As one who made his living with words, Jack Smith loved to explore language, the meanings of words, and the minutiae of grammar and usage. Whether debating the proprieties of ending a sentence with a preposition or discovering a fascinating, unfamiliar word like boustrophedon,* Smith and his readers engaged in a lively dialogue about the vagaries of everyday language.
* Turning like oxen in plowing; an ancient form of writing in which the lines run alternately from left to right and right to left; or the action of some computer printers.
Portrait of Jack Smith, ca. 1975.
Jack Smith. Notebook, undated.
|This page from one of Smith’s commonplace notebooks focuses on words and their meanings.|
Grant Campbell. Words: A Potpourri of Fascinating Origins, Santa Barbara: Capra Press, 1992.(Image not available)
Jack Smith’s personal library held scores of books on words, language, grammar and usage, and quotations, including this volume. He consulted these sources often in researching his columns.
Jack Smith. “God Bless Profanity,” corrected typescript, undated.(Image not available)
Smith writes in support of his commitment to using the best word possible, including profanity, when and where it is appropriate.
This is an expanded version of his column titled “Choosing Right Word Is Hell,” published in the Los Angeles Times
on January 7, 1974.
Al Hudson. Letter to Jack Smith, March 8, 1982.(Image not available)
Al Hudson introduces Smith to a new word, “boustrophedonic.”* Ever delighted by unfamiliar or arcane words, Smith has drafted his reply at the foot of the letter.
*Turning like oxen in plowing; an ancient form of writing in which the lines run alternately from left to right and right to left; or the action of some computer printers.
Robert M. W. Vogel. Letter to Jack Smith, July 12, 1982.(Image not available)
Smith’s readers greatly enjoyed comparing notes with him about the minutiae of grammatical correctness, as well as about correct attributions of quotations, and here Robert Vogel indulges in both kinds of verbal sport.
Responding to a column, Vogel refers to a famous Churchill quotation. The British statesman supposedly replied acerbically to someone who criticized him for routinely ending sentences with a preposition, saying, “This is the kind of pedantic nonsense up with which I will not put.” In his letter, Vogel records his own version of the anecdote. Smith’s draft reply is at the top of the letter.
Charlton Heston. Letter to Jack Smith, March 22, 1988.(Image not available)
Heston writes to Smith about the source of a quotation that had been cited in a column. In 1956, Heston played Moses in the classic Cecil B. DeMille film The Ten Commandments.