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

For pasting above the desk

The Baltimore Sun

Over the years I’ve assembled a number of quotations on writing, editing, and grammar. From this selection, pick what would be most helpful to you if you look up from your desk to it.


“No man forgets his original trade: the rights of nations and of kings sink into questions of grammar if grammarians discuss them.”

                —  Samuel Johnson, Life of Milton


 “Some editors are failed writers, but so are most writers.

                  — T.S. Eliot


“Always respect an author’s style, if he is an author and has a style.”

                — Wolcott Gibbs


“God does not mind bad grammar, but He does not take any particular pleasure in it.”

                — Erasmus


“Any fool can make a rule and every fool will mind it.”

                — Henry David Thoreau


"[English] has, to my great dismay, no enforceable laws, much less someone to enforce the laws it doesn’t have."

                 — Benjamin Dreyer 


“In literature the ambition of the novice is to acquire the literary language; the struggle of the adept is to get rid of it.”

                — George Bernard Shaw


“I don't need time. What I need is a deadline.”

                 — Duke Ellington


“You may abuse a tragedy, though you cannot write one. You may scold a carpenter who has made you a bad table, though you cannot make a table. It is not your trade to make tables.”

                  — Samuel Johnson


“Everything that can be said can be said clearly.”

                   —Ludwig Wittgenstein


“The greater part of the world's troubles are due to questions of grammar.”

                — Montaigne


“I am unlikely to trust a sentence that comes easily.”

                — William Gass


“English usage is sometimes more than mere taste, judgment, and education — sometimes it’s sheer luck, like getting across the street.”

                — E.B. White


“If all else fails, immortality can always be assured by spectacular error.”

                — John Kenneth Galbraith

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