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

Someone is sending students my way

The Baltimore Sun

I am gaining a batch of Twitter followers from a particular university. I think someone on the faculty (and I think who) must be steering them my way. This is dangerous.

One of the 700+plus students who have taken my editing class at Loyola University Maryland presented this succinct evaluation: “You will learn a lot, but might not like it.” And some of the older hands in the business are muttering that I have become a downright subversive.

You see, I started out as a proper copy editor, sternly enforcing the dicta of the Associated Press Stylebook and maintaining all the English-major shibboleths of usage I had picked up in college. Then, over time, I began to learn things.

I was already leery of some of journalism’s wacky practices, having read Theodore Bernstein’s Miss Thistlebottom’s Hobgoblins while still in college. (Still a useful book, well worth a look.) After I began writing this blog in 2005, I came into contact with other editors, and linguists and lexicographers, gaining a fuller understanding of how flexible—and complicated—English usage is beyond the schoolroom simplicities and crackpot journalistic conventions

So I rail against the zombie rules here and in the classroom, and I tell my students that they will have to learn how to make judgments instead of acting as mere rule-followers. I have pushed repeatedly, along with other editors, for acceptance of singular they, and lo, this year the AP Stylebook, gingerly as ever, announced a grudging acceptance. Eppur, si muove.

Students also hear that they may have to manage on their own. They are not going to have me or someone like me, because the sharp-pencil people have been dropping editors over the side for more than a decade. Their self-editing in many cases may be the only editing they get, so they are going to have to come up to speed quickly.

You at UNL are more than welcome to visit to read the posts and view the weekly videos at baltimoresun.com. If you’re willing to do some googling, you should be able to find most of my posts since 2005, in which I have said pretty much everything I know about editing. Don’t worry if I tell you that what you have been taught—and possibly are being taught now—is codswallop. Your time will come.

When your time does come, I have a piece of advice. Start somewhere obscure. I never took any journalism classes, but I worked for six summers in high school and college on a rural weekly of about 3,000 circulation in my home county in Kentucky. There is a great deal to be said for making your youthful excesses and blunders in a place where they will not attract much notice.

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