From Alfred C. Weed Jr. of Fairfax: "The other day I visited the exhibit of the Trial Lawyers Association at the Folklife Festival on the Mall. I arrived shortly after the end of a mock trial when the lawyers and the judge were discussing how the trial had been conducted and the strategies the two lawyers used in trying to gain a verdict for their side . . . . I became increasingly concerned, because it seemed apparent that the two attorneys and the judge appeared to have lost sight of the true purpose of the trial, to seek the truth . . . . Can someone reassure me that our criminal courts are not just arenas where two lawyers joust verbally before a jury whose job it is to decide which one did a better job?"
ANSWER: I can't offer you that reassurance, Alfred, and I doubt if anyone in the legal profession honestly could, either.
Long ago, lawyers began to be judged the way pitchers are judged -- on the basis of wins and losses. If a lawyer can persuade a jury, he will win partnership in a firm, a steady stream of clients and a wheelbarrow full of bucks. If a lawyer stands in the hall outside the courtroom, maundering about truth and justice, maundering may soon be all he does.
I wish it were otherwise, Alfred. But it isn't, and it may never be again, on the Mall or in the real courtrooms nearby.
From Norm Evans of Wheaton: "My wife and I were driving down Georgia Avenue in Silver Spring the other day. We were trying to turn onto Colesville Road, so my wife could drop me off at the subway station. There was a gap between two Metrobuses in the right lane, so we motioned to the driver of the trailing bus that we wanted him to let us go in front of him. His response was to pull as close as possible to the bus in front of him, and to aim what you might call The Fickle Finger in our direction. What can be done about this kind of thing?"
ANSWER: Here's Dr. Levey's prescription, Norm: If you are wronged by a bus driver in any way, write down the number of his bus, the date and the time of day. Then call the Metro complaint line, 637-1328, and file a protest. It will swiftly be deposited in the Fickle Fingerer's personnel file.
From Sally Pritchett of Annandale: "We used to call our young people the 'Me Generation' because of their perceived interest only in themselves. Now, however, we have not just a generation but a society of 'me' people. 'Me and him went downtown.' 'Me and her talked about it.' 'Me and you should get together' . . . . How did we get ourselves in this pickle, Bob? Where will it end? My old sixth-grade English teacher, Miss White in Baltimore, . . . .must be turning over in her grave."
ANSWER: We got in this pickle the way we get in any linguistic pickle, Sally. Some clown uttered a thought like "me and her talked about it," and the person he was addressing decided it wasn't worth it to correct him. So the clown has gone on mangling the mother tongue ever since.
Granted, fixing up everyone one else's grammar can mark you as an unbearable pedant. And even pedants would grin and bear it in certain settings.
Let's say a priest says, at the key point in a wedding that you're attending: "If anyone knows why this couple should not be forever joined in matrimony, let them speak now or forever hold their peace."
Sally and I and thousands of others who didn't fall asleep in English class would immediately think: " 'Them?' How can it be 'them' when the subject of the sentence is singular?" But I doubt very much if any of us would jump to our feet and embarrass the bride, the groom or the guy who's trying to hitch them.
The real problem is that spoken English is disintegrating much faster than its written brother.
You're much more likely to hear "me and you should get together" as you walk down the street than you are to see it in print. For this charming state of affairs, I blame (probably in this order):
Radio announcers (who are hired for their smoothness, not for their command of syntax).
TV sitcom scriptwriters (whose dialogue gives the phrase "lowest common denominator" new meaning each season).
And, with apologies to Miss White, high school English teachers (who haven't drummed it into kids that handling the language well is the first mark of an educated -- and hirable -- person).
From Jane McDonough of Northwest: "Have you had that new baby yet? I thought this was about the time."
ANSWER: If I ever have a baby, Jane, I expect to end up on page one of this here journal, not deep in the land of the funnies.
But thanks for asking, and, yes, it's almost time. The docs are still promising Mrs. L. and me that young Alexander or young Nora (at least we've gotten that much preparation done!) will be here early in August. To borrow from the jargon of TV: Bulletins as they happen.