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/.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Deferring to the godly

In yesterday’s post on regrettable news leads, I said that one reason not to affect bogus King James English was to avoid giving offense to the godly. One reader commented: “I don't think the danger of offending th godly, or anyone else for that matter, is a good reason not to write something, or do anything really.”

On the contrary, when one is writing for publication, there are excellent reasons not to *** READER ALERT: VULGAR LANGUAGE PENDING *** piss off the readers.

In some articles, on some occasions, for some audiences, one avoids certain references or certain kinds of language — profanity, for example, or ethnic slurs. Among the things to take care with are religious references, because people’s religious beliefs and associations are held profoundly. (I myself, as by adult profession a high-church Anglican, understand all too clearly the danger of hinting that other people’s beliefs and practices are silly.)

If you are going to give offense to the godly, you had better do so for a good reason — to assert, for example, that, contrary to Scripture, the earth revolves around the sun, that it came into being much earlier than an October morning in 4004 B.C., and that its human inhabitants descended from more primitive forms of life, are points of established scientific fact, rather than to adapt the language of their sacred texts merely for some cheap and transient effect.