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

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Crash blossoms, y'all, and Jan Freeman

While I was paying attention to other matters, things developed:

Crash blossoms blossom

Last summer the Testy Copy Editors weighed in on a common problem in headline writing: the headline that appears to proceed in one direction but turns out to have a completely different meaning, or, because of ambiguity in the words, a completely opaque meaning. The example, “Violinist linked to JAL crash blossoms,” led commenters to embrace “crash blossom” as the generic term for such botched headlines.

The term was quickly taken up on Language Log and other sites, and “crash blossom” has become a candidate for the American Dialect Society’s Word of the Year. The society, which opens its annual meeting in Baltimore tomorrow, will vote on the Word of the Year late Friday afternoon.

Whether or not it wins, copy editors have added a fresh and needed term to the technical vocabulary of journalism. See the original Testy Copy Editors post and the subsequent examples here.

What do y’all think?

You might want to look in on the debate at Language Log over whether y’all can ever be or has even been used legitimately as a singular. Many Southerners claim never to have heard such a usage from a native Southern speaker. Suspecting Yankee ignorance or even dark plots, they bristle as Georgians would at the mention of General Sherman.

For my part, I have known native Southerners, and I have been addressed, solitarily, by them as “y’all.” However, should I be called up before HUAC (the House Committee on Un-American Conversation), I will refuse to name names.

Jan Freeman’s back

The Boston Globe’s estimable language columnist, having recovered from the labor of producing her book on Ambrose Bierce’s idiosyncratic diktats on language (the book having been noted in these precincts), has launched a fresh blog, Throw Grammar from the Train.

You will want to bookmark it.


Sometime within the past few weeks, made a software adjustment that renders the 700-plus posts on the previous version of You Don’t Say inaccessible. If you click on the old address, you will be transferred to the current one.

I regret that, because the old site continued for most of 2009 to have regular traffic, drawing readers who found the old posts of continuing value. As time permits, I may revisit those previous topics — all the original texts are in my possession — to update and repurpose the information. If there are any such topics that you would like for me to address, please send me a note.

Good searches

And finally, because I know you are good people, I commend to you again a simple action that will serve your purposes and do good at no cost to you.

Go to, and choose as your designated cause the American Copy Editors Society Education Fund. Then, whenever you would use Yahoo’s search engine, use the GoodSearch version of it; each time you do so, a small amount, about a penny, will be designated for the education fund. That brought in more than $70 in 2009, and we should be able to do much better this year.


  1. I agree with Chris Harris who responded on facebook. If an educated Southerner says to you, alone, "Hey, y'all doing?" they (1) have identified you as a friend with whom they can speak informally, and (2) are not simply greeting you (singular) but asking about you and your loved ones.

    Y'all is an informal contraction of "you all". Persons who use it in the singular are either not really from the South or just weren't brought up right. :)

  2. In the original meaning of the exception proves the rule, the phrase "all y'all" seems to confirm the existence of the singular "y'all."

  3. "All y'all" is said for emphasis that "you all" means EVERYONE, not just a few. Example: Me: "John, y'all come on over for dinner tonight." John: "Oh, I don't know, Ms know, we've got all this company visiting from up north." Me: "Oh, for goodness sakes, John. I'd love all y'all to come."
    Second example: Teacher: "I want y'all to settle down, now." (One corner of the class continues to whisper.) Teacher (with steel in her voice): "I meant ALL y'all."

  4. "And finally, because I know you are good people, I commend to you again a simple action that will serve your purposes and do good at no cost to you."
    Wait--how do you know we are good people?

  5. The question is not whether they addressed you solitarily as y'all, but whether they meant by this to refer to you as the representative of a family, business, or other such organization. The canonical case is asking a solitary store clerk Have y'all got any eggs?, meaning 'Has the organization consisting of this store, as represented by you, got any eggs?'

    On a personal note, my wife, a native North Carolinian and the most un-Southern Southerner you'll ever meet, nevertheless believes fervently that everyone should adopt y'all (but only in the plural and representative senses, of course). She considers you (pl.) too ambiguous, yins/youins too hick, and you/yiz guys too gangster/casual to use generally.

  6. I've lived in South Louisiana for 30 years and never heard a singular y'all or vous-autres. I _have_ heard it in Kentucky and West Virginia, and it's thoroughly disconcerting - it makes me wonder who else they could be talking to or about.

  7. John Cowan, I agree with your wife.

  8. Poof!

    God forbid you'd want to allow people to visit your Web site to read archived material, O Mighty Sun.

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