Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Feeling Is Mutual

Last night (or to be more accurate, this morning at about 3:00--it was one of those nights), I found myself non-plussed by this footnote in Hitch-22:
It is characteristic of Martin [Amis] to have pointed out that Dickens's title Our Mutual Friend contains, or is, a solecism. One can have common friends but not mutual ones.
Really? I made a mental note to check on that. That mental note is long lost amid the detritus knocking about in my skull, but thankfully I also made an actual note, a barely decipherable scrawl on a bedside scratchpad, which has prompted me to look up the word mutual in the American Heritage Dictionary, one of my favorite sources for advice on usage questions.
Usage note: Mutual is used to describe a reciprocal relationship between two or more things...But many people also use mutual to mean "shared in common"...This usage is perhaps most familiar in the expression, our mutual friend, which was widespread even before Charles Dickens used it as the title of a novel. While some critics have objected to this usage, because it does not include the notion of reciprocity, it appear in the writing of some of our greatest authors...and it continues to be used by well-respected writers today.
Just let it be known that those writers are not respected by Martin Amis.

Bonus Fascinating Video o' the Day: "The Writer Who Could Not Read." (No, it's not Sarah Palin.)