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Say it ain't so, Jan Freeman

After a mere 600 columns, Jan Freeman is writing -30- to her column on language, “The Word,” at The Boston Globe. Even though she will continue to blog at Throw Grammar from the Train, and even though the capable and entertaining Erin McKean will continue the column at The Globe, this is a loss.

Beginning in 1997, at a time when “the usage mavens — many of us journalists, schooled in the faith of our copy-desk forebears — were just passing on the conventional wisdom,” she has proceeded to deepen and broaden her, and our, understanding of the English language.

In time, Steven Pinker, updating the chapter on “The Language Mavens” in The Language Instinct, wrote, “My call for a language maven who thinks like a linguist has been answered by Jan Freeman, who writes an unfailingly insightful column called ‘The Word’ in The Boston Globe. ...”

If you have been reading her columns, you have seen how good-humoredly she demolishes the shibboleths and superstitions perpetuated by misguided teachers and self-appointed authorities. If you have been paying attention to the comments at this blog, you have noticed from time to time how graciously and deftly she punctures my overstatements.

Her book, Ambrose Bierce’s Write It Right, in addition to “deciphering, appraising, and annotating” Bierce’s strictures on usage, examines the historical and psychological grounds of peevery. I loved it.

It has been a good run, and it would be selfish to begrudge her wish to “step off the print treadmill.”

So, in her farewell column this weekend, she offers something to take away from these fourteen years of writing about language: “[I]t’s far more fun to learn how the language actually works than to revisit the same dreary complaints, year after year, long after popular usage has moved on.” Reader, take note.

Posted by John McIntyre at 9:38 AM | | Comments (3)


I did try some basic internet research, but I can't for the life of me figure out what you mean by:

"...Jan Freeman is writing -30- to her column..."

What means this "writing -30-" of which you speak?

Old journalistic convention. When a writer, using a typewriter, wrote a story in "takes," that is, separate pages, he or she wrote "-30-" at the end of the last page to indicate that the story concluded there. "Writing -30-" thus came to be a metaphor for conlucing a career as a reporter.

I'm glad she'll continue with Throw Grammar from the Train. I found You Don't Say after it was mentioned there a few times.

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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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