Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Tribune Exclusive: Barack Obama May Not "Well Spoken" After All!

Buried deep in your Chicago Tribune is Nathan Bierma's shocking revelation that Sen. Barack Obama -- widely regarded as "well spoken" and "articulate" -- uses non-standard English:
Some English words and phrases fall into the category of technically wrong but widely accepted, much to the chagrin of purists.

A few entries in that category seem to escape the notice of sticklers and puzzle the experts. Take the phrase "as best (as) I can," for instance, which has come into common use.

I heard it recently during Sen. Barack Obama's appearance on "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart." When Stewart asked him who was the worst senator, Obama, a Democrat and the junior senator from Illinois, said, "Most of the folks really are trying to represent their constituencies as best as they know how."

"As best as" is striking, because "best" is the superlative form of "well," and English doesn't use any other superlative in this phrase. We say "as much as" but not "as most as"; "as red as" but not "as reddest as." The phrase "as best as I can" may be a mix-up of "as well as I can" and "the best that I can." ***

Obama could have said either "as well as they know how" or "the best that they know how." In fact, in his next comment, he used a form of "the best that ...": "If I try to work hard and do the best possible job that I can, then I think things will work out pretty well." ***

"I've always considered this an inoffensive though ungrammatical colloquialism," says David Mulroy, author of "The War Against Grammar" (Boynton/Cook, 144 pages, $20).

"I hadn't thought about it before, but, yes, that has to be considered substandard," e-mails Bill Walsh, copy chief of the national desk at The Washington Post, and author of "The Elephants of Style: A Trunkload of Tips on the Big Issues and Gray Areas of Contemporary American English" (McGraw-Hill, 238 pages, $14.95).
My shock and dismay were only compounded when the article revealed that, in addition to Obama, the Bard himself used this sustandard English:
In Shakespeare's "The Taming of the Shrew," Petruchio says, "Happily to wive and thrive, as best I may."
As best as I can tell the Tribune is correct -- but if Obama and Shakespeare agree on grammar, I ain't never gonna believe they're wrong, nohow.

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