« That Libyan strongman | Main | Nobody cares you're an editor »


The editorial page in this morning’s Baltimore Sun quotes a line of “The Star-Spangled Banner” thus: “Oh say does that star-spangled banner yet wave.” But Francis Scott Key wrote “O say.”

Oh is an exclamation by which a number of emotional reactions—surprise, disappointment, anger, excitement—can be expressed. O is used in direct address, as in a prayer.* “The Star-Spangled Banner,” in addressing the listener, uses the latter form.

To keep the distinction in mind, think how “O God” differs from “Oh God”:

“O God, give me strength to endure these minor frustrations calmly.”

“Oh God, I’ve locked my keys in the car again.”


*In Baltimore, of course, the O’s has quite a different sense.


Posted by John McIntyre at 11:55 AM | | Comments (8)


O John Oh My!

Who knew?
Someone on the edit page has been hanging with Christine Aguilera.

Hmm...... here in The City of Angels (L.A.) w/ at last count roughly 53% of our current population's mother tongue being Spanish, one could make a case for "José can you see by the dawn's early light....", and "José does that star-spangled banner yet wave", the Spanglish version of F. S. Key's oft butchered national anthem. HA!

I'm pretty convinced that those anti-immigration (read anti-Mexican, and Central American) zealots residing in Arizona might take major umbrage w/ this, what they would undoubtedly view, as an insulting bastardization of a sacred lyrical homage to their welcoming America. Chill out folks.

Pop diva Christine Aguilara, of Ecudoran ancestry on her father's side, had a hard enough time remembering the 'Banner's' lyrics at this year's Super Bowl halftime show last month. HER 'bomb' was definitely bursting 'on-air', broadcast to hundreds-of-thousands of TV viewers around the globe. If she's had a 'wardrobe malfunction' a la Janet Jackson, we might have totally missed her lyrical flub. Just sayin'.

"The Star-spangled Banner" lyricist, Francis Scott Key , if he were still living, might have opted for Ms. Alicia Keys, rather than the troubled Aguilara........kinda keepin' it in the family, give, or take an "s". HA!


Although I would never actually say this out loud or anything, it's sort of a shame that we don't all learn enough Latin to recognize the vocative case.

Of course, part of the problem with "O" and "oh" is that historically they were the same word, and they've only become differentiated in more modern times. In older texts one might find "O" where the modern rules would call for "oh".

‘Oh’ and ‘O’. It is lowercase if it doesn’t start the sentence, and it is typically followed by a comma (Oh, why I did I have to ask?) (The scenery is so beautiful, but, oh, I can’t describe it.)
The vocative O, a form of classically stylized direct address, is always capitalized and typically unpunctuated. (O Jerusalem)
5.197, Chicago Manual of Style, 15th ed.

Perhaps this should have been titled: "How about them O's?"


How about The Story of "O"........... of course, sans the whips, chains and other sundry instruments of pain/ pleasure infliction. HA!

I confess, that was a 'Sade' joke. Forgive me.


Post a comment

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)

Verification (needed to reduce spam):

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
Baltimore Sun Facebook page

Most Recent Comments
Sign up for FREE local news alerts
Get free Sun alerts sent to your mobile phone.*
Get free Baltimore Sun mobile alerts
Sign up for local news text alerts

Returning user? Update preferences.
Sign up for more Sun text alerts
*Standard message and data rates apply. Click here for Frequently Asked Questions.
Stay connected