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.