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Maureen Dowd finds the lightning bug

Mark Twain famously observed: “The difference between the almost right word & the right word is really a large matter–it’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”

Maureen Dowd presents as tomorrow’s Exhibit A. She happened onto the lightning bug in her New York Times column “Dems in distress.” Referring to the Democrats’ current panic as a crisis of confidence in President Obama, Dowd writes: “It’s not just congressional Democrats who are kvelling” (don’t spellcheck me, bro).

My grandparents were native Yiddish speakers, so I happen to know that “kvelling” means “taking pride in.” The word Dowd was searching for was “kvetching,” which probably requires no translation, even for the layers of fact checkers and editors who work over the effusions of Paul Krugman, Thomas Friedman, Nicholas Kristof et al. on the editorial page. Maybe the editors can’t bring themselves to read her stuff more carefully than she writes it.

It’s another sign of the decline of the Times, if an amusing one.

UPDATE: The Times has silently corrected Dowd’s error.

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