1. agent of goodness & light: a.) In a YouTube interview, a lawyer and author of several books about English usage asks David Foster Wallace what he thinks of genteelisms—those multisyllablic, latinate, important-sounding words like “prior to” and “subsequent to” that substitute for shorter, often Anglo-Saxon, down-to-earth-sounding ones like “before.” Revealingly, the guy who majored in English and philosophy at Amherst College, whose father was a philosophy professor, doesn’t answer at first. Instead, he reflexively makes a sour face. Only then does he suggest “genteelism” is an “overly charitable way to characterize” such “puff words,” and concludes: “This is the downside of starting to pay attention. You start noticing all the people who say ‘at this time’ instead of ‘now.’ Why did they just take up one-third of a second of my lifetime?” 2. agent of goodness & light: b.) The upside to grammatical awakenings, Wallace continues, is that “you get to be more careful and attentive in your own writing, so you become an agent of light and goodness rather than the evil that’s all around.” Such remarkable precision and forethought is what Wallace’s writing is all about—but only in the sense that it’s emblematic of a larger determined noticing. Get that, and in many ways you get it all.

more from Lance Olson at The Quarterly Conversation here.