John McIntyre, whom James Wolcott calls "the Dave Brubeck of the art and craft of copy editing," writes on language, editing, journalism, and random topics. Identifying his errors relieves him of the burden of omniscience. Write to, befriend at Facebook, or follow at Twitter: @johnemcintyre. The original site,, at, and now at

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

What, me wordy?

Sometimes patience gives way.

There is a commenter — I can’t say who, since the s.o.b. writes anonymously — who has come to this blog repeatedly to advise me to cut the posts by thirty to forty percent.

Such advice is not helpful. First off, these posts tend to run plus or minus 350 words, a length that does not suggest logorrhea. And second, the question is always which words should be cut, and the Anonymous One has never troubled himself to offer specifics about his objections.

I have suggested that Twitter might be a better fit for his capacity, and most recently he responded:

Length is not at issue. It's word choice, usage, and diction.
The text can be pared by 30%. Try it. Think less like a panjandrum and more like someone I'd want to talk to over a beer.

Damn, he wants a chum, and I disappoint him. But I’m disappointed, too, because now that it’s apparently tone and diction that he objects to, I still don’t have any details. Usage? Usage? So, patience snapped, and I have cut him off.

For the rest of you, if you find my digressions tedious, or my diction florid and affected, your comments will be welcome and approved, so long as there is any substance to them. You know, the sort of comment an editor or an informed reader would make.

Along the same line, Michael Kinsley has come in for a bit of smirking over his recent article in The Atlantic arguing that newspaper stories are too long: his essay runs to 1,800 words.

I have read multi-page articles in The Baltimore Sun that were like cruising down an interstate highway — no stoplights. And I have read stories with single paragraphs that would make Job curse God.* It’s worth looking at what Mr. Kinsley has to say about the latter category, the solid-mahogany paragraph that buries the focus under non-idiomatic newspaperese lumber.

For I have known them all already, known them all:— not just the hopelessly clotted opening paragraph, but also the introduction that runs for a dozen paragraphs before the writer bothers to indicate what the story is actually about, the article whose only organizing principle is randomness, the article that rehashes background information interminably, the article that thinks that the writer is more interesting than the subject.

Perhaps you, like America’s publishing executives, think that these deficiencies will be remedied by reducing the number of editors.


* Women’s rights groups and the American Civil Liberties Union yesterday took the first step toward appealing a ruling that overturned a landmark law denying city liquor licenses to private clubs that discriminate.


  1. You want something more succinct and colloquial, here's the tweet announcing this post:

    Dude thinks I talk fancy.

  2. Well, John, you do talk a bit fancy. But that's what makes you so endearing and readable. Fancy on, dude...fancy on.

  3. I'm "wordy." I'll be the first to admit it. (I'm also a first-time commenter here and nervous.) I also understand the importance of getting to the point. I don't like to read blog posts that are long and poorly written.

    However, if someone has something to say and knows his or her way around words, I don't mind a lengthy post.

    I think we're becoming a society who has lost the art of conversation because we insist on receiving all our communication in bite-sized pieces. I get tired of fast food and like to sit and enjoy a good meal of well-constructed sentences. I don't even have to agree with what the author's saying; I like food for thought.

    I can't help but wonder why your anonymous commenter is compelled to keep coming back to read your blog if he finds your posts tedious.

  4. Anonymous again. That guy and his pointless, gutless commentary are everywhere.

  5. Perhaps Anonymous is an unemployed copy editor trying to get you to hire him via the methods you outlined in the "Editors as entrepreneurs" post. Though his advice is a tad befuddling--in my experience, people talking over beers are not particularly concise, nor is their word choice, usage, or diction particularly commendable.

  6. I know Anonymous personally. His parents named him that because they're ashamed of him.

  7. Anonymous must be an enk salesman.

    Though I must post as an Anonymous profile, I am truly yours,

    MichiganCityDDS (twitter ID)

  8. I think your posts are fine. Keep up the good work.

  9. I get irritated at times with other bloggers who insist that a blog is for entertainment only, and that I should shorten my posts to make them more "enjoyable to read." My answer is that SOME blogs are for entertainment; others are NOT. If it takes more words and paragraphs to have an intelligent discussion of a be it. It's the quality of the post that matters, not the quantity.

  10. A response from Columbia Journalism Review to the Kinsey article, and a response to the CJR article by Doug Fisher. Both have merit.

  11. Oh, hell. Just cancel Anonymous's subscription and give him his money back.

  12. Sometimes giving us a bit more reminds us that you're human. I like human.

  13. Señor Cardamom EstopherJanuary 6, 2010 at 8:58 PM


    I am as irritated as you over the snarky, capricious, bone-head, obnoxious, ready-fire-aim comments by what are apparently a couple of repeat Anonymous posters on the blog. (Easy to take potshots when you're invisible...)

    A suggestion if I may: Why not just ban all Anonymous posts? Make it a policy statement that one has to provide a "handle" to play? Granted, that gives you no guarantee that malefactors won't appear, but at least you set up a hurdle they've got to jump in order to get "airtime."

  14. Oh, no, John, no, John, no! ". . . these posts tend to run plus or minus 350 words" Let's be mathematically proper here: "350 words plus or minus x", where x = your call. Say x=50, then the posts run from 300-400 words. I wouldn't know how to read or even find a post of minus 350 words, would you? And did you mean "run" or "run to"?

  15. Speaking of lumber, perhaps anonymous should take the plank out of his own eye before he works on your speck.

  16. JEM:
    You refer to "Anonymous One" in a half dozen places in this post as a male. What makes you think your phantom editor is not a gal?

  17. John, As a recent reader/subscriber, I appreciate the length and depth of your posts. Too many in this space feel the need to be so brief as to be trivial. I'm tired of trivial. I want meat on my plate and thoughts completely expressed. Thank you for not buckling to the caterwauling.

  18. John, oh how I miss your wit and witticism. Sitting in on your workshops at ACES conventions was a treat and honor.

  19. Patricia the Even More Terse in MMXJanuary 8, 2010 at 1:57 AM

    Private organizations should be allowed to discriminate. I don't care how long it takes anyone to say it, as long as they don't use commas promiscuously -as did Annoyingly Anonymous. Else they aren't private. Groucho Marx notwithstanding, people ought to be able to decide where, and when and with whom they meet, without the howlings and bleatings of the usual professionally and perpetually oppressed groups.

  20. "You Don't Say" is one of the bright spots in my day. I frequently smile at your clever word selection, your humble-yet-wise voice and your wry wit. Take as many words as you need, John.