I am saddened to announce the passing of John Lawler on Saturday November 25. Many of us here were friends with him, and countless more helped by his answers. For those of you who aren't familiar with him, a short biography:

In 2009, John retired from the Linguistics Department at the University of Michigan after 37 years of teaching there. Two years later, on November 4th, 2011, he joined Stack Exchange, and shortly after that, on November 27th, our site here, English Language and Usage. Over the next 12 years, he answered questions here on SE while occasionally teaching classes at Western Washington University. Across all SE sites, he posted almost 2,000 answers, even getting the only ever gold tag in here on ELU. At the time of this writing, those answers got him 107k reputation points on ELU (#6 all time on the site), 10k on Linguistics, and 2k on ELL. As his answers live on to help new people, I am sure his points will increase.

Feel free to post an answer sharing your thoughts and your memories here or join us in chat.

See also:

  • 15
    I am very sad to hear of his passing. Condolences to his family, friends, colleagues, and to anyone who knew and respected him in real life.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Dec 8, 2023 at 1:07
  • 16
    Over the past year I watched John going back and deliberately curating his many old answers, conscientiously improving them. This was obviously important to him.
    – tchrist Mod
    Commented Dec 8, 2023 at 6:35
  • 10
    What made him stand out to me was his sense of humor. Either laugh out loud or more subtle and sometimes slightly edgy. May he smile down on all of us. :)
    – Lambie
    Commented Dec 8, 2023 at 16:55
  • 5
    So sad. Loved him. I'll try to never use whom again and to keep stranding as naturally as possible. I loved it when he used casual words like probly (or whatever) and new contributors had no idea who he was and thought, for however long, that he probly couldn't answer their questions if he tried. Like, 'Thanks, mister, but I'm only interested in correct grammar.' LOL. He will be sorely missed; what a wonderful legacy. Commented Dec 10, 2023 at 7:51
  • 7
    I crossed swords with him on occasions, but respected his authority and appreciated his huge contribution to this site. It won’t be the same without him.
    – David
    Commented Dec 11, 2023 at 23:23
  • 3
    A fine analyst, not just in grammar, and so generous with his knowledge. A privilege to have had his work made so freely available. Commented Dec 23, 2023 at 23:05
  • 4
    Warm-hearted, as well as wise & witty. Over 10 years ago he snailmailed me his "spare copy of McCawley's The Syntactic Phenomena of English". Personally signed as gifted to me! Commented Dec 26, 2023 at 22:15
  • 1
    Definitely had something of a mentor. The way he used words was enough to inspire respect (I hardly knew anything of his persona or career). He was a precious 'asset' of this site in a world where communication is in danger of degenerating. I am sure EL&U will quote his answers for years to come.
    – fev
    Commented Jan 3 at 15:07
  • 3
    @Mari-LouA thank you! I knew him "in real life"—he was my professor and advisor in Linguistics at U of M—and I miss him very much. His classes were mind-expanding as much as they were enjoyable. He loved learning and teaching, and sharing in this intellectual joy with others, which was most certainly highly contagious. Being able to contact him with questions outside of SE was like having a nuke-level secret weapon when it comes to discussions of English grammar, and he was always more than happy to help. It's difficult to maintain my composure as I write this.
    – iconoclast
    Commented Jan 8 at 23:17

1 Answer 1


John Lawler's lost answers

In the question I said he posted almost 2000 answers, but this isn't exactly true. Those are just the answers that are not deleted. If we include his deleted answers, it's more than 2000. Currently he has 63 deleted answers on ELU (excluding migrated and one accidental double post), which is a significant number.

Now, I wouldn't normally do this, and even under these exceptional circumstances I hope I'm not taking this too far, but I'm posting a list of these deleted answers for review (requires 10k+ reputation). I haven't reviewed them myself, but I think that a good chunk were deleted because the question was deemed unsuitable (often automatically, but sometimes not), and not because the answer lacked merit. Do we want to reverse any of those question deletions or closures? Could we perhaps find a suitable duplicate for any of these which is currently lacking a John Lawler answer in order for it to be merged? Maybe there's some other use you'll find for these links.

Note: These come from search, so it would be possible for me to filter or sort based on the same options that are available to regular users.

  • 1
    In addition to those 'lost' ones, there are around 300 community wiki answers that cite his comments. Commented Jan 4 at 2:22
  • I don't get it...why would you undelete anything..why were those questions deleted? And also what would that entail, undeleting the question which JL gave an answer to?
    – Mitch
    Commented Jan 4 at 3:10
  • @Mitch this answer by JL with its 7 upvotes should be undeleted english.stackexchange.com/a/77914/44619 But I have a feeling I have seen a version of it elsewhere.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jan 4 at 9:20
  • 1
    This answer was deleted by J.Lawler himself, and we should respect his decision english.stackexchange.com/a/66392/44619
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jan 4 at 9:24
  • Perhaps the answers to {who vs whom} "he was one of those ____ they arrested" can be migrated to a Who vs whom question that has not been deleted by that imbecilic roomba. Why would a question with two upvoted answers be deleted 5 years later? Make no sense. If answers are supposed to be the pearls, why throw them back in the sea?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jan 4 at 9:31
  • 1
    OK I think I get what you're trying to do here. You're not saying "Let's just override a whole list of deleted questions, just so JL's great answers to awful questions can get reinstated" You're saying "Hey look here is a list of deleted questions (which are usually quite awful) with excellent answers by this one guy. What should we do, if anything?". That's reasonable. (but after clicking through about 10 of these... that's goin to be a lot of work to decide).
    – Mitch
    Commented Jan 4 at 15:26
  • I think you should let the community go through its usual procedure (ie no moderator hammering) and people can start off the process for answers they like by getting them on the undelete queue.
    – Mitch
    Commented Jan 4 at 15:27
  • @Mari-LouA a -7 on a question should, with rare exceptions, definitely be deleted. Is JL's answer -that- good, enough to outweigh the poor question? I don't know.
    – Mitch
    Commented Jan 4 at 15:30
  • @Mitch Yeah, it's so the community can evaluate the Q&A and act accordingly. There are definitely some answers here that shouldn't be undeleted (e.g. yet another explanation of "a/an"). Also (for the benefit of everyone else), there's not really an "undelete queue" but rather a 10k tool showing some posts with undelete votes
    – Laurel Mod
    Commented Jan 4 at 17:18
  • When I click to undelete a question, more often than not I get this message A moderator has deleted this post and it cannot be undeleted. It's impossible to undelete a deleted answer if the question has been deleted by a moderator. I recall saying something similar but was then proven to be wrong.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jan 4 at 18:35

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