Belief in progress and moving forward is very important. Even if you don’t attain your goal, you should at least realize that you have tried, and that in attempting you have achieved a great deal. Failure is not an end in itself. It is simply a means of continuing forward.
Probably the least blame for the misuse of the phrase “an end in itself” can be laid on Goldberg, who likely wrote her piece for the book quickly, off the top of her head, trusting to the book’s editors (not its figurehead editor, Mrs. Cuomo) to correct any problems in it.
And I can imagine that no one is going to edit a book such as that carefully, since it is an inspirational book, more likely to be presented to a youngster as a birthday or graduation gift than ever to be read – a conceptual book, you might say.
But that no one caught the error in Bloomingdale’s full page Times advertisement is shocking. Except for the Goldberg quotation and its citation, there are only 21 words, including the Bloomingdale’s logo, on that broadsheet. Besides having been subjected to copyediting, this ad, costing at least $75,000, must have been pored over for content by more than one person at Bloomingdale’s and its ad agency. Did no one catch Goldberg’s (or her amanuensis’s) error – using the word “end” in the phrase “an end in itself” as meaning “ending” instead of “goal?”
More questions: If no one saw it, was that because no one read it carefully? or because no one was familiar enough with the idiom, “an end in itself,” to know that it refers to a goal (as in “the end justifies the means”) instead of an ending (as in “the end of the line”)? If the latter, then I would recommend a lawsuit, on behalf of all those involved in writing and placing this advertisement, against the institutions to whom, for the privilege of gaining a college degree, they paid many, many tens of thousands of dollars.
Or was the error recognized and deemed so unimportant that it wasn't worth changing? (Rectification would not have been difficult; there must be zillions of inspirational quotations by black celebrities from which an alternative could have been drawn.) If that was the case, then I don’t know what to think. Is it that the ad is seen as an object in itself, not an attempt to communicate through words? Perhaps the ad’s creators believe that no one cares that much about words and their meaning any more.
I Googled “end in itself”+“Whoopi Goldberg” +Bloomingdale’s, thinking that with all the blogs there are about language and usage and all the bloggers looking for any excuse to bark “gotcha” at The Times, someone besides myself would have seen it and mentioned it on-line. Nothing.
I was able to find the complete 1½ -page essay by Goldberg on-line. It is such tawdry pap that one can almost imagine that the resentment that skilled comedienne must have felt on being pressured by her agent, or whomever, to produce it, moved her to warp the phrase deliberately. “Failure is not an end in itself,” spoken by a hapless character in a comic sketch, certainly would be good for a laugh.