In a silly article called “Suddenly, It’s Easier to Find a Hero Than a Villain,” Rick Lyman rehashes the ancient wheeze about how hard it is to find acceptable ethnic groups for a villain to belong to since the fall of the Soviet Union. I can forgive him that—the Times has to fill the “Week in Review” section somehow—but I can’t forgive him this sentence:

When it comes to choosing villains for big popcorn movies — a task that used to be as easy as “Where did we put those Nazi uniforms?” — it is becoming more and more difficult to take a step without trodding on someone’s tender toes.

“Trodding”?? Does Rick think about what he’s wroting, or does he just sat down and let flew? And where are the editors, for the love of god?

Addendum. Having recently beaten William Safire like a rented mule, I feel I should compliment him for this week’s column. Not only does he provide interesting information about the etymology of “pot” (I’m not at home and don’t have my full array of sources, but the Online Etymology Dictionary agrees: “pot (2) – ‘marijuana,’ 1938, probably a shortened form of Mexican Sp. potiguaya marijuana leaves.'”), he openly disagrees with the unfortunate Times decision to refer to Saddam Hussein as “Mr. Hussein.” As the column says, “Hussein is not a family name but his father’s first name.” This is something I rarely see referred to, and Safire is absolutely right to insist on calling the dictator “Saddam.”


  1. Tala Strauss says

    Hi! I am Gideon Strauss’s daughter, and I would just like to comment:

    I did not know that there was no such word as trodding! That is a surprise (for me). Although this is out of the blue, I like commenting when I read someone’s blog for the first time and read something “significant” to me. Thanx!

  2. Hi, Tala! “Trod” is the past tense of “tread,” so he should have written “without treading.” Thanks for commenting; I like finding new visitors here!

  3. The Economist also calls him “Mr Hussein”.

    At the time of the First War With That Guy, I read something (possibly in The New Republic) mentioning that Iraq has numerous musea, stadia and whatnot called Saddam This and Saddam That.
    His original name was (if memory serves) Saddam Hussein al-Tikriti.

  4. Absolutely correct. But after a while, when Baghdad was filled with his relatives and other cronies from Tikrit, all surnamed al-Tikriti, he banned use of that name to quiet the murmuring.

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