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Don't be so sensitive

From Samuel Johnson’s Rambler essay No. 31, “The defence of a known mistake highly culpable”:

The certain and obstinate opposition, which we may observe made to confutation, however clear, and to reproof, however tender, is an undoubted argument, that some dormant privilege is thought to be attacked; for as no man can lose what he neither possesses, nor imagines himself to possess, or be defrauded of that to which he has no right, it is reasonable to suppose that those who break out into fury at the softest contradiction, or the slightest censure, since they apparently consider themselves injured, must fancy some antient immunity violated, or some natural prerogative invaded. To be mistaken, if they thought themselves liable to mistake, could not be considered either shameful or wonderful, and they would not receive with so much emotion intelligence which only informed them of what they knew before, nor struggle with such earnestness against an attack that deprived them of nothing to which they held themselves entitled.


Posted by John McIntyre at 10:48 AM | | Comments (7)


I'd show this to my students, but they'd only whine that they got lost halfway through the first sentence.

I've recently had students tell me, when I hand back a marked-up paper, that I "just didn't understand what they were trying to do," thus rendering all my constructive criticism...and presumably, my grading...irrelevant in their minds.

Fortunately their transcripts will tell a different story.

I "just didn't understand what they were trying to do,"

yeah, that was the problem--you didn't understand them.

I have recently been reading Naomi Novik's fantasy books set in the Napoleonic era, and the writing is wonderfully ornate. Though not quite as dense.

How would he have worded it if he were "Sam," today, I wonder.

"What, did you think you were never wrong, and that I've insulted you just because I told you something you didn't know yet?"

I think I see why Johnson is remembered today more for what Boswell wrote about him than for what he wrote.

All right, Preacher, you're stoppin' preachin' and startin' in to meddlin'!

Am i projecting or was this supposed to bring John McCain to mind?

Calm yourselves. I came across the Johnson quote, which I had posted on a bulletin board years ago to disarm hypersensitive reporters. I had no connection in mind with the current presidential campaign; if you leapt to that conclusion, perhaps you should take a breather from politivcs.

For those of you needing that break from politics, please make it a two week vacation and return on November 5, saying and doing nothing regarding politics (Don't even think about casting a ballot!) until you return.

Enjoy the turning of the leaves.

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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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