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Don't be shy

Google Analytics tells me that this blog, unaccountably, has thousands of regular readers, only a handful of whom ever comment. You don’t need to be a wallflower. Come on in. The door’s open. The only obstacle is the irritating CAPTCHA feature.

Now you may be under the impression that the conversation is a private exchange between Picky and Patricia the Terse, but that is just not so. They are happy to talk with anyone. Or you may be apprehensive of provoking some extended rejoinder from Alex McCrae. But really, he’s tame.

Or you may shrink from the thought of criticism. We certainly allow spirited disagreement here. And, you may have noticed, it’s OK to zing me. The Terse One, on the strength of long acquaintance, can be sharp, and you enjoy the same privilege. But this is a civil little polity, and no one will insult you. If comments get abusive or insulting, they are deleted. It hasn’t been necessary to block anyone but spammers, but anyone who acts like a lout can expect to be escorted out.

Also, really, we don’t care about typos in comments, or slips in grammar or usage there. This is a conversation, not a damn dissertation defense, and, as Al Gore once told George W. Bush, there’s no need to get snippy.

So, don’t forget to write.



Posted by John McIntyre at 12:38 PM | | Comments (29)


I thought the name of the blog was "You Don't Say"? But seriously, thanks for the invite.

Just wanna let you know gf and I are going strong despite our differences regarding the serial comma.

As an engineer, I've always felt out of my depth commenting about language and usage. So I haven't. I'll try not to let the intimidation factor stay my commenting hand from now on.

As a lifelong Sherlockian, I knew what your example of the word "pawky" would be long before I got to it.

Who are the whiz kids who can guess what the CAPTCHA phrases even are the first time? I think the computer thinks I'm a computer. Well, it does once or twice usually before relenting to my doggedly trying again. I think I have about a 33% chance of getting this approved the first time, but I'm bad at math and I have no idea if those are "e's" or --- I have no idea.

I always enjoy this blog; I read it daily! I became an editor four years ago, and look to this blog as a source of information, guidance, and comic relief from some tedious afternoons at the office!

Thing is, Kem, you're an engineer; actually know things; how do you expect us to deal with that? On the other hand, what did you think of the Benedict Cumberbatch Sherlock (if you saw it)?

Tracey: yeah. I just keep hitting that CAPTCHA reset thingy until I see something vaguely recognisable. Nasty, though, innit?

Jackie: for guidance? From someone who tells you "whom" is dead and then uses it in the first sentence of his post? Ach!

I'm sorry.

Did you say something?

You couldn't have been talking to me!

Haha! Well said with George versus Al. It's a shame that people read and don't comment, because I think the comments are often what makes the article even more enjoyable!

I too enjoy your posts. And your occasional Tweets. I'm a couple of posts behind, but they're safely tucked away in InstaPaper.

Prof. McI.,

Geez, thanks for blowing my cover---%$@*&!@. --- As the unofficial 'extended rejoinderer' (that was clumsy), on your fine blog, I must now come clean and admit that all my fierce bluster and vitriol expressed over these many months on, "You Don't Say", was really a well-calculated ruse. Dare i say 'canard'. HA!

As my closest intimates will confess, I'm actually a veritable pussycat, at heart., and my fangs may appear somewhat threatening, but really, I truly mean no harm.

Picky and Patricia's running dialogue is just infectious. No antibiotics needed. HA!

Seriously John, thanks for what I took as kind of a backhanded compliment......... or maybe even a forehanded (direct) one. HA!

Now to you legions of longtime 'lurkers' out there......... and you guys, and gals know who YOU are. Prof. McI., our superb blogmeister, and most of our regular commentators on this lively site are a harmless, friendly, yet very conversational lot. So I beseech you guys to just get off you virtual duffs, and give us your 2-cents worth, if the spirit moves you.Try it, you'll like it.

I, for one, would not deem myself that competent in opining on all-things-lexicographic-grammatical-or-syntactical, yet this forum tends to go far beyond merely the nuts-and-bolts, shoulds-and-shants of our glorious, yet complex English language. (As anyone who has followed the myriad subjects Prof. McI. has offered up for open discussion).

Don't be bashful......... echoing Mr. Mcintyre's welcoming article 'header'.

John, just some well-deserved parting kudos to you from yours truly on this personally edifying day marking the one year anniversary of your return to the Sun 'paragraph factory'. Even my copy editor buddy currently toiling on the early evening shift at the L.A. Times was well aware of your earlier untimely one year hiatus, and was personally heartened to hear, early last May, that you had made it back into the Baltimore Sun fold.

Many moons ago this Chicago-born-and-bred gent took some college journalism classes from you, and you clearly left a fond, and lasting impression on him. You newspaper editors seem to be a loyal, tight-knit fraternity?

Personally, not to come off as too gushy, I do feel a sense of privilege in having this wonderful online site, "You Don't Say", to on a rare occasion, vent my spleen, or mostly to just share my sundry views and musings on so many cool, and engaging subjects of the day. (I do admittedly tend to elaborate beyond the norm, but that's just ME. A 'verbosnik', to the core. HA!)

John, may your next year be as rewarding and intellectually stimulating as your last. The reinvention of Mr. John McIntyre forges full-steam ahead, and it's great to be along for the fun, and educative ride.

Thanks John.

You are truly a diamond in the rough. A rare gem these days.


I haven't seen "Sherlock" yet, so I've yet to form an opinion. I've heard good things though. Jeremy Brett long ago set the Sherlock portrayal bar for me.

My BS degree was in journalism, but it led me to the classroom rather than the professional newsroom. (Now it translates to a career teaching tech writing to engineers.) This blog reminds me—happily—of years in the university and small-town newsrooms. Thanks for that!

Being able to figure out what the Captcha says doesn't mean I can type it right.

I haven't seen it yet either, but for me pawky immediately brings up Stevenson's "Ticonderoga", where it describes the crafty antagonist:

There dwelt no pawkier Stuart / In Appin or Mamore.

There is no truth to the rumour: Picky and I are just good friends. I see us as a latter-day Emma and Steed. (He gets to be Steed or course. No cross-dressing allowed, and I loved Emma's neat little car.) Also, not sharpish, just to the point, when possible. Thank heavens it's not a dissertation defense: this is much more civilized, most of the time. Tally-ho!

So I get the Bentley? Excellent!

As to my predecessor as sleuth, Mr Holmes, I agree with Kem that Jeremy Brett is definitive. But there seems always to be a new way of looking at Holmes - I enjoyed the Mary Russell books, for instance. Perhaps Holmes is, as Raymond Chandler said, just an attitude and some unforgettable dialogue (though you could say the same of Philip Marlowe) and you can remake him how you will.

Anyway, "Sherlock" is worth catching if you can.

Hi and best wishes from the UK.
I'm pretty sure I have commented here once or twice before (probably not with this name), but I'm a regular lurker and almost certainly found my way here originally via Language Log. I'll probably creep back into the woodwork, though, to be honest, as even reading the blog without engaging in discussion is rather a guilty procrastination-pleasure.
Happy to agree that 'Sherlock' is good fun; fans of Mr Cumberbatch (and others) may also enjoy the BBC radio comedy 'Cabin Pressure'.
Thanks for the blog, John - always enjoyable.
Now to try my luck with this Captcha...

It took me a while to get up the nerve to write a comment. There is something "awesome" about writing regarding language to a person who is a professional in the field. But I've appreciated the gentle responses, the occasional correction, and the invitation to continue commenting. This is my first stop on my daily browse through the blogs I follow. (And many times it is the best stop!)

It's more of a spectator sport for me. I just set up my folding chair, grab a beer and a hot dog (or coffee and danish if it's in the morning), and sit back to watch you all play. Thanks for all the entertainment!

I always enjoy reading your posts informed with gentle humor. With all the screaming in the media these days, I truly appreciate your unruffled approach to language and life.

I no longer take this blog seriously enough to comment as, with very few exceptions, it's way off my reason for studying English. As it is, the focus seems to be focused on what is considered "good" English as defined by native (primarily U.S. or British) English whereas my interest lies in using English to communicate among all those who use English where non natives outnumber natives.
IME the most relevant source of interest is Longman's Dictionary of Contemporary English which has a defining vocabulary of 3,000 words. Thus by understanding those 3,000 you can understand the rest of the words in the dictionary. Long ago, I actually wrote a program that flagged any word in a given text if it was outside the defining 3,000 so I could explain what certain things meant in using the words in the defining vocabulary.
Not only that, I had my students buy and use Longman's themselves and thus we could move forward to discussing current political, cultural or economic issues. Thus we could move on from learning English to learning how to make presentations followed by discussion. As they become proficient I became only one of many presenters and took the seat of the current presenter and became another participant.
While I'm no longer running Actual English sessions, the only serious change I've made is sending "define: xxxx" to Google instead of using hardcopy Longman's. See
While the particular style of English used in this blog is interesting, it's only one a number of blogs I read, and even larger number of news reports from all over the world, all in English and each with it's own in-house style sheet. Thus while each news source is free to use it's own style sheet (with or without using the AP Stylebook) readers of those sources must be able to navigate multiple style sheets to get at the information. What I think is a very small number of readers seem to enjoy spending their time arguing which of the many style sheets is best/correct/whatever which bores me to tears.

Like Jed Waverly, Paul Lagasse and Sedmunds wrote (and skipping over Dave McLane since, as he points out, his language interests diverge), I really appreciate reading highly entertaining and very civil insights from a language professional. I'm not one myself, but my whole job (trial court judge) is based on words and the effect they have. I listen to stuff, then I say stuff, and then other people do stuff based on the stuff I've said.

Words are powerful stuff.


P.S. Words may be powerful stuff, but they don't have to be powerfully stuffy. That's why I also appreciate reading comments from people such as Picky and PtheT, Dahlink and Alex McCrae (when I have the time necessary to devote to his posts), and so many others here. Not a hint of stuffiness.

I think you better give Dave McLane his money back...
I enjoy the discourse here, and I have gained insights that help me edit the work of both native and nonnative English speakers.

Sorry, "anonymous" at 12:03 PM was me.

Picky the Steed is welcome to the Bentley, and the hat and the walking stick. I'm happier in a small car and I can wear those neat jumpsuits, which I suspect will come back en vogue eventually. If only I had Engish country lanes on which to dart about. Picky, we're wanted! (I just couldn't warm up to the latest Sherlock. Jeremy Brett, Mr Hardwicke and Charles Gray did it for me too - and the production was wonderfully directed and written. I could watch one of those and one Lovejoy every week.)

Thanks for the kind words, Tim. I am thrilled to learn that someone who thinks words are powerful is sitting on the bench.

Apropos of Tim's comment, if any readers here ever find themselves bewailing the current state of the language and its users, I highly encourage you to spend some time hanging out at a law library. The law is built of language, and spending time in the company of clerks, jurists, attorneys, and librarians who respect and revere it will reinvigorate you.

(Disclosure: my wife is a law librarian, and as a result I get to socialize with well-spoken, clear-headed people on a regular basis. Be jealous of me.)

"The Law is the True Embodiment/Of Everything That's Excellent.... " Perhaps not. But I like the tune.

I see, Kem and Patricia, that Mr Hardwicke has died.

I love reading the blog, but I've never really felt I had anything to add (I feel the same way about commenting in Language Log). But thank you so much for all of your posts.

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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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