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/.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Don't make me no nevermind

I can’t hardly think why so many people get all bent out of shape over minor variations in language. Myself, I could care less how people talk or what they write in text messages and e-mails or anything else casual they’re writing at. Though I might could get upset in some circumstances. To blatantly violate all kinds of actual rules and all those shibboleths some people think of as rules — none of the latter are worth a bucket of warm spit — might come from ignorance, which could be instructed, or defiance, which can be fun when it sets the peevers’ teeth on edge. And really, who gets hurt? Woman asked me the other day — I was buying a hat to replace the fedora that got stolen at church last Sunday — whether stupider was a word. I told her that if somebody used it, since she could understand it, it was a word. Whether anybody ought to have used it in all situations is a different question. Formal writing’s different from just talk, and I have frequently said so. Told her to talk like she wanted to. (She and her husband remembered me, bless their hearts, from that affectionate column, “Last seen in bow tie and fedora, the dictionary has gone missing,” when I was sacked by The Sun. Nothing wrong with gone missing, even if it was British first. You want a first-rate hat, you go to Hippodrome Hatters on Baltimore Street, they’ll fix you up.) Anyhow, just passing time here waiting for another job interview, the thing is, you gonna write for publication, you gotta consider your audience and what level of diction and syntax fits your subject and your publication and your audience. That’s what matters there. But let people talk the way they want. Like you could stop them anyhow.

21 comments:

  1. Forgive me, but the only appropriate response is ROFLMAO. You know?

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  2. did you actually say all that before writing it? are you now out of breath?

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  3. The only thing I'm really offended by here is the length of the paragraph.

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  4. Now your talking. :-)

    PS Yes, deliberate.

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  5. Now that you've got that out of your system, good luck with that interview.

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  6. Can you take a look at Sam Sifton of the NYTimes? Compare his printed reviews to his blog "Diner's Journal" to his "tweets?" To my mind more informal in every sense than his predecessors'. A new direction for the Times?

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  7. They will hire you. How could they not?

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  8. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  9. Good post, nice blog. Thanks for share.

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  10. What did your wife put in the Advent punch?

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  11. Let me put it this way--reading this post was just plain painful, doubled by the fact that you know how to write more comfortably. Yes, I'm saying that you should write "properly" for the simple reason that it's "proper" so it's not distracting.

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  12. People should write the way they would talk if they knew how to talk. Perhaps they should talk the way they would write if they knew how to write. We should all be how we would be if we were better.

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  13. Usually I'm just waiting on your next post, but I had to carry my neighbor to the grocery and missed reading it Friday. I'm glad I finally saw it. You take care.

    -- Barbara Phillips Long

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  14. nice article thanks for sharing this with us.

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  15. Ooops, I think you missed one: "...Whether anybody ought to *of* used it in all situations..."

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  16. @Patrick -- "We should all be how we would be if we were better" is the best sentence I've read all week. I will find some excuse to make use of it soon.

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