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You Don't Say

You Don't Say John E. McIntyre writes about language, usage, journalism & arbitrarily chosen subjects.
Watch English change

H.W. Fowler, A Dictionary of Modern English (1926):

Their should be his; & the origin of the mistake is clearly reluctance to recognize that the right shortening of the cumbersome he or she, his or her, &c., is he or him or his though the reference may be to both sexes.

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The editor's three indispensable qualities

Robert Giroux on editing:

“Many elements go into the regular editor’s making, starting with the accidents of background and schooling. But there are three qualities that cannot be taught, and without which a good editor cannot function— judgment, taste and empathy. Judgment is the ability to evaluate a manuscript and its author.

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You are losing the use of your shins

A few weeks ago the American Heritage Dictionary’s blog posted a note on its usage panel’s response to a question about the confusion of shimmy and shinny.

This is their description of the traditional distinction: “The shimmy is a dance that was popular in the 1920s and is characterized by rapid shaking of the body. To shimmy means ‘to shake the body in or as if in dancing the shimmy.’

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Lexicography is no country for wobbly thinking

John Simpson quotes his wife’s description of him as “an ordinary bloke in an extraordinary job.” That job was the editorship of the Oxford English Dictionary, a career he recounts in a genial memoir, The Word Detective: Searching for the Meaning of it All at the Oxford English Dictionary (Basic Books, 368 pages, $27.99).

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In a word: douceur

Each week The Sun's John McIntyre presents a relatively obscure but evocative word with which you may not be familiar, another brick to add to the wall of your vocabulary. This week's word:


When English appropriated douceur (pronounced (doo-SER), “sweetness,” from French in the fifteenth century, it referred to a sweet and amiable temperament.

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Favored with a reply

Many of the comments on my recent videos have been strongly positive, for which a heartfelt “thank you” suffices as a response. Serious negative ones merit a serious response. But non-serious negative ones require an amount of time for response that is disproportionate to the results.

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