CORRECTIONS DEPT., Nov 11 - A letter arrived last week from Laura Mac Donald, author of Curse Of The Narrows, regarding my book review from last June:
Thanks for the great review. Could you clarify something for me? I do not assign thoughts etc. to characters. All of it, including thoughts, is researched and footnoted. If there is anything added - and it's not often, I used the conditional ie. 'He must have thought...' [apostrophes added]
It's hard work getting it right. I don't want your review to mislead readers.
All my best, Laura
(Also no hyphen in Mont Blanc)
I'll take the rap for the needless hyphen. There is no excuse for slapdash reviewermanship. But I'm confused about this 'assign' business. When I told Tara I'd gotten a letter from the Curse author, she was excited, and then when I explained what the letter was about she said, 'oh no'.
Does this warrant a letter and an "oh no"? At the risk of taking the Bill Clinton defense, I must defer to the judgment of Merriam-Webster (hyphen confirmed). In the various synonyms of "ascribe", we are told that;
ascribe suggests an inferring or conjecturing of cause... attribute suggests less tentativeness than ascribe... assign implies ascribing with certainty or after deliberation
In this instance, I feel that my "assign" was mistaken for "attribute". I certainly meant the word positively, like the way a triage doctor can assign a patient to a particular wing of a hospital. History is a hard thing to engage, and I salute anyone who can thrillingly ascribe, with certainty or after deliberation, the inner workings of actors long dead. I meant no offense to Ms. Mac Donald.
A quick search tells me that I used this word combo ("assigning motives") once before, two years ago, in an article I wrote about the band Gossip. I'd probably read the phrase earlier, in someone else's copy, and unconsciously absorbed it into my writing, the same way little kids mimic adult conversation patterns. It's an easy thing to do. I've caught lots of repeated phrasings and words in my own writing before, and I have every confidence that I will continue to do so for as long as I write.
My usage in the Gossip article is pretty unambiguous, however, and it doesn't bode well for my Curse Of The Narrows defense. If I'd intended the more magnanimous version of "assign" last June, that means I used the wrong word in 2006. This is called a lose-lose situation. Although if I had to choose one article to be the wrong one, I'd go with the Gossip piece; I doubt they'll ever write me a friendly / chiding / maybe angry letter, and even if they do I doubt it'll be on stationary as classy as Ms. Mac Donald's.
ALSO - I'd like to take this opportunity to correct the resume I handed the staff of the Scripps women's college mailroom during my job interview last month. That meeting went so well - was, indeed, hands down the best job interview I've ever been part of - that I have a hard time accepting the letter I received telling me that I was "not chosen for the position". I don't want to entertain any thoughts of gender-bias (especially for a job with the word "male" in its title), so I can only assume that my interviewers Googled me, found this blog, and made it to the rather misanthropic end of the 8/20 entry. If the hiring staff at Scripps still read this blog, I'd like to state for the record that my real name is Jefferson Nopplebauer, there was a mix-up at Kinkos, I mistakenly handed you the wrong resume, and I would still very much like the job.