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One is grammar; one is style

Haven’t gotten around yet to reading The Washington Post’s article on David Minthorn of the Associated Press Stylebook. (Get off my back; I haven’t read Gravity’s Rainbow yet. Do I still have to?)

But I did look in on Robert Lane Greene’s post on it at Johnson, where Mr. Lane Green makes an important point. The things that people quibble about in AP style are almost never about grammar or usage, but about points of house style. House style is often an arbitrary choice between two equally acceptable ways of writing something. Therefore—deep breath, fellow copy editors—it doesn’t matter except for maintaining internally consistent practice at a publication.

The Post article, Mr. Lane Greene points out, doesn’t distinguish between grammar and house style. Neither do most civilians, and not a few copy editors.

Rules of grammar and usage, so long as they are actual rules rather than superstitions or zombie rules, matter enormously. Clarity matters enormously. Accuracy matters enormously.*

House style matters some.


*I take it as an indication of our degenerate age that it was possible today for to pose this question in a headline: “Should journalists confirm information before passing it along on Twitter?” Yes, yes, you saw correctly. A reputable journalism organization feels that it must pose the question whether journalists should confirm that what they say is right before disseminating it.

The Internet, Twitter, all that is like some guy shouting in the street. Anything might be said. You’d think that journalism, if it had any standards left at all, would give some passing thought to the question, Is this true?



Posted by John McIntyre at 5:57 PM | | Comments (2)


I am behind Mr. Greene.

Prof., you can skip Gravity's Rainbow--I give you dispensation.

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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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