Transcendental Bloviation

Politics, Space, Japan

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Notable, Misquotable, Whatever: I like it

Wikipedia features sometimes-endless debates over whether a given person, place, thing, or figment of someone's fevered imagination is "notable". If it's not notable, it's out. If someone differs strongly enough with that verdict, it's in again. In. Out. In. Out.

I just discovered the delightfully unpolished-yet-stylish prose of James D. Nicoll. Who is he? He is an SF critic on a usenet group. He is a survivor of many strange attempts on his life by mercurial reality. And now he is facing an attempted assassination of his potential immortality in a medium only slightly less evanescent than the one in which he chose to make his mark: He is, by his own account, scheduled to be sent down the Wikipedia memory hole for not being enough of a somebody. However, his Wikipedia entry is still up there anyway, last I checked.

His claims to notability might be slim, but our sense of the word "notable" must become more mutable to take account of new digital media, with its proliferation of means for taking note. If he is not noteworthy, why did someone retrieve a particular slew of his reviews (of SF novels covering the turn of the century) from oblivion, and assemble them on a website? Perhaps that is a weak argument. But perhaps Nicoll should still be considered notable as someone who said something so quotable that it got misattributed, and not just once, but several times. If someone that quotable isn't notable, who is?

The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don't just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and riffle [sic] their pockets for new vocabulary.


I almost corrected "riffle [sic]" to "rifle", but it occurred to me: if the original quote was in a medium without proofreaders, isn't leaving the misspelling/typo more authentic, much as we might now quote Shakespeare as having "spaek" something or other? Not that Nicoll and Shakspere are peers or anything.... for one thing, Nicoll is a lot funnier.

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