Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The True Administration of Justice ... and Grammar


It was recently pointed out that a famous quote by George Washington, etched in stone above the entranceway to the Supreme Court building in Lower Manhattan, is actually a misquote.
The inscription reads: "The true administration of justice is the firmest pillar of good government."

But the actual quote, in a letter Washington wrote in 1789, uses the word "due" instead of "true."

Some people would like to see the error corrected, despite the huge cost it would involve. This is just one example of a growing trend of the self-appointed "Grammar Cops" taking matters into their own hands, doling out citizen's arrests (please don't start with me about whether it should be citizen's or citizens' — I think it could go either way here) both on and offline.

My friend, the Meir of Midwood, sent me this recent MSNBC article about the online word wars, Fastidious spelling snobs pushed over the edge. Many of my fellow grammar cop websites are mentioned, including one of my favorites, The “Blog” of “Unnecessary” Quotation Marks, which was also recently appointed Entertainment Weekly's Site of the Day. In the article, clinical psychologist Pauline Wallin explains:

An obsession with proper usage may be related to some kind of perfectionist streak, she says, or it could have to do with childhood patterns of wanting to please adults or teachers by doing things right. Putting somebody down by pointing out their bad spelling also could be a power thing. Or it could simply be part of the brain’s natural function.

I'm happy to read that this may be a natural function of my brain. I was beginning to think I was CRAZY to have a blog about lowercase L's improperly used in words otherwise constructed of all uppercase letters.
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