Monday, June 18, 2012

The Two Cultures Again?

The NY Times review of Fouad Ajami's The Syrian Rebellion includes the sentence
The mutilation of young Hamza did not crush the Syrians; it enraged and catalyzed them.
The OED I have does not include catalyze (or catalyse) as a verb, unless in the supplements. For the noun catalysis it includes
2. The name given by Berzelius to the effect produced in facilitating a chemical reaction, by introducing a substance, which itself undergoes no permanent change. Also called contact action.
(Sense 1, given as obsolete, is a nod to the Greek: dissolution, destruction, ruin.)

I suppose that the reviewer might have reached for "galvanize", but have come up with "catalyze" as more, well, cataclysmic. To anyone who has ever taken even high school chemistry, it reads distractingly wrong. The byline describes the reviewer as a staff writer at The New Yorker, a publication that used to excerpt absurdities from small-town publications, and print them as filler under facetious headings.

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