"The Americans," Walt Whitman predicted, will be "the most fluent and melodious-voiced people in the world -- and the most perfect users of words." \nWhile we wince as Tony Soprano wields a single Chaucerian vulgarity as noun, verb, adjective and adverb, it is easy to wonder over the poet's wisdom. Perhaps, however, wishful Walt did anticipate something terribly prevalent in the American character: our poignant desire to sound genteel, our sincere pursuit of stylish pronunciation, our flirtation with the fancy. \nAnd with the French. We are convinced that the French are haughty, stinky and perverse, and we deplore their government's unreliability as an ally. But we go gaga over their language. We call our coffeehouses "caf?s" and our dress shops "boutiques." We don't have drivers; we have "chauffeurs." (These words we pronounce perfectly, just as we do rendezvous, coup d'?tat, derri?re and m?nage ? trois.) \nTo name the galaxy of intimate female apparel, we adopted the French word lingerie. But its pronunciation we utterly mangle. (The vendeuse in Galeries Lafayette in Paris has no idea what the "lawn-zheray" department is.) To do it right, we need simply take our own "tangerine," replace the "t" with an "l" and drop the second "n." Voila! But instead, we came up with a bastardized pronunciation that seems to sound more Gallic. \nIt is probably the soup?on of nasalizing in the first syllable of lingerie that undermines our saying it correctly. (Ditto with ing?nue.) But how do we explain our bungling of that final syllable? Could it be that the sound of the French "?" with an acute accent has a certain cachet? \nPerhaps it was this yearning for classiness that caused Senator John Warner, just before the second Gulf War, to tell the CNN broadcaster Wolf Blitzer (a killer superhero name wasted on a mortal) that the "US military found a cachet of Iraqi weapons." \nOur rendering of "lingerie" would be understandable were we simply to Anglicize it, rhyming the first syllable with "tin" and the last with "tea." (This is how my Argentine ex-husband pronounces the word. He also accents the first syllable and -- sans logic -- uses a hard "g." The charming result in no way contributed to our divorce.) \n"Whence," though a term many editors deem arcane, is still in vogue. We reach for its high-minded sound, but in so doing often spoil its elegant shorthand by adding the redundant "from." \nLate US president John F. Kennedy, during a 1962 speech in Newport, Rhode Island stated: "We are tied to the ocean from whence we came." \nRoger Morris, when discussing his book Partners in Power, said: "They obviously didn't know from whence [former US president] Bill Clinton came." \nOnly Adelaide really gets away with it, when in Guys and Dolls she sings: "Take back your mink to from whence it came." \nIn our earnest striving for finesse, we sometimes embellish simple words, adorning them with extra syllables. \n"Genetical" and "melodical" feel more sonorous, less blunt, than their cleaner, three-syllabled selves. \nAn MSNBC anchor, speaking early this year of a possible war with Iraq, said: "Considering the dangerousness of the situation..." \nA few days later, an ABC newsman reported that "donators are giving over US$100 million of their Matisse collection to the Met." \nAnd on PBS, Charlie Rose, in a discussion of Dolly, the first cloned sheep, was searching for the tag to identify a bioethicist's field of study. The allure of the deluxe bioethicist was so great that rather than whittle back to bioethics, Rose grafted on, uttering "bioethicism." \nMyriad such utterances occur in print and on television, not least of them the misuse of the stylish "myriad." In late 2002, for example, Leon Panetta, the former Clinton chief of staff, told Blitzer of "a myriad of possibilities" for a new economics team. \nWe are often lured to the chichi sounds of plural nouns because we perceive the correct forms as vulgar. We react to a "stimuli," observe a "phenomena" and declare: "This criteria..." \nBill Clinton, in a commencement address, turned to JFK Jr. and said: "I understand that you're an alumni." \nThese errors result from our solemn desire to sound highbrow. But our misuse of the plurals threatens to bring about the extinction, in English, of the singular suffixes of Latin and Greek. \nThe impulse to sidestep coarseness produces "from everyone but you and I," with "I" seeming more polished than "me." \nOur horror of appearing uncouth leads us all -- kings and commoners alike -- to opt for the ubiquitous adverb instead of the terse, accurate adjective. "This perfume smells strongly," we say, or "The fish tasted strangely." \nWhen asked how he felt about life on other planets, Carl Sagan said, "I feel passionately about it." \nOne such construction is used so frequently that examples abound. Ben Bradlee of The Washington Post, discussing Jacqueline Kennedy's refusal to speak to him after Dallas, said, "I felt badly about that." \nEven Hemingway, master of the taut, wrote in A Moveable Feast: "I felt badly that Ford had been rude to him." \nNot one of the above, be assured, was bemoaning difficulty with his sense of touch. \nWe've borrowed again from the French to name a specific item of lingerie: the brassiere. We may abbreviate the word in the US, but the French have abandoned it altogether (especially on the Cote d'Azur). In France, a woman's undergarment for supporting the breasts is called a soutien-gorge, literally "throat-sustaining." \nSpeaking of "bras," have you ever met a yoga teacher who doesn't instruct her students -- once they've achieved shoulder stands -- to come down from their inverted positions "very, very slowly, one vertebrae at a time"? \nJerelle Kraus, an art director at The New York Times, is writing a book about Op-Ed pages and their art.
President-elect Biden and his team soon will confront a raging pandemic, a severe economic crisis, demands for progress in addressing racial injustices, intensifying climate-induced crises, and strained relations with allies and partners in many parts of the world. They will be oriented to view China as America’s greatest geostrategic challenge, but not the most immediate threat to the health and prosperity of the American people. Amidst this daunting inheritance, US-Taiwan relations will stand out as a bright spot, an example of progress that should be sustained. There are strong reasons for optimism about the continued development of US-Taiwan relations in the
Beijing’s imposition of the Hong Kong National Security Law and a number of other democratic and human rights issues continue to strain relations between the UK and China. The tense situation has significantly decreased the likelihood of British Royal Navy ships being able to continue their practice of docking in Hong Kong’s harbor for resupply — a not altogether unpredictable development. In a Nov. 19 online speech to parliament, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that the HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier would next year lead a British and allied task group to the Mediterranean, Indian Ocean and East Asia. Johnson
Americans tend to think of Vietnam as a war that split the US rather than as a country in today’s world. Vietnamese are of course way past that. The country does not have any US Electoral College votes, but if it did, they would be cast enthusiastically for US President Donald Trump. When I told a group of university students at a park in Ho Chi Minh City that I was from the US, they asked: “Do you know why we love Trump?” “Uhhh, is it because he hates China?” I asked back. “Yeah,” the group responded in unison. With a 1,000-year history of
China’s Taiwan Affairs Office on Wednesday announced that Shih Cheng-ping (施正屏), a retired National Taiwan Normal University professor, who Beijing says is a spy, had been sentenced to four years in prison for espionage crimes. The news followed last week’s announcement by Beijing that it is compiling a “wanted list” of pro-independence “Taiwan secessionists” that would be used to “punish” those blacklisted under its national security laws. Taken together, the announcements show that Beijing’s Taiwan policy under Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) is becoming increasingly erratic, uncoordinated and poorly thought out, which raises serious questions about Xi’s leadership ability. Shih went missing