Just before I received an e-mail reminding me of an upcoming class in business writing, I received word of the death of Edwin Newman in London on 13 August, at the age of 91.
Even though 91 is a ripe old age for anyone, I knew that this loss would be deeply felt by those of us who cherish the English language as more than just a means of communication. It can be a source of endless fascination for the student seeking the most amazing linguistic evolution on the planet. A tongue so teeming with grammatical and spelling contradictions and byzantine rules that it never ceases to amaze me how many people manage to master it as a second language, while even more citizens can barely grasp it as a single one.
My family always got more than a little irritated with me whenever I’d correct their grammar. But I’d remind them that it all could be worse---I could be Edwin Newman, a man who once good-naturedly appeared on Saturday Night Live in a skit where he portrayed a fellow manning a suicide-prevention line. He kept correcting the caller’s grammar until the poor guy couldn’t take it anymore, hung up and checked out.
But such was the genius of the man---he knew he wasn’t just a journalist. He was a superior reporter, as well as a trusted guardian of American English. There was no need for conceit on the matter---it was simply a fact that was accepted by all who had seen his work. He took it all in stride, which only added to his greatness. His was a life conducted with a dignity rarely seen these days.
Perhaps, in time, more may come to appreciate his contribution to our culture. We’ll miss you, sir.