Whether as verb or noun, "rant" gets not a single kind word from the lexicographers. To rant, they tell us, is to talk wildly, to declaim vehemently, to speak in an angry or violent manner. Noun-wise, a rant is speech that is noisy, excited, bombastic, extravagant, declamatory, intemperate and boisterous. Moreover, in the most unkindest cut of all, the Encarta Dictionary says that to rant is to engage in speech that is usually "long and repetitious, loud, monotonous, or unconvincing."
Mindful of these admonitions, I do not rant today. Instead, I quietly invite your sober consideration of the most stupid, the most inane, the most self-evident four-word phrase in the English language. It is, of course, to say of some future event that it REMAINS TO BE SEEN!
Aaargh! Is it not instantly apparent, even to a child of 4, that everything on Earth, from this instant forward unto the end of time — everything — REMAINS TO BE SEEN?
It was not instantly apparent six months ago to the Rev. John I. Jenkins, president of the University of Notre Dame, or to Notre Dame’s provost, Thomas Burish. In an op-ed piece in The Washington Post, these learned fellows examined a proposal that every Harvard student be required to take a course called "Reason and Faith." Would this recommendation be adopted? They pondered. They examined the probabilities. Doubtless they sought divine guidance. At last they reached a firm conclusion. I will not keep you longer in suspense. They concluded … "IT REMAINS TO BE SEEN!"
The most persistent offenders in this regard, at least in the celestial realms of high-class journalism, are the editorial writers of The New York Times. Last year they gazed upon their navels and contemplated the case of Rep. William Jefferson of Louisiana. Investigators had videotaped the gentleman bagging an apparent $100,000 bribe. Would more evidence be forthcoming? The Times could say only, "IT REMAINS TO BE SEEN!"
That was in March. In December the Times examined a proposal to reorganize House committees in the field of international intelligence. Would Speaker Pelosi’s plan be adopted? Of this much the Times was certain: "IT REMAINS TO BE SEEN!"
Last month the Times looked again at the business of ethics reform in the House. "An integrity overseer is clearly in order!" Would the new House majority have the courage to take such a step? Such a bold rhetorical question demanded a reply. The Times would not evade its duty. Fearlessly it rose to the occasion. Said the Times: "IT REMAINS TO BE SEEN!"
It’s not fair to belabor the Times alone, for this vapid, sappy, stupid conclusion crops up like adolescent pimples, but while we’re having fun: Consider another offense, i.e., the Times’ addiction to "last" in a temporal context. A typical example appeared in an editorial five months ago:
"Over the last three decades, the number of overweight children in America has tripled to 16 percent …"
This is the trouble with the adjective "last": It is a coin worn down by Gresham’s Law. At one time it meant only "final," i.e., the ultimate, the conclusion, the absolute end of something. The ninth inning is the last inning; the rites of burial are the last rites; Hamlet dies in the last act; Browning’s last duchess was more than merely his most recent duchess; and when Sophie Tucker died in 1966, she was the last of the red-hot mamas.
The first meaning of "last" is still one of absolute finality, but usage has worn it down. In common usage, the last word no longer means the last word. But here and now, it does.