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/.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

God and the party platform

There was a kerfuffle yesterday over the omission of the word God from the Democratic platform. President Obama stepped in to get it restored, and the manufactured controversy seems to have faded.

Mind you, the platform was not disrespectful of believers in the first place. It included this passage:

Faith has always been a central part of the American story, and it has been a driving force of progress and justice throughout our history. We know that our nation, our communities, and our lives are made vastly stronger and richer by faith and the countless acts of justice and mercy it inspires. Faith- based organizations will always be critical allies in meeting the challenges that face our nation and our world – from domestic and global poverty, to climate change and human trafficking. People of faith and religious organizations do amazing work in communities across this country and the world, and we believe in lifting up and valuing that good work, and finding ways to support it where possible. We believe in constitutionally sound, evidence-based partnerships with faith-based and other non-profit organizations to serve those in need and advance our shared interests. There is no conflict between supporting faith-based institutions and respecting our Constitution, and a full commitment to both principles is essential for the continued flourishing of both faith and country.


I am not sure that I'm keen on having God in a party platform anyhow. The Constitution gets along fairly well without any mention of the deity, the Founders having wanted to give us a secular republic in which the populace would have freedom to practice religion without imposing it on one another. Beyond that, I have my doubts that God is a Republican or a Democrat. Probably registered independent, if anything. 

And really, do you want our political parties to have anything to do with the Almighty?  They can't even contrive to pass a manageable budget, and they should take responsibility for theology as well? 

God seems to putter along quite well without the assistance of a political party, so perhaps both Republicans and Democrats would do well to keep their hands off and give some attention to establishing justice, insuring domestic tranquility, providing for the common defence, and promoting the general welfare. That should be enough to occupy them. 

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Not a gut course

In about half an hour I will walk into a classroom at Loyola and tell a group of students what they are in for in CM 361 Copy Editing. For those of you who have tuned in since last year's opening harangue, I repeat it here. 


This is not a gut course. Writing is difficult. It does not come to us as naturally as speech, and we have to spend years learning it. Editing is even harder. We can write intuitively, by ear, but we have to edit analytically.
But before we can even get to the analytical aspect, we will have to work on grammar and usage, because if you are like most of the six hundred students who have preceded you in this class, you will be shaky on the fundamentals. You will have to learn some things that you ought to have been taught, and you will have to unlearn some things that you ought not to have been taught.
I must also caution you from the outset that this course is appallingly dull. A student from a previous term complained in the course evaluation that “he just did the same thing over and over day after day.” So will you. Editing must be done word by word, sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph, and we will go over texts in class, word by word, sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph. No one will hear you if you scream.
I’m going to turn my back for a minute so that anyone who wants to bolt can escape.

Now, if you are willing to stay—and work—I can show you how it is done. I have been a working editor for more than thirty years. I will explain basics of grammar so that you can shore up the spots where you are shaky. I will advise you about English usage and point to the places where you need to know that it is shifting. I will show you how to identify the flaws in a text so that you can pick it up out of the gutter, brush it off, clean it up, shave it, and make it respectable.
You are going to learn the craftsman’s satisfaction of picking up a piece of prose and knowing when you are finished with it that you have made it better—more accurate, more precise, clearer, more effective.
Let me say it again. You will have to work. You will have to be in class, because editing is a craft. One learns it by performing it, not from reading a textbook, and we will be performing serious editing in class.
I can’t make you into a full-fledged editor in one semester—or even two, and who in the name of God would want to be in a classroom with me for two semesters? But if you put in the time and work with me, you will by semester’s end be a better writer because you will be a sharper editor of your own work. And even if your editing skills are limited, you will be miles ahead of your fellow students. In the valley of the blind, they say, the one-eyed man is king.
So put in the time. My function here is to help you—you know, I already know how to do this; I don’t need to do this for me. So I will answer your questions and steer you to reliable references. I can work with you individually during office hours and by appointment. One previous semester, when we lost two weeks of class to winter storms, I came in on Sunday afternoons to be available to answer questions and go over points of editing. I can do that again.
One more thing. You may not care for my manner or my sense of humor. Not every student has. But one of the reasons you are in a university is to experience different personality types, different senses of humor, different approaches to the world. I am not the only jackass you will ever have to cope with in the adult working world, and one thing you can do this semester is to sharpen your coping skills.
Now, shall we get down to the particulars?

Sunday, September 2, 2012

And still counting


On this date on 1986 I arrived at Calvert Street to start work on the copy desk at The Baltimore Sun. That makes it, accounting for the [cough] hiatus [cough], twenty-five of the past twenty-six years.  

Never was a quarter-century better spent. 


Saturday, September 1, 2012

Five things you can do to improve Facebook

1. Those gorgeous pictures of food porn in magazines? Trick lighting and varnish. That lovely dish you're having for dinner? Like Joan Rivers without makeup. Just eat it. 

2. Awww, your baby is just too cute for words. No more than one photo a month, please. 

3. Cute pictures of cats. See Item 2. 

4. If you're still in Farmville, do what your ancestors have done: Sell the farm and move to town. 

5. Photos of signage with misapplied apostrophes. Even nerds deserve a richer life than this.