Friday, December 30, 2016

John E McIntyre Is Not Gonna Fix Your Sentence, And Then He's Gonna Make Fun Of You!

A video illustrates very well what I dislike about some -- by no means all -- people who write about writing and speaking English well.

Congratulations, John E McIntyre of the Baltimore Sun: I cannot figure out how to embed your video in a short time, and within a moderate time the Sun's website with its many advertisements threatens to freeze my computer. And so, you've bested me: instead of embedding your video, the most I can do is link the page containing it.

Follow that link if you will, with that warning about the many advertisements. It may be that my PC is far more vulnerable to freezing than are others, because it is old and weak, or who knows why. Or maybe my device is not unusually vulnerable, and we have merely entered an age of great stupidity in Internet advertising, an age in which not just I, but people in general will avoid the websites of great newspapers like the Baltimore Sun, because they're infested with computer-crippling amounts of ads. Ads which thus defeat the very purpose for their existence. I've never believed that advertising people are generally as smart as they're generally thought to be.


McIntyre begins the video by describing how Latin is highly inflected -- it has different word endings, not to mention completely different words in the cases of pronouns and irregular verbs, for different quantities, cases, tenses and so forth, and therefore word order is not crucially important to comprehensibility, because inflection in Latin performs some of the functions performed by word order in English -- and then points out that because English is much less inflected, misplaced modifiers can lead to all sorts of spectacular misunderstandings in English sentences. And then he reads a bunch of sentences in which awards appear to be skating on mantelpieces and British MP's to be marauding Vikings and so forth.

Of course, no-one reading those sentences would actually think that the awards were skating or that the MP's were Vikings. McIntyre reads them to the audience of the video because considering what the sentences communicate is not as important to him as making fun of their hapless authors. He is completely correct that the positioning of modifiers is very important in writing English well and comprehensibly. The problem is that he's being a complete dick in a bow-tie about it. If, instead of just reciting all of those sentences like a sneer with legs and concluding, "If you can't tell what's wrong with these sentences, find an editor and ask," he had taken a comparable amount of time to suggest improvements upon a smaller number of examples, I, and other non-language-snobs, might have been less put off, and more inclined to hear or read other things he has to say, and clicked on the link to his column on the Sun website. As it is, it seems that sneering and feeling superior to those whom the positioning of modifiers confuses are far more important to him than being helpful. The world doesn't need more sneering and less helping.

It's possible that John E McIntyre and I would be quite capable of becoming great friends with one another. For one thing, I'm very much interested in the Latin language, it's not exactly as if people with intelligent things to say about Latin are growing on trees these days. Also, in perusing the titles of some of McIntyre's other columns, it seems that he may actually be opposed to some aspects of language snobbism at some times. But this video was my introduction to him, and he got off to a bad start.

PS, 2:06 PM: I myself have language-snob tendencies. I'm trying to overcome them. For example, after writing this post I liked a comment on Facebook which made fun of someone for writing "should of" instead of "should have." I shouldn't of liked that comment for that reason, you know why? I'll tell ya why: 1) The purpose of language is to communicate, and everyone knew what was meant by "should of." No clarity, none whatsoever, was gained by ridiculing the use of "should of." 2) "Should of" and "should've" sound about exactly the same.

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