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Bonus Monday

It’s my day off, so what better things to do that to sit at the iMac and offer you a second post for the day?

Never mind. I can think of them too. Anyhow:

How you talk

Jan Freeman responds at Throw Grammar From the Train to yesterday’s post on the annoying things broadcasters say with the salutary reminder that it’s tricky to gauge people’s class pretensions from their pronunciations. She’s quite right (though from my own experience I still think that pronouncing the t in often is a classic piece of middle-class inept efforts to climb another notch up the ladder).

It’s also the case that people who have not heard a word will pronounce it according to the spelling they have encountered, which is likely why pronouncing comptroller as it’s spelled rather than as controller has become so widespread.


Words you don’t like

Stan Carey, writing at Sentence first, reminds us that “It’s not a word” is a bogus argument. You know damn well what that word means; you just don’t like it. While you’re at it, drop “It’s not in the dictionary” from your arguments about words. Dictionaries (a) do not encompass the entire language and (b) do not have legislative powers over it.


Based in fact

You may have read columns by George Will and Charles Krauthammer claiming that President Obama is excessively devoted to the first-person, singular pronouns, or one by Kathleen Parker asserting that the president is unduly smitten with the passive voice. Then you should also read the posts at Language Log and HeadsUp conclusively demolishing those contentions.

No doubt it is naive of me to imagine that opinion columnists might trouble themselves to ground their views in fact. But really, you would think that they might be shrewder than to make assertions so immediately and easily vulnerable to refutation.

More than displaying their ignorance of the English language, they are also embracing a flawed mode of argument. You may not share the president’s principles. You may think that his policies are misguided or his decisions defective. Many on the right do. So do many on the left. Then argue the merits. If you start arguing from what you perceive to be his personality (he’s egocentric; he’s passive), then you are no better than the people across the aisle who argued that because President George W. Bush was prone to verbal gaffes, he was stupid.

Moreover, if your argument is that President Obama is egocentric, you will, whether you intend to or not, give ammunition to the people who think you are calling him “uppity” and will conclude that your arguments against him can be ignored because they are merely racist. You can do better than that. Your readers deserve better than that.



Posted by John McIntyre at 2:13 PM | | Comments (5)


Here! Here!

In your last sentence, I think you mean

Your reader deserves or
Your readers deserve

I suspect Kevin means "Hear! Hear!" since we are picking nits.

Does "Here! Here!" for "Hear! Hear!" qualify as an eggcorn?

Read all about it here here.

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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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