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

Poison ivy pedagogy

The Baltimore Sun

I ask the students in my editing class at Loyola University Maryland if they understand how poison ivy operates.

Usually I have to explain.

The first time you come into contact to poison ivy, if you are susceptible, nothing happens. But your immune system detects the antigen in the sap on your skin and sets an alarm. So the next time you come into contact with poison ivy, your immune system reacts with itching, a rash, even blisters.

In the first three weeks of the class, we go over the most common errors in grammar and English usage: subject-verb agreement, singular and plural possessives, confusion of homonyms—all the things editors monotonously encounter, identify, and correct day after day after day.

And I tell my students that I want to think of these errors like the antigen in poison ivy sap. I want to set the alarm on their editorial immune system so that they start itching every time they encounter one, and scratch until it’s fixed.

(At the same time, I have to immunize them against the zombie rules.)

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