GORE VIDAL IS OFTEN TOUTED, particularly for this slight collection of four interviews, as the best conversationalist since Oscar Wilde. Let’s begin by explicating terms, or at least with etymologies, like the word “conversation.” Starting with the Latin conversationem, and then looking at Old French, we get “having dealings with others” or “keeping company with.” The specific sense of “talking” dates from the 1570s. “Manner of conducting oneself in the world” is long since archaic, but conversation as a synonym for sexual intercourse dates from 1511. In these interviews, however, Vidal has little to say about sex. He does that elsewhere.

Since the early 1500s, “interview” has meant a face-to-face meeting, coming from the French entrevue, a verbal noun from s’entrevoir, “to see each other,” “visit each other briefly,” or the “expression and exchange of individual ideas through talking with other people.” The journalistic sense of an interview first appears in American English in 1869. So we’re not starting out with Anglo-Saxon words.

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