Bill Buckley: The opposite of energumen!

In his Boston Globe column Jeff Jacoby pays tribute to William Buckley: “There’s no stopping Bill Buckley.” Jacoby tries to get a bead on Buckley’s career, and invokes Buckley’s effect on him personally:

I was a 17-year-old college sophomore when I discovered National Review. A quarter-century later, I no longer recall where I came across my first issue or what was on its cover. What I do recall, vividly, is the thrill of encountering words and arguments that gave shape and coherence to my own inchoate political beliefs. The importance of individual freedom, the dangers of a too-powerful government, the blessings of a free market, the imperative of fighting communism, the indispensability of faith — these were themes I encountered again and again in the pages of NR.
But it wasn’t only the magazine’s political content that made it so invaluable. No less wonderful was its style. National Review was feisty, smart, playful, elegant — just like its editor, whose contributions were the highlight of nearly every issue.
Reading Buckley’s prose with a dictionary close at hand, I acquired a great collection of out-of-town words: asymptotic, ineluctable, synecdoche, eristic. Even after all these years, I recall names and references that could have appeared nowhere else, from the National Committee to Horsewhip Drew Pearson — Buckley’s idea of the right way to rein in an egregious columnist — to “the sainted junior senator from New York,” the standard NR reference to Buckley’s older brother James, who was elected to the US Senate in 1970.
Long before Rush Limbaugh appeared on the scene, Buckley had mastered the art of witty immodesty. (“I don’t stoop to conquer. I merely conquer.”) Asked once why Robert Kennedy refused to appear on “Firing Line,” he replied: “Why does baloney reject the meat grinder?” Humor has been as much a Buckley/National Review trademark as erudition. “The attempted assassination of Sukarno last week had all the earmarks of a CIA operation,” began one editorial comment. “Everyone in the room was killed except Sukarno.”

I still have my paperback collections of Buckley’s columns dating back to the time I started reading Buckley as a high school student. I share with Jacoby the same memories and at least one of the experiences Jacoby writes about. Looking at my copy of The Jeweler’s Eye (that would be Buckley’s eye, of course), I find between pages 180-230 the following underlined words I looked up in the dictionary while reading the book: exhumed, lapidary, pertinacity, tendentious, inapposite, apodictic, emunctory, prescience, hagiolatry, tintinabulary. And there on page 284, in Buckley’s classic column “The hysteria about words,” is Buckley’s tribute to the word “energumen.”


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