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We saw what you wrote; we know who you are

The streets will be deserted tonight. Windows will be dark, doors locked and double-locked. Hurried meals will be eaten in darkness. Telephones will ring unanswered. Children will be told to keep away from windows. And the fretful will lie awake on their beds, trembling at the thought of what the morning will bring.

Tomorrow dawns National Grammar Day.

Some will have nothing to fear. People who use ain’t in casual conversation will walk the streets unmolested. People who write all their e-mail to friends in lowercase letters, with punctuation in commas when there is punctuation at all, will not see their message traffic interrupted. Hip-hop musicians, both professional and amateur, and teenagers who use texting slang in conversation will — OMG! OMG! — not feel the hand of authority clamp on their shoulders.

But others, and their whereabouts are known, will be weighed in judgment and found wanting. Bureaucrats who pile noun modifier upon noun modifier upon noun to confuse the public. College students who think that standard spelling is merely an option for their papers. Perpetrators of misplaced modifiers. Reporters who have never mastered its/it’s or who/whom. English teachers who have perpetuated nonsensical and non-idiodmatic “rules” of grammar and usage. Composition teachers who encourage their students in expression while ignoring the traditions of grammar and rhetoric. For them, the sands are running out.

Trained grammarians, copy editors of the green eyeshade, wielders of the sharp pencil, precisionists of usage, excisers of verbiage, have waited for years in their redoubts for the arrival of this day. They are prepared.

There will be opposition, and the unlearned will have unexpected support from the learned. From rooftops, insurgents from Language Log and other centers of the Linguistics Party will fire upon the copy editors on patrol. Success in the mission is by no means certain.

But it is a start. The hosts are on the move.

A note from the author

I am scheduled to be a guest tomorrow on Dan Rodricks’ Midday program on WYPR, 88.1 FM, Baltimore, during the 1 p.m.-2 p.m. segment. Don’t miss this opportunity to call in and abuse me.


Posted by John McIntyre at 8:14 AM | | Comments (6)


Could you please ask for a transcript of the radio show tomorrow, and post it for those of us far away from your fair city? Thanks.

You're all over who/whom but what about whon?. That's the accusative, you know, as in "whon did you show to the door?" What about ye/you? And don't get me started on thou/thee. When was the last time you heard anyone using the second person singular pronoun?

When did I last hear anyone using the second-person singular pronoun? Two days ago at divine service.

Perhaps you also heard the line "Whom say the people that I am?" (Luke 9:18) there. That "whom" definitely needs work.

I've never disputed that the New Testament would have benefited from further editing.

Student of linguistics and philosophy of language here--unsurprisingly, I am a long-time Language Log fan.

On the other hand, I am a (young) editor at a non-profit publishing company, and I rail against the Oxford comma with the best of them.

I'm not going to choose sides here, but I will complain that your accusation against all hip-hop musicians, amateur and professional alike (I didn't know you were a connoisseur, Mr. McIntyre) is a misguided generalization.

Aesop Rock? Mos Def? MF Doom? Talib Kwali? You don't have to like them, but don't insult their intelligences, or their ability to string together sentences with grammatical complexities that rival those of, dare I say, newspaper columnists.

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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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