Language Matters

Could we possibly call a moratorium among intelligent people on the casual use of Nazi this and Hitler that? (Yes, I know about the soup Nazi; I do not totally lack humor) but I’m sure I’m not the only one who cringes at these refs and name-calling in a political context.


Also this exchange about a Boston Globe book review:


Posted by David Mehegan March 25, 2008 11:57 AM

I have not read Honor Moore’s book, “The Bishop’s Daughter,” about her father, Episcopal bishop Paul Moore, but did read the excerpt in the March 3 New Yorker. She reveals in some detail her father’s lifelong secret (though his family knew) that he had a gay life, in addition to being the married father of several children. On March 17, the magazine published a letter from two of the author’s siblings, deploring her act of outing her father, five years after his death.

“Doesn’t it matter,” wrote Susanna McKean Moore and Paul Moore 3d, “even when someone is dead, that his most fervently held private life, and the unnecessarily explicit details of his marriage, are exposed against his wishes?”

What is the answer to this question? It came up in the case of Anatole Broyard, who kept his African-American family history hidden from the world, even from his children. In that case, Henry Louis Gates Jr. wrote the first story — again, in the New Yorker — but Broyard’s daughter wrote the book (“One Drop”), and it was her story as much as her father’s.

I feel fairly certain that any one of us has things in our pasts, or facts about ourselves, that we might not happily see exposed to the world, even if they aren’t deep dark secrets. If we have chosen to keep them to ourselves, how much time are we allowed, after we die, before someone in our family rips the cover off and says, “Well, Pop, you didn’t want people to know about this, but now you’re dead and my need to tell a story, and be interviewed and go on tour, and earn royalties, is what matters to me”?

If I knew that my father had been ashamed of some things in his own past (and who doesn’t have such things?), chances are I would let them die with him, unless there were some wrong that needed to be righted. Even if he had been a famous man, I like to think that I would not treat his hurts as my raw material, to plunder at will.

After a certain length of time, to be sure, history does take precedence — no one deplores the public knowledge of Franklin Roosevelt’s marital infidelity or physical disability, though they were kept largely hidden in his lifetime. But it is odd, to me at least, that a member of a family would be the one first to turn a bright light on the hidden truth.

There were two responses; mine is the second:


  • After reading the NYer’s excerpt of “The Bishop’s Daughter” by Honor Moore, I was struck, among other things, by the author’s first name. Did she truly “Honor” her father? Of course not. She violated his privacy and trust and exposed his secret life to the world against his and her siblings wishes for her own personal gain. Although I have no first hand knowledge of the author’s motives, I can’t help but think that she is driven by her need to cleanse her feelings of guilt and abandonment. She will have much to answer for if one day she meets him in the afterlife.

  • Posted by Charles Schwab March 28, 08 03:04 PM
  • ———————————–

  • Whoa! That was then, this is now. Only the most benighted among us would argue that same-sex attractions are shameful; the same goes for folks who would be put off by someone’s so called black blood.I hope you agree that Bishop Moore did nothing inherently wrong – – social mores forced him into the closet. Anatole Broyard’s racial identity was, in some quarters, what you describe as a fact that one “might not happily see exposed to the world.” Did you mean then or now?Your purple prose – – “hidden from the world,” “rip the cover off,” “raw material, to plunder at will” – – lends legitimacy to the idea that being gay or black still carries some stigma. Your innuendo suggests that Honor Moore is some tacky tell-all writer when in fact she’s an established and respected literary figure.Of course, some outings are better than others. When Senator Kerry’s Jewish roots came to light, they, rightfully, lent him a broader cultural context. But Eugene Robinson had to wear a bulletproof vest the day he became an Episcopal bishop. Your readers would welcome clarification of what, in the realms of race, culture, or sexual orientation, you still consider “deep, dark secrets.”Marilyn Richardson
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