I am sad to report the imminent demise, on June 30, of the eminent online journal, Minding The Campus, outstandingly edited by John Leo — with much more than a little help from his wife, Jacqueline Leo — for the past thirteen years. Approaching eighty-five, John has decided to retire, and thus to retire MTC.
When I say outstandingly edited, I don’t mean to suggest that John’s judgment, or even Jackies’s, was infallible. After all, he did publish a number of my pieces over the years that most other editors (even some on our side) would have rejected, but on the other hand (or is this the same hand?) he did let a few of my better ones get away. And he did have what may have been something like a genetic flaw, baked into his editorial DNA, to cut, cut, cut, regarding almost everything I submitted as too long.
Thus we generated an enormous email trail arguing over what to put back in, and other editorial matters. Indeed, since he must be issuing a huge sigh of relief at not having to deal with me anymore, if I had known then what I know now I might (just might) have toned down my demands over usage, punctuation, and indented quotes.
Perhaps John’s aversion to too many words harked back to his newspaper days a century ago, when columns were narrow and type expensive. It is a tribute to his character that he was able to overcome the journalistic rule of his youth (still obeyed by those with less character or less understanding) and insist on the use of the serial comma, something my daughter, Jessie, learned as she was learning the alphabet.
Finally, the infuriating thing about John’s editing is that more often than not he was right, and when he wasn’t Jackie was. Knowing that she was always looking over his shoulder, ready to pounce on any malaprop that he missed, had the character-enhancing effect of forcing me to consult scripture, i.e., The Chicago Manual of Style, much more often than I ordinarily would. For example, before submitting this post as a piece I would have checked to see whether MTC is thirteen or 13 years old, whether John is approaching eighty-five or 85. (17th edition, Rule 9.2, page 544: “In non-technical contexts, Chicago advises spelling out whole numbers from zero through one hundred….”)
Although the Chicago Manual has long been regarded as sovereign over the language territory it rules, that territory has porous borders where skirmishes can occur. It is not, for example, a complete guide to good usage, where an impressive new authority, Garner’s Modern English Usage, with its use of unparalleled amounts of linguistic data combined with a generally school-marmish fondness for rules and customs dismissed by linguists, threatens to become a sometimes competing scripture. Not sure about eminent vs. imminent? Or anymore vs. any more? Chicago is of no help, but Garner is.
Indeed, if I had submitted this post to MTC, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Jackie hadn’t red-penciled my copy, quoting Garner on “Numerals,” p. 639: “The best practice is to spell out all numbers ten and below and to use numerals for numbers 11 and above.”
I, and others, will sorely miss that, and everyone of a conservative (which is to say, often liberal in the old sense) persuasion will miss the pieces that found a congenial home at Minding The Campus. (Even though many of those pieces would have been even better if they’d been longer!)