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Back to business

At the paragraph factory tonight we will be covering the outcome of the Iowa caucuses. Never mind that the winner of these caucuses does not necessarily do well in subsequent contests, or that no actual delegates to the Republican National Convention are selected, or that Iowans—no disrespect—are not particularly representative of the electorate. This hypertrophic straw poll is the first formal contest of the election year, and so it must be important.

At The New Yorker George Packer observes sardonically, “Political journalism—unlike war reporting—long ago stopped being about what is true or important. Sometime in the nineteen-eighties, reporters began covering politics like sports and entertainment.” And further: “Once demagogy and falsehoods become routine, there isn’t much for the political journalist to do except handicap the race and report on the candidate’s mood.”

First things first: Philip B. Corbett of The New York Times reminds us: “When a participle construction, appositive or other modifying phrase starts a sentence, the person or thing being described should generally come directly after the modifying phrase.” That’s the prescription. For the symptoms of the disease of misplaced modifiers, have a look at his wealth of examples from The Times.

Operators are standing by: You still have time to sign up for my audio conference for Copyediting on “Charged Language: Dealing with the Unspeakable in Copy.” That’s a week from Thursday, January 12, 11:30 a.m.-1:00 p.m. Eastern time.

On the air: I will be talking about the definite article and other subjects later today with Sheilah Kast of WYPR’s Maryland Morning, for a segment to be broadcast tomorrow morning, beginning at 9:00 a.m. That’s on WYPR-FM, 88.1. A recording of the interview will be posted later tomorrow at the show’s website.

Rock-breaker: Your word of the week is saxifrage.



Posted by John McIntyre at 11:18 AM | | Comments (1)


Hmm....... and for all those many years in the animation biz, (and having worked for Warner Bros. Studios for quite a spell, no less), I had no idea that wily Sylvester The Pussy Cat was actually exclaiming, "Sufferin' saxifrage!

Who knew?

Could have sworn it was "sucootash".* What say you, Tweety Pie?

Interestingly, the much-in-today's-news term "fracking", a fairly recently coined word combining both fracturing and cracking, entails the breaking of rocks to extract oil, and natural gas deposits.

I wonder if the word "fracture" has the same (late) Latin root, i.e., frangere--"to break', as the "frage" in saxifrage?

*The versatile , and hugely talented Mel Blanc, tfor decades the voice of so many classic Warner Bros. cartoon characters, actually first gave the expression, "Sufferin' succotash", to the lisping, hapless Daffy Duck. Sylvester later adopted the sputtering faux expletive, ever flummoxed by that sweet little caged canary, Tweety Pie.

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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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