Dabbling Into Grammar

The XX Factor
What Women Really Think
Sept. 20 2010 12:19 PM

Dabbling Into Grammar

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It will indeed be interesting to see how the viral passing-along of old media appearances and social networking chit-chat and ill-advised Facebook party photos will affect politicians' future prospects. But I have to admit, Jess and Amanda , the thing I can't get past about Christine O'Donnell's assertion that she tried witchcraft is the way in which she describes her experimentation with it. What she said--twice--was that she "dabbled into witchcraft." Can we just point out for the record that you don't dabble "into" witchcraft, you dabble in it? If you are going to dabble, dabble grammatically! What do you think she was trying to say? What two concepts was she mashing? That she conducted an investigation into the rigors and dangers and creative possibilities of witchcraft? That she tunneled into it? Looked into it? Squinted into it? Peered into it? Dipped into it? And also dabbled? (Googling the phrase "dabbled into" to make sure there is not some obscure medieval usage sanctioned by, say, the Oxford English Dictionary, I see that Ann Althouse was as bothered as I was; she hypothesizes that O'Donnell actually did not know what "dabble" means.) I guess O'Donnell could have deliberately inserted a casual malaprop to enhance her populist appeal and distinguish herself from the nitpicking media elite, but she said this long enough ago that it doesn't seem purposeful. Gene Weingarten can add this to his list of signs of the death of the English language.

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Photograph of red pen from Wikimedia Commons.

Liza Mundy is the director of the Breadwinners and Caregivers Program at the New America Foundation and the author of The Richer Sex.

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