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Paradigms Lost

By (author) John Simon
Format: Hardback
Publisher: Vintage Publishing, London, United Kingdom
Imprint: Chatto & Windus
Published: 30th Sep 1981
Dimensions: w 140mm h 220mm
Weight: 440g
ISBN-10: 0701126019
ISBN-13: 9780701126018
Barcode No: 9780701126018

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Kirkus US
Collected columns from Esquire - in which Simon's repetitive attacks and calls-to-arms ("what can and cannot be done to improve, preserve, and save the language") range from useful to tiresome to downright misguided. Part of the problem, of course, is that English is Simon's "fifth language": and - as Robert Brustein has pointed out - the Simon ear is frequently a bit off, whether he's straining for a pun that doesn't really click (the book's title is, believe it or not, one of Simon's less forced efforts) or hearing words and phrases in ways that few educated native-born Americans would ever hear them. (He has all sorts of problems with "police officer" - which most of us grew up with - and he must be the only N.Y. literary type who can say "poetess" without wincing.) A more serious drawback, however, is Simon's familiar tendency towards overkill, which here - as in all his work - undermines credibility: his error-spotting often lapses into comically prissy lint-picking; he can't resist opportunities to continue his ugly little feuds (against "flabby and unprepossessing Sylvia Miles," for instance); and when he attacks Rex Reed, Clive Barnes, Andrew Sarris, Barbara Walters, et al., one gets the distinct and queasy feeling that ulterior, non-linguistic motives are at work. As a result, even Simon's more important, well-taken assaults (on the National Council of Teachers of English, on promoters of "black English") lose authority, while good points (on Miller & Swift's feminist revisionism, for example) are overshadowed by diehard extremism. (Even the conservative N.Y. Times no longer holds that "The impersonal 'he' covers both sexes.") And, finally, much here is simply stale: such newspaper-filler standbys as imply vs. infer, fortunate vs. fortuitous, and flaunt vs. flout. Certainly Edwin Newman and others have demonstrated that one can fight vigorously for the language without alienating most of those who use it; but Simon's tetchy hodgepodge - though often quite right and sometimes snidely amusing - mostly offers, alas, the sort of writing that gives good English a bad name. (Kirkus Reviews)