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What I don't care about

For reasons I do not begin to understand, the TypePad software scrambled the order of paragraphs in this entry, which I have now restored.

A reader summoned up the courage last week to write, calling the process "a terrifying ordeal." He explained, "With every letter of every word, I find myself imagining harsh judgment being passed down."

Take a deep, cleansing breath. Maybe you should lie down for a while with a cold cloth on your forehead. Come back to this blog when you feel a little steadier.

Feel better now?

Let me explain what I don’t care about.

I don’t care about your personal correspondence.

I’m an editor, and I am paid to edit. I do not edit when I am not being paid. I am not being paid to scan your letters for typos, grammatical oversights or stylistic infelicities. It’s nice that you thought to write. It’s nice to get mail.

The exception is the letter from a job applicant, something that I am paid to evaluate. Jim Schottelkotte, the managing editor of The Cincinnati Enquirer when I was hired there 26 years ago, reflexively threw out, unread, any letter from an applicant who misspelled Schottelkotte, on the theory that anyone who couldn’t be trusted to get the name of his potential boss right couldn’t be trusted on anything else.

I don’t care about your e-mail messages, either.

I write mine with standard capitalization. But that’s just a matter of taste. Write everything lowercase, if you like. Invent your own conventions of punctuation.

It’s nice to get messages, but I’m not being paid to correct them.

I don’t care about public signs, menus, etc.

If the Smiths choose to suspend from the mailbox a wood-burned shingle with the legend "The Smith’s" on it, I may conclude that they, like most people, paid very little attention in English class, but I will pass by. If a menu displays pretentious capitalizations and risible descriptions of the dishes, I can always just order another bourbon. If a chain vendor of overpriced merchandise chooses to call itself "Cache," with an accent aigu over the e because it looks, you know, sophisticated, like French, I’m not obliged to walk in and explain the difference between cachet and cache, or to point out that the past participle of the French verb cachet means "secret" or "hidden." (I admit that I did admire the honesty of a local store, since closed, that called itself "Daddy’s Money.")

(Also, I admit to being snotty about that clothing store. But really.)

I don’t care how you talk.

Use ain’t freely; be my guest. Use double negatives. Hell, use triple negatives. Say nukulur. We’ve had at least three presidents who did — Eisenhower, Ford and the incumbent — and the Republic still stands. I may dress like a fop and talk like a pedant, but you have no such obligation, and I have no responsibility for you. Like, you know.

What I do care about

I am paid to edit texts for publication, seeing to it that they conform to the conventions of that version of English — one of many versions, all legitimate —called standard written English. It is a dialect that has some rules, many conventions and a multitude of perplexities. I have my hands full with it, and I don’t have either the time or the slightest inclination to enforce those rules and conventions beyond their legitimate scope.


Posted by John McIntyre at 11:41 AM | | Comments (3)


Whoa! Don't know why, but somehow, I've always thought you would be a strickler.
So, that was something! Lynn Truss would be disappointed to see, though :)
But, at one level, I agree that copy editors must leave their editing glasses back at the slot while leaving the office.
Reading your post, I was remimded of a professor at J-school, who ranted and ranted for one hour about why the makers of the hollywood movie Two weeks notice must be sent back to grammar school.
And, pardon me for digressing, does anybody have any idea what great copy editors Gus Van Sant and Quentin Tarantino would have made?

From Van Sant's Finding Forrester:

From Tarantino's True Romance:
Okee-dokee. It's like this, Krinkle; a patrol car stops this dork for
speeding, they walk up to window and the guy's covered in coke. So they
bring his ass in and me an' Nicholson go to work on him.

Nicholson and I.

Lies--all of it! LIES! (Well, except for the "What I do care about" paragraph, I guess. I've been your daughter too long. I know the truth.) But it is sweet that you're trying to reassure your audience. I can appreciate that.

Enjoyed your conclusion to the Realtor problem. Well put.

Just a slight correction in "I don't care about public signs": the past participle of the French verb cacheR (instead of cachet, which is a noun).

[My typo, now corrected. Apologies. JM]

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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