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You saw it here

Item: A teacher asks if she has been wrong throughout her career in instructing students that they must not ever use a comma before because, and Professor Geoffrey Pullum gives tact a try. He’s quite good, actually, but great Fowler’s ghost, what a strain!

Item: Professor Christine Mallinson of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County has had her graduate students examining language variations in Baltimore. These students have produced podcasts on accent features among African-Americans, multiculturalism and ethnicity, and hon as a linguistic and identity marker. The hon podcast in particular, being academic and dispassionate, should be a welcome change from the recent shouting over the word.

Item: We’re painfully aware that bureaucrats in business and government, out of self-importance, enjoy those numbing noun-noun-noun combinations that English permits but does not much enjoy. You know, productivity enhancement incentive** for raise. Mike Pope demonstrates that technical writers are particularly given to the construction of “noun stacks.” This one is actual: failed password security question answer attempts limit. Read more.

Item: At Johnson, my new pal A Lyttle is urging David Bentley Hart to give me a sound thrashing at his website: “When he goes on the offensive, he writes some of the most amusing stuff out there. I'd like him to shred MacIntyre and RLG in public because I have an indecent attraction to blood-sport, and he doesn't leave a lot of carrion behind for the vultures.”

If I can control my trembling, I’ll post an update once Dr. Hart unlimbers that ponderous wit.

Item: I’m planning to go on vacation, beginning Sunday,* and expect to post less frequently next week—particularly during the days that Kathleen and I will be at the beach.


*If I’m spared. Still have to put out the Saturday and Sunday editions.

**I made it up on the spot, if anyone out there would like to offer me a second job as an Obfuscator.



Posted by John McIntyre at 9:50 AM | | Comments (6)


I enjoyed Professor Pullam's post, and I am grateful that he closed the commenting function. Really, how many "but I have followed that sacred rule since Great-Great-Grandpa made it up in 1874!" comments can Language Log sustain?

Have a lovely vacation. Does one go "down the shore" in Baltimore?

MelissaJane, Baltimorons go "downy oshun"

The Pullam post is a fun read. What a great way to teach about the comma, even for those of us who may not feel much angst about that particular punctuation mark. Thanks for the link, and have a wonderful time next week.


Properly-trained technical writers do not make those large noun stacks. Alas, there are too many technical writers who were trained poorly, if at all.

Back in the day, technical writers were writers first. The "profession" was plan C, after plans A and B had failed to produce the critical or financial rewards to justify continuing them.

When tech companies began hiring smart people who could write and trusted that they could learn the technology, the prayers of many capable and interesting individuals were answered.

When technical writing became a profession that required academic credentials, the talent pool became less talented because the programs focused more on the technology than the writing.

I spent many years trying to decipher the sentences and paragraphs that later generations produced. Some could write, but far too many could only string together technical jargon and marketing buzzwords.

I couldn't take it anymore, so I left.

I don't think you need a specialized degree to be a technical writer. You only need to know how to write.

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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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