A Funny Comparison:

Here's a Christian Science Monitor headline from last week:

Backstory: H.L. Mencken, 'The Sage of Baltimore,' had a zing bloggers can't touch

The story says nothing about bloggers or the Internet; rather, as best I can tell the article is trying to say that no-one can touch Mencken's zing. ("There's still time in this semicentenary year of H.L. Mencken's passing to review his contributions to American letters and ponder why -- even amid the modern effluvia of our hydra-headed media -- he remains the most widely quoted American writer.") That may well be right: Whatever you may think of his ideas or morals, the man did have a way with words, and the degree to which he continues to be quoted is evidence that he's a hard man to top.

But he's hard for everyone to top, whether one writes online or offline, and whether one is a professional journalist or an amateur. Perhaps he's zingier than 100% of all bloggers. Perhaps he's better than 99.999%. But he's zingier than 99.999% or 100% of all modern newspaper writers, too. So why the felt need to say that Mencken ("one of ours," I take it, in the headline writer's and editor's view) can't be touched by bloggers?

Mike BUSL07 (mail) (www):
Seems an acknowledgement by the author that bloggers have stronger Zing Fu than traditional journalists. Put another way, it's more impressive to zing better than those who are best at zinging, than those who are, of late, second string zingers.
1.2.2007 1:22pm
johnbragg (mail):
What Mike said. Similar format statements:
1. Hulk Hogan used steroids at a rate Barry Bonds can't touch.
2. Rudy Valentino would put Leonardo DeCaprio to shame for adolescent female adulation.
3. Well before (I'm too old and unhip to know or care whom to put here) were banging drums in preschool, The Who's talent for damaging eardrums and stereo equipment makes (Current rockers) seem like a toddler's tantrum.

Illustrate the proficiency of the example whom your audience is too young to be familiar with by comparison to the most proficient contemporary/contemporaries.
1.2.2007 1:32pm
ReVonna LaSchatze:
Mike has it.

Bloggers have primarily earned a media reputation as "zingers". This award-winning law analysis blog notwithstanding.
1.2.2007 1:34pm
Elliot123 (mail):
So, is it more likely the next Mencken will come up through the blogs or the newsrooms?
1.2.2007 1:46pm
Mencken is the "most widely quoted American writer"? Really? I wonder what the basis of that assertion is?

I did a quick search of LexisNexis all news database and found that Mencken is indeed widely mentioned - I had to limit the search to the last 2 years (since 01/01/2005) to get a number of results under 3,000 (the threshold above which Lexis will not give the number of results). Mencken was mentioned 2,297 times in the past two years. This puts him ahead of several distinguished American writers. Washington Irving had 1,486 hits, and Edgar Allen Poe had only 1092. Even the eminently quotable Dorothy Parker had only 2,040 hits.

But Mark Twain, John Steinbeck, and Ernest Hemingway all had more than 3,000 results. Heck, even Yogi Berra passed the 3,000 mark.

But wait, the article says "most widely quoted," not "most often quoted." So I searched google books and found that "Mencken" has only 5,035 hits in their database while "Mark Twain" had 59,364 and "Washington Irving" 14,568.
1.2.2007 2:09pm
Crunchy Frog:
I am always amused by the level at which headlines mischaracterize the stories they purport to advance. I don't know if the CSM does this much, but the NY Times, LA Times, and Washington Post are famous for this, especially if the actual story does not comport well with the political bias of the hedwriters, who most often do not write the text of the story themselves.
1.2.2007 2:10pm
Houston Lawyer:
MSM writers don't often zing each other. The Wall Street Journal put the NYT editors into a snit when they zinged them over their national security leaks. Bloggers, on the other hand, revel in the zinging of the MSM.
1.2.2007 2:13pm
Dan Simon (mail) (www):
as best I can tell the article is trying to say that no-one can touch Mencken's zing.

That's the point--"people" and "bloggers" are now (or are close to being) synonyms.
1.2.2007 2:20pm
Gabriel Malor (mail):
DJR, it's possible that the CSM editors forgot to check Google, something we know would never be forgotten by a blogger.
1.2.2007 2:48pm
I wonder if possibly Mencken is quoted on more subjects, i.e. not just the same old 7 quotes used by everybody. THis would be an acceptable alternate meaning of "most Widely Quoted"
1.2.2007 3:40pm
Allen G:
That's a typo. Surely they meant 'bling', not zing.
1.2.2007 3:54pm
Michael Parker:
The professionals in the press know that they could touch him, if they really wanted to, cause they're actually talented unlike those shiftless bloggers.
1.3.2007 11:57am