Monday, November 01, 2010

Let's Just Disagree to Agree

The latest Vanity Fair features a breathless behind-the-scenes play-by-play of what really went down during the Jay Leno/Conan O'Brien contretemps earlier this year.

The lengthy piece, which is an excerpt from Bill Carter's upcoming book, includes this line:
Back in the days when the Letterman team were haggling with NBC over their exit...CBS and Dave's representatives hammered out a contract stating in explicit detail that Dave would be programmed each night following the late local news...
There's nothing really wrong here (other than my spending the better part of an hour reading 18 pages of Hollywood TV gossip) but I find that "the Letterman team were" construction nettlesome, nonetheless. Granted, the rules around collective noun/verb agreement, as established during the Collective Noun Conventions Act of 1936, stipulate that, even though we say the "the team was" in most instances, it is still acceptable to say "the team were" when referring to the actions of individuals within the group. Doesn't mean I have to like it. First of all, it has all the euphony of a clatter of trash cans lids, if you ask me. And secondly, it is so easy to work around the problem with something like "the people on Letterman's team were..." that I have to think the author is jamming the sentence with a seemingly disharmonious noun/verb agreement just to annoy, which is inexcusable.

Later in the excerpt, Carter describes how Jay Leno "made an effort to explain his point of view by sitting down with the national confessor, Oprah Winfrey."

You would think, wouldn't you, that a confessor is one who confesses. And you'd be right. But the same word can also be used, as it is in this context, to describe one who hears confessions and offers absolution. I don't like that, either. I don't mind words doing double duty--I have no anti-homonym agenda--but I draw the line when it comes to the same word having two almost directly opposite meanings. It's like that word cleave, which can mean either to separate or to stick together. Contradictonyms is what they should be called, and when I become president of English they will be banished and their supporters caned.

Goodness, I seem to have worked myself into a bit of a froth there. I think I'd better take a Xanax and lie down for awhile.