Sunday, September 12, 2004

An Imperfect Aphorism

This morning the following aphorism sprang to my alliterative mind: Pleonasm in the pursuit of precision is no pecadillo. But it fails because ‘pecadillo’ means little sin, so that ‘no pecadillo’ is ambiguous as between no little sin, i.e., a big sin, and no sin at all. The aphorism therefore expresses no one clear thought. Into the wastebasket it goes.

It rankled this curmudgeon when Clinton’s defenders referred to his sexual improprieties and consequent perjury and subornation of perjury as pecadilloes. They were big sins, or, if you don’t believe in sin, they were big violations of the law.

Clinton’s defenders rolled two liberal errors into one: misuse of language and low standards.