Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Steven Pinker, name-caller

Steven Pinker in The Sense of Style:

slinging around insults like simplistic , naïve , or vulgar , does not prove that the things the person is saying are false. Nor is the point of disagreement or criticism to show that you are smarter or nobler than your target.
Steven Pinker in The Atlantic :
Nathan Heller’s an ignoramus.
Again with the name-calling. This epithet joins a lengthy catalogue of epithets that appear in The Sense of Style: “anal-retentives,” “faultfinders,” “the Gotcha! Gang,” ”grammar nannies,” and so on.

What Heller says (about the sentence “It was he”) is mistaken. Pinker is right about that. But again with the name-calling, which violates The Sense of Style ’s fifth and final piece of advice (quoted above) about what’s really important in writing.

I have no idea if Pinker has read my review of his book. If he has, he hasn’t called me an ignoramus, at least not publicly. But then unlike Heller, I don’t write for The New Yorker. (Also, I’m not an ignoramus.)

I’ll quote my post on bad advice and misinformation: “It’s easier to persuade someone that what you’re saying is true and useful if you can keep from calling them stupid.” Or better still: “It’s easier to persuade someone that what you’re saying is true and useful if you can keep from thinking that they’re stupid.”

Related posts
Bad advice and misinformation
Pinker on Strunk and White
Steven Pinker’s The Sense of Style

[Yes, I realize that the post title is an instance of name-calling.]

comments: 4

Anonymous said...

As best I understand name-calling from the perspective of my too-many years on this planet, name-calling is asserting something pejorative which is factually incorrect. Thus for slander and libel laws, when one proves an accusation to be accurate, it is not adjudged name-calling. Alas that so many seemingly well educated people resort to name-calling rather than citations and proofs suggests that rigor is absent, at the minimum. You have not been guilty of name-calling, but guilty of saying something accurate, which as best I can tell these days is a far worse offence. Keep it up, sir! Best wished for the new year.

Michael Leddy said...

Thanks for your good wishes, Anon. I hope 2015 is a good year for us all.

Daughter Number Three said...

I have finally gotten a copy of Garner's Modern American Usage after reading your mentions of him over the years. Reading his couple of references to Pinker's castigations in his earlier book is enlightening.

Michael Leddy said...

He’s the best, really.