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 firstname.lastname@example.org, 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/.
Wednesday, March 31, 2010
Tuesday, March 30, 2010
There was a boy in my class, until the year he failed to be promoted to the next grade, who was short and wizened and quiet. I remember mocking him one winter because he wore a red jacket with a hood. (I no longer recall what led me to single that garment out.) As an adult, I realize that he, like most of the class, was a child of farmers of limited resources, and any clothing he wound up with he was doomed to wear. But, as usual, compassion arrives late in the day.
Sunday, March 28, 2010
Saturday, March 27, 2010
Thursday, March 25, 2010
Unfortunately, and my heart goes out to them, they are completely mistaken.
If you are to avoid their mistake, there are some things you have to understand.
First, people will not read your e-mail and your memos. They just don’t. They have pieces of prose flying at them all day long, as if they were pilots navigating through a barrage over Berlin. So they skim, or they stop at the third sentence in and never go back, or they ignore the text altogether.
That may be just as well, because if they paid attention to what you wrote, you might well be in trouble. Writing may be precise, but it lacks the cues of facial expression, tone, and gestures with which you communicate meaning in speech. That makes it dangerously easy for readers to misinterpret your tone and attention. What you intended as patient explanation, they see as pompous condescension; what you saw as puckish wit, they see as a sarcastic affront; what you present as a reasoned plan to correct faults, they will regard as impudence. You will do yourself no favors with these documents.
In government, in ecclesiastical circles, in business, and in other bureaucracies employing people of modest abilities keen to establish their value to the enterprise, the writing of memos resembles those Confucian exams that the Chinese imperial bureaucracy favored, or the dissertations that earn contemporary academics their doctorates: exercises pointless in themselves that serve to qualify the author for advancement. Keep it bland, and do not expect anyone to pay serious attention.
In my hot-blooded youth I imagined that wooing could be accomplished by lyrical letters and poetry, only to have the inutility of that approach regularly established. At work as in love, try face-to-face first.
Monday, March 22, 2010
Saturday, March 20, 2010
Thursday, March 18, 2010
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
Sunday, March 14, 2010
Friday, March 12, 2010
Thursday, March 11, 2010
Wednesday, March 10, 2010
Tuesday, March 9, 2010
Monday, March 8, 2010
Sunday, March 7, 2010
He paused, a wide and melancholy waste
Of putrid marshes.
Saturday, March 6, 2010
Friday, March 5, 2010
”You have to give it back.” But he handed it over, reluctantly.