I’m not sure this topic merits a whole diary, but for some reason I feel compelled to write about it. Elizabeth Edwards has written a very nice obit on Tony Snow, which is totally unobjectionable except for one eye-catching detail. Consider the first two sentences:
“Tony Snow has died. A young man (with my next birthday being number sixty, I am entitled to the folly of calling a fifty-three year old “young”), with a facile mind, an easy smile, and a quick wit; a man who had a perpetual twinkle in his eye when he was doing what he he born to do; a man who loved his wife and his children; a man who loved politics and maybe a little more loved the verbal sparring that comes with politics well-played; a man who desperately did not want to die.”
Now, I don’t really think Elizabeth Edwards would intentionally dis a cancer patient who has just slipped loose from the surly bonds of earth, especially given her own experiences with that disease. But her use of the word “facile” to describe Snow’s mind really is an odd choice of words, especially from a woman who is obviously adept at the use of words. According to Webster’s Dictionary the adjective facile can have a number of meanings. It can mean “easily accomplished or attained,” which doesn’t make sense in this context. It can also mean “used or comprehended with ease,” which kind of makes sense in an awkward sort of way. Perhaps she means that Tony Snow used his brain without too much difficulty to himself (I guess it could mean “user-friendly brain” or something like that). It could also mean “shallow” or “simplistic,” which wouldn’t be a very nice thing to say at all, but would be grammatically correct as well as the most common usage of the word. It could also mean Snow had a “poised or assured” mind, which would make sense and would also be a nice thing to say. But the word isn’t often used that way, and I confess when I read Edwards’ obit I was a little miffed at first, thinking she was trying to be cute and meant it in a less than flattering sense.
Then I realized it could just be a gaffe, which at this point I’m pretty sure it is. Even so (and I know that I’m just being anal about this) John needs to get his wife a thesaurus. He can certainly afford it. That’s all I’m saying.