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I'm going to tell you one more time

I only hope that you, dear reader, are not among the people that worry about what the language is coming to. Since there are many misapprehensions about usage, often drilled into students’ heads till they stick for life, many people think that they are righting wrongs when they tell others that they write wrong. And it’s not a healthy practice to elevate your blood pressure every time someone’s usage evidences a presumed failure of education.

For further help in gaining perspective on usage, please see Jan Freeman’s latest “The Word” column in The Boston Globe, in which she reminds you of ten “un-rules”—usage myths, bogus rules. I’ve illustrated nine of the ten imaginary violations in the previous paragraph. I would have done all ten, but even though I am sadly prone to typos, I could not bring myself to include a deliberate misspelling in this post.



Posted by John McIntyre at 11:17 AM | | Comments (13)


I wondered what had gotten in to you. My personal peeve with this is my son's books. What a perfect opportunity to present clear usage and proper language. Instead I find myself editing the heck out of almost all of them.

OK, so now actually having read "The Word" my comment makes no sense in the context. Whatever, it's still true :)

I did not notice problems with the first paragraph. I reckon I's unletterate.

I'm serious here, because I have my doubts, but shouldn't your first sentence be "people who," rather than "people that"?

My doubts stem from the fact that I bow to you in all matters of usage.

That has always been used in English to refer to human beings. It is most frequent in references to groups--"The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light"--or an individual person not identified--"The girl that I marry will have to be. ..."

You've made the perfect argument for the immediate sacking of all editors, everywhere.

I think it is important to make a distinction between what is "correct" for an editor and what is "correct" usage. Editors work with style sheets that help them maintain consistency, so they're not, for example, using "gray" in one sentence and "grey" a few sentences down and they're keeping their relative conjunctions in good order: "who", "that", and "which" shall each have their assigned roles and none shall encroach on the others' roles. But in fact, good usage is not crystal clear on this latter point: "that" and "who" can both refer to people (my parents prayed, "Our Father That art in Heaven"), and "which" can be used as well as "that" in restrictive clauses. The only part of the rule that still holds in modern English usage is that "that" cannot be used for nonrestrictive clauses and "which" is not used for people; in nonrestrictive clauses one uses either "who" (for people) or "which" (for everything else). Fortunately, my excellent grammar teacher in middle school, Miss Dibert, while a stickler on many points of grammar, was not embarrassed by flexibility in usage.

Just to clarify my previous post: by "people", I mean creatures whom the author thinks of as persons. My cat Erazma, who has strong feelings about these things, took offense when she read what I wrote.

Sheesh. At your build-up, I thought "The Word" list was going to be chock full of genuine bugbears. Instead they're silly, "whatever" kinds of things--hardly even distinctions, most of 'em. Also, if the idea is that usage is supposed to follow the contemporary evolution of the employed language, how come all of the language columnists and bloggers warming their ands over each others' pronouncements point to authorities that are hundreds of years old and say "it's been like this for the past 1,000 years." I thought it was supposed to CHANGE?

The good Stoic emperor has restated the point without apparently grasping it.

The strictures that Ms. Freeman lists are all silly, pointless, time-wasting, unfounded superstitions of usage that nevertheless continue to be taught in the schools and universities and imposed by editors whose authority is not matched by their information.

"silly, pointless, time-wasting, unfounded superstitions of usage"

So maybe a bit more time editing the night content and a little less time blogging is in order?

"People THAT need people are the luckiest people..."

paging, Barbara Streisand...

I don't see a reference to the first non-rule on the list, involving the word "none". All others (barring the spelling one) are indeed referenced, though.

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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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