with or without degrees, to correct the uninformed and irresponsible rest of us, much like the dear lady at every bridge game who corrects everybody else's pronunciation. Or the discreet censors who publish those politically correct, New and Improved versions of "Huckleberry Finn."
Somewhere in her thoroughly Southern, and thoroughly colloquial, letters to friends, which now stand as works of art themselves,
Once again I feel wholly inadequate to the task at hand. It would take a
When and if I ever reform -- would Never be soon enough? -- I might be able to pass as one of those newspapers whose language is so indistinctive it could be published anywhere in the country.
It's happening all over the country -- and it's a big country with a big variety of vernaculars, from Texican to Cajun to Phil'ian to Brooklynese and so fascinatingly on, including Arkansawan. I'd hate to lose a single one of them, just as I'd hate to lose the distinctive upspeak of the bob-WHITE! bob-WHITE!
But perhaps one day a combination of speech therapists and certified wildlife biologists will be assigned to correct its chirp, too, just as enlightened social reformers were once dispatched throughout the South to "correct" the black dialect, now known as African-American Vernacular English, or AAVE. What a loss that would be, and not just for black folks.
Allow me to propose a reasonable compromise: Our certified wildlife biologist would remain free to call the bobwhite quail anything he likes -- it's his right under the First Amendment -- and with his kind permission (or even without) I'll continue to use the common terms and common language of this small, wonderfully colorful state. A deal?
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Paul Greenberg is the Pulitzer prize-winning editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
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