No Such Men As We Fable

17 March 2003

Oh! what fun it is to dis­cover the flaws of the thith­erto ir­ri­tat­ingly flawless! On this subject, Faustus, M.D.:

Last night, while catch­ing up on blogs I read, I got to one that I have always se­cretly hated with a white-hot passion because I think it’s funnier than mine.

Then I caught not one but two gram­mat­i­cal errors in recent posts.

This filled me with an ineffable, almost pal­pa­ble joy. He may be funnier than I am, but he is guilty of both hy­per­cor­rec­tion (he used “whomever” when he ought to have used “whoever”) and a subject-verb-mood dis­agree­ment so egre­gious it could only have been com­mit­ted by mistake or by a madman; either way, whether he’s care­less or insane, I win.

(I know this feeling well–pretty much exactly this feeling, in fact.)

A not-quite-equivalent example: I do not claim that this is a noble re­sponse but relief is what I felt when I dis­cov­ered that Donald Knuth–great com­puter scientist, author of the de­fin­i­tive The Art of Com­puter Programming, cheer­ingly inflexible aesthete–was not, in fact, a good lecturer: he mumbled, he moved too slowly, he wasn’t engaging.

“But there are no such men as we fable,”? said Emerson. “There is none without his foible. I believe that if an angel should come to chant the chorus of moral law, he would eat too much gingerbread, or take lib­er­ties with private letters, or do some pre­cious atrocity.” (From “Nominalist and Realist.”)

Men, I’m terrificly behind on email. I’ll get there.