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

Friday, January 29, 2010


As you make your own plans to celebrate National Grammar Day on March 4, this account from the archives, published the day after the first National Grammar Day in 2008, may guide you.

One day past, the exhilaration of National Grammar Day has yet to fade. The cheers of the crowds lining the streets at the parade still echo in one’s ears. It was a swirl of events, the hourly cannon fire salute from the Citadel, the Te Deum sung at the Cathedral, the torchlight procession and laying of a wreath at the Cenotaph of the Unknown Copy Editor*, the fireworks display, the Semicolon Ball at the Ducal Palace, the governor’s generous clemency in releasing the detainees from the stockade at midnight. A glorious day.

*Hell, pretty much all copy editors are unknown.


  1. Pardon my possible ignorance, but wouldn't one use a colon following 'swirl of events'? If not, why not?

  2. Virginia MerchánJanuary 29, 2010 at 9:23 AM

    Spanish grammar, English grammar, Italian grammar... all of them arouse my interest. At first I couldn't believe there is actually a "National Grammar Day" there. I felt like learning more about this great event and found the following link:

    And YES!... I've found out it's true!!! What an important day is March 4th. I envy (and thank) you, American people!

  3. The short answer: I chose not to.

    Either a colon to introduce a series or a comma at the beginning of a set of appositives would be grammatical. It wasn't a conscious decision, but, looking back, I expect that I wanted to underscore the sense of swirl by not introducing the pause that a colon would indicate.

  4. Two comments from Facebook by known troublemakers:

    Paul Clark: "I think all the saturnalia and mob festivities have forgotten the true spirit of Grammar Day. I miss the days when people celebrated with small groups of friends, gathering by the warmth of the hearth to conjugate."

    Phil Fisher: "And it's become so commercialized! People pack the malls and pile up credit card debt to buy dictionaries and usage manuals to put under the Sentence Diagram Tree."

  5. "I wanted to underscore the sense of swirl"?
    Last time I checked, we don't modify punctuation rules according to personal whim (or do we?)
    It's a colon, not a comma.
    I hate when people can't admit a mistake.

  6. And I'm not overly fond of people who decree "rules" that don't exist, so I suppose we're even.