Loose Climate Change

Bill Safire, my nemesis, writes about change in his most recent On Language column. He leads with an overview of politician’s perpetual calls for it, from Dewey in ’48 through Obama (“Change We Can Believe In”) and Romney (“Change Begins With Us”) seeming to almost quote each other.

He then heads for shakier ground with the term “global warming” and how it is being slowly supplanted by the phrase “climate change.” He speculates it may be a desire to be “less judgmental,” then decides it’s part of the inexorable march (or ensorcelling, as he puts it) of “change.”

In fact there is a scientific basis to the shift. According to Dr. Kristina A. Dahl, a scientist at Rutgers’ Climate and Environmental Change Initiative (and my wife), on average global temperatures are indeed warming, and fast. But “on average” is the key, since conditions in a given place can change in a number of ways: changes in temperature (almost always upward), but also in precipitation, storm patterns, or conceivably, in some areas, cooling (though the emerging consensus, she says, is that there is so much CO2 in the atmosphere that Europe and the Northeastern U.S. won’t cool much, if at all, even if thermohaline circulation shuts down. There will be no Day After Tomorrow). Safire finds citations for both “global warming” and “climate change” at least as far back as 1957. The recognition of other types of related climate change in addition to warming led to the related coinage global weirding in 2002.

So the use of “climate change” is preferred by scientists to “global warming” because it is more accurate. This is born out anecdotally by job searches for each phrase. A search for “global warming” generally returns activist and advocacy-type jobs, which often make scientists shudder. “Climate change” tends to return jobs of a more technical or scientific bent, fields where technical accuracy is more valued.

New York Times, why do you hate me so?

We used to pick up The New York Times at the corner store every Sunday. We moved last September, though, and no store within walking distance carries it. So we signed up for home delivery. That was almost five months ago, and they haven’t yet figured out how to get us the paper.

We only subscribed to the Sunday edition, which presents a (very) slight challenge in that the Sunday paper is delivered over two days: the magazine and some other sections on Saturday, the remainder on Sunday. But still, it’s been five months, and their track record sucks: Sometimes no paper at all. Sometimes nothing on Saturday, then half the paper on Sunday. For a while we got nothing on Saturday and two identical half-papers on Sunday. For a few happy months we actually got the paper as expected, half on each day. Then last week we got nothing at all, and this weekend we got nothing on Saturday followed by two Sunday halves.

Before we moved our Sunday ritual was to sink into the paper (“like slipping into a warm bath,” as Tom Wolfe said) over a leisurely breakfast. Now our ritual is to call subscription services, wait forever, and then struggle with a sullen and uncooperative Times customer service person.

Though it isn’t perfect, I love the Times, and would really like to have it delivered. But five months of effort was too much, and after yesterday’s snafu we gave up and cancelled our subscription. Or tried anyway–I expect they’ll screw that up too.

Driving your customers crazy isn’t a good policy under any circumstances, but it seems particularly unwise when your industry is in a death spiral. I have no doubt that eventually the Times will figure out how to transition to a healthy online business model. But in the meanwhile you’d think they’d make it as easy as possible for people who want to give them money for the print edition to do so*, instead of shooting holes in the bottom of their sinking ship.

* The other possibility: this is all William Safire’s doing.

Flipping like Mitt Romney

Peter Sokolowski over at Merriam-Webster graciously responded to my rant against their Word of the Year list and shed some light on their selection process, which I thought was pretty stand up of him. My favorite nugget: their online dictionary gets over one beeellion pageviews a year. All the more reason to appreciate his taking the time to respond to a gnat like Errata.

Now I just need to hear from Safire. Bill, it’s Christmas time. Come in out of the cold.


I know it’s not cool to be a prescriptivist, but can I just say that Merriam-Webster picked the dumbest fucking word in the universe as their Word of the Year 2007? I’m aware that M-W itself didn’t make the choice, the eleven year olds who use their web site did, but isn’t that why they have all those lexicographers lying around? To point out when the rest of us are being idiots, and shut us down?

A few people wrote this week about M-W’s announcement, and I didn’t say anything, because I didn’t have anything nice to say. Actually I have one nice thing to say, which is that some of the comments on Wordie’s page for it are pretty good, including the links to various etymologies, and, especially, the prior art from Chaucer. But I got a few more emails today and figured, fine, I’ll uncork myself and spew some bile.

I’m not even sure I don’t like the word, but I hate that they picked it, and I’m not alone. It’s not just the winner that sucks, it’s the whole list. Conundrum? Apathetic? What do these words have to do with anything interesting or topical? The only good word of the lot is Pecksniffian, though why it’s on a list of words for 2007, and not 1857, is beyond me.

M-W is in the doghouse, along with William Safire. I’m now doubly glad M-W got voted off the island a month or so ago, when by unanimous consent they were replaced by OneLook as one of the sites Wordie links to.