Columns » Words

"30 killed as Syrian forces reportedly fire on crowds."


"Staffers have noticed that both Obama and Hillary are methodical, secure and human-scale when you talk to them; they're deductive thinkers who drill down into a problem. The former president, by contrast, is discursive, needy, and larger-than-life; he's an inductive thinker with a connective mind."

Until fairly late in the 20th century, needy meant "impoverished, broke." That's the only definition given in my old Random House Unabridged. Today, needy has acquired a second meaning, and Merriam-Webster Online lists that one too: "marked by want of affection, attention or emotional support."

So I get the needy part, but I'm still uncertain about the rest of that description of Bill Clinton. The adjective discursive is a troublesome word. It has two dissimilar meanings. One is "passing aimlessly from one subject to another; digressive; rambling." The other is "proceeding by reasoning or argument rather than intuition." I think the writer had Rambling Bill Clinton in mind – you know how he goes on sometimes – but I imagine the former president would object to being called "aimless," and instead thinks of himself as "proceeding by reasoning."

And while this is not the writer's fault, I always have to look up deductive and inductive. Induction is "any form of reasoning in which the conclusion, though supported by the premises, does not follow from them necessarily." Deduction is a form of reasoning "in which a conclusion follows necessarily from the premises presented, so that the conclusion cannot be false if the premises are true." I think our writer was saying that Clinton is more of a free-wheeling thinker than his wife and President Obama, more likely to draw inferences. Obama and Hillary Clinton are Holmesians, the writer seems to be saying, while Bill Clinton is more like Dr. Watson.

Another misplaced qualifier:

"30 killed as Syrian forces reportedly fire on crowds." And how many were killed if the forces didn't fire? Make it "30 reportedly killed" ... That's the important point, and from that position, "reportedly" can be read as applying to the rest of the sentence too.

Add a comment