Jacques Barzun (pictured), who died last month at the age of 104, was known worldwide as a bastion of clear English. Yesterday the Boston Globe published an article about what Mr. Barzun was doing to protect the language during the last days of his life.
The article states:
In 1964, he was named to the usage panel of the newly announced American Heritage Dictionary. This September, the dictionary editors sent a special questionnaire to Barzun, their oldest surviving panelist.Later, the article states:
In October, when it was announced that Barzun had died, the American Heritage editors figured they would never get the questionnaire back. But his daughter found it on his desk, in a pile of unfinished business, and sent it in. He had completed all but two questions, with terse responses in a shaky hand. The questionnaire reveals a language curmudgeon fiercely protecting the clarity of English well past becoming a centenarian.
The questionnaire is a time capsule of sorts, a reminder of the central role that Barzun played in the 20th-century American conversation about English. But it also speaks to how far that conversation has progressed. In some ways, his death marks the passing of a classically informed view of language as a barometer of human nature, and the last bulwark against its decline. “Words are not simply the casual containers and carriers of thoughts and feeling, but their incarnation,” he once wrote.The Takeaway: Please read the Boston Globe article. It thoughfully reveals Mr. Barzun’s deep love of English and his persistent efforts to arrest its decline. I also urge you to read Simple & Direct, his concise book on grammar and usage. He said the goal of the book was to “resensitize the mind to words.” That is something that every serious writer must do.