The Best of Andy Rooney

When I sit down at my computer with a blank page on the screen, I often feel like going back to bed. Sometimes nothing comes to mind to write about. If you're a ditch-digger, you dig ditches whether you feel like it or not, and if you're a columnist you write a column whether you feel like it or not. (Sometimes, of course, you might end up digging a ditch.)

Writing is not something people usually feel comfortable doing. All their mistakes and inadequacies are right there in front of them. They can't hide them, so they have to fix them, or live with what they know is wrong or not good enough. I've written over 5,075 columns, I think, by now -- this is No. 5,076, maybe? That comes to a total of more than three and a half million words. I'd hate to have you know how many of them I thought were not good enough.

I get a lot of letters and, considering how badly many people write, I'm surprised how good some of them are.

There are several hundred books here in my office -- 500 or more, maybe -- and many of them are by my literary heroes. E.B. White wrote for The New Yorker Magazine and put words on paper better than any writer I know of. (One of my treasured memories is having lunch with Andy White and the great Joe Leibling, who I knew well enough to call both "Joe" and a friend.)

Some of the books I look at almost every day, especially those about language. Next to me on a shelf are books by the great Walter Lippmann, Russell Baker, Bertrand Russell, Fowler's "Modern English Usage" and "The Modern Researcher," by Henry Graff and Jacques Barzun. The best book I have is called "The Practical Cogitator," which was compiled by Ferris Greenslet and Charles Curtis Jr. (I never knew either of them, but the "Junior" seems strange. I don't think of anyone "junior" as being smart enough to write a book like that.)

I have several copies of the Christian Bible, and I often pick up one of them. There are a lot of great things in the Bible but it's hard to read overall. There's a lot of it I don't really understand, and if you're going to read the Bible, you have to be ready to skip a lot of it. I suspect that part of the Bible's charm is its obtuseness. Some of it is great, but I challenge anyone to make sense of parts of the Bible.

The word "bible" means something different when it's spelled with a capital B. "The Bible" always means the spiritual book, but the dictionary is the bible of the English language. Just don't capitalize "bible."

Dictionaries are satisfying to look through because they're all different. I have five near me and I most often look at one for spelling. The trouble is, you have to know how to spell a word before you can look it up.

One book I have called "Words," by Paul Dickson, contains a lot of unusual and interesting definitions, although I can't speak for their accuracy. For instance, he says: "The words hungry and angry are the only two (English) words that end in 'gry.'"

The writer Stephen Leacock once suggested that "asterisk" would make a great swear word.

This may be one of the columns I mentioned earlier that may not be that good. I might have to learn how to dig a ditch.

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