Friday, January 16, 2009


Two of my favorite popular artists died today, John Mortimer and Andrew Wyeth. Mortimer was the creator of one of those indestructible characters who survive their own begettors and the books they were put in--like Tarzan and Sherlock Holmes and Superman. But he was more than that. He was a lawyer who stood for the best thing--law as a bulwark for the protection of civil liberties, a personal rebuttal to the lawyer joke. And one admires Wyeth for the same reasons one admired Frost: he wanted to go his own way and stand against the tide of the prevailing aesthetic and produce what he thought was great art. From my perspective--that of someone whose aesthetic in painting is congruent with Tom Wolfe's The Painted Word--he succeeded.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Hoi polloi

Dear World:

Please stop writing "the hoi polloi." "Hoi" means "the." The "the" is thus redundant.

The Arbiters of Style disagree with me on this. One representatively writes,

Hoi polloi is Greek for “the common people,” but it is often misused to mean “the upper class” (does “hoi” make speakers think of “high” or "hoity-toity"?). Some urge that since “hoi” is the article “the hoi polloi” is redundant; but the general rule is that articles such as "the” and “a” in foreign language phrases cease to function as such in place names, brands, and catch phrases except for some of the most familiar ones in French and Spanish, where everyone recognizes “la"—for instance—as meaning “the.” “The El Nino” is redundant, but “the hoi polloi” is standard English.


They disagree, but they're wrong. And their argument, which seems to be that redundancy is acceptable when people don't recognize it, will fail completely as soon as we properly educate everyone. So stop some folks on the street today, on the elevator, at your local DazBog, and tell them, " `Hoi' means `the,' you know."

Thank you.


P.S. On the other hand, everyone in Santa Fe, natives, tourists, and employees alike, calls the famous hotel there "The La Fonda." Sometimes, piling Pelion upon Ossa, they call it "The La Fonda Hotel."