« Mistakes were made | Main | Here endeth the lesson »

Speak English, or else

The city of Taneytown, Md., a municipality of something more than 5,000 people located 35 miles from Baltimore, is considering making English its official language.

If the council proceeds to enact this measure, then I say it is time to stop trifling with half-measures. I am prepared to move to Taneytown to serve as municipal English magistrate, and I am drafting provisions to put teeth into the ordinance.

Using it’s for its.

First offense: a godly admonition.

Second offense: a stern warning.

Third offense: a tattoo of the letter I on the forehead, for Illiterate.

Sounding the t in often.

Fine of $5.00 per occurrence.

Pronouncing nuclear as nucular.

Fine of $10 per occurrence.

Pronouncing mischievous as mischeevious.


Failure to make a subject and verb agree, as in the sentence on Taneytown’s Web site saying that “the City and surrounding area is rich in historic landmarks.”

One hour at noon in the stocks in front of the town hall.

Allowing annoying typos into print, as in the mayor’s State of the City report on the Web site: “He has come to use with some new ideas and some of those have already been put into action” (emphasis added).

This is a serious offense because of the presumption that no copy editor has been employed to vet the text.

Dismissal of appointed officials, impeachment of elected officials.

Saying between you and I.

Forfeiture of driver’s license for 30 days.

Using whom when the pronoun is the subject of a subordinate clause.

Spend the night in the box.

Saying or writing the obnoxious pleonasm safe haven.

One week at a re-education camp shoveling pig manure.

As H.L. Mencken wrote, “Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.” So let the people speak. Provided their English is acceptable.

Posted by John McIntyre at 1:54 PM | | Comments (18)


Only individuals who have no idea of the intent of this Resolution, spew such ludicrist comments. Please feel free to email me personnally so I can enlighten you on why an Elected Official would actually be pushing forward what his Constituents are asking for and what the actual intent is for such as measure. By the way did you see the results for Arizona? 79% of White Americans / 80% of African Americans / 48% of Latino Americans & 51% of Others actually Voted for English as the Official Language for their State. Notice it is not ENGLISH ONLY!

I'm from Ohio. I read this entry yesterday with a morning cup of coffee, and I enjoyed it immensely. I don't think you were "spewing," and I certainly don't think the points you made were ludicrous. Thank you ever so much for hosting this blog; it's a joy to see each new entry.

I do want to say, however, that I thought the third penalty for "it's for its" offense wasn't quite in keeping with the tone of the rest of your entry. Rather than a tatoo on the forehead, how about a scarlet letter "I" sewn on the person's chest? I don't think Nathaniel Hawthorne would mind.


Ummm, so, Mr. Magistrate is not going to go so far as to employ the Anglo-Saxon himself?

"Saying or writing the obnoxious pleonasm safe haven.

One week at a re-education camp shoveling pig manure."

Dear Mr. Magistrate: the comment box ate part of my note. Really.

I meant to quote you, but obviously guillemets don't work.

See: French Style Guide (Nova Scotia Department of Education)

Voici un exemple. Dans son ouvrage sur le style, Guillaumet déclare:
Il faut absolument tenir compte de la ponctuation à l’intérieur des guillemets lorsqu’on veut présenter un texte de façon lisible et agréable à l’œil. Il arrive souvent, en effet, que la ponctuation à l’intérieur des guillemets et la ponctuation à l’extérieur des guillemets soient redondantes. Dans ce cas, c’est la ponctuation intérieure qui
l’emporte. (Manuel de stylistique, p.45)

An aside .... I'm very confused by "Guillaumet" expostulating upon "guillemets."

Oops. That op.cit. isn't English!

Paul Chamberlain: Please note that in English we do not capitalize random words in the middle of a sentence.

If I can thank you for nothing else, John McIntyre, at least I'll now always have pleonasm at the vocabulary ready.

Please note, Mr. Chamberlain: YOU are the only one who asked for this resolution. Not one person addressed Council requesting this. You simply claimed that you talked to 500 of your neighbors. Where are these alleged 500 supporters?!?

Taneytown is in Maryland not Arizona. Not one time in 20 years in Taneytown has someone come to town to do business or speak to Council that could not do so in English. Unlike Arizona, Taneytown has less than 2% immigrant population and only 37 people who do not speak English "very well."

AND, to become a citizen (if not by birth), one of the requirements is "an ability to read, write and speak English."

During the time you wasted, you, Mr. Chamberlain, ignored other issues that residents did propose to Council, but those issues wouldn't get you as much attention, which you needed for your political run for state senator, as this has garnered. Accept the fact that everyone sees this resolution for what it is: an election-year ploy. You lost in this year's primary and I'm looking forward to whoever may be your successor after the next election.

This was wonderful, and I never knew sounding the 't' in often wasn't correct.

I must disagree: leaving out the 't' in often is offal. But then again, I am English. Something you didn't touch on is the word 'bring'. 'Bring' has a much under utilised sister over there in the great USA, 'take'. Use of bring instead of take should be punished by making the offender listen to a Cockney read your Declaration of Independence.

I guess you must be one of those merikins with a speech impediment - oops let me rephrase.... accent. So you've set yourself up for a bit of ribbing I think.

I ofTen think that pronunciation should not be held against those less fortunate to have one different from me. But I'm going to have throw a couple back at you.

The Nucular is what merikins ears hear when non-merikins put a diphthong in the word nuclear.

Mischeevious is fine by me - not the spelling - the saying. It's that second syllable stress we use you see.

If you're going to enforce English (the language spoken by those from England... and some ragtag ex-colonials) then I suggest you drop the complaints about accents. Or else... I'll have a go at merikin.

For instance. What's with ALUmiNUM? It's that speech impediment and inability to diphthong I think. You don't say PLUtonNUM, URanUM, THorUM - right? I think... pretty sure.

I come from New Zealand - not NU Zealand... there's a diphthong in there - please put it in there's a good nation... and I'll stop pointing out that most people of Usian stock loudly and proudly say "I'm from Merika and I'm a loyal Merikin."

I'm a huge fan of America, and love the American accent... mostly. I just wish you, and they, could see that there ain't one way to pronounce things.

I won't go on as I really am not so inane as to conflate accent with correct English usage.

I wish instead Mr McIntyre would poke fingers at the truly ignorant users of the phrase: "I could care less." That just sets my head banging against the wall.

David Mitchell's as well...

He is ofTen Mischeevious - and I think he speaks English.

Somewhere down the line McIntyre digressed into the fat jailer in COOL HAND LUKE.

Between you and I it seems the subject matter got him as excited as a mischeevious 12 year old with a nucular bomb. Its pretty funny if you ask me.

Please, please, please make the penalty for the misplaced ONLY come with a stiff penalty.

Conjugating a verb here Boss!

I often pronunce the "t" in often. Is that now a felony?

I am afraid that your penalties are not as severe as I would like.

For instance, "obligated" or "orientated" should be met with a public flogging per usage.

Of course, punctuation errors like " ladie's " should result in the stripping of all lands, wealth, and titles from the ignorant sod who wrote the error in the first place.

I can't think of a sufficient punishment for the flagrant misuse of "anymore". I actually heard a miscreant say "It's like that anymore" the other day. Excuse me?

Also, those who wait with baited breathe, breath too loudly, segway into a new situation, or for all intense and purposes do not know what the words they are using actually mean shall be clubbed.

"it's" for "its" drives me bat-shits (too). I blame Microsoft Word, which constantly suggests the change without regard for proper grammar.

Could we add a suitable punishment for saying "jen-you-wine"?

Perhaps garrotting?

Post a comment

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)

Verification (needed to reduce spam):

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
Baltimore Sun Facebook page

Most Recent Comments
Sign up for FREE local news alerts
Get free Sun alerts sent to your mobile phone.*
Get free Baltimore Sun mobile alerts
Sign up for local news text alerts

Returning user? Update preferences.
Sign up for more Sun text alerts
*Standard message and data rates apply. Click here for Frequently Asked Questions.
Stay connected