Tag Archives: John E. McIntyre

To niggle or not to niggle?

A recent glance at a language blog stopped me in my tracks as I contemplated where I’d like my own language blog to go in the New Year.

In his December 30 post, The Baltimore Sun’s John E. McIntyre, a language blogger, resolved to not nitpick when it comes to the grammatical missteps of others. In essence, he vowed to stop doing many of the things I and those who comment on Word Nymph do on a regular basis. This made me feel a little sheepish.

McIntyre said he’d no longer “whinge” about how young people speak and write these days or lament the decline of the English language. Further, he resolved to stop making or contributing to lists of grammatical pet peeves. Alas, he appears to be a bigger person than I. I just recently engaged my readers in contributing to piles of peeves.

There was one resolution that got my attention “I will not assume that everything Miss Thistlebottom or Sister Scholastica told me about grammar and usage when I was a mere tot is permanently and universally valid.”

I confess that, in my own writing, I often draw on rules I learned in grade school, lessons I seldom questioned and have forever heeded to the letter. I do consult other sources as needed, to verify my understanding of the rules, especially when I am discussing them here.

On one hand, McIntyre appears to be suggesting that we honor the English language as it continues to evolve and not revere ancient laws as ultimate truth. I’m not sure I’m ready to do this. I’m not ready to welcome into accepted practice those errors—many intentional—that have crept into our language so invasively that to oppose them is just too much of a burden. The path of least resistance, in a sense.

On the other hand, he appears to hold dear the virtues of proper speech and writing. I like his New Year’s toast: “Lift a brimming glass at midnight and drink to the hope that in the coming months we will all speak and write with more accuracy, clarity, force, and grace.”

Perhaps what he is saying is that, as writers and speakers, we should continue to uphold our personal standards, while exploring new and clever ways of expressing ourselves, but not judge those who do not.

I agree with this in theory. However, if I follow McIntyre’s worthy example, I am afraid I will have little left about which to write in the New Year.

I never intended to be the grammar police or a word Nazi; I prefer to have fun with language, pointing out interesting rules I am still learning and coming up with interesting ways of remembering them. At the same time, it’s also nice to have an outlet.

This is as much your blog as it is mine. Where do you think we should take it?

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’Tis taboo

If my September 25 post reminding you that you only have three months to write your holiday letter didn’t send you straight to the keyboard, that’s good—because I’ve found a great set of tips for how not to write your letter.

I am not biggest fan of Christmas letters, and yet I can’t refrain from writing them. What’s more, I can’t keep myself from slipping into what I know are bad habits. In my 2006 letter, I actually listed all the things I felt people shouldn’t say in a holiday letter, mostly because they are cliché or cover topics in which only the writer is interested. Then I turned around and used one.

In my opinion, the most cliché way to open a holiday letter is by asking, “Where has the time gone?” or “Where did the year go?” I also prefer to omit unseemly medical conditions that might spoil a reader’s cup of Christmas tea. A letter we received one year actually contained the words “rectal prolapse.”

I could go on and on but I will let John E. McIntyre of The Baltimore Sun do it for me – and more eloquently at that. In a recent blog piece, McIntyre offers tips for making a letter less cheesy than it might be. He suggests refraining from any and all holiday metaphors, analogies and parodies of the Twelve Days of Christmas. He also reminds us that the 12 days begin on Christmas and run through January 6th. This is especially important to me, not just as a Christian but also because my birthday falls 12 days before Christmas, and I’d like a little time to celebrate the occasion (and observe Advent) before the big day hits.

McIntyre also helpfully points out that, while Hanukkah comes close to Christmas, “they are not twins.” Nevertheless, is it still all right for me to use my holiday card to wish a happy Hanukkah to all my Jewish friends?

He advises letter writers to avoid ‘Tis and ‘Twas and to back away from the Dickensian: “No ghosts of anything past, present or future. Delete bah and humbug from your working vocabulary. Treat Scrooge as you would the Grinch, by ignoring him. Leave little Tiny Tim alone, too.”

If you’re interested in cutting the cheese from your holiday letter, then before you put pen to pad, or fingertips to keyboard, try heeding John McIntyre’s advice. I promise to do the same.

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Filed under All Things Wordish, Family and Friends, Holidays