Thursday, May 27, 2010

State Journal Editorial Page Editor Pushes Back!

My prior post, about the incorrect usage of “anxious” on the editorial page of the State Journal Monday, has again made my point about the people who fill slots in journalism these days.

They NEVER admit they’re wrong.

I pointed out that “anxious” and “eager” are two distinctly different words, with different meanings, and the man in charge of the editorial page, Scott Milfred, posted a couple comments (which you can read for yourself by clicking on the headline of my prior post) proving (in his estimation, I’m sure) with geometric logic that he is NOT wrong.

I don’t know Scott. Never met him. But I know him by reputation. A couple years back the editorial page he manages was a Pulitzer prize finalist, and praise doesn’t come any higher than that. I like his style. As he points out, he tries to write conversationally. Scott’s writing is not the old-school method favored by other editorialists, like my friend Neil Heinen.

Scott points out that the third reference to “anxious” in both the Merriam-Webster online and hard-copy dictionary lists “anxious” as a synonym for eager.

Point taken. If you go three deep in any reference, you start to encounter “popular usage” references. My counterpoint is, the references are there because so many people misuse the word.

Feeling anxiety about something is not at all like feeling eagerness about something. It’s a pretty different feeling, and a pretty different shade of feeling. Of course, you can have both feelings at once – sort of like before boarding a new thrill ride at a theme park. Eager to have the experience, but anxious about what it’s really going to feel like.

Tenacity and the characteristic of never wanting to admit you’re wrong seem to me to be hallmarks of a good journalist. I know because I’ve worked with plenty of them, and I have no doubt that Scott is an accomplished professional journalist. They love to argue.

I’ve dealt with this attitude in coaching writers for decades. They always think their approach, their methods, their usage is right. And like Scott, they’ll go to great lengths to defend their point of view.

Why would a journalist, whose editorials are read every day by thousands and thousands of people in the state’s second-largest newspaper even bother to argue with me, a one-man band with a computer, an internet connection, and a few hundred readers?

To prove that he’s right, and I’m wrong, ignoring the old adage “The eagle does not hunt flies.”

Neither of us is going to back down, Scott. But it’s been fun going back and forth, and I think my readers got a kick out of your tenacity in defending your view. You’ve illustrated quite nicely the points I’ve made over the past couple years on this blog about the mindset of so many people in the media today.


  1. Colonel,

    I have felt as you do about anxious vs. eager for as long as I can remember. After Mr. Milfred posted his comments to your post of the 25th instant, I thought I'd check my own sources to see if there had been an evolution/devolution of the similarity/disparity of meaning between those two words.

    My oldest reference work is the 1965 2nd edition of Fowler's Modern English Usage. I was shaken when I read this:

    "anxious. The objections made to it in the sense eager (to hear, improve, go, etc.) as a modernism, and in the sense likely to cause anxiety (It is a very a. business; You will find her an a. charge) as an archaism, are negligible; both are natural developments, the first is almost universally current, and the second is still not infrequent."

    Whoa! Perhaps the reviser, Sir Ernest Gowers, threw in that bit about "almost universally current"...but I don't know since I don't have the original 1926 edition.

    I then turned to an old favorite, my 1968 edition of "Roget's Pocket Thesaurus". All the pages are delightfully yellowed and well-thumbed.

    Under Class VI (Words Relating to the SENTIENT and MORAL POWERS), II (Personal Affections), 865. DESIRE, the sub-heading "N. desire", 2nd paragraph, I found the following list of synonyms (emphasis mine):

    "longing, hankering, yearning, aspiration, ambition, eagerness, zeal, ardor, solicitude, anxiety."

    If that weren't enough to rattle me to my root, there was this under "Adj. desirous":

    (1st paragraph) "desiring, appetitive, inclined, fain, wishful, longing, wistful; anxious, solicitous, sedulous.

    (2nd paragraph) "eager, keen, burning, fervent, ardent; agog; breathless; impatient."

    I then decided to use the modern way of researching stuff: the GoreNet. I found this interesting article at

    A sort of Fox News-style fair and balanced account.

    I'm afraid that we're dinosaurs, Colonel.

    The Town Crank

  2. Scott argued with you because I pointed out your comment, which I agreed with, and we chatted about it and I said you may occasionally be affected by a short in your ankle bracelet but generally you are in control of what few facilities men of our age retain, and Scott is the sort of person who responds even to people he probably disagrees with, including me.

  3. A thief broke into the local police station and stole all the toilets and urinals, leaving no clues. A spokesperson was quoted as saying, "We have absolutely nothing to go on."