Friday, March 20, 2015

Stephen King scores a grammar win

Stephen King, novelist and resident of Maine and (sensible man!) Florida, has refuted the Maine governor’s claim that King had left the state to escape oppressive taxes.
"Governor LePage is full of the stuff that makes the grass grow green," the best-selling author told a local radio station. "Tabby and I pay every cent of our Maine state income taxes, and are glad to do it. We feel, as Governor LePage apparently does not, that much is owed from those to whom much has been given."
For me, that boldface sentiment is the news here: In its long quotation history, it has rarely been rendered grammatically. “From whom much is given, much is expected” – from John F. Kennedy Jr. -- is just one mangled example. You'd think a Bible quotation would get some respect, but it turns out the human mind has a hard time supplying the right number of prepositions and pronouns to say what this maxim intends.

My Globe column on the construction, from 1997, is paywalled, but never mind -- it’s quoted in Language Log’s extensive treatment of this Kennedy family favorite in all its crazy permutations. Check it out, and you’ll see why I say King deserves a grammar medal.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

The few very wealthy people I know never believe they owe anyone anything, including any respect, whether it be a work of art like the Bible or otherwise.

Hence, they never render what they do with their wealth as anything they owe anyone. They do render it as something that one might expect, given their high status that (magically) accompanied the wealth.

Mr. King does not seem to be afflicted with the hubris accompanying modern wealth. He knows when he owes someone something (just look at the horror he owes us from the build-up of expectation in his best stories!). He knows how and when to deliver.

Mr. Kennedy wore well his white, male privilege, but suffered from it as well. Hence, he could not repeat accurately anything from the Bible. Just ask Marilyn.

Sometimes an apparent error in communication is no error at all, but is rather a revelation not unlike a note in one of Thelonious Monk's that made his music singular. That which is sour might not be accidental, but might just as well be intended.

We should more properly expect the .1%ers to write, "To whom much is given, much will be asked." Can't you hear the 47% asking now?