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.