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 email@example.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/.
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
I'll write what I like, said he
Regarding this topic, I'd appreciate you weighing in on this example:
1. "Let's go to the movies," John said.
2. "Let's go to the movies," said John.
Is the latter passive? If so, does it matter enough to fix it? (I once had an editor who insisted that the answers were yes and yes.)
The latter example is not a passive sonstruction but a simple inversion of normal word order. There are many journalists who get peevish about the Inverted Said. Perhaps they find it too literary.
Generally speaking, in ordinary journalism, the normal word order is preferable; the reader glides over it without distraction. But making a fetish of this point, as many writers and editors appear to do, leads to the occasional maladroit construction. Here’s an example:
“That will not do,” McIntyre, the language blogger and currently unemployed three-decade veteran of daily newspaper copy desk, said.**
That long, suspensive appositive (which, incidentally, I would also deplore) suggests that the reader is moving through a periodic sentence, with an emphasis coming down at the end. Arriving at the homely said creates a minor anticlimax.
If the attribution following direct quotation includes an appositive, the inverted veb/subject construction is both apt and natural.
*I feel a little uncomfortable about these comments on Facebook, which exclude from the discussion readers of this blog who are not members. Would you like for me to start copying Facebook comments to this site?
**In my seventh week of joblessness, it occurs to me to be grateful at my liberation from journalists (some of them, alas, copy editors) who dress up their idiosyncratic and uninformed preferences with ill-understood technical terms (split infinitive, split verb, passive voice) or mere buzzwords (flow, voice).