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Beware the Fourth of March

Consider this a warning: March 4 is National Grammar Day.

Though this blog is listed as participating in the event, I feel a tremor of apprehension at how the various mavens, snobs, SNOOTs, elitists, prescriptionists and precisionists, drunk with power at getting a day all their own, might comport themselves.

Shall we see people who say “between you and I” clapped into stocks in the public square? Will insurgents sweep through markets, tearing down signs announcing TOMATO’S and CUKE’S? Will newspapers and magazines find themselves buried under sacks of mail full of letters that begin, “Have any of the members of your staff attended college” or “Are any of your employees native speakers of English?” Will the air above our great cities fill with smoke as mobs armed with pitchforks and torches storm the publishing houses that have dispensed with copy editing? Will straggling crowds of journalists who have written about safe havens and mass exoduses and the HIV virus shuffle through the streets on their way to re-education camps where they will shovel manure until they are rehabilitated?

Well, we all love a spectacle.

Or will the participants take a more civilized and informed approach? Perhaps to sit down with that high school English teacher who forbade splitting infinitives or ending sentences with prepositions, explaining gently that there is nothing wrong with either in English. Or to hand out copies of Garner’s Modern American Usage to those in need of clarity. Or read David Foster Wallace’s "Authority and American Usage" in Consider the Lobster and Other Essays for its fun and good sense.

Or to resolve not to be so prissy and self-important, letting people indulge in the demotic of their choice when they talk or write casual electronic messages, and focusing attention on the way people write for publication.

Or perhaps just to hold on to that letter or memo or article a little longer, to go over one more time to see what might be cleaned up.

And you, you civilian, you non-maven, you reader. On that fateful Tuesday, it won’t be necessary to hug a copy editor — nobody wants that. But you might murmur a quiet word of thanks.



Posted by John McIntyre at 2:19 PM | | Comments (3)


Yes, this could be an opportunity to show concern for grammar rather than to show off. Scolding of any kind tends to backfire, especially regarding grammar.

Three of my sons sat through grammer classes taught by the same demanding teacher. One of the boys nominated her for Disney Teacher of the Year. When they speak in front her after the passage of many years, she continues to provide appropriate corrections.
My hat is off to you, Mary Summers, for the work you do and the love that inspires that work.

John, I'm murmuring a quiet word of thanks for your sane approach to this stuff!

Martha Barnette
Co-host, "A Way with Words"

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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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