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This is the song that never ends

Reported to work for my shift as a foreman at the paragraph factory.

Picked up a story that said that “sympathy cards line the mantle.” Changed mantle to mantel, and if you don’t know why I did, you ought to.

Picked up another and almost immediately encountered a reference to a three-story brick row house as a manse. If it doesn’t have Presbyterian clergy living in it, it’s not a manse. Instead we have a pretentious archaic word for “big house.”

And after that another damn false range, accompanied by adjectives as thick as kudzu. I used to say that copy editors, like surgeons, heal with the knife. But sometimes you need a machete.

A reader asks in an e-mail about another hardy perennial, the verb graduate, specifically whether it’s permissible to say that someone graduated college. In the nineteenth century, and well into the twentieth, graduating was something the college did, not the student. My grandmother was graduated from the Millersburg Female College in Millersburg, Kentucky. In the twentieth century the usage shifted, and by the latter half of the century it was well established that students graduated from a high school, college, or university. The current evolution of the verb, I graduated college, is still considered colloquial, and to some ears may cast doubt on the accuracy of the statement.

But while someone else will surely be dealing with mantel/mantle and manse when I have taken to my rocking chair on the porch at the Old Editors’ Home, I am not entirely discouraged about the rising generation of editors. Sarah Morayati, a student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, has published an essay on the importance of editing. A key sentence: “Editing isn’t suddenly less important when you replace ink with pixels. It’s more important.” I commend her entire article to you. It is clear, well-reasoned, articulate, and persuasive. Someone should be on the alert for her when Chapel Hill graduates her.



Posted by John McIntyre at 6:25 PM | | Comments (5)


Should the sentence about your grandmother read graduated by?

Thank you for the kind words about Sarah. She is indeed a thoughtful and careful editor.

@ John Cowan: No - that would make "graduate" a simple transitive, with the college as the actor - "the college graduated her". That's not what they said, though I think "she graduated from" was perhaps more common that "was graduated from", I also suspect that I may be imposing my ear on the practices of long ago.

A story in the NY Times this summer had a hiker "clamoring" up a hillside. Keep it down already!

Nevertheless, universities, not students, confer the degrees. At least in most institutions. I suppose in this climate, in which students claim to know more than the faculty, anything is possible.

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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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