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/.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

What do you want to hear about?

I told you yesterday that I am scheduled to conduct two audioconferences on editing for McMurry, one in January, “Things Your English Teacher Didn’t Tell You,” and one in February, “Where to Turn: Resources for Editors.” Today I’d like to give you a chance to influence what is said on them.

If you have been reading this blog regularly, you should have a pretty clear idea of what I am likely to say about superstitions of usage, “rules” that aren’t really rules, and peevers’ shibboleths. But we can’t discount the possibility that I may have overlooked some particularly ripe examples. So please, if there is some point of usage that you think I should address — even if you are not able to take part in the audioconference — please suggest it in a comment.

Similarly, I have written in the past about print and electronic references that I consult and recommend, but the posts have hardly been exhaustive. If there is a source that you have found to be particularly reliable and useful, your suggestion of it in a comment would be welcome. I’ll pass it along.

On to other matters

Item: Writing about the Oxford University Press reissue of H.W. Fowler’s original Dictionary of Modern English Usage, I remarked in passing, “Six and a half columns on shall are of little purpose in an age and a country in which the word has largely fallen out of use.” A couple of commenters disputed that. For example: “As a shall-user, I detect that many non-users employ it in questions. Shall I get you some more coffee? Shall we dance? Even if they wouldn't say I shall get you some coffee, or We shall dance.”

Yes, stock phrases like “Shall we dance?” and the use of shall as an imperative in legal documents persist. But I think that “Would you like to dance?” and “Can I get you another cup of coffee?” may be more commonplace. The grammatical insistence on shall with the first person, which I was taught in elementary school, was well on the way out then and now seems as quaintly archaic as thou and thee with the second person.

Item: Politico.com ran an article yesterday about a 19-year-old sophomore at George Washington University who “has become the Washington press corps’ independent fact checker, copy editor and link distributor extraordinaire. His e-mails almost always lead off with a soup├žon of praise, such as “In your excellent article today,” followed by a link to the story and polite notification of a mistake, anything from a broken hyperlink to a misspelled name.”

You Don’t Say applauds Daniel Lippman — Lord, we would like to see more like him — for his persistence and tact in pointing out the lapses of the great and the mighty. And it will be interesting to see what career he pursues upon graduation.

It is, however, a little melancholy to reflect that it now takes an unpaid undergraduate to do after publication what professional copy editors — before the War on Editing decimated their ranks — used to do before publication.

Item: If you were impressed by David Hobby’s photograph of me — he did the best he could with the available material — you can check out some additional examples of his work on Flickr.