Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The BLUNDER BOARD is Baaaack-- Message 8

Ed. Note: We just got back tonight from the Holy Land, where we didn't get a chance to post last week. It was so much more edifying than Blunderland that we quite lost ourselves. But now we're back to the reality of Anthony Cekada's world of goofs, gaffes, and giggles.

From a member of Brazil's large traditional Catholic community:

I examined the accuracy of a critic at Pistrina [Ed. Note: see "Autodidact of the Credence Table"] who complained concerning «obsessive misuse» of the pronoun this. I thought he perhaps exaggerated. I was wrong. I read every page for 5 or 10 seconds. Here is what I found. Some times 1 page shows many examples. I know that more examples can exist which I did not see, but this list proves Cekada lacks education.

Page 31, 36, 38, 39, 46, 63, 74, 111, 124, 125, 133, 145, 148, 155, 163, 164, 168, 175, 180, 204, 190, 191, 202, 210, 211, 215, 216, 243, 248, 273, 280, 289, 323, 328, 329, 331, 332, 333, 334, 341, 358, 364, 365, 375

The Reader Replies: Muito obrigada. You certainly merit a reward for stamina and persistence. On behalf of traditional Catholics in the English-speaking world, I apologize: how unedifying it must be for someone brought up in a tradition that values fine writing and clear thinking to read WHH. I promise that not all traditionalist American priests are so wanting of general culture.

From the looks of it, the little ragamuffin Tony, all backward and blinking, never had the benefit of a louche and trained religious to frighten him into making sure a noun followed the demonstrative. At Pistrina, we understand that modern grammarians now allow a pointing word (demonstrative pronoun) to refer to an antecedent phrase, sentence, or idea. However, the referent must always be readily identifiable. Ambiguity is the problem with so many of the vague references that we encounter in the unreadable WHH. Had Anthony Cekada enjoyed a formal education, he would have acquired a bias for precision and worked harder to assure clear reference.

Happily, our correspondent's list affords an excuse to share outside of a special post another one of our objections to WHH: Anthony's overuse of the offensive jargon phrase as regards ("especially lame," Garner says, "when used to start a sentence"). We don't have the enthusiasm to scan every page, but we do have the notes of Reader #3, who cited the following occurrences of this much disparaged affront to good style and direct expression: pp. 282, 294, 310, 339, 356, 367,and 369.

By the by, like Ko-Ko, we are very pleased with the idea of these little lists. Let's see...

As some day it may happen that That Book won't stay unclosed,
We've got a little list--we've got a little list
Of Cekada's grossest blunders that for truth's sake we've exposed,
And that pains us like a cyst--and pains us like a cyst.

Hmmm. Do you think there's a new blog here? For starters, perhaps The Pirate of Penance or The Mc-plod-o? We're lovin' it.

Monday, September 13, 2010


Ed. Note: As university classes resume, and the Readers get ready for fall term, Pistrina posts early this week to accommodate busy academic schedules. Staff will also take a well-deserved holiday from Fr. Cekada's Blunderland, so this longish post from a still-vacationing Reader should keep everyone entertained. We intend to post next week if we can find an internet café in the sūq, so keep logging on.

Special Post From Vernazza:

Like all Anthony Cekada’s efforts, his translation of The Ottaviani Intervention is a work that falls short of academic standards. It’s a pity that English-speaking traditional Catholics don’t have a faithful translation of the Italian original. Admittedly, Fr. Cekada’s version—which in more than a few instances approaches a paraphrase—may give you the general sense of the original, it nevertheless fails to capture many subtleties. Moreover, in many cases it seems to depend heavily on the French version, despite his intimation that the French text served chiefly to shed light on the original’s obscurities. (In our estimation, the Italian text is perfectly clear.) Notwithstanding Father's patently obvious attempt to mislead, we’ve known since we read the 1992 edition that what he produced is essentially an often very free translation of a translation.

When his revised translation came out, we compared it to Italian and French versions found online. We recognize that the analyses we’re about to undertake may be trying inasmuch as they focus on linguistic technicalities. For our readers’ sake, we’ll cite only one example to illustrate that this little book is as sloppy and unreliable as Anthony Cekada’s other monstrous failure, Work of Human Hands.

In the cardinals’ covering letter to Paul VI, the online Italian text we found ( reads:

…il Novu[s] Ordo Missæ, considerati gli elementi nuovi, suscettibili di pur diversa valutazione, che vi appaiono sottesi ed implicati, rappresenta…un impressionante allontanamento dalla teologia cattolica della Santa Messa…

(Literally:the Novus Ordo Missae, after considering the new elements — susceptible to different assessment indeed [pur] — that appear underlying and implied therein [vi], represents…a striking estrangement [or removal] from the Catholic theology of the holy Mass...)

Here’s how Anthony Cekada translated the passage:

the Novus Ordo Missae—considering the new elements susceptible to widely different interpretations which are implied or taken for granted—represents…a striking departure from the Catholic theology of the Mass…

At first blush, the attempt doesn’t look too bad for an amateur. In fact, the addition of dashes was really a good idea (though we may quibble with their placement). Yet, a closer look is surely in order. In Father’s translation, the relative clause “which are implied or taken for granted” appears (by position and punctuation) to modify the word “interpretations.” However, if we examine the Italian original, we see that the phrase che vi appaiono sottesi ed implicati (‘which appear there underlying and implied’) refers to the plural elementi, for the word Father translated as “interpretations” is singular in the Italian (valutazione). In Fr. Cekada’s translation, the relative clause might modify either “elements” or “interpretations,” a definite stylistic error in spite of his boast in the Technical Notes, that he endeavored to avoid “obscure pronoun references” (p.78).

For comparison, here’s an online French version (

…le nouvel ORDO MISSAE si l'on considère les éléments nouveaux, susceptibles d'appréciations fort diverses, qui y paraissent sous-entendus ou impliqués, s'éloigne de façon impressionnante…de la théologie catholique de la Sainte Messe…

(Literally:the new Ordo Missae, if one considers the new elements, susceptible to very different assessments, which appear understood or implied therein [y], deviates [or is estranged] in a striking manner…from the Catholic theology of the holy Mass...)

As you can see, the French text is far from a slavish translation: its does away with the verb rappresenta (‘represents”) and reworks the direct object (‘represents a striking estrangement’ becomes ‘deviates in a striking manner…’). No problem. In fact, as a translation, we mark it A+. (Kudos likewise for the substitution of ou ‘or’ for ed ‘and.’) It’s apparent that if Fr. Cekada had any feeling for his own language (or a better formal education), he should have taken his cue from the French version in order to avoid the flat virtual copula “represents” of the original.*

By relying so much on the French version Father gets himself into trouble: in aping the French slight over-reading of fort diverses, he subtly alters the meaning of the original. He further compounds his difficulties by retaining the plural reading (appréciations) of the Italian singular valutazione. By so doing, he couldn’t see that the relative clause qui y paraissent sous-entendus ou impliqués (“which appear are understood or implied there”) should in fact modify éléments. For the record, we’ll stipulate that the original sentence is complex, and Father did well to ignore the French fidelity to the original’s sentence structure by breaking it into two English sentences. (The splendid periodicity of the 87-word sentence in the Italian must surely have been Bacci’s contribution.) In addition, the French choice of the plural (appréciations) may have obscured the true antecedent. (But note that the French version translated the adverb vi and inserted a comma, and Anthony Cekada didn’t.) Hence, here is an instance where Anthony Cekada should have relied on the original, not the French, to clarify the meaning.

As we have seen since early June, Fr. Cekada just can’t get anything right. When he tries to be pretentious (in this case by bragging he used the Italian original and a French version for clarification), he convicts himself of not knowing when to rely on the original and when to use the translation. All in all, he’s an unlucky and ungifted dilettante, whose every effort to appear learned blows up in his face. His lot is to entertain pretensions that will forever outpace his limited ability to perform. If his ignorance were not so hurtful to his own cause, we’d call him the Oliver Hardy of the traditional movement. However, we think he’s more like Bumble the parish beadle.

* A vigorous English rendering, then, would be “the Novus Ordo Missae…differs strikingly…from the Catholic theology of the Mass...” Yes, we’re fine with suppressing “holy” for a more idiomatic English rendering. We aren’t urging absolute literalness: that’s unliterary. We want accuracy, not hyper accuracy, and decent prose faithful to the original’s intention.

Thursday, September 9, 2010


From the mouths of babes:

During summer quarter my college writing class and I have been following your blog. Ouch! You are dead on right. It’s like reading a manual on what not to do as a writer. Our instructor gave us an assignment to find examples of bad writing in books, so my writing lab partner brought in her aunt’s unread copy of WHH. The aunt is a fanatical member of a freakie cult Cekada and his little buddy run in the suburbs. We had a blast picking random pages and finding all the dumb mistakes.

Our agnostic instructor had a good time with cliches like “be that as it may” [pp. 137, 201, 257, 322], “from strength to strength” [p. 76], “follow the beat of his own distant drummer” [p. 128], “mists of history” [p. 221], “vast quantities of information” [p. 248], “cast restraint to the winds” [p. 307], and “waiting in the wings” [p. 314].

Finally she asked us to use another book because with WHH it was like, well, to use a cliche, “shooting fish in a barrel.” Anyway she said that WHH comes from a vanity press. She explained how anybody with a few extra bucks can get into print nowadays. Our job was to find examples of “failed edited English prose,” and the instructor agrees with you - no real editor would have let that book go to press.

Has the Reader thought about a post devoted to Cekada’s cliches?

The Reader replies: Frankly, we don’t know if we’re up to another slog through that awful mess, and you and your instructor have done a pretty good job yourselves. All of us are fearful that Anthony Cekada’s bad style will contaminate our taste. His writings should come fitted with a bell to warn away all those who seek to retain decent prose style. When one of the Readers went to Vernazza for vacation, he took along Newman’s The Arians of the Fourth Century so that he could purify his brain with literate English. (Once he recovers, he’ll be sending us some notes on Anthony’s ineptitude as a translator of the Breve Esame Critico [“The Ottaviani Intervention”].)

However, we were so impressed with your page citations that we feel obliged to share one of the worst clichés from WHH. Like the stupidly pompous “be that as it may,” Anthony is overly fond of the catch phrase “take to its logical conclusion” (pp. 114, 181, 183, 185, 247, 336) and its variants “logical extension” (p. 195) and “logical consequences” (p. 52). These are scientific-sounding clichés (more vogue words than popularized technicalties), valueless tokens for better, more accurate words, of which our poorly trained author knows nothing. Such abuses are substitutes for thought or they are intended to suggest that thought took place when it really didn’t.

This catch phrase gives the false impression that the writer worked out any number of subtle propositional operations, when all he meant was that as a result of one idea, something radical happened: a skillful writer would simply have referenced the idea and then narrated the result. This annoying phrase (not even a good cliché or catch phrase inasmuch as it had no expressive value to lose in the first place) should almost always be omitted. For instance, on p. 181, he could have written “As a result of the bishops’ conference, the tabernacle needed to be exiled from the main part of the church” instead of “The bishops’ conference thus took the Roman legislation to its logical conclusion: the tabernacle needed to be exiled from the main part of the church.” (Of course, a good writer would have employed a far less clunky phrase than “needed to be exiled from.”)

Father’s variants “logical consequences” and “logical extension” are examples of slipshod extension (“when some accident gives currency among the uneducated to words of learned origin, and the more so if those words are isolated or have few relatives in the vernacular,” explains Fowler). A logical consequence is a term of art meaning that we will never get a false conclusion from an argument with true premises: in other words, because of its logical form, the argument is deductively valid. In logic, extension (or denotation) is the property by which a concept refers to the sum of real things (actual and possible) to which an essence can be applied. In WHH, these terms serve as fancy (and inaccurate) synonyms for “result”: e.g., p. 52, “All these proposals were the logical consequences [read result, fruit, etc.] of Jungmann’s corruption theory…”; p. 195, “But what I experienced…was merely the logical extension [read result, outgrowth, etc.] of the post-Vatican II ‘theology of greeting’….”.

The cloying overuse of clichés, hackneyed phrases, battered ornaments, and catchwords is another sign of the banality of Work of Human Hands and the insignificance of Fr. Cekada’s unfocused musings. If there is one instance when we just possibly might admit the phrase, it may be the following: “Literate members of the blogosphere took Pistrina Liturgica’s message to its logical conclusion and refused to buy Work of Human Hands.” We’ve provided true premises (multiple blunders, bad style, slap-dash reasoning), so the conclusion necessarily follows.

Saturday, September 4, 2010


From the United Kingdom:

I draw your attention to another imbecility: p. 331, " hearken back to at least one ancient source." Your author is beyond assistance.

The Reader replies: Reader #1 had highlighted this howler, but because of space limitations we didn't comment during Pistrina's sojourn in Anthony Cekada's Blunderland. Our feckless author just doesn't know that the preferred form of the idiom is hark back, originally a phrase from hunting, which refers to hounds' retracing their course to pick up a lost scent. Perhaps Anthony was confused by the many instances of "hearken to," which we find in the Douay Bible (e.g., 2K 12: 18, "he would not hearken to our voice").

None of us at Pistrina Liturgica had ever heard or seen this barbarity until we read WHH. However, in justice, we note that Webster's Third International and the The New Oxford American Dictionary both have an entry for "hearken back." Oxford tells us it's "another way of saying hark back (see HARK)." The non-standard form certainly arose from a confusion typical of the semi-literate. As we've argued, Fr. Cekada has never associated with the kind of people who speak and write "privileged" English, so it's natural that he knows only non-standard forms of phrases. We hate to say it again, but he should have hired a literate editor.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010


Some correspondents and message boards have suggested that only Pistrina Liturgica has problems with Fr. Cekada's inept Work of Human Hands. We invite you to view the following "Infomercial" on to prove we're not alone in our contempt for WHH: