There are certain words that carry an intrinsic judgment about the truth value of what they describe. You can say that A says, or alleges, or thinks that B is a crook without implying anything about B, but if you say A discovers B is a crook, you are calling B a crook yourself. In Larissa MacFarquhar’s “The Movie Lover,” a New Yorker profile of Quentin Tarantino, she has the following to say about his early days:

Before Tarantino began making movies, one of his heroes was Jean-Luc Godard. He loved Godard’s unusual shots—the long takes, the long, long closeups. Even though he has now outgrown Godard…

Cut! OK, you can say “he has now moved on to other influences” or (if you wish to make him look like an idiot) “he feels he has outgrown Godard,” but to say “he has now outgrown Godard” is to reveal yourself as an idiot. It’s like saying someone has “outgrown” Shakespeare or Picasso. T’fu, t’fu, t’fu (to use the expressive Russian expectorative interjection

Addendum. Jim of UJG responds with a nice Godard quote.


  1. That’s funny – while watching Kill Bill I remember wispering to my wife how much one scene in the film smacked of Godard … (Although now I can’t recall what scene that was.)
    At the bottom of this post I put some links to information on “evidentials.”

  2. If only he’d grown into Godard, even a little one. I always felt that the writing partnership of Avery and Tarantino was what made up for Quentin’s non-directing in his earlier, funnier films.

  3. Sadly, we are seeing the edgy avant-garde of our, or my at least, youth turn into product. I first noticed this with dreamy MTV stoner videos 20 years ago. Avant-garde things which didn’t go anywhere and were united by symbolic and associative etc. rather than by linear reason and plot etc. provided a cheap cliche template for 3-minute mood pieces.
    And the sexual revolution gave us Madonna.
    Whenever Tarantino comes up I push the idea that the Coen bros. “Fargo” is the anti-“Pulp Fiction”. Lots of gratuitous violence, but the killers are these completely unattractive, unsexy, uncharming fuckup losers. Getting shot by a pregnant small-town cop has to be at the bottom of the list of dramatic exits crooks dream about.
    The general glamorization of criminals, cops, spies, etc., seems to have as the target market people who have really, really boring lives and not much contact with the crime world.

  4. As a cinephile, I’m sure Tarantino will be more indignant about this ridiculus put down of Godard than anyone else who reads MacFarquhar’s review.
    By the way, if you’re interested in the embalming proccess used to mummify the New Yorker – check out Tom Wolf’s two part article “Tiny Mummies”, available in the anthology “Hooking Up”.

  5. This problem with factive verbs seems to be common in journalism, especially when it comes to statements like: “Scientists are discovering that…” and “Certain scholars have found evidence that…”
    In my idolect “mitigate” falls into this category. E.g. “Senator Palpetine mitigated accusations that he was a Dark Lord of the Sith.” To me this means that he successfully rebutted the accusations, whereas many reporters use it to mean merely that he attempted to rebut them. Is this true for other people?

  6. It sounds very odd to me in that usage. I think of “mitigate” as meaning ‘alleviate’ or ‘extenuate’: “The new evidence mitigated the seriousness of the accusations.” I wouldn’t use it to mean either ‘rebut’ or ‘attempt to rebut.’ But it’s not a common word, and I’m not altogether sure I’ve ever actually used it.

  7. Now, wait a minute. I’ve outgrown “Sesame Street” in the sense that I’m no longer a big fan of it, but not in the sense that I have grown more than it has. Analogously, it’s possible to have, say, a Shakespeare phase which passes without indicating a justified dismissal of Shakespeare. The thing being outgrown might be an obsession with Shakespeare’s work rather than Shakespeare himself.
    I agree that the passage is at least ambiguous (I wouldn’t have written it that way) but it’s probably not saying that Tarantino is more mature than Godard. In context, it’s not a factive verb.
    You might say that any obsession (or whatever you want to call it) with Godard is justifiable, and would be foolish to outgrow. However, this leaves MacFarquhar innocent of abusing the verb; it merely implies that she was calling Tarantino a fool.

  8. Well, true, that is a better definition of the word, but my point is that even if a tobacco company spokesman tells me cigarettes are safe, I will not feel that charges against his company have been “alleviated” or “extenuated,” so I really don’t like that usage of “mitigate.” I don’t think it’s that rare- I see it in that context fairly often.

  9. “Refute” is also frequently used when “deny” or “reject” is meant: “I refute that allegation”. It’s semi-literate pretentiousness, I think.

  10. She did not write that he has “outgrown an obsession with Godard” but that he has “outgrown Godard”. It seems pretty straightforward to me.
    Btw, what’s the over-under on how long it takes MacFarquhar to show up here, & what paypal account do we use to pony up, etc.?

  11. Ha! Good question. Zizka, you want to hold the bets?

  12. Thanks for this post. It immediately reminded me of one of my own pet peeves so I linked to it.

  13. In that expressive Russian expectorative interjection, does the apostrophe represent palatalization (ь)?

  14. Yes, it does. In the original it’s Тьфу, тьфу, тьфу.

  15. Of course, that’s a conventional representation of a spitting sound/gesture, just as “tsk” represents a click (though kids not aware of the convention will read it as “tisk”).

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