Friday, December 13, 2002

I can't muster the energy for anything new on the substance of the Lott problem, while we're waiting for this afternoon's press conference. So instead I'll kvetch about language, a la Jay Nordlinger or William Safire.

The WSJ editorial about Lott has as its subhed:
He must ask if he's still the best leader for the GOP.

Did I miss the memo announcing the abolition of the if-whether distinction? In the past six months or so, even venues that I expect to know better-- TNR, the WSJ, the Economist, the NYT, NR-- seem to have given up on the distinction entirely. (When there's an implied "or not," the proper word is "whether." When there's an implied "then"-- "If Trent Lott steps down, the GOP may have trouble finding a willing successor"-- the proper word is "if.") Do in-house stylebooks no longer even mention this? Do copy-editors no longer read stylebooks? I find this as jarring as that-which mistakes, and only a notch or two less jarring than the misuse of "disinterest." I can't see any good reason for the change, and can't understand why even usually-dependable editors seem to have given up on the distinction.

UPDATE: As far as I can tell, "I wonder if" is never correct. That is to say, I can't think of a correct sentence that would begin that way. This is among the most common ways of making the if-whether mistake. If your sentence or thought begins with "I wonder," [implied "then"] it should take "whether," not "if." I wonder whether there are any exceptions [implied "or not"]...

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