Is 'A Civil Tongue' only a book now?

Is 'A Civil Tongue' only a book now?
Source: pdclipart.org

I recently began re-reading a charming book, "A Civil Tongue" by Edwin Newman (1975: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Indianapolis and New York). Newman, a former "correspondent" -- reporter and anchorman -- for NBC News, wrote that when he came into the news business in 1940, he "thought that I had taken an oath to preserve, protect, and defend the English language, as a President swears that he will preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution."

This places him alongside William Safire as one of my heroes and role models when it comes to the craft of writing and the use of the language.

As Newman wrote, "now it seems to me that American English, vigorous, adaptable, and resourceful, a treasure trove of wit, charm, and inspiration, may soon be lowered into a language interment space" (i.e., cemetery) " with a a marker erected bearing the words Actuarially Matured. The interment unit diggers are all around us."

Finding faults, as Newman describes his work in a previous book, "Strictly Speaking," set him up for lots of letters from people who wrote to him about things they caught (or simply argued with) in the pages. Well, it was 1975 -- there were no Internet comments back then.

Here's Newman about the term "peer support." He wrote that peer support is the kind of support he wants.

"When I walk into NBC News in the morning and see another correspondent, I say, 'Good morning, peer.'

" 'Peer greetings to you,' the other is likely, in peer-shaped tones, to reply."

I'm going to enjoy re-reading this and sharing some more of Newman's useful observations. He would not have appreciated how the language has developed since his death in 2010. But Seriously, I'll try to take over. Maybe we can figure out how to treat words with more clarity... after all, here come the presidential debates!

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  • I admired Edwin Newman's work, but I am struggling to figure out what "peer-shaped tones" means.

  • In reply to jnorto:

    I have the feeling it was sounding like one from the Midwest (life Frank Reynolds was), which broke down when CNN was from Atlanta.

  • In reply to jack:

    That's a good theory, Jack. Yet think of how common Texan accents became in network TV news because the young Texans covered a presidential motorcade on Nov. 22, 1963.

  • In reply to Margaret H. Laing:

    Only one I knew who cashed in on that accent was Dan Rather.

  • In reply to jack:

    That's a good point. It took me a long time to learn that Robert MacNeil and Peter Jennings were in Dallas at the time, but they retained much of Canada's influence on their voices.

  • In reply to jnorto:

    Thanks, jnorto. I think he was playing with the description of resonant voices as "pear-shaped" while having a little more fun with "peer."

    Hmm, I just remembered a common description of certain British accents as "plummy." More research may be fruitful here! (Sorry, couldn't resist.)

  • On the substance of the post, broadcasters have lost all sense of subject-verb agreement, less/fewer, adverbs take ly, and (as I noted earlier) most things reported on the news is not present tense (unless it is of live helicopter coverage of The Dreadlock Cowboy being arrested at 95th and Lafayette, or a fire in progress).

    Otherwise, the only civil tongues I recognize are pickled and tacos lengua.

    Speaking of newscasters, Edwin Newman used to scare me, while it appears that nobody takes Joe Donlon as other than a voice.

  • In reply to jack:

    Whoops, most things on the news are not, not is not. But you make a good point, Jack.

    I agree, Edwin Newman was not selected for his looks. But he commanded the language well in an era when we had fewer choices. (I can't even think of who you mean by Joe Donlon.)

  • In reply to Margaret H. Laing:

    1. I had revised that sentence about 3 times, including a version using 'consist," but still didn't get it correct, or state it correctly. I had a bad morning both here and onThe Quark.
    2. Donlon was an anchor on the WGN9 news at 5, 6, 9, and 10, brought here from somewhere else, as indicated that he didn't know what roads were Streets or Avenues, and then was moved to News Nation on WGN America, which Robert Feder has consistently panned, including for a softball interview with the short term occupant of the White House. My impression was that he was at most a voice over guy.

  • In reply to jack:

    Thank you for both comments, Jack. No disrespect intended in either case; I always appreciate your close attention to my writing.

    I haven't tried the TV version of News Nation yet, but I notice its influence on WGN radio, which helps me ease into the mornings. I don't have a long enough sample size for a final verdict, but I think I will switch networks for the debates.

  • In reply to Margaret H. Laing:

    1. I admit when I goof, so I guess I am not yet nuts.
    2. i think News Nation on 720 is just branding. Nexstar didn't mess with 9 much, except to extend news and sports until 11 p.m., but it sure has messed with the radio station.
    3. I don't think the debate is worth watching, because, as some member of Congress (I can't pin down which one) said, "you can't question a liar." Chris Wallace has tried, but I don't think a synthesis of arguments is possible when one participant is irrational.

  • In reply to jack:

    I'm listening to the debate on the radio, and I am not hearing "a civil tongue" very often at all. Sometimes I hear two voices at once, sometimes three.

  • In reply to Margaret H. Laing:

    That seems to be what most newspapers are reporting.I was watching some MMA reruns, but at least there there were only 2 combatants in the octagon at a time, and I remembered that Jasmine did a number on Christina.

  • In reply to jack:

    Thanks, Jack. I have a new set of observations from the same book today.

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