I recently posted on Language Log about a Times Online story detailing several instances of excessive offense-avoidance by public or semi-public bodies in the U.K. Since shocked reports of such “political correctness” are a staple of the conservative media in the U.K., I was somewhat suspicious of the examples. But though the story had direct quotations attributed to these bodies (as well as indirect characterizations of their edicts on language use), of course it had no links, so it was left to the reader to check up on the reports. No apparatus.

I mention this because of my annoyance with Arthur Goldwag’s 2009 book Cults, Conspiracies, and Secret Societies (“The straight scoop on Freemasons, the Illuminati, Skull and Bones, black helicopters, the New World Order, and many, many more”), which I’d seen recommended in several places. The book is fascinating, though dismaying, but it has no apparatus. I’ve pretty much come to expect no index in a book meant for a general audience, but there are also no references listed, and no notes tracing the sources of the factual material in the book (including direct quotations). Goldwag isn’t an academic, but a “freelance writer and editor”, but he clearly did a huge amount of research on the book, and we don’t see evidence of it here.

6 Responses to “Apparatus”

  1. Chris Waigl Says:

    I think that removing the context from those quotes makes it a lot easier to ridicule them — and it compounds the lacking apparatus. The Times has of course a stake in ridiculing progressives who have a higher threshold for choice of terminology reflecting their values (equality, mostly).

    Now some of the quotes are certainly awkward, but still…

    – an agency that’s in charge of economic and social regeneration is dealing with communities for whom “whiter than white” and “black sheep” would push buttons.
    – a university might very well engage a reflection about the layers of connotation of “master bedroom” without being totally off their rocker.
    – if I encountered “right-hand man” in some official workplace writing that I was in a position to amend, I’d likely do so. Not because I’d be offended (a ridiculous thought) but because it sounds dated, or more precisely, reflective of dated social structures.

  2. Jan Freeman Says:

    I’m curious about “right-hand man” — I assumed on first reading that it was the “right-hand” part that was considered a problem, because I’ve heard “right-hand woman” used fairly often. But Chris points out a situation in which the “man” might be inappropriate. It really is too bad we don’t have the footnotes!

  3. Jeff Shaumeyer Says:

    I’m surprised at your observation about apparatus. In the last few years I’ve read quite a number of popular-science books (self-serving link) and the great majority do include apparatus; and index is almost universal. bibliographies and notes very common, reading lists frequent. It’s enough that when I encounter the rare title that doesn’t have apparatus, it’s a big surprise and, as you imply, a significant let down.

  4. Ian Preston Says:

    I agree that these sorts of stories warrant extreme scepticism but in this instance at least one of the documents – the Learning and Skills Council fact file recommending “perfect” over “master” – can be found online.

  5. mollymooly Says:

    I think one of the reasons “Lord of the Rings” became a hit on US campuses in the 60s was that it had an index. Software makes this so much easier nowadays that it should be more, not less, common in non-academic publications.

  6. Negative reviews and indexes « Arthur Goldwag Says:

    […] It isn’t just malicious reviewers, either. Arnold Zwicky, a linguist, devoted a whole blog post to his annoyance with my “fascinating, though dismaying” book’s lack of […]

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