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I’ve received a civil and gracious note from David Hart regretting the tone of the exchanges over our respective articles. At his request, Mr. Lyttle has apologized, at You Don’t Say and Johnson, for his intemperate tone.

Dr. Hart and I continue to have differences. He sees his original article as a light-hearted and self-deprecating look at language usage rather than a serious position. I see in it a restatement of standard-brand language peevery masked by the tone, and the seriousness with which the commenters on his article take the matter suggests that I am not alone in that reading. There are people who read his article as he does, and others who read it as I do. You will read it according to your own understanding.

But I did jump on him a little severely, without clarifying why I read his article as I did until the comments had already heated up. And I did mistype idyll.

When we write for publication, as with any other public performance, we have no guarantee of a respectful audience. And if members of that audience fling brickbats, old fruit, and dead cats, we accept that hazard—which is why less-than-flattering remarks by Mr. Lyttle and others were approved as comments here.

Similarly, if Dr. Hart and I have been misunderstood by readers, we have only ourselves to blame. He apparently did not intend to open the gates to a clamoring horde of peevers, and I did not intend to attack his person rather than what I took to be his position. Writing is slippery.

For now, though, the cannons have been limbered and the muskets stacked, and calm has descended as the parties attend to their wounds.



Posted by John McIntyre at 1:57 PM | | Comments (6)


Check "intent" in the fifth paragraph.

Fixed. Thanks.

Yes, I concur. I also apologize for getting angry at the fellow at The Economist for attacking an etymological argument I never made. Everyone writes on a deadline these days, and much is done in haste for which there is never quite enough leisure for repentance (Walter Bagehot said that I think).

For the record, my column was definitely meant to be amusing, but I do also stand by my arguments about usage. I never disavowed any of my complaints. So, in fact, I did intend to state a serious position, and I have no problem with disagreements with that position. I ask only that it all be done with good humor.

By the way, if one looks, most of my complaints actually are not particularly outlandish, and certainly not superstitious. And unlike Terry Eagleton, I did not suggest that those who misuse "refute" should be imprisoned.

On two points, however, I did tempt fate by raising what are old issues of debate in the "language wars": "transpire" and "restive." I did not mention "aggravate' or a few others, however, since too many bones of contention spoil the soup. I shall, I think, address one or the other (transpire, probably) this coming Friday in my column.

On the whole, though, I think we need not make this the occasion for ill will.

I believe the plural of "cannon" is "cannon." Whereas the plural of "Canon" is "canons."

I believe Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary says "cannon: pl: cannons or cannon." And it's been around a lot longer than Patricia.

I believe the tradition of the military is to call them "cannon." Get a life, Brian.Look on the bright side.

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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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