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 1, 2010

Quorum call

A gentleman from Seattle named Charles Kraus published a light-hearted set of New Year’s resolutions in this morning’s Baltimore Sun. Among them was this one:

This year, I resolve to purchase The New York Times at the local newsstand at least once a week to show solidarity with those of us who believe Frank Rich, Paul Krugman, Nicholas Kristof, Maureen Dowd, Gail Collins, Stanley Fish, David Brooks, Charles Blow, Thomas Friedman and Bob Herbert form a minion, and should never be forced to work for Arianna Huffington.

Spotted it already, didn’t you?

A minion is an underling, particularly a servile one — a flunky, a stooge, a lackey, a tool, a cat’s paw. A minyan is the quorum required for public worship in a synagogue — ten Jewish men over the age of thirteen, or, in some congregations, ten men and women.

Reaching for the mistaken homophone (or homograph) is one of the commonest errors in writing, and this little gem leads us to expect a fresh new year of opportunities to carp, cavil, and quibble. Life is good.


  1. I think Tommy Friedman should be a minion for Arianna Huffington.

  2. John wrote that "commenters should keep a civil tongue in their heads." Granted, commenters should keep a civil tongue, but why add "in their heads"? If I were his copy editor I'd cut those three words out. Incidentally, in reporters' heaven, they copy edit copy editors.

    Thanks for explaining minion and minyan. I assumed that minion had some favorable meaning that I didn't know. Too bad one of the synonyms is lackey. Half the derogatory words in the English language are synonyms of lackey. The pain of being named Lackey is eased somewhat by the fact the Baltimore Sun has a sports columnist named Peter Schmuck, or as I think of him, "Double Dick."

  3. Here's G.M. Hopkins's use of the word "minion" in his poem "The Windhover." At least in 1918, the word was not a pejorative in total.

    The Windhover
    To Christ our Lord

    I CAUGHT this morning morning’s minion, king-
    dom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
    Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
    High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
    In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing, 5
    As a skate’s heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding
    Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
    Stirred for a bird,—the achieve of; the mastery of the thing!

    Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here
    Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion 10
    Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!

    No wonder of it: shéer plód makes plough down sillion
    Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
    Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermillion.
    --Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844–89). 1918.

  4. Looking at the output of most media corporations today, I'd say there's a minyan of minions running the show.