You Don't Say

John McIntyre, whom James Wolcott calls "the Dave Brubeck of the art and craft of copy editing," writes on language, editing, journalism, and other manifestations of human frailty. Comments welcome. Identifying his errors relieves him of the burden of omniscience. Write to jemcintyre@gmail.com, befriend at Facebook, or follow at Twitter: @johnemcintyre. Back 2009-2012 at the original site, http://weblogs.baltimoresun.com/news/mcintyre/blog/ and now at www.baltimoresun.com/news/language-blog/.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

On my mother's 100th birthday

My mother, Marian Early McIntyre, was born one hundred years ago today. She came into the world as the United States was about to enter the First World War and left it seven weeks after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

For twenty-four years she was the postmaster of Elizaville, Kentucky 41037, a one-room, fourth-class office that was a local nexus. She saw nearly everyone in town every day and knew what everyone was doing. (To live in rural Kentucky in those days was to experience a level of surveillance unmatched by the Soviet Union at the height of its power.)

She had a quick wit and a sharp tongue, the latter of which I inherited from her, along with a regrettable tendency to indulge it.  Her  private smile appeared briefly when she was amused, as she regularly was by slightly improper stories, and my sisters and I called the glower when she was displeased “the camel look.”

On one occasion she heard that a local official had been using an official vehicle to ferry voters to the polls on behalf of candidates he favored, and she told other people. That official got wind of it, came to the post office, confronted her, and demanded that she disclose whom she had told. My mother, about five feet tall and slender, looked up at this beefy figure, six feet tall and well over two hundred pounds, towering over her and said, “Everybody I saw. And the ones I didn’t see I called and told.”

After Kathleen, the children, and I moved to Baltimore, we returned to visit every summer at the farm she had inherited from her parents, and there were the treats of my childhood: the country ham, the One True Fried Chicken, and green beans and potatoes cooked on the stove all morning, a transparent pie from Magee’s Bakery in Maysville. (She also made her powerful bourbon balls twice a year, in December and February, for Jesus’ birthday and mine.)

I recently came across a note from her, written on a Post Office memo sheet on my first day at Michigan State in 1969. It promises to write every day, encloses a check for laundry money and expenses, and wonders what I am doing at that moment in the afternoon. Blissfully, youthfully obtuse and preoccupied with new experiences, I did not recognize then and only now belatedly realize that she was telling me she missed me.

She did not, after all, write every day, but I have a box full of letters that I have not yet been able to put on the curb to be transformed into cardboard. The texts of the letters themselves, innocuous, quotidian, are not the message. The unstated meaning on every page is how much she cared for me, how proud she was of me.

After the death of my father, she remained at the family farmhouse. As her health got shakier, she had a companion in the evenings. But she stayed on. She had one gentleman friend with whom she enjoyed going out to restaurants, and I found at her funeral that she had most recently been dating a man whom she had known in childhood at school. She lived on her own terms to the end.

Her physical remains rest on a hillside in the Elizaville Cemetery. You can turn from her grave and see the family farmhouse on another hill in the distance, one look taking in the place where she spent her entre life.


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The body is gone, but something of her survives in me.



      Marian Early McIntyre with her parents, Lucien Lundy Early and Clara Rhodes Early 

Monday, January 16, 2017

Overheard at the bar

I was having a quiet ale the other day when three young women at the bar were conducting an animated, and quite vocal, conversation. 

Their high standards were in evidence in their quick and decisive evaluations of men on a dating site one had called up on her cellphone, but that palled and the conversation turned to excursions at friends' weddings. 

There was a good bit of detail about getting hammered on the party bus and about staying awake for an entire night after multiple rounds of Red Bull and vodka. It was at that point that the bartender, who, like me, had been a silent listener, remarked that his bar didn't offer Red Bull. One of the young women commented, "At the bars in center city Philly, to keep the kids from Jersey out, they won't stock Red Bull."

I offer this bit of learning to friends and colleagues who also enjoy an occasional quiet pint: Your chances of avoiding the company of obnoxious drinkers will improve if you first ascertain that the bar does not stock Red Bull. 

Friday, December 30, 2016

Dark imaginings on the right

Curious attitudes keep surfacing on the right.

Last week Carl Paladino got himself into hot water by making remarks to an online publication. He said that he hopes President Obama “catches mad cow disease after being caught having relations with a Herford [sic]” and that he would like for Michelle Obama to “return to being a male and let loose in the outback of Zimbabwe where she lives comfortably in a cave with Maxie, the gorilla.”

Amid the ensuing uproar he released a craven statement apologizing to “the minority community,” saying that he meant to circulate the remarks among friends instead of for publication, and insisting “I certainly am not a racist.”

Two things are immediately apparent: (1) Mr. Paladino does not understand how bovine spongiform encephalopathy is transmitted, and (2) he is in fact a racist. His apology merely illustrates how deeply political correctness has penetrated society; even people who make blatantly racist remarks do not want to be called racists.

The sorts of things Mr. Paladino said keep cropping up in recesses of the internet and have for the past eight years of the Obama administration. “Obama is gay, Michelle is trans,” &c., &c. But Carl Paladino is not some sweaty troll in a basement surrounded by canned goods and a private arsenal as he awaits the black insurrection. Six years ago Carl Paladino was the Republican nominee for governor of New York.

I don’t see people on the left speculating on what Donald Trump does between the sheets—perhaps the mind revolts at the image. I see people on the left attacking Donald Trump for remarks that appear to support racist, sexist, and xenophobic attitudes. Those are attacks on political grounds, and they mirror the attacks from the right on President Obama’s political actions.

But in the darker regions of the right this peculiar fascination with race and sexual behavior is a kind of chronic delirium. I’m an English major and a journalist, not a psychologist, but it is hard to avoid the conclusion that remarks like Mr. Paladino’s are both politically and personally morbid.

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Friday, December 9, 2016

The late Mr. Saunders

We said goodbye to Saunders this morning.

A trip to the veterinarian on Wednesday yielded this information: He was suffering from a fever, he was seriously anemic, he had feline leukemia, and the prognosis was not good.

Kathleen and I made the painful decision that we did not want to prolong his suffering. So we brought him home and spent the day yesterday giving him treats, stroking him, speaking to him with affection, indulging his wishes, and saying farewell. This morning we took him to the Aardmore Veterinary Hospital, where he was gently put beyond the reach of pain.

You may recall from earlier posts that he showed up two years ago, an abandoned, hungry stray who immediately sized us up as easy marks. We fed him, we took him in, we got him treated by the vet, and we made him part of the household.

He remained determinedly indoor-outdoor, patrolling the neighborhood as if he were its mayor, paying visits to other households and depositing the occasional mouse (and sometimes a young rat) on our front sidewalk. He went out in the rain and the cold, and he gamboled in his first snowfall.

He was a handsome orange cat, quickly growing into those big paws we noticed on his arrival. And he was ever an affectionate cat, the sweetest-tempered cat, who purred loudly every time I picked him up. His presence in the bay window comforted and calmed us, and, like a dog, he came to greet me when I arrived home at night after work.


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But now he is gone, and I will think of him always as serenely dozing on his chair on the porch, savoring the sunlight and the fragrant breeze, the sweet, sweet stray who for two all-too-short years with us had food, shelter, love.



Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Time goes by

It was on October 23-25, 1997, that the American Copy Editors Society conducted its first national conference, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I was there.

These photos, which recently surfaced in a folder deep in a file cabinet, were from the workshop I conducted there at the invitation of Pam Robinson.




"Getting Back to the Word," on issues of English usage, used material I had developed for staff workshops at The Baltimore Sun and from our in-house newsletter on writing and editing, Publish and Be Damned.



My participation in ACES had been encouraged by The Sun's publisher, Mike Waller, himself a former copy editor, and by John Carroll, the editor. When demand came for me to present this workshop, and others on writing and editing, their encouragement continued. I have presented "Getting Back to the Word" at other national ACES conferences and at publications around the United States.





Over the nineteen years since, as I have come to examine the things about English usage that I had been taught, looking at evidence in Bryan Garner's four edition of his usage manual, at the evidence presented by lexicographers and linguists about usage, and at the evidence of my own eyes,  the advice in that workshop has undergone revision.




Saturday, October 1, 2016

My bully is dead

Though I allowed my subscription to the Flemingsburg Gazette, the paper I worked for in high school and college, to lapse, I still occasionally check the Independent-Ledger in Maysville. Given that I have been away for more than forty years, I mainly scan the obituaries. 

A few weeks ago, there he was, the bane of my life in the third and fourth grades, my principal bully. I was a skinny bookworm and teacher's pet. He was bigger, more muscular, a halting student at best, and he was seldom at his best. He enjoyed tormenting me. 

Now he is dead, an old guy, like me, apparently mourned by his daughters. 

I don't visualize him as an adult with children. He is fixed in my head as he was then. The subsequent fifty-five years don't signify. (I will not describe him further, because he has children who mourn him.) 

There is the problem. He is fixed in my head. 

He, and the subordinate bullies who sometimes chimed in, established in my mind that I am someone to be bullied, someone who lacks power, someone with no recourse. My parents and teachers knew that I felt bullied, but they were at a loss to do anything beyond allowing the children to work it out on their own. 

My bully, to my astonishment, metamorphosed into adult for whom someone could bear affection. I, in turn, metamorphosed into an adult with a family, a profession, a reputation, a standing. 

But I am also someone who typically shies away from conflict and confrontation, because I was thoroughly programmed early on to see myself as unable to prevail in such circumstances.

Sixty-five years old, and I could still use some work. 




Friday, September 30, 2016

As you make your plans for this weekend ...

please recall that The Old Editor plans to be at Ryan's Daughter in Belvedere Square around five o'clock Sunday afternoon for a pint or two of Smithwick's and conversation with any readers of the blog (or viewers of the videos) who care to show up. 

Surely you don't think that it's wholesome for him to drink alone. 

Sunday, September 25, 2016

The Old Editor's thirst

It appears that I will be dangerously at loose ends a week from today, Sunday, October 2. If any of my readers fancy a pint with The Old Editor, I plan to be at Ryan's Daughter, 600 East Belvedere Avenue in Belvedere Square, around five o'clock. I will be the gray-haired gentleman nursing a glass of Smithwick's at the bar. You will be a reader looking for a quiet interval to chat at leisure. 

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Make sure your bright-eyed scholar is properly outfitted

With the imminent start of the school year, you have been supplying your young charges with all the kit they will need: a full spectrum of gel pens, notebooks full of inviting blank pages, dozens of apps for laptops, tablets, and iPads.

And if your bright-eyed scholar aspires to be a writer, you may also have thrown in a copy of Strunk and White.


Well, mistakes are made. But they can be corrected. 

At Amazon.com you can find, for an exceedingly modest price, The Old Editor Says, a pithy compilation of invaluable advice about writing and editing. Grammar Girl loved it, and your embryo Scott Fitzgerald or Max Perkins will benefit enormously.

Operators are standing by. 





Sunday, August 7, 2016

Advice for an election year

From The Vanity of Dogmatizing (1661) by the Rev. Joseph Glanvill:

"They that have never peep't beyond the common belief in which their easier understandings were at first indoctrinated, are indubitabely assur'd of the Truth, and comparative excellence of their receptions, while the larger Souls, that have travail'd the divers Climates of Opinions, are more cautious in their resolves, and more sparing to determine."