Back on November 3rd, Ben Zimmer posted on Language Log about another episode in the New Yorker‘s getting usage issues (“descriptive” vs. “prescriptive”) wrong, especially when Steve Pinker is involved: “Screwball reasons and gloriously simple distinctions”, in which
another New Yorker critic, Nathan Heller, makes a mess of things in his review of Pinker’s book The Sense of Style. [“Steven Pinker’s Bad Grammar”]
Heller accuses Pinker of “sentences [that] do not add up” and says that his usage suggestions “actually make the language more confused.” But I found Heller’s piece to be deeply confused, even while it purports to elevate clarity above all else.
Ben is actually being kind here; what Heller wrote is a monstrous fruitcake of flat-out wrongness, misunderstandings of both terminology and facts, and unexpressed (and confused) assumptions about language.