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

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

O ye of little faith

Last week The Baltimore Sun ran an article by Tracy Wilkinson of Tribune Newspapers about relief efforts in Haiti that contained this questionable sentence:

Haiti is, officially, predominantly Catholic, with some Protestant faiths.

For officially, the reporter probably intended nominally, in name only. Officially would suggest the existence of an established state church, like the Church of England. Haiti is about 80 percent professedly Roman Catholic, though estimates are that half the population practices forms of voodoo. (This might help to explain, though not excuse, some of the Rev. Pat Robertson’s peculiar pronouncements.)

More seriously, the reference to Protestant faiths betrays an ignorance of religion. Christianity is a faith, as is Islam, as is Hinduism. The Protestant churches are branches of Christianity not separate faiths. They are denominations, or, somewhat less favorably, sects.

Here endeth the lesson.


  1. Mr McIntyre, reading a newspaper must feel to you like a kindergarten violin recital sounds to Itzhak Perlman: a dissonant screech that inflicts pain on the listener, and dishonors the art.

    I find myself constantly copy-editing in my head others' written and spoken english; it drives my wife and kids to the contemplation of violence. I know when something doesn't sound "right", even when I can't pinpoint the error. And I cringe to know I make many errors of my own. (I can only imagine what you're doing to this post with your blue pencil.)

    Keep it up. Enjoying these greatly.

  2. Thank you so much for making this distinction. This always irks me.

  3. That sentence reads to me that, in addition to Catholicism, "some Protestant faiths [sic]" are also official.

  4. Love your blog as always. Thought you might want to reread your first sentence, though.

  5. Why not simply drop the word "officially," so the sentence reads, "Haiti is predominantly Catholic, with some Protestant faiths [sic]"?

  6. Did indeed have another look at that first sentence. Thanks.

  7. Your blog raises the issue that frustrates me with some frequency: People tend to confuse "interfaith" and "ecumenical" when referring to the presence of differing faith communities. "Ecumenical" pertains specifically to Christian groups, coming from the Greek word, ecumenae. "Interfaith," on the other hand, is not restricted to Christian groups, and suggests a variety of faith communities of which Christians may make up one.

  8. At least they said "predominantly" instead of "predominately."

  9. Patricia the TerseJanuary 20, 2010 at 5:38 PM

    I'm with Mr Lackey: that sentence is suffering form adverb-itis.