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

Editors held hostage

The Baltimore Sun

Peevers gotta peeve, and some publications coddle them.

Take, for example, this entry from The Economist’s style guide: “Happy the man who has never been told that it is wrong to split an infinitive: the ban is pointless. Unfortunately, to see it broken is so annoying to so many people that you should observe it.”

The Economist knows full well that the split infinitive prohibition is a zombie rule exploded by the Blessed Henry Watson Fowler nearly a century ago, scorned by linguists and grammarians, yet obstinately upheld by ill-instructed pedagogues and amateur authorities.*

And, evidently, also upheld by journalists who are afraid of their readers.

In fact, the Associated Press Stylebook goes one better with its idiotic “split verb” rule.

It is hard for me to imagine that the editors of The Economist quail at the thought of receiving an angry letter from some pedant, and harder to imagine that allowing split infinitives will lead to a great fall-off of readers and subscribers.

In fact, the peevers appear to be a minority, a small minority, and a declining one at that. Taking umbrage at usages they dislike reinforces their sense of identity. They are not going to drop their subscriptions and give up the opportunity to scold. They live to scold.

I generalize from what I see at The Sun, where a handful of readers, one of whom I know personally, regularly write letters to the editor denouncing its editorials. They despise The Sun’s editorial stance and regularly denounce the paper in the strongest terms. And yet they’re still reading it.

The peeververein imagine that they have power and influence over the language, and over those of us who speak and write it. Do not truckle to them.


* Can’t say that I care much for that “happy the man” construction either.

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