Sometimes it’s fun to look a word up in a good dictionary even though you know perfectly well what it means. I did that just now, for “linger,” and found the most delightfully-worded #2 definition in Webster’s Collegiate: “to remain alive although waning or gradually dying.” Now, that is a definition I knew, but it’s not the one that has presented itself when I’ve read this student’s sentence on previous occasions: I usually think of those facts as being “slow in parting” (def. #1), like the party guests who don’t seem to pick up the cues from the yawning host and the tidying-up hostess (or vice versa, of course) and say Yes, they will have just one more, or who pause on the porch stairs to tell just one more anecdote. Thanks to this morning’s Webster’s Moment, I can now also see them as palely languishing on the couch, their grip on their drinks ever more tenuous, the back of the other hand laid weakly and elegantly across the brow, like so many Gorey ladies.
In today’s news climate and already-long election season, both definitions of “linger” would apply well to the facts in many an editorial or Op Ed—or political speech, for that matter. Plenty of opinions and beliefs, doing their damnedest to persuade the facts to go home or die; facts resisting, clinging to the banister or clinging to life but ultimately doomed to depart. At least in “newspaper editorials,” the opinions or beliefs ARE usually clearly stated, although not all editors go on to clearly state the reasons for those opinions. Op Eds usually offer reasons and sometimes even evidence. Political speeches might present pretty good arguments, or they might not go beyond ambiguous assertions of belief, with code words crowding out any lingering facts.
The reader’s job is to sort them all out, and perhaps to demand that the facts be permitted to stay as long as they like, or even to ask that more facts be invited to the party—and once there, that they be given all they need to stay alive.
The writer’s job, of course, is to choose her words carefully, letting the facts “inform” the opinions, or “support” the beliefs, or “explain” the situation about which the opinion is being uttered, rather than setting them to “linger throughout,” randomly interposing their fading selves among the clear opinions where they’re not wanted.