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Emily Dickinson on the copy desk

The writer slow to recognize —
The double Genitive —
Despite his claims to skill — in Prose —
Is still no friend — to Me.

And yet he chronicles the Smith’s —
As Grocers label Cuke’s—
In disregard of where he puts —
His lax Apostrophes.

Posted by John McIntyre at 10:13 AM | | Comments (5)


Kudos on the very nice homage to Emily Dickinson.

Speaking of terrible uses of apostrophes, this is the sign for a business just down the street from my wife's office:

"Adult Book's and Video"

I get a chuckle every time I see it.

But that's correct, according to at least one authority (one who, unlike me, has won a Pulitzer): In the chapter on business writing in Dave Barry's Claw Your Way to the Top, it is noted that apostrophes are used to form plural nouns in hand-lettered signs. (It is also acceptable to use quotation marks for emphasis in hand-lettered signs, as in TRY "OUR" HOT DOG'S.)

Mr. Barry can note that all he wants, but that doesn't mean I'm going to agree with him, Pulitzer or not. Ugh. I'm not sure that someone who suggests that this is correct usage deserves to be considered an "authority."

Dave Barry is great--does he have a Mr. Language Person book out? Boy, these comments dropped quickly from Emily Dickinson. Jackie, for an example of this authority's work, try searching for "Mr. Language Person" and learn the answers to grammar questions such as:
Q. I have trouble remembering the difference between the words ''whose'' and ''who's.'' Should I put this in the form of a question?
A. In grammatical terminology, ''who's'' is an interlocutory contraption that is used to form the culinary indicative tense.
EXAMPLE: ``You will never guess who's brassiere they found in the gumbo.''
''Whose'' is the past paramilitary form of ''whomsoever'' and is properly used in veterinary interrogations.
EXAMPLE: ``Whose gwine spay all them weasels?''

Haha, thank you, Harry. I should have done some research before commenting; my faith has been restored.

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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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