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

Thursday, October 8, 2009

No Nazis need apply

A gentleman in London named James Nicholls has given a backhanded endorsement to You Don’t Say at his blog:

For those of you who feel the need to express your superior knowledge of English grammar, this is the place for you to stroke your ego and the ego of the similarly anal. As for me I read trangressive fiction and can’t be bothered with the whole affair, safe in the knowledge that message is more important than presentation.

A couple of things seem apparent.

One is that Mr. Nicholls appears to have been so engrossed in his self-described pursuit of “sex, drugs and, if at all possible, an early night” that he may not yet have encountered the critical commonplace that content and form cannot be so easily separated. Another likelihood is that he has not read enough posts here to understand that I am not of the tribe of grammar Nazis — rigid, unthinking, nagging prescriptivists — but am rather a moderate, indulgent, reasonable prescriptivist and all-around fine fellow.

(Perhaps, too, it is time to stop flinging about that word Nazi in a casual manner that trivializes what it represents.)

Adam Pagnucco, writing at Maryland Politics Watch, does not call me a Nazi, merely suggesting that I am a whore.

He dismisses the bloggers participating in The Sun’s Mobbies competition as saps and suckers, abjectly begging for an empty distinction. Among the “trollops, street-walkers, flesh-flashers or tramps” in this competition he spies — well — me. He quotes this passage from my blog post about the competition: “Embarrassing as it is to engage in self-promotion, I am soliciting your support… Should you not care to participate in this poll, offering me a job would be an acceptable alternative.”

Someday, I hope, Mr. Pagnucco will allow me to stand him to a pint and endeavor to describe to him what irony is.

In the meantime, those of you who wish to endorse You Don’t Say in this largely meaningless competition can make use of the link at the upper-right corner of this page. Voting continues today and ends tomorrow. You can vote once each day for this blog in the Misfits category and in the overall best-blog category.

On a somewhat more positive note, the Online Schools Web site has included You Don’t Say among the “100 Best Blogs for Your Liberal Arts Education.”* You’ll also find our friends Pam Robinson and Andy Bechtel listed there. I commend those hundred blogs to your attention.

*That’s not liberal in the wicked people-who-look-at-dirty-pictures, government-death-panel, gays-are-human-too, you-have-to-pay-taxes-if-you-want-services sense, but in the largely archaic favoring-the-increase-of-knowledge sense, which, to some people, is nearly as wicked.


  1. I suspect that the effort to explain irony to the non-ironical is doomed from the start, though it is just as good a reason as any other to have a pint.

  2. I'm sure plenty of readers here agree with me when I say, "Who the **** is James Nicholls?"

  3. It's your own fault that readers like Mr. Pagnucco can't fathom the irony in your postings: you don't use those idiotic little typographical symbols that have come to be obligatory in electronic messages to signal attitudes like humor and disappointment. Readers like Mr. Pagnucco are lost without them.

  4. That guy reminds me of an editor whose dismissive comment about a concern I raised was "I wish I had time to sit and ponder these things." The same editor told me a racial slur was OK in a story because it was used in a direct quote. (I went over his head and got his boss to remove it.)

  5. It's the Internet--we don't have irony here.

  6. I hate the misuse of the word nazi. Perhaps it went mainstream with Seinfeld. If one can't find a better way to express themselves, perhaps one just ought to shut up.

  7. James Nicholls seems quite smart. For a boy of 17.

    “When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.” Mark Twain

  8. Patricia the TerseOctober 10, 2009 at 2:25 AM

    People say unpleasant things all the time,both in fiction and reporting. If we remove all the language we don't like, does it weaken the story? And isn't a direct quote for attribution part of the story? I do agree about the over- and misuse of "Nazi." Most people who use the term wouldn't recognize a 'real' Nazi and have never had the misfortune to live among them. Find another word.