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My blushes

In his introduction to the collected Sherlock Holmes stories, Christopher Morley quotes a passage in which Holmes and Watson are discussing Professor Moriarty. Watson says, “The famous scientific criminal, as famous among crooks as—” and Holmes interrupts, “My blushes, Watson.” Watson replies, “I was about to say, as he is unknown to the public.”

Nearly six years ago, unknown to the public, I began writing this blog, thinking that I might gather a few readers in my own newsroom and among local English teachers and a few editing colleagues around the country.

And so, mainly, it has been. I am lucky to get in a week the number of page views that our top sports blog gets in a day. I have also gathered a small following on Twitter, a little over 3,000, which is minute in comparison of those titans of the empyrean, Justin Bieber and Kim Kardashian.

But yesterday’s New York Times includes a full page ad for the new edition of the American Heritage Dictionary that quotes a chunk of what I wrote about it in this blog.

At The Economist’s Johnson, Robert Lane Greene bracketed me with Gabe Doyle of Motivated Grammar, Jonathon Owen of Arrant Pedantry, and Bryan Garner.

And Geoffrey Nunberg, in a thoughtful post at Language Log, “The Politics of Prescriptivism,” which I urge you to read, includes me among “the best critics writing about language now in major public venues.”

To have been granted such esteem leaves one a little giddy—at church yesterday morning, being quoted in an ad in The New York Times was treated as functionally equivalent to being published by The New York Times—and praise is always nice.

But really, this is a blog with a handful of readers, not that I don’t love you, every one, and at the paragraph factory I am a mere cog in the works. Really. Making sure that the winning lottery numbers are updated and the weather forecast is on the front page. Doing routine newspaper editing, which has two aspects: taking defective texts and rendering them merely mediocre,* and recognizing what is good enough and leaving it alone.

No need to have someone stand behind me in the chariot to remind me that I am mortal. I’m aware.

Back to business: Your word of the week is jejune.


*One cannot pour out of a jug more than is in it,” said Anthony Trollope, summarizing all editing in a dozen words.



Posted by John McIntyre at 10:36 AM | | Comments (6)


"Try to preserve the author's style, if he is an author and has a style." —Wolcott Gibbs, "Theory and Practice of Editing New Yorker Articles"

As one of the handful, let me say that I think that the recognition is well deserved.

Yours is the first language-related blog I read each day, and has been so since the first day I read it.

The reasons are many, but include not only being interesting but also being sensible - a rare commodity these days. (Of course, what I really mean by that is that I almost invariably agree with what you write, and since I am sensible, it follows that you must be too.)

I'll second what malkie said: the recognition is well deserved. It's encouraging to me both as an editor and as a linguist to see that there is room for sensible usage advice that considers the facts and shuns baseless peeving.

Keep those deserved kudos comin' !

Clearly, something's definitely working for you, of late, dear blushing Professor.

To have been directly quoted in the almost universally esteemed New York Times, be it within an advert (in your case, John), a regular column, field report, or otherwise, for me as a graphic designer, would be the equivalent of having my first little B&W spot illustration appear within that grey sea of copy on a typical New Yorker magazine page. (Personally, one of my many bucket-list aspirations.)

I'm sure your fellow Sunday church-going congregants, and immediate Sun production colleagues generally keep you firmly grounded, yet rightly acknowledge your recent accolades w/ shared pride, while putting all this outside, unsolicited praise in reasonable perspective.

"We all knew John had it in him."

Nonetheless, on occasion, it's always personally gratifying to be appreciated and recognized by ones peers, given publicly-expressed kudos for being several cuts above the purely mundane, or ordinary, for extraordinary achievement in ones field of expertise.

I say well done, bravo, John.

Couldn't be happening to a more decent, caring, erudite, and engaging fellow. Oops!......... I left out witty.

Your "You Don't Say" blog definitely rocks!


P.S.: -----IMHO, most sports blogs, per se, SUCK, big-time, even though many may garner hundreds of blogger-hits-per-day. Some very disturbed, ignorant, 'sophmoronic', angry, and just plain petty folks inhabit these popular sites, so I tend to avoid them like the plague.

Granted, there are some rather astute, informed, sincere observer/ commentators of the playing field, as it were, out there, who do managed to get a few salient words in edgewise amidst the usual uncivil din; but they are generally a distinct minority.

On many of these online sports sites it appears that there is no attempt at filtering out offensive language, or character defaming material. Some of those ongoing, interminable online, venomous back-and-forth verbal feuds make the skirmishes between the Hatfields and the McCoy's seem like mere child's play. Very disturbing, indeed.


And, of course, making sure that the winning lottery numbers are updated, and that the weather forecast is on the front page, has over time a real measurable value and shouldn't be treated lightly. The rest of it is mere fame, which those of us who don't have it know to be mere piffle before the wind.

You did what others couldn't. Kudos! I often go through your blog. It's very inspiring and motivating for me. Thanks.

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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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