We wanted to get to know John McIntyre (NAIWE’s Grammar Expert) better, so last month we sat down with him. Here are some thoughts he shared with us.
What is one thing that you learned about your craft (or grammar) the hard way, and what benefits have you received from it?
In an early post on my blog, “You Don’t Say” at Baltimoresun.com, I published a simplistic explanation of the that/which distinction and was smartly rapped on the knuckles by Geoffrey Pullum, the distinguished linguist. The discovery that having been a newsroom grammar expert did not make me a full-fledged expert was humbling, and it led me to a reexamination—continuing—of what I think and know about grammar and usage. I learn, and unlearn, something nearly every day.
What has been your most rewarding grammar experience (or correction), and how was it rewarding? Self? Monetary? Clients?
Blogging since 2005 has given me an audience across the United States and internationally of people who are interested in language and receptive to learning more. I’ve formed friendships with fellow editors, linguists, and lexicographers, some of the smartest and funniest people you could ever expect to encounter. (One of the people I’ve come to know is Professor Pullum, who has endorsed some of my better-informed posts.)
What do you associate with grammar expertise?
I call myself an informed presctiptivist. Editing is inherently prescriptive, because it involves making choices, often subjective ones, about what would be better in the text. But I have no truck with the stale pedantry of shibboleths, bogus rules, and superstitions about language retailed by some people who call themselves prescriptivists and embrace the false prescriptivist/descriptivist dichotomy.
Grammar expertise requires flexibility, attention to register, and awareness that the fundamental rule of grammar and usage is “generally, with exceptions.”
We know that split infinitives are okay, sentences can begin with conjunctions, sentence-ending prepositions are perfectly good English, and it’s okay to use hopefully as a sentence adverb. We know this because grammarians and linguists have been gleefully exploding shibboleths and bogus rules. But what rules or usages are worth maintaining? In this webinar, John McIntyre of The Baltimore Sun will examine some defensibles. Should we maintain the imply/infer distinction? Is the traditional sense of “beg the question” in logic hopelessly lost? Is “whom” dead to us?
Sign up, take part, and work out where you want to stand your ground.
You can join in this conversation on November 19, at 2 pm eastern, when NAIWE will host a discussion on grammar.
The cost for NAIWE members is only $10! Non-members can join for $30. To register, send an email with your name and telephone number.