In a recent column about Chief Justice Warren Burger's suggestion that we try to teach reading, writing and arithmetic to prison inmates, my penultimate sentence: "Neither of those pejoratives fit Warren Burger."
D. Bryant of Bethesda and Frank L. Dennis of the Gordon & Healy law firm immediately pointed out that a singular verb is perferred with neither. They are right.
A few authorities accept the plural because it is in common usage. Some accept the plural if a prepositional phrase intervenes. Copperud cites the example, "Neither of them (come, comes) regularly." However, Fowler, Follett and others of similar stature are so firm opposed to the use of a plural verb that writers try to avoid it.It should have written "neither of those pejoratives fits." I was just plain wrong."
I am particularly distressed to be caught in an error by Frank Dennis because before he began practicing law he was the assistant managing editor of The Washington Post who personally put the final O.K. on my copy. He probably thinks all his teaching went for naught.
Harold M. Balin of College Park takes exception to my having written "almost invariably" and "almost unbearable," but I am willing to defend both. I would not defend "almost never" because many alternatives (such as seldom and rarely) are available to express the same meaning. However, no single work conveys precisely the same thing that "almost always" does. I think this is why constructions like "almost always" and "almost invariable" have been part of the language for a long time.
Laura Horowitz of Alexandria also questions something I wrote recently. In discussing a letter from a 65-year-old reader who is covered by Medicare, I said I could sympathize with his problem because I am four years older than he is.
Laura asked, "Are you really 69? With all that black hair? What a picture! Why don't you retire?"
I lied a little, Laura. I won't be 69 until later this summer.
My best recollection is that the picture that now appears with the column was taken for my police press pass about three years ago when there wasn't enough gray in my hair to be particularly noticeable in a black-and-white print. Today there's more gray.
As for retirement, there's no need to push; I'll go quietly.
Several weeks ago, when an increasing number of errors began to appear in the column, I told readers that I thought senility was beginning to set in and it was time to let one of the young tigers take over. If all goes well, I plan to retire from this daily assignment by the end of June.
I hope to perform whatever duties The Post assigns to me and to write only when the mood is upon me. But when friends ask what I'm going to do, I tell them with a straight face that I'm going out to Indian Spring Country Club and sharpen up my golf game so that I can go on the pro tour next year. Sam Snead and I are the same age.