Paul Greenberg

When it comes to scandals, supply has all but driven out demand. And the apologies for them have become mere formalities, like mass-produced thank-you notes. It is not an improvement. Seldom has English prose been so ... prosaic.

It is as if the miscreant caught in flagrante had composed his admission-and-apology with the help of spell check and a spreadsheet.

Power Point, TED and their unending successors just ain't the same as what used to be the art of the apology, which enhanced the dignity of both those who offered it and those who graciously accepted it.

All that is gone, gone. Replaced by the fatal construction, "I'm sorry but...." Of course it is the but that speaks louder than the apology.

. .

The decline of scandal is one thing, but when it becomes the decline and fall of language, all is lost.

Let's remember what is most important here: the treasure of the English tongue, which by now has been reduced to a pauper's leavings by this routinization of mea culpas.

The slovenliness of the usual affair is one thing. When it slops over into the language, something important is being lost. Maybe the most important thing.

The most striking aspect today of what was once the art of the American scandal is the complete, comprehensive, and by now predictable lack of any originality whatsoever in the apology for it.

Yet no one seems to bemoan scandal's collateral damage to the language, only the loss of some faux dignity that the principals had always faked anyway.

It is the rare individual who can keep his priorities in order when scandal raises its ugly rear. One such was a legendary copy editor and ladies' man at one of the Little Rock dailies who, as luck would have it, was tracked down at his Hot Springs hideaway by his long-suspicious wife. Confronting him, she demanded to know: "Who are you sleeping with now?"

Our exemplary editor, who knew what was truly scandalous, responded with indignation. "Whom am I sleeping with now," he corrected her in no uncertain terms. "Whom am I sleeping with now!"

The man had his priorities in order. This age doesn't.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.