Monday, September 28, 2009

Sarah Palin, gone rogue

Sarah Palin, gone rogue

Just read the press release announcing the November release of Sarah Palin’s memoir, titled “Going Rogue: An American Life.”

I don’t care that she has written a memoir, won’t read her memoir, and am stunned that Harper has commissioned a first printing of 1.5 million copies.

However, what is really bothering me is the use of the word “rogue” in the title. Rogue is not a flattering word. Seeing it in the title drove me to the dictionary.

I opened my worn, thin-paper copy (“THIN PAPER” is actually printed above the title) of “Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary,” copyright 1959, by G. & C. Merriam Co., and looked up “rogue.” The definitions follow.

1. A vagrant; an idle sturdy beggar; a tramp.
2. A knave; cheat.
3. Scamp; rascal.
4. A rogue elephant.
5. Biol. A chance variation:--usually applied to inferior or nontypical plants.

Following this we find “rogue elephant” defined.

Rogue elephant: A vicious elephant which separates from the herd and roams alone.

Then we find “rogue’s gallery,” defined as “A collection of portraits of persons arrested as criminals, for the use of the police.” And “rogue’s march,” “Derisive music for a person driven away under popular indignation or official sentence, as when a soldier is drummed out of a regiment.

After reading the definitions I’m making the elitist assumption that neither Ms. Palin nor her collaborator, Lynn Vincent, have a feeling for the subtlety of language. Did they check a dictionary? Did they think “rogue” is a synonym for “maverick?”

Ms Palin supposedly spent several days in New York working around the clock with editors at Harper after she and Vincent finished their work. Didn’t any of those editors look up the word “rogue?”

1 comment:

  1. I think that the use of "rogue" to mean "independent" is a symptom of the general debasement of American English.

    Besides the obviously Orwellian aspects of vague and fluid word definitions, the fixity of language is generally imposed by the upper class/elite as a marker for social status; consider "the rain in Spain" scenes in My Fair Lady. This also explains why America tends to coin new words at a substantially faster rate than England, even on a per capita basis. American elites are less effective at imposing language fixity and the society of America is somewhat more linguistically dynamic. (argots and dialects often seem to arise form the social opposite of the elites(the internal proletariat), which is one of the reasons they are resisted; see Arnold Toynbee)

    Presently, it may be in the interests of the elite to reduce the fixity of the meaning of words to mask their misdeeds, but the intellectual rigor of the readers must also be examined. In common political discourse of today, words like: terrorist, fascism, socialist, freedom, free market, and rule of law, amongst others, are misstated, misconstrued, inverted, and all to often, left undefined as simple emotional markers.

    I believe that this debasement of the meaning of words is dangerous and opens up opportunities for demagogues. Add to this the parlous state of the economy in general and of ordinary peoples finances in specific, and a dangerous set of conditions now exist. U-6 unemployment is almost 20%, the rate of home foreclosures continues to rise and the homeless and "automotively" housed are everywhere. Meanwhile, politicians and the "politically involved" of both the left and the right are casting words the equivelent of bombs. This, in an effort to gain advantage, while little realizing the real fire they may ignite.