Nostalgic? No. It really was better.

So, online commenters snipe at each other. We know this. Thankfully, it’s quite rare on this site.

But, from much of the net commentariat, shallow, ad hominem and largely substance-free attacks ooze with the predictability of death and Adam Sandler movies. But I repeat myself.

Not portage. Carry. NYPL, CC, some rights reserved

Not portage. Carry. NYPL, CC, some rights reserved

Anyway, it’s grown tiresome to those of us who remember the good old days of comments. Yes, dammit, I’m talking about letters to the editor.

One problem with this “Back in my day…” nostalgia/moralizing, even if you’re preaching to the rare whipper snapper who’s actually paying attention and asks for an example, you’re hard pressed to find one.

Until now.

Because now we have this excerpt from a letter written in October, 1981 by Karl Felsen of Albany:

When is a portage not a portage? Answer: When it occurs in the Adirondacks.

A portage in the Adirondacks is a ”carry.”

It goes all the way back to the animosity generated in the French and Indian War, and to this day no self-respecting native of the Adirondacks will use a word of French derivation if an English alternative is available.

Yes, it was 32 years ago, and Felsen’s reasoning may seem suspect now, but this letter to the editor of the New York Times did explain the Adirondack-ly correct use of the word “carry.”

Why is this better than the dross gurgling through so many online comment sections? Well, the word “derivation” is in there. Its use is appropriate, coherent and it’s even spelled correctly. But mostly, the letter is better because it’s short, witty and it worked.


OK, I have no real proof that it worked. But, here’s a story by Jesse McKinley that ran only a week ago in the Gray Lady. An excerpt:

The latest possible fix, on the statewide ballot as Proposal 4, would permit the Legislature to settle the title disputes and add new forest preserve lands, namely a lake-to-lake canoe carry on the Marion River.

The reporter gets extra points because the green text above is a link (on the Times‘ site) that goes to an Open Institute Page where the term “portage” is used instead of “carry.”

Maybe the usage described in Felsen’s letter to the editor was enshrined in the Times‘ style book. Maybe McKinley’s an Adirondacker. Next time somebody runs into the reporter, ask.

In the meantime, you’ll have to excuse me. Some of the local children are veering dangerously close to my lawn.

But, please, have at it in the comments section below.

1 Comment on “Nostalgic? No. It really was better.”

  1. Ken Hall says:

    To eschew the use of the word “portage” in preference for the word “carry” make about as much sense as calling french fries freedom fries because the French declined to support our march into Iraq.

    Most if not all grammar school/high school histories courses include the US war of Independence from Great Briton which further includes the facts that France provided the Colonies with a great amount of assistance in their efforts. Interestingly, an amazingly few Americans recall such and I would hazard the guess that a substantial number would refuse to believe it today.

    A cursory dip into the internet pool yields the information that Latin and French each contributed about 29% of the roots of English words ; I reckon the “true Adirondackers” might find it necessary to stop using about 30% of common words.

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