John McIntyre, whom James Wolcott calls "the Dave Brubeck of the art and craft of copy editing," writes on language, editing, journalism, and random topics. Identifying his errors relieves him of the burden of omniscience. Write to, befriend at Facebook, or follow at Twitter: @johnemcintyre. The original site,, at, and now at

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Off to the Dark and Bloody

Even the unemployed need to take a little time off.

A week ago a letter arrived announcing that fellow graduates of the Class of 1969 at Fleming County High School have planned parties for this weekend. I will be heading west tomorrow morning and won’t be back in Baltimore until early next week. You’re left to your own devices until then.

Since I won’t be monitoring this site, I’ve decided, with misgivings, to cancel comment moderation before I hit the road. You’ll be able to comment at will over the weekend, but I don’t want to get back to discover that you’ve been misbehaving.

To tide you over, some brief items:

X is not alone

Mild-mannered copy editor John McIntyre, sometime chief of the desk at The Baltimore Sun, has campaigned for years against the stale devices of journalism.

McIntyre is not alone.

Fellow copy editor and former ACES president Pam Robinson has published on her blog, Words at Work, an eye-popping collection of the hack “not alone” transition from publications that ought to have editors who know better.

Grammar for chimps

Somebody had to do it, and, sighing at the necessity, Geoffrey Pullum has demolished the latest example of “Stupid Animal Communication Stories,” this time the BBC’s report on a study that supposedly says that chimpanzees can recognize bad grammar. They can’t.**

Before you complain about the headline

A tweeted observation by Bill Walsh should give reporters and editors cause to pause before they storm over to what is left of the copy desk to complain about a headline that misses what they thought was the mark:

I side with reporters more often than you'd think when such disputes arise, but I'd say misguided headlines tend to reflect muddled stories.

Tell it, Brother Walsh.

*For readers unacquainted with the lore of the Commonwealth of Kentucky — quick, name the other three states that are technically commonwealths — the area was a battleground for Indians before European-descended settlers took over, and it was the Native Americans who called it “the dark and bloody ground.”

**If they could, reporters then could presumably be trained to make the same distinctions, and the nation’s dozen or so remaining copy editors could join me in collecting unemployment benefits.


  1. Hey, we graduated in the same year. Sin, Sex, Beer, Wine, we're the Class of '69!

  2. PA, VA, MA
    "A tweeted observation..." might have been better as "A tweet by..."
    Have a good reunion; bring back many scalps.

  3. While it may be true that chimpanzees cannot recognize bad grammar it was not addressed in the study cited. The study was done on cottontop tamarin monkeys.

    I also have yet to see whether the conclusion about the monkeys' ability to handle grammar was a conclusion of the study or one of the so-called science journalists.

  4. On commonwealths: You spotted me one, I got the next one because the first one used to be part of it, the third one (the northernmost) has long been familiar to me, and I fail on the fourth one, google for "commonwealth of", and berate myself for an idiot, since I actually lived there for a time and have strong family connections there.

  5. Patricia the TerseJuly 24, 2009 at 1:25 AM

    John: When you return from Kentucky, where bourbon grows abundantly upon the fruited plain, you might wish to change the photograph on your site. It's Summer and we want to see the McIntyre Summer haberdash. (Although I admit I've never seen a haber dash,and can not attest to its approximate speed.)

  6. The other commonwealths are Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and Virginia.