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 email@example.com, befriend at Facebook, or follow at Twitter: @johnemcintyre. The original site, http://weblogs.baltimoresun.com/news/mcintyre/blog/, at www.baltimoresun.com/news/language-blog/, and now at https://www.baltimoresun.com/opinion/columnists/mcintyre/
Friday, November 15, 2013
I may have overestimated their capacities.
The circumstances are this: On my gmail account I was receiving numerous messages addressed to a James McIntyre about his AT&T U-verse account. Despite the cunning baffles AT&T puts in place to thwart people attempting to resolve problems, I reached some poor devil immured in customer service. After consultation with his supervisor, he assured me that he had identified James McIntyre's correct email address and I would no longer be troubled by misdirected messages.
After a series of new messages to James McIntyre provoked the September post, I received a message from a gentleman whose name I will not yet consign to infamy but who purported to be in the Office of the President Manager of AT&T Mobility, assuring me that he would attend to the matter personally.
That was in early October.
Since then I have received a message to James McIntyre about returning his AT&T U-verse equipment, a feedback request about his AT&T U-verse receiver, a billing statement, and most, recently, a promotional offer for U-verse movies, but no further communication from the Office of the President Manager of AT&T Mobility.
James McIntyre, can you hear me? It may be premature to suggest that you abandon your house, move to another city, and assume a new identity through the AT&T Customer Protection Program. But if I were you, I'd give it some thought.
And you, reader, if you have not fallen into the fell grip of AT&T U-verse, be on your guard, because once you find yourself in their oubliette, your pitiful cries for help will go unheard.
Thursday, November 7, 2013
If you are seeking a small present for that relative or friend who is a writer, or who wants to be a writer, or who you think ought to write, let me suggest The Old Editor Says. In addition to its timeless wisdom, it is inexpensive and easy to slip into a Christmas stocking or hand out as a party favor.
Not available in stores: You can order it from Amazon.com, well in time to arrive for the holiday, in print form or in Kindle:
The book has received favorable notice from, among other worthies, Jan Freeman at Throw Grammar From the Train, Stan Carey at Sentence First, and Steve Buttry at The Buttry Diary.
You can also preview it, listening to The Old Editor himself read from it at a Grammar Girl podcast.
However you mark the season, you have The Old Editor's good wishes for pleasant company and a prosperous year to come.
*Oh, have I put it in your head now? Terribly sorry.
Sunday, September 29, 2013
I explained the situation, furnishing considerable personal information to demonstrate that I am not James McIntyre and possibly not even a resident of the state where James McIntyre lives. He put me on hold while he consulted with his supervisor. On his return, he put me on hold again so that he could call James McIntyre and ascertain that James McIntyre is not me. Finally, he returned to give me the profoundest assurance that the mixup had been corrected, that AT&T knew all about James McIntyre and his account and his proper email address, and that I would be troubled no further with email about the James McIntyre account.
Yesterday I got an email with a link to a statement for James McIntyre's account, and today I got an email reminding me about the email about James McIntyre's statement.
Generous-spirited as I am, particularly right after Divine Service, I hesitate to surmise that AT&T is operated by the most feckless pack of bungling gits and lubberly clotpolls ever to set up in commerce since the Dutch oversaturated the tulip market, but you would think that even they would have the nous to distinguish between James McIntyre and John McIntyre.
James McIntyre, I wish you luck in your dealings with AT&T. You are going to need an abundance of it.
Friday, July 26, 2013
I refer, of course, to The Old Editor Says:
The distilled wisdom of three decades in the paragraph game, it will give the fledgling advice that should, if heeded, spare the tyro upbraiding, shouting, reproach, derision, and more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger correction.
The Old Editor Says has been praised in reviews by Dawn McIlvain Stahl at Copyediting, Steve Buttry at The Buttry Diary, and Stan Carey at Sentence first. Don't neglect the reader reviews at Amazon.com, where the sole negative notice presents three solecisms in three sentences.
For a preview, you can listen to the Old Editor at a Grammar Girl podcast.
Thursday, July 25, 2013
When I hit adolescence, I was a regular user of Vitalis or Brylcreem, in a vain attempt to make my curls and waves ruly. Considerably more than a little dab did me. Over time I developed a distaste for having a greasy head. But today, with product undreamed of in the hair-oil-and-paste era of my youth, I see men every day whose hair glistens, who have evidently been persuaded that little oily spikes are attractive.
Women, bless their hearts, have long been accustomed to this commodification of appearance. Pope wrote about it in Rape of the Lock: "To save the Powder from too rude a Gale, / Nor let th' imprison'd Essences exhale, / To draw fresh Colours from the vernal Flow'rs, / To steal from Rainbows ere they drop in Show'rs / A brighter Wash; to curl their waving Hairs, / Assist their blushes, and inspire their Airs."
And now men as well. There is a mention in today's Sun of a collection of unguents, oils, and powders costing in excess of seventy dollars to make shaving an enterprise as complicated and expensive as exploratory surgery. No wonder some have chosen to go about in public sporting two or three days' worth of stubble.*
Yesterday I was offered the chance to buy some exotic shampoo that would prevent an ugly sheen from appearing on my "lovely silver hair." No sale.
Most of us are not Adonises. I certainly wasn't in my hot-blooded youth, and there is no prospect of it at this late date. Being washed, combed, shaven, and decently covered is about the best I can expect, and I recommend it to my fellow Y-chromosome bearers. Save your money for the things that matter in life, and books and good liquor.
*Incidentally, you do not look like Brad Pitt; you look like you're coming off a bender.
Friday, June 14, 2013
What follows in the comments does not quite fill one with confidence about the professionalism of copy editors. One editor consulted friends and family; one recalled a pronouncement from a journalism professor four decades previously. Most expressed some personal preference. (You will have to sign up for LinkedIn to read them.)
But at least some editors thought to consult dictionaries. The Oxford English Dictionary, for example, has a citation for data as a mass noun taking a singular verb from an 1826 number of the Edinburgh New Philosophical Journal: "Inconsistent data sometimes produces a correct result." The singular sense in computing dates from 1946.
Merriam-Webster's Unabridged Dictionary calls data "plural in form but singular or plural in construction" and appends this concise note on usage:
"Data leads a life of its own quite independent of datum, of which it was originally the plural. It occurs in two constructions: such as a plural noun (like earnings), taking a plural verb and plural modifiers (such as these, many, and a few) but not cardinal numbers, and serving as a referent for plural pronouns (such as they and them); and as an abstract mass noun (like information), taking a singular verb and singular modifiers (such as this, much, and little), and being referred to by a singular pronoun (it). Both constructions are standard. The plural construction is more common in print, evidently because the house style of several publishers mandates it."
Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage has a long and interesting entry on the career of this Latin word in English, summing up: "Data has never been the plural of a count noun in English. It is used in two constructions--plural, with plural apparatus, and singular, as a mass noun, with singular apparatus. Both constructions are fully standard at any level of formality.
The current edition of the American Heritage Dictionary finds that "singular data has become a standard usage."
Garner's Modern American Usage calls data a "skunked term," a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't word. Though he prefers using it as a plural, he ruefully recognizes that the singular sense has gained traction and is approaching "fully accepted" status.
So anyone seriously questioning whether data is singular or plural has simply not done the homework.
That leaves only the question of whether to use it as a singular or a plural in context.
Some editors, I gather from the LinkedIn responses, are shackled to scientific or technical style guides so rigid as to make a hard-shelled acolyte of the Associated Press Stylebook gasp in envy. Thus data-ever-plural can be added to the long register of pig-headed and arbitrary strictures one encounters in the workplace. Submit under protest.
Then there are the individual preferences, and several responders to the LinkedIn post inform us whether data as a plural or singular sounds good to them. Individual tastes and preferences do have a place in writing; if you dislike one of those senses, don't use it in your own writing. But unless evidence is brought to bear, your individual preference for data as a singular or plural is of no more help to me than your preference for green or red chile.
Data, the evidence plainly shows us, is in common use as a singular or plural noun. If the sense of data is "facts," then a plural verb is called for. If the sense of data is "information" or "evidence," then a singular verb is appropriate.
And there, as Dr. Johnson would have said, is an end on't.
Sunday, May 26, 2013
That is why the brown liquors, bourbon, Scotch, and rye, have appeal; they have flavor. For martinis, gin is the obvious choice; it has flavor. It tastes like something.
I've never understood the appeal of vodka. It tastes like rubbing alcohol, the sole advantage being that you don't go blind. I've had an occasional vodka martini. It's nice to notice the flavor of the vermouth, but there's always a sense of something missing.
Today, however, vodka moves from its customary level of indifference to one of irritation. The reason is a Grey Goose commercial I've already heard twice, for its "cherry noir" black-cherry-flavored brand. Never mind my suspicion that all cherry-flavored liquors taste like cough syrup. The git engaged to read the commercial pronounces noir as "noh-are."
I suppose most of the customers do, too.
Thursday, May 9, 2013
We met on a Sunday afternoon at the 13.5% Wine Bar on 36th Street in Hampden and enjoyed a genial hour. A writer enjoys an opportunity to meet readers face to face, and sometimes the readers also enjoy it.
So if you are in town this Sunday and not obligated for some Mother's Day observance, I plan to be at the 13.5% Wine Bar again, at 1:00 p.m. It seems to take a while for the place to fill up on Sundays, so we should have ample room and reasonable quiet.
I dislike drinking alone, so if you fancy a pint, a glass of wine, or a cup of coffee, I would be delighted to have your company.
Thursday, April 25, 2013
Wednesday, April 24, 2013
"The Old Editor is an imposing man. As he walks into Nina’s, a small restaurant across the street from The Sun’s headquarters, the woman behind the counter says, 'Hello, Mr. McIntyre. It’s been a while' with an air of deference. If his sartorial sense were prose, John Early McIntyre would probably find it too flowery: With a dark suit, a blue-striped bow tie, cuff links in the sleeves of his starched shirt, a wide-brimmed hat, and a cane, he looks more like Gay Talese—the dapper don of New Journalists—than The Sun’s long-suffering, ink-stained copy editor."
(The cane, incidentally, is for arthritis, not affectation. I will not make the same claim about the other components.)
Since publication, The Old Editor Says, available in print or Kindle by clicking on the links below, has garnered some favorable attention.
Jan Freeman curled up with it at Throw Grammar From the Train.
Dawn McIlvain Stahl weighed in at Copyediting.
Stan Carey was characteristically generous at Sentence First.
Steve Buttry praised both the advice and the prose at The Buttry Diary.
Several short notices have been posted at Goodreads.
There's also a curt, dismissive notice at Amazon.com by a reader who claims reporting experience, but it would be snarky to point out its solecisms.
I am humbly grateful for the good notices from several colleagues whose work I respect. If you find them persuasive, perhaps you will want to give The Old Editor Says a look.
And now that the academic year is drawing to a close, perhaps you will find it an apt gift for that graduate who aspires to be a writer.
Sunday, April 7, 2013
We, who used to think of ourselves as a great and puissant nation, find ourselves unable to come up with the ready for the continuation of a long-running academic project that establishes something central about our greatness as a nation: the richness of our language.
There are locutions in DARE that Mark Twain would have recognized. There is language that I recognize from my people in rural Kentucky. My people come from people who never exercised much in the way of political power or wealth or cultural influence, but who had the right of the humble to add to the fabric of the national language. And it is the Dictionary of American Regional English, through the dedication of generations of volunteers and scholars, that gave them the dignity of recording their contributions.
Now we find that Joan Houston Hall, heir to Fred Cassidy and the other members of the American Dialect Society who started this project, is reduced to begging for small change to keep at least a part of the operation functioning.
We see every day people wearing American flag lapel pins and prating about their patriotism. A true and sincere patriotism, one that properly understood who we are and where we came from and why it is important to know this, would not allow the lights to go dark at DARE.
But now an appeal from the editor, Joan Houston Hall, has come out, and the whole project is in dire straits. She writes, "We were not awarded federal and private grants we had anticipated receiving; private gifts have declined precipitously; a major foundation that has provided a large gift annually for twenty years has decided it must move on to other worthy projects; the UW has endured grave reductions in state support, and the College of Letters and Science is unable to provide assistance."
As a consequence, the staff of the dictionary is to be given layoff notices, effective July 1.
This is her appeal: "To let language mavens and fans of DARE know that if they’d like to help us, it’s easy to do. The home page of the DARE website (www.dare.wisc.edu) has a “Donate” button. It will take readers to a secure University of Wisconsin Foundation site through which tax-deductible gifts can be given to DARE."
DARE is an ornament to scholarship and learning, an invaluable repository to the vigor and inventiveness and quirkiness and color of our national language. We have the full six volumes, but to lose the digital edition and to forfeit the continuing scholarship of the staff would be a calamity, a loss not easily repaired, if ever.
So I am repeating Joan Houston Hall's appeal to you, in hopes that you, my readers, lovers of our language, will be moved to do something, however modest, to ensure that "Zydeco is not the end."
Tuesday, March 26, 2013
"The prose is clear, concise, measured, and filled with sound guidance," he says. He calls it "a useful and original book that is also a pleasure to read," and he commends it to all in the writing and editing trade. It will, he promises, "satisfy, gratify, and edify."
Wednesday, March 20, 2013
Then this evening you can drop by the Apprentice House spring launch of its new titles, The Old Editor Says among them, with the Old Editor on hand, in person.
Monday, March 18, 2013
Between 9:15 and 9:30 a.m. (Eastern daylight time) on WYPR-FM, 88.1, my interview with Sheilah Kast on Maryland Morning will be broadcast. If you are unable to listen, check the Maryland Morning website later in the day for a link to the recording.
Also on Wednesday, Apprentice House, the student-operated publishing operation at Loyola University Maryland, will conduct its spring launch reception for the ten new print books and fifteen new e-books in its catalog. The Old Editor Says is one of the books being featured, and The Old Editor will be present in person.
The event runs 6:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. in the third-floor Reading Room of the Andrew White Student Center on the Loyola campus. Do drop by if you are able; "light fare" is promised.
Saturday, March 16, 2013
Travelers have discovered that taking The Old Editor Says along, either in print or Kindle form, has an effect something like an amulet, warding off delayed flights, missed connections, and lost luggage.
In a spate of testimonials, readers explain that they have found The Old Editor Says efficacious with warts, gout, rheumatism, gallstones, fretfulness, grippe, quinsy, debility, melancholia, indigestion, ague, vertigo, catarrh, and female complaint. Also cures insomnia.
This is a book that you cannot afford to be without. Click on one of the links below to order this sovereign panacea.
Buy a second copy if you have a child who is teething.
Tuesday, March 12, 2013
Next week's coming attraction: I recorded an interview today with Sheilah Kast of WYPR's Maryland Morning that will be broadcast a week from today, March 19, between 9:15 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. at 88.1 FM. Later that day, a recording of the interview, plus some supplemental material, will be made available on the Maryland Morning website.
Thursday, March 7, 2013
Whether you are editing a single short article or a major project, whether you are working for a publishing concern or freelancing, the same concerns always arise: balancing the varied interests of author, publication, and audience; establishing appropriate priorities; and, because there will never, ever be enough time for everything you would like to do, resorting to triage.
I cannot resolve every issue for you, but I can help you to prepare to face them and deal with them effectively before you go completely nuts.
Moreover, your contributions to the discussion, the insights from your own experiences in editing, will be most welcome. I hope that the conference will not turn out to be a mere monologue.
Saturday, March 2, 2013
I replied that an eagle-eyed reader had just that day filed a comment listing a handful of typos and other errors in the text. My colleague started laughing and said to the group, "Of course! His readers are just like him."
From the comment, here are the things that John Cowan, bless his painstaking attention, pointed out:
Well, my copy of TOES has finally arrived and has been read three times (what I tell you three times is true).
p. 10: For "smok'em" read "smoke 'em"; likewise for "got'em" read "got 'em".
p. 16: As I understand it, goat-chokers and thumbsuckers are different things, though related. A goat-choker is stuffed full of irrelevant facts, whereas a thumbsucker is made up of dubiously informed opinions. Consumption of the former causes constipation; the latter, borborygmi.
p. 22: "does not a have a tattoo" a has an article too many.
p. 24: for "schelp" read "schlep", or better yet "shlep", as "sch" in Yiddish words is unnecessary.
p. 27: "and will be done" makes "will" look like a verb.
p. 39: Not monotype, monowidth. This is a pet peeve of mine. Monotype is an obsolete typesetting machine and the name of a type foundry. Courier, Consolas, Lucida Sans Mono, and Liberation Mono are monowidth fonts.
p. 51: "Boasts"? You'd be down on that like a ton of bricks in anyone else's article.
p. 53: I puzzled over "if not is used" for a bit until I realized that "not" should have been italicized.
p. 55: You may know all about Charlie Stough, but the rest of us don't. A word or two of identification wouldn't kill you.
p. 56: Even worse are the meetings where the actual decisions have already been made elsewhere.
p. 58: Some tools, however, are unfit for their alleged purposes (if any: see Gary Larson's "cow tools"). And sometimes the squeaky wheel actually does get a little grease.
p. 60: Well, no. Some of us edit as a sideline to our real jobs.
p. 64: It's my view that the best way to oppose a stupid rule put forth by a prescriptivist is to become a prescriptivist: "No. That is not the rule. The rule is ..." It works better than sweet reason with people who are stuck on rules in the first place: they just want a rule, and if you give them one with sufficient authority, they'll accept it.
p. 67: "Don't be so humble. You're not that great." —Golda Meir.
But all that said: well done!
Some of them are the more irritating because they had been identified and marked for correction. (Just like making newspapers.)
But now they will be. I have forwarded half a dozen corrections to Apprentice House. They will be incorporated into the electronic text, and further copies will be correct as the printer produces them.
Take care, though, that you do not discard the copy with errors in it. It may, in time, come to have some value, like those 1918 24-cent U.S. postage stamps with the airplane upside-down.
ADDITIONALLY: Reader reactions to the book continue to come in. At Throw Grammar From the Train, Jan Freeman remarks that an evening with The Old Editor Says was preferable to an evening with the Oscars.
Friday, March 1, 2013
"Choosing Your Battles" is the title I've chosen for an audio conference for Copyeditor in which I will talk about the editor's responsibility to author, publisher, and reader, as well as to oneself, for ninety minutes, 11:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., Eastern, on Thursday, March 14.
Click on the link to see further information and to sign up.
I hope not to spend an hour and a half jabbering by myself; nobody wants that. I trust that those of you who sign up will have experiences and insights to contribute, and you will be given opportunities to do so.
It was a sunny day, and I had the luck of a Haydn symphony on the radio for the trip up and the trip back. Andy was in good form, healthy and cheerful. He says that he has enjoyed retirement more than he expected to when he left The Sun in 2008, and the project that he has been working on, a vast family genealogical text, is going strong.
It was Andy who rescued me from the toils of Gannett nearly twenty-seven years ago, and it is from Andy that I learned most of what I know about being a manager as well as an editor. You would be lucky to have such a mentor.
You, too, have the opportunity to own The Old Editor Says. Just click on a link to order the print copy or the Kindle version:
(We all understand, I hope, that I have to flog the damn book myself, since no one else will do so.)
But wait, there's more:
My learned colleague Bill Walsh is about to bring out another book. If you enjoyed and profited from Lapsing Into a Comma and The Elephants of Style, you will surely want to own Yes I Could Care Less.
Wednesday, February 20, 2013
Suzanne Loudermilk commented on Facebook: Suzanne Loudermilk on Facebook: Anyone who is interested in the written word should read "The Old Editor Says" by John McIntyre. So true, so funny, so humbling. I'm glad I had a chance to work with him.
Beryl Adcock tweeted: Just raced through "The Old Editor Says" by
You can click on the link to order the print edition:
Or the Kindle version:
Or for iPad at iBookstore or for Nook at BN.com.
Operators are standing by.
Not available in stores.
Thursday, February 14, 2013
Operators are standing by.
Tuesday, February 12, 2013
Someone wondered whether some samples might be posted, since Amazon.com doesn't allow a glimpse into the book.
Here's a teaser:
The Old Editor says:
"In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth." 10-word lead. What've you got that needs more?
The creation of the universe in Genesis 1:1 does not need six paragraphs of throat-clearing before getting to the point, or a little anecdote to prime the pump. Genesis, like the Lord, gets down to the business immediately, and you, if you would like to have the reader's attention for a little while, will do the same.
And, since there are personal and professional dimensions of editing that go beyond the texts, here's another teaser:
Monday, February 11, 2013
I have produced a little book of sixty-odd pages of maxims from the paragraph game, with brief commentaries. Some are traditional, some from my mentors, some my own. The publisher is Apprentice House, the student-run publishing operation at Loyola University Maryland.
If you did not have the good fortune as a beginner to work with a crusty old editor who would set you straight on the elements of writing and editing, then you can acquire a simulacrum from Amazon.com for twelve bucks.*
And, as the jacket copy advises, if you aspire to be a crusty old editor, this is the handbook.
If you are attending the national conference of the American Copy Editors Society in St. Louis this spring, and you bring along your copy of The Old Editor Says, I will happily autograph it for you.
I am deeply grateful to Anthony Medina, my former student, who was the Apprentice House production editor for the book. I also owe thanks to Samantha Vigliotti, another former student, who read the manuscript and made several valuable corrections; and to Kevin Atticks of the Loyola faculty, who oversaw the project.
*Amazon marks it temporarily out of stock. (And gets the title wrong, too.) The text went to the printer at the end of last week. As the printer disgorges copies, they will be available on Amazon, no doubt soon. For now, you can place an order to be filled as the books become available.
Thursday, January 10, 2013
I work on an iMac at home, and nearly every day I get shut out of Facebook or Twitter on Firefox or Safari. Firefox delivers a "This Connection is Untrusted" warning that says that Twitter has an untrusted security certificate, and Safari renders a similar security certificate error.
This happens when I leave either Facebook or Twitter logged on for an extended time, and the only remedy that I have figured out is to clear the history and restart the computer.
I never have this problem with the Dell on my desk at work, so I assume that the problem has something to do with the iMac rather than with Facebook or Twitter.
Is there something about the iMac's security settings that needs adjustment? I welcome suggestions from Apple fanciers.