A sad editing moment at the New York Times

In last Sunday’s NYT Magazine, I was saddened, and not a little outraged, to read, in Dan Kois’s piece “The Misanthropic Genius of Joy Williams”, the following bit of garbled English:

In the end the essay is a call to arms for a new kind of literature, one Williams sounds doubtful that anyone, including she, can write.

(After nearly a week, the sentence is still on the paper’s site. Apparently nobody thought there was anything wrong with it.)

Now, I’m familiar with examples like this, and have posted about them, but not from professional writers or editors who are presumably native speakers of English; instead, they come from amateurs who are so unwilling to trust their instincts about how their language works that they cast about for guidance from (poorly remembered) advice on how to write their language that they’ve been taught. They have some excuse. But Kois and whatever editors worked on this piece do not.

Background: In addition to a PRP verb form including (as in I am including all of my expenses in your bill), English has a P (preposition) including (historically related to the verb form), combining with an obect NP, and when this object is a personal pronoun, it will be in the Acc (accusative), rather than Nom (nominative) case, just like pronominal objects of Ps in general:

All the observers, including him/*he, were fascinated.

This is not a particularly subtle point, but the unwary can fall into a trap as a result of two facts: the semantics of including is additive, somewhat like and; and many people are anxious about choices between Acc and Nom, especially in coordination with and. That brings to us my posting of 3/23/12 on “The perils of advice”, about everyone including I and a blogger who wrote, unhappily, about choosing between this version and the version everyone including me:

[The blogger] has dimly remembered some (rather confused) advice about the case of conjoined pronouns and then extended that to examples with the preposition including (instead of the conjunction and); since it’s I went to the show and not me went to the show, he concludes that it should be everyone including I went to the show, despite the fact that this runs counter to his intuitions and his actual practice. Garbled theory trumps facts.

I had a fair number of examples of including + Nom, but none from what you might call “writing professionals”. They really should know better.

I am reminded here of Geoff Pullum’s recent posting (9/4) on Language Log, “Economist sticklers trying to bug me”, where he rants about this boldfaced sentence:

Of what is the universe really made?

Come on! Nobody who knows how to write natural English preposes the preposition when talking about what X is made of.

This is about a fondness, on the part of some Economist staff members, for avoided stranded Ps, in favor of preposing them (even when this is unnatural). Geoff has also been raging at the magazine’s “tortured avoidance of split infinitives”. Annoying, but not nearly as bad as including she.

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