24 December 2006

From the Mailbag


What I call "editorializing by adverb" is the practice of inserting an adverb into a statement to make an assertion without seeming to make an assertion. Example: A reference to "still undemocratic Iraq" makes the assertion that eventually Iraq will be democratic. But typically the writer will not stop to argue in favor of this assertion, hoping by the subtle use of an adverb to escape the need of justifying his assertion.

On the blog Animal Ethics (which I visited because of your reference to it) is the sentence "Let us temporarily assume for the sake of argument that it would be permissible to eat the flesh of an animal who was raised humanely and killed entirely painlessly."

Did you notice that "who" the writer slipped in there? This is the first instance I have seen of what might be called "editorializing by relative pronoun." Using the human-appropriate relative pronoun "who" to refer to an animal is a planted assertion that animals should be considered in the same way that humans are considered. Possibly the writer has an elaborate and convincing argument for the use of "who" in reference to animals, but "who" needlessly antagonizes the casual reader, who will suspect question-begging.

—Mark Spahn (West Seneca, NY)

P.S. I tried to leave this note as a comment on that blog, but did not find a convenient way to do so. If you think the writer would like to see this note, feel free to pass it on.

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