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You Don't Say
John E. McIntyre writes about language, usage, journalism & arbitrarily chosen subjects.
In a word: susurrant

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: 


One of the lovelier onomatopoeic words in English is susurrant (pronounced suh-SUR-ant), the sibilants of which echo its meanings: "whispering," "murmuring," "rustling." It is the adjectival form of susurrus, "a whispering or rustling sound."

Susurrus is a direct lift from Latin, where it means "humming" or "muttering."

Example: From James Parker's 2011 article in The Atlantic on R.E.M., "America's Rock Band": "When challenged in the early days about his sleepy, susurrant diction and bric-a-brac phraseology, or about the lack of a lyric sheet inside R.E.M.’s records, Stipe would sometimes refer questioners to Walker Percy’s essay 'Metaphor as Mistake'—an exploration of the ways whereby (as Percy writes) 'misnamings, misunderstandings, or misrememberings' can lead to 'an authentic poetic...

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Joke of the week: "A Husband's Memory"
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Women beware "woman"

At the Mind Your Language blog at The Guardian, Maddie York is fulminating over woman used as an adjective:

"I am a subeditor at the Guardian. I am a woman. I am not a woman subeditor. But 'woman' and its plural seem to be taking over the role of modifier, so that now, there is no such thing, as far as much of the media is* concerned, as a female doctor, a female MP or a female chef. Instead you hear or read about a woman doctor, a woman MP and so on."

She senses condescension: "There would be no real problem if we used both 'woman' and 'man' as modifiers, but we don’t, so the implication is that a “woman manager” is a modification of the standard or natural form, or something slightly less than the full version. It behaves like 'junior': doctor, woman doctor, junior doctor, for example. Doctor – male implied – is the standard, woman and junior the variants. They are the not-quite-doctors."

And she has backup: "As far as the Guardian style guide is concerned, it is simply wrong to use...

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Guys are sometimes dolls

My learned colleague @Mededitor tweeted today about a gentleman who thinks that English grammar has gone all to hell because of the word guys

In "Our Dying Grammar" at, Robert Fantina complains that guys is being used to refer to women as well as men, and is found in formal and business contexts as well as conversation:

"The word is creeping into the lexicon in more and more ways that this writer finds a bit irritating. In a recent ‘helpful hints’ article, a couple wrote in to ask advice about selling their house as-is, or spending some money to fix it up first. The professional who writes the column started his advice this way: 'It’s really up to you guys to decide.' Is the word ‘guys’ really necessary there? Does it add anything? If he had said, 'it’s really up to you to decide’, would some meaning have been lost? ‘You’, after all, can be single or plural. ‘It’s up to you (both husband and wife) to decide’."

Mr. Fantina's attention soon appears to...

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Sometimes an it is a they

Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad notwithstanding, most of us do not think of corporations as persons. Goldman Sachs is an it, not a they. The same convention applies in journalism to words like team and family

Never underestimate the tendency of journalists to apply rules mechanically in ways that make little sense. 

I offer you this recent bulletin from CNN: "NBC crew that worked with cameraman who has Ebola ordered into quarantine after it violated self-confinement, health officials say."

Corporations and government agencies are made up of people (or so we are told) but are thought of as faceless and impersonal. Referring to them as it makes sense. But when we have words like crew or family or human couple, identifying discrete individuals, something rebels at the neuter singular. 

In the CNN bulletin in particular, that it could be initially construed as referring back to Ebola, which I am confident should be an it. On that crew, they violated self-confinement, as...

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Some catching up to do

In case any of you were in suspense, I can report that Alexandra Leigh Aaronson and John Paul Lucien McIntyre were married Saturday evening in a mildly unconventional and moving ceremony at the Engineers Club on Mount Vernon Square in Baltimore.

Now we're back to business.

Item: Responding to the post "What we talk about when we talk about grammar," Andrew Shields wrote that he understands the inadvisability of trying to force-feed the Huddleston-Pullum Student's Introduction to English Grammar in three weeks, but he suggests that a few sections of it might be profitably employed: 

"I'm thinking of those moments in the book when H and P include 'prescriptive grammar notes.' For example, the discussion of 'not ending sentences with a preposition' is very useful. And you can make the point that the shibboleth masks a set of points (in this case, about when prepositions have to be fronted or stranded and when they can be either fronted or stranded) that are much more interesting than the...

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