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The self-righteous inherit the earth

It is instructive to take a close look at the people who set themselves up as morally superior to you.

There are, for example, the people who lecture us on the importance of Traditional Marriage while going through their Traditional Divorces, or the militant patriots who contrive to avoid military service. A particularly ripe example was the recent discovery that Dr. George Rekers, a co-founder of the Family Research Council and anti-homosexual activist, took a ten-day vacation in Europe with a paid male companion whom he had engaged through

Martin Estinel, the proponent of an Academy of English, has responded to comments in the Times of London article on his proposal that “you should see the admiring mail I have been receiving. It appears that British society splits into 2 camps: those who want to remain ignorant and those who wish to better themselves. For the former, we can do nothing; for the latter, we are here to serve.”

I detect the true and authentic note of the morally self-righteous. It is one thing to be a snob about clothes or tastes in music. People are either fashionable or unfashionable, and, really, that doesn’t amount to much. The fashionable can flatter themselves on their exquisite taste, and the rest of us don’t care. But the language snob cannot accept that other people simply have different tastes in vocabulary or syntax or spelling or pronunciation. They must be denounced as ignorant, as barbarians, as a mob threatening the foundations of Western civilization.

As it happens, I understand this psychology from the inside, for I was an English major at a state university and a graduate student in English at a mediocre private university. I not only had better taste in language and literature, but I was morally superior to the rabble who had not read Milton.* Feel free to substitute Aristotle or Gibbon or Augustine or whatever Dead White Shibboleth is appropriate to your field.

It has taken a good while for the abrasions of life to erode that brittle veneer so that I can now understand that I am not a paragon but simply a practitioner of a craft. I labor to repair defective writing without the burden of infallibility in matters of faith and morals. I am not set up or qualified to judge that bad writers are defective as human beings. Annoying, yes, but not morally inferior.

Since the human impulse to make social distinctions over trivial and superficial matters is apparently inescapable, my advice to the peevers is to give up on language and find something that doesn’t matter to gratify their need for a sense of superiority. It’s not hard to feel superior to people who drink chocolate martinis, or watch The Real Housewives of New Jersey or read novels about emotionally sensitive vampires. If the peevers shift to those areas, then they can leave English alone. It does not require their assistance.


*Colleagues on Calvert Street will be amazed to learn that I was even more insufferable in my twenties than I am now.




Posted by John McIntyre at 10:07 AM | | Comments (12)


But the language snob cannot except that other people simply have different tastes in vocabulary or syntax or spelling or pronunciation.

I think you meant ‘accept,’ unless you are using some obscure verb form as a trap to catch language snobs.

Just so. It's fixed.

One is put in mind of an observation from that insightful editorial commenter, John McIntyre:

"Purists will fret, but they enjoy that. It gives their lives meaning." (

For the good people on Calvert Street: I can attest to the JEM in his 20s. He had a wonderful cat, however.

I often (okay, sometimes) wonder: if everyone was swayed by his argument and agreed to follow his every whim, would a peever be pleased and fulfilled, or begin to find something else to complain about?

I understand it has been said that the use of English by those who speak it as a second language is often better than the native speaker/writer. Obviously this is so in the case of JEM, whom I believe to be American rather than English.

Peevers, or whiners, or the perpetual complainers, are never satisfied. Their lot is life, indeed their whole existence, revolves around carping about something, anything which will get them the attention they crave. They are profession al whiners: give them a moment and they'll launch into another tirade. I often wonder how well professional whining pays.

Ridger, having once convinced my team to go with the resident peever's narrative, Peever seemed to become even moreso....incorrect implementation....reaction of the rest of humanity (Stupid! Stupid Humanity!) just so wrong.... What was, really, a What-the-Hey-six-of-one situation became very like a Punishment From God.

The lesson drawn from that was: Nothing to the Peevers. Nothing. No quarter at all! They enjoy being miserable SOBs.

Patricia the Terse.....I agree. There are people who just like the whine. If they have nothing to gripe about, they don't know what to do with themselves. Sad but true.

I think W. S. Gilbert got the psychology of the Peever exactly right:
Oh! Don't the days seem dank and long
When everything's right and nothing goes wrong.
And isn't your life extremely flat,
With nothing whatever to grumble at?

Augustine isdefinitely dead, but I don't think he was white :-)

(Sorry, all this pedantry must be catching -- I shouldn't have looked at the QES site...)

Some time ago, I needed to buy a building for my firm but I did not earn enough money and couldn't order something. Thank goodness my father suggested to take the personal loans at reliable bank. Thence, I acted so and used to be satisfied with my term loan.

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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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