I had no intention of writing about Safire again so soon, really I didn’t. I skimmed Sunday’s column with as little attentiveness as possible and moved on to the Ethicist. But two of my readers have drawn my attention to two different passages, and I guess I’ll saddle up and do battle once again.
He begins with his typical roundup of vaguely related terminology, in this case terms allegedly borrowed by bloggers from “the MSM — that’s the superannuated, archaic mainstream media.” These include genuine items like sidebar and spurious ones like this: “Even the reporter’s byline, that coveted assertion of journalistic authorship, has been snatched by the writers derogated as ‘guys in pajamas’ and changed to bye-line, an adios or similar farewell at the end of the blogger’s politely expressed opinion or angry screed.” (Raise your hand if you’ve ever seen or heard the latter term… I thought so. But somebody obviously thinks it’s clever.)
But what my correspondent took particular issue with was this:
A ping is not just the word for a sound anymore. It is also an acronym for “packet Internet gopher,” a program that tests whether a destination is online and can also be the gently noisy notification sent when a blog needs updating or has been updated.
In the latest “On Language”, Safire informs us that the Internet usage of “ping” is an acronym. It is not. You can read the gory details here [where the guy who created the term says “I named it after the sound that a sonar makes, inspired by the whole principle of echo-location”].
And if you go there, you will find various of his other misunderstandings mocked, which is a good thing; I can’t do all the mocking myself.
My other correspondent was irked by Safire’s closing paragraphs:
During halftime at Super Bowl XL (Extra Large? No; 40), Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones performed “Satisfaction,” their 1965 hit. He pointed out in his introduction to the song that it could have been sung at Super Bowl I, adding, “Everything comes to he who waits.”
That was a verbal malfunction more shocking than a previous Janet Jackson halftime. Because he is the subjective case of the third-person male pronoun, it cannot be the object of the preposition to. The pronoun must be the objective case him. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, in an 1863 poem that called up the image of a patient falcon carved in wood, had it right: “All things come round to him who will but wait.”
He’s contending Jagger was wrong (“more shocking … than Janet Jackson”) to say ‘everything comes to he who waits’ on grounds that the preposition needs the object ‘him.’ I been teaching the youngerns that the clause is the object and the pronoun needs to function the way it does in the clause.
Here’s what I wrote in response:
I checked with my bible in these matters, the Merriam-Webster Dictionary of English Usage, and found (at the end of the Pronouns article):
The last of the problem environments mentioned by Quirk et al. is the pronoun that seems to lie between two clauses; this pronoun is often drawn toward both nominative and objective forms by reason of its different relationships to the preceding and following parts of the sentence. Usage is decidedly mixed:
It was she (her?) John criticized — in Quirk et al.
Everything comes to him who waits — English proverb
Just as the ideal of even-handed justice for all can be somewhat tilted toward he who can afford to argue the rightness of his case — Globe and Mail (Toronto), 8 Oct. 1982
I’m against whoever is in office — And More by Andy Rooney, 1982
Fowler, if I’m reading him correctly (he’s unusually vague here), plumps for “him” at the end of the “he” entry (at least, he appears to make fun of the writers who “thanked God they had remembered to put ‘he'” in examples like “The bell will be always rung by he who has the longest purse and the strongest arm”); I can find no guidance in Garner.
Oh, and one minor point—minor, but just the kind of thing you’d think Safire would hate to get wrong: that should be a comma, not a semicolon, in “No; 40.” (Of course, it’s possible that the Times style manual prescribes this bizarre usage, in which case I transfer my mockery to whoever wrote it. That’s whoever, not whomever. I think.)