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Many Things

Can I just take a moment and voice my dislike for the many things, but not locution? I have been subjected to it twice recently, once I don’t recall where but once in the headline of the TAPPED article by Paul Waldman and Jaime Fuller: Many Things, But Not a Traitor A search turns up a bunch of other instances—

Sherlock is many things, but not a sociopath. America is many things but not fatalistic. Someone who shoots electrodes out your ear holes is many things but not loveable! Hillary is many things, but not stupid. Kanye is many things, but not someone who reaches for the middle, and I respect that wherever it’s found. Vernon is many things but not a coward. Texans should not be fooled by rhetoric describing this budget as a “good conservative budget.” It is many things, but it certainly is not that. Rustic, yet elegant, the Drummond Single Bathroom Sink Chest is many things, but not boring.

How many things do I want my bathroom vanity to be? Did someone intimate that America was only a few things? How many things is Vernon Dursley, really—more than the median fictional character is, do you think, or fewer? I am willing to believe that a person who shoots electrodes out of my earholes is at least a few things, but what things exactly? Is Sherlock really many things, or is he simply disguised as many things? Isn’t Hillary, really, a single entity, when you get down to it? And Kanye, well, Kanye. Many, many things, Kanye is. So many. He’s, um, a recording artist, and… I guess he owns some restaurants, and has a fashion line. Oh, and he’s a dad, isn’t he? Yeah, he’s a whole bunch of things all right. I’m not sure how any of that is relevant to the reaching-for-the-middle idea.

Really, that’s my complaint: why do we care how many things they all are? It doesn’t add to the persuasive power of the comment, it’s just a meaningless throat-clearer. At best it’s a kind of hedge, so you don’t have to baldly say Hillary isn’t stupid or Bradley Manning isn’t a traitor but can instead imply a balanced attitude. At best, the writer actually says what those things are. In the TAPPED article, we get that in the text:

Manning was many things—you can call him misguided, overzealous, or foolish if you like. But had the court called him a traitor, we would have entered territory we don’t want to visit.

Alas, they failed to use parallelism appropriately, and they can’t bring themselves to actually call the man a zealot or a fool, only to suggest that you might do that for them. It’s weak prose, it what it is.

The only way I can like this is if the writer does want to discuss what the subject is and is not, and then it only really works when you are insulting the thing that the subject is trying to be: Barry Zito is many things—philanthropist, guitarist, surfer, yogi, zen meditator, firearms enthusiast, born-again Christian—but he is no pitcher.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,