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, befriend at Facebook, or follow at Twitter: @johnemcintyre. Back 2009-2012 at the original site, and now at

Monday, May 9, 2016

Workaday world

Last week, in a spasm of vanity, I posted photographs of my desks at home. Today, to complete the circle, my office and cubicle at The Baltimore Sun:

The office I have occupied since 2000 (one year excepted).

My cubicle at the news desk/copy desk. I regret that the monitor blocks half of the rubber chicken and that I carelessly cut of the top of the Guy Boir statuette at upper left.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Working at home

When fifty or so hours a week at a desk at The Sun is not enough, there is always an opportunity to work at home, perhaps at the iMac on which I write most of the posts for You Don't Say ...

or at the desk. The swivel chair is the one my grandfather, John H. McIntyre, used in his general store in Elizaville, Kentucky.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Smugly sedentary

The end of the semester approaches, and you can begin to smell the fear. I'll be on campus this afternoon to see students who are fretting about what their grade in the editing class will be. I myself have only gone grade-begging once. 

It was my freshman year at Michigan State, and I approached a couple of my teachers to urge them to assign me the highest grade they could justify, because if I got a sufficiently high grade point average at the end of the term, I would be admitted to the Honors College and exempted from the physical education requirement. 

They did; I was. 

At Ewing Elementary School, when I was in the seventh and eighth grades, our physical education classes consisted of a series of calisthenics to a recording ("Go, you chicken fats, go!"), followed by dodge ball. The instructor, who I think had been a physical education major at Morehead State, played dodgeball gleefully, with full adult male velocity and power. He particularly delighted in nailing the bookworm, but he had to work at it. I was surprisingly nimble then. 

In my sophomore year at Fleming County High School, the teacher had it in mind that the students should learn something about anatomy and physiology in the classroom. (He didn't last.) I, of course, got grades on tests that wrecked the curve for the rest of the class and was hopeless in the gym or outdoors. Class consisted of running laps followed by miscellaneous sports, with little or no direction. It was, I think, assumed that boys all knew that stuff. 

Little or no direction also marked my one term of phys ed at Michigan State, where the graduate teaching assistant passively observed us in miscellaneous activities. We had, I recall, one day of splashing around randomly in the pool. It was at eight o'clock in the morning, too, which made the exemption from further phys ed classes the more welcome.

There was no mention of anything like a fitness program, nothing to connect whatever it was we were supposed to be doing in class to the rest of our lives. It would by nice to think that physical education classes today are a little better developed, but I haven't gone looking. 

And, as you may well imagine, these various classes did little to mitigate my lifelong distaste for jockery. 

Today, at sixty-five, I am ten to fifteen pounds overweight and mildly troubled by arthritis in my feet and knees. But my blood pressure and cholesterol levels are normal. I am on no medications. Unless my body is harboring some as yet unknown pending disaster, I should have several more good years ahead. 

I can't say that I owe that to my phys ed classes. 

Monday, April 4, 2016

Flaunting good judgment, flouting bad advice

Experienced, precise editors maintain distinctions in English usage. That is the badge of our professionalism. But not all distinctions merit our time and attention.

Did you, as I did, spend years pointlessly changing over to more than? 

Do you wince when someone says "begs the question" to mean "raises the question"?  

Are you running the gantlet or gauntlet when a writer peppers your with challenges to your edits?

On Wednesday, April 13, I will be conducting an audio course for Copyediting, "Evaluating Language Nuances: Which to Enforce and Which to Let Go." We'll go over more than two dozen traditional distinctions of usage (and you'll have an opportunity to argue with me) to sort out what the authorities say and what actual usage shows. 

By the end, you will have enough grounding to make assured and informed judgments about which distinctions to uphold and which to let go of. 

Clicking on the link above will direct you to information on signing up. I'm eager, but perhaps not anxious,  to talk with you.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Distinguishing among distinctions

I have begun work on a new workshop in which I will attempt to sort out distinctions of usage worth preserving from traditional distinctions that are no longer worth the candle.

It will focus on pairs, rather than distinctions among the senses of individual words. For example:





(I’m not giving away in advance where I stand on any of these.)

While I have materials for a good start on the project, I would welcome your suggestions of distinctions you would like to see addressed, whether to preserve or to abandon. 

Please feel free to make suggestions in the comments here or in a private message to me at

Monday, November 30, 2015

Put an editor on your shelf

There are uses for The Old Editor Says beyond the contents of the book.

Consider its uses as the Editor on a Shelf. Place your copy of the paperback on a nearby bookshelf or on your desk. The Old Editor's minatory gaze will then be visible to the writers and editors you work with, a corrective to their impulses toward excess.

Move it about from time to time, so that they never know exactly where they will encounter it. This will keep them alert.

The Old Editor Says is readily available from

Monday, August 10, 2015

For your back-to-school shopping

Some of you, aspiring writers or parents and relatives of aspiring writers, will be purchasing copies of Strunk and White's Elements of Style as the new academic year cranks into action, even though the distinguished linguist Geoffrey Pullum would be pleased were every extant copy of S&W to be sealed in lead containers and dropped in the Marianas Trench. 

I suggest a different little book: The Old Editor Says, a compendium of a career's worth of reliable maxims for every ink-stained wretch. 

Favorable notices from, among other worthies, Jan Freeman at Throw Grammar From the Train, Stan Carey at Sentence First, and Steve Buttry at The Buttry Diary, have not been rescinded. 

You can also listen to The Old Editor himself read selections at a Grammar Girl podcast

The Old Editor himself is available to harangue students, writers, editors, and interested civilians, at very reasonable rates. Write to him at 

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Metaphors to abhor

If you had the bad luck to be unable to attend the Editing Goes Global conference in Toronto last week, there is still a chance to catch up on one of its features. I will be conducting an audio conference for with a version of my session on misguided metaphors. 

Writers want to enliven their prose by making use of metaphors and other ornamental language. But laudable as the goal is, they are also prone to misjudgments that they have trouble recognizing without the patient assistance of an editor.

The conference will include examples from my extensive store of defective prose, and you will be invited to comment on them. Or argue with me about them, if you think that will get you anywhere. 

The conference runs this coming Monday, June 22, 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. EDT, and there is still time to sign up. 

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Dolce far niente, British-style

Few accounts are more tedious than those of other people's vacations. Feel at liberty to skip this one, even if you were wondering where I had got to.

At ease, above, in the Winter Garden lounge of the Queen Mary 2.

Kathleen's parents, Paul and Bonnie Capcara, wanting to do something special for her impending ending-in-zero birthday, booked passage for the four of us from New York to Southampton on the Queen Mary 2.

After our daughter, Alice, posted a couple of photos on Facebook, people who might have known me better remarked on my wearing shoes rather than flip-flops on deck and being dressed in slack, shirt, and jacket while enjoying a quiet ale. Think about what you would wear in a North Atlantic crossing when the daytime temperature rises to the low sixties and there is sunshine in one day of seven. 

The liner is admirably arranged for the activity for which I am best qualified: loafing. Breakfast, followed by a mile or two around the promenade deck, reading or writing through the morning, lunch, lounging on deck with a book, tea (the formal one, with still-warm scones and clotted cream served as a string quartet plays), resting, a restorative pint of John Smith's bitter before dinner, dinner (four courses, fresh china and silver with each), a meditative nightcap, and so to bed. 

Oh, there are lectures and shows and movies and musical performances and classes, but all are easily dodged. The Queen Mary 2  has enough bars that when one is invaded by someone conducting a trivia quiz or flogging vulgar gemstones, there is little trouble in finding a quiet one. (There was one evening in the Winter Garden lounge when a bore monopolized the bartender with his experiments in creating a sweet martini, which he was determined to name "Mr. Winge." But in compensation I got to hear, after years of reading British murder mysteries, someone say "summat" in person.)

After a week of delightfully doing nothing, we arrived in Britain and crammed a flurry of events into a couple of days: Matins at Westminster Abbey, where the choir was singing Orlando Gibbons's Short Service; a leisurely examination of the Turners at the Tate Britain; the Elgin Marbles at the British Museum; a ride on the London Eye; a series of pints at the Marquis of Granby in Westminster, which still has the bell that rings when members of Parliament are summoned to a vote; and a performance of Mamet's American Buffalo with John Goodman and Damien Lewis. 

A flight back on British Airways and a return to home and hearth and letting Mr. Saunders in and out the door. Back on the desk come Tuesday.  

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Your America

Even a has-been politician resorting to outright demagogy can point to matters of interest.

Rudolph Giuliani, one-time mayor of New York, told a group of conservatives that he doesn’t think that President Obama loves America, which invites us to consider what America he is talking about.

I wrote previously about the America that I think Mr. Giuliani is talking about: the America I grew up in, which was run by white men, largely Protestant though not so much as formerly, with a civic religion of American exceptionalism.*

The problem is that that America is fading. There are an estimated six million to seven millions Muslims living in the United States. They’re here, and here to stay. (By comparison, there are about 1.8 million Episcopalians.) There are about 19 million people of Asian descent. And there are about 54 million Hispanics. We have to find some way to accommodate the millions of Hispanics who are here illegally, because it would require an expensive police state to deport them all, and ruinously expensive to the farmers, hospitals, hotels, and restaurants that depend on their labor. They’re here to stay.

So as influential as the old white male culture continues to be, its dominance is threatened, and that explains some of the fevered imaginings about President Obama, that he is a secret Muslim, that he is not a native-born American,** that he is a Communist, that he is alien to us. Barack Obama, who continued many of the financial and national-security policies of George W. Bush, whose health care bill is a direct descendent of a Heritage Foundation proposal and an program enacted by a Republican governor of Massachusetts, who has been so cautiously conservative a Democrat as to set progressive teeth on edge every day.

But he does represent a changing demographic, that secular, multicultural society that conservatives, particularly white evangelical Christian conservatives, despise.

If I were a conservative, I would hesitate to suggest that the president of the United States hates America. But I am a hopeless East Coast media establishment liberal, so I’ll point out that the things that some conservatives fulminate about in this new America, the secularism, the tolerance, the gay marriage, the findings of science, are the same things that the Islamic State despises.  

I’m OK with them. It’s my country, too.

*I was denounced by a couple of former classmates on Facebook, one so intemperately that I took the unusual step of unfriending him, though several former classmates wrote that I was spot on.

**Another former classmate posted a link on Facebook today proving that the president was born in Kenya, which goes to show that the thoroughly traditional education we received in Fleming County, Kentucky, half a century ago did not necessarily immunize us against gullibility and nonsense.