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Come on, people, keep up

Item: I regret the necessity of the annual reminder that casual references to this coming Thursday should be St. Paddy”s Day, never St. Patty’s Day, because Patrick, though regrettably Celto-Roman (i.e., English), was nevertheless a man, not a woman, and the Irish diminutive of Patrick is Paddy. Give thought for a moment why paddy wagon is a pejorative.

Item: Today’s is the second Sunday magazine of The New York Times to lack the “On Language” column. The Facebook group Keep “On Language” in the New York Times is up to 836 members. If you have not joined, or expressed your displeasure to the magazine’s editor, Hugo Lindgren ( or the paper’s ombudsman, Arthur Brisbane (, or the editor on Twitter (@nytkeller), then you are not holding up your end.

And if you have already written, today would be an excellent time to remind them all that you are still here and still angry. Ecrasez l’infame.

Item: Interested in getting into copy editing? Stop snickering; I’m serious. Carol Fisher Saller has some advice.

Item: “I guess what’s happened is that what used to be a shockword has become a noise that’s supposed to intensify the emotion in what you’re saying,” writes Ursula K. Le Guin in an essay on our excessive fondness for employing the most versatile of the Anglo-Saxon verbs. Worth reading for the opening paragraph alone.

Item: Dilemma, from the Greek di, “twice,” lemma, “premise,” in the strictest sense is a choice between two equally appalling options: Scylla and Charybdis, the devil and the deep blue sea, Keeping Up with the Kardashians and The Apprentice. Casual usage has cheapened it into a mere synonym for problem or perplexity.

One of my correspondents has recently discovered something worse than casual usage: the belief that the word is spelled dilemna. It is not only a mistake; it is a mistake that appears to have been taught.

Item: I am not making this up, you know: Speaking yesterday in Manchester, New Hampshire, Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, the light bulb populist,  said: “You’re the state where the shot was heard around the world in Lexington and Concord.” She had said much the same thing in a speech the evening before.

Apparently history can join spelling as one of our neglected subjects.



Posted by John McIntyre at 8:14 AM | | Comments (14)


You know - OK I'm English and therefore have plenty of reason to be careful about this - but I would consider it disrespectful to refer to St Paddy (or St Georgie or St Andy or St Davey - although Dewi Sant would be fine). Why can't it just be the dignified St Patrick's Day?

Prof. McI, thanks very much for the link to Ursula Le Guin's essay. She nailed it (absolutely no pun intended).

As for Rep. Bachmann, nothing she says can surprise me any more.

I just read Ursula Le Guin's essay, and I agree with most of the comments. However, I would like to add one point. In the "good old days" (whenever they were), use of four-letter English expletives marked you as a MEMBER OF A LOWER SOCIAL ORDER. Today, as proof of the triumph of American democracy, everyone can do it. "Ah brave new world" - innit?

It's a little more complicated, I think. Freedom of swearing is a mark of both the lower orders and the aristocracy. It's the middle class that finds it necessary to be careful and decorous. "Middle-class morality," Mr. Doolittle would snort.

As a longtime fan of professional golf, and in light of the St. Paddy's Day discussion at hand, the Ballyroan (Dublin), Ireland-born golfer, Pàdraig Harrington, immediately comes to mind.

Various golf reporters and on-air hush-toned TV golf commentators occasionally refer to the amiable Harrington w/ the casual moniker "Paddy", although some TV 'color commentators', particularly the Brits, are fond of laying on the full-bore Gaelic pronunciation of his 'Christian' name, Pàdraig, which phonetically translates as Pour/ rig-----almost coming off as that morning oaten cereal that allegedly puts hair on one's chest....... porridge. (Hmm..... so that's why the fairer sex isn't that fond of porridge? Hairy bosoms.......... not good.HA!)

Frankly, I prefer Pad/ rick. But that's just me.

Now, the late screenwriter/ playwright/ novelist, Paddy Chayefsky is a totally different story. How a talented kid hailing form the Bronx, NYC, born of fist generation Ukranian Jewish parents ended up w/ the moniker "Paddy" is another tale, entirely. (His actual first and middle given names are Sidney Aaron, respectively.) The current Wiki 'bio' on the origin of the "Paddy" (Chayefsky) handle, had a kind of apocryphal taint to it, so I won't indulge you folks in its retelling.

@Prof. McI.-------- IMHO, Rep. Michele Bachmann's most recent publicly-aired gaffe was hardly a mere slip-of-the-tongue, as many of her knee-jerk blogging apologists are so quick to point out in her defense, or for that matter, even an innocent midlife 'brain-fart' from an admittedly outwardly physically attractive Mid-West pol, and sadly, 2010 presidential wannabe.

This one, in a disturbing series of historically-based, slip-ups, in my view, glaringly underscores political light-weight Bachmann's sheer paucity of basic American historical knowledge. ironically, her whole grassroots Tea Party-rooted agenda is apparently grounded in a sound adherence to, and reaffirmation of factual U.S. historical precedence, and the high-minded tenets of liberty and personal freedom for all citizens fostered by our enlightened founding fathers. Talks cheap, but get your damn facts straight, woman!

Smoke and mirrors can only work for so long before folks w/ even half a brain realize that this woman has become almost an embarrassment to her high office, and perhaps a symbolic personification of the desperate, verging on dysfunctional tenor of the current GOP (Party-of-NO) leadership.

Keep those awkward gaffes rolling in, Rep. Bachmann. The Dems are just smacking their collective lips, and rubbing their hands w/ glee, each time you shove that lovely foot of yours into that perpetually flapping, lip-sticked pie-hole. (Sorry for that indelicate slang term for "mouth". Couldn't resist.)


Even if Ms Bachmann hadn't misfired historically and geographically, that's a very strange sentence of hers, isn't it? "The state where the shot was heard around the world in Lexington and Concord"?


Sorry to change the subject, but it is Selection Sunday. John, you having roots to Kentucky, Michigan State, and my beloved Syracuse Orange, whom do you like in the men's NCAA tournament? (Or is this one time of year when you stay as far away from the office copier and water cooler as possible, so as to avoid discussions of such?)


it's no mere accident of happenstance that the two 'hot' babes of the GOP, Bachmann and Palin, both w/ lofty visions of their presidency dancing around in their perfectly-coifed, slightly addled, deluded heads, have major difficulties in putting more than a handful of words together into a coherent, grammatically correct sentence.

If you've heard Sarah 'Going Rogue' Palin deliver her folksy brand of political-speak, usually while preaching to her fawning, far-right-of-center 'choir', you'll notice that she is almost totally averse to both the negative and positive contractive form of the verb "to be", among others. This annoying affectation gives her speech cadence a distinctive stilted, almost clunky air, rather than a free flowing, natural quality.

Superb Palin mimic, actress Tina Fay, in her right-on SNL spoofs, really emphasizes Palin's avoidance of all regular speech contractions, as well as layering her parody w/ that Fargo-esque, backwoodsy accent that the former drop-out Alaska governor delivers w/ such unabashed zeal.

Palin, instead of saying, for instance....... "It isn't my place to tell my fellow Wasillans that they aren't supposed to go shoot endangered Alaskan wolves. That's my job. HA!" ......... she will invariably say...... "It IS NOT my place to tell my fellow Wasillans that they ARE NOT supposed to shoot endangered Alaskan wolves. THAT IS my job. HA!" (Ugh!)

Clearly the verb contractions, "isn't", "aren't",, and "that's", respectively, just DO NOT(HA!) appear to exist in Palin's storehouse of vast vocabulary. And to think this gal was a college graduate, majoring in journalism, no less. Mercy! IS NOT that special?

You betcha!

All kidding aside, IMO both Ms. Bachmann and the 'Divine' Sarah (Oops! Forgot, that was actress/ diva Bernhardt) could use expert intensive remedial elocution coaching.
Seems like good old bumbling former President George Dubya kinda set the bar pretty low for future GOP aspirants-to-high-office following in his footsteps, in the public speaking department.

Even though the mainstream media constantly pointed out to Bush that he was mangling the word "nuclear", he stubbornly stuck to his version, namely "nuke-u-lar", which he insisted he had looked up in his local "lie-berry'. Oh, how we miss that man. Comic relief will never quite be the same, will it?

Picky, at least your PM, Mr. Cameron, however he is praised, or scorned by the British populace, at least, speaks w/ the eloquence, erudition, and authority, befitting a head of state, and respected world leader.

I would rue the day that either Bachmann, or Palin, by some crazy fluke of fate, made it to the highest elected office in our land. Could the U.S. electorate really suffer a collective brain-fart at the voting booth in Nov. 2012 equal to a mega-ton nuclear blast, and choose either of these intellectual light-weights as our next Commander-In-Chief? We did sadly elected the younger Bush............ twice.......... so stranger things could transpire. Just sayin'.


"Apparently history can join spelling as one of our neglected subjects."

Just ask the Gawker, which, in reporting this faux pas, referred to "New Hamshire."

Anyway, thanks for the belated reminder (to everyone who needed it) about "St. Paddy's Day.

Well, I suspect Mr Cameron's education (Eton and Oxford) was a bit more expensive than Mrs Palin's, and I remember Mr Blair speaking very nicely - didn't stop him being something of a disaster.

The inability to construct a coherent sentence worries me more in a potential leader than some oddities of pronunciation. Nu-cu-lar is common enough in the US, I suspect, and it did seem just a genuine part of Mr Bush's English. I grew up speaking the same English as Michael Caine - you should hear me strangle my vowels - but Sir Michael's not daft, and even I can cross the road unaided.

One thing St. Patrick isn't is English. He was, as you rightly observe, a Romanized Celt, one of the people whom the actual English called by their word wealas, meaning something like "Roman(ized) foreigner". Indeed, when Patrick was born the English were only just arriving in Britain from the Continent, where wealas had been primarily applied to Italians and Gauls. His very name is Latin patricius 'patrician', and cannot be Irish because all p's at the beginnings of words were changed to c's (pronounced k) in Irish. He probably spoke Old Welsh and Vulgar Latin, but not likely Old English.

So, using the modern version of wealas, we can rightly say that St. Patrick was Welsh by origin, Irish by choice.

Thank you, Mr Cowan. I sort of half suspected John's "regrettably Celto-Roman (i.e., English)" might be a sprat dangled in my eyeline, and I have resisted rising to the bait. Whatever "Celt" may be taken to mean, and whatever "English" may be taken to mean, in the glorious confusion of history, at least we are safest saying Patrick was one of the first and not one of the second.

Despite that handicap, I think the poor chap is entitled to his full name. At any rate "Paddy" is an expression I find uncomfortable. If we must shorten the name (and why should we?) then St Pat's sounds much better to me. Actually I find all this leprechauning and clovering and glory-be-we're-all-half-daft-drunken-paddying utterly demeaning of the Irish.

It is the Feast Day of Ireland's Patron Saint, for heaven's sake, and some degree of respect would seem the best attitude.

I once knew a man -educated by the Jesuits - who named his beloved cat Scylla. When I asked why, he said because he was 'damned if he'd go out into the yard at night and call "Here Charybdis!" Anyway, please don't get Imam McIntyre started on sports and how dim-witted sports fans must be. (I didn't cry during my GREs. Go Orange! Also MSU, where my father went to school.

I knew of a man who thought the bosun's cat should be called Scourge. He was half Irish and had a good friend called Patrick.

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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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