Gotcha," writes Edward B. Sandler about my...

THIS TIME I

August 14, 1991|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

THIS TIME I gotcha," writes Edward B. Sandler about my assertion that William Jennings Bryan was "the only three-time loser in presidential electoral history."

"Henry Clay also qualifies," says Sandler. "In 1824 he lost to John Quincy Adams, in 1832 he lost to Andrew Jackson and in 1844 he lost to James Polk."

Not so fast. As Mitch Tullai says in pointing out the same thing i another letter, "even though the 1824 election ended up in the House of Representatives and Clay did not qualify because he came in fourth in electoral votes (third in popular votes), he still ran and lost."

Okay, but in my book there will always be an asterisk after Clay's record.

By the way, Clay is best known for having said, "I'd rather be right than be president." Good thing, eh?

Gordon C. Murray charges me with another historical error. wrote that Chief Justice John Marshall did not attend law school. Murray sent me an excerpt from a history of the College of William and Mary which says Marshall attended law lectures there. Yes, but only for a few weeks with one professor and at a time when there was no formal law school there. Another asterisk.

The most mail I have received recently had to do not with factbut grammar. "That was her," I wrote. More of you than I can name here spent 29 cents to inform me that it should have been "That was she."

I know, nominative case after the verb to be. But like many Americans, I am more place conscious than case conscious, and in conversation and deadline writing I often use the objective case for pronouns that come after a verb of any sort.

(It often sounds better to break rules of grammar. "It's me, it's me, it's me, Oh, Lord, standing in the need of prayer" certainly sounds better than "It's I. . . . ")

(And of course you've all heard the old joke about the soul arriving at the Pearly Gates. "Who's there?" asks St. Peter. "It is I," comes the answer. "Enter, English teacher."

(Do you perceive a pattern here? That I am never wrong? Or is i that I never admit to being wrong?)

By the way, in another column, I wrote, "Too bad it was never him," and only one person wrote in to correct me on that. That sentence was the last one in the column. Aren't the rest of you reading that far?

A reader who may have stopped at the first sentence of another column asked me if I made up or stole a joke I used about Episcopalians answering not to the pope but to Ralph Lauren. Journalists are plagiarism conscious these days, after reporters at two prestigious newspapers were caught and rebuked for using others' work without attribution.

I think I made it up, just as I think I made up a joke about George Bush, Jeffrey Dahmer and the Skull and Bones Society, which has been deemed unfit to print, but you never know whether you read something, forgot it, later thought of it and believed it was original. Most newspaper plagiarism is of that variety.

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