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Down those mean sentences I walk alone

I was sitting at my desk in the old Intelligencer-Argus building the day she walked in. It was late afternoon on a rainy day, and my hand had strayed more than once toward the dictionary in the bottom desk drawer. I heard footsteps approaching, and when I looked up, there she was. She was — lissome.

“Mr. McIntyre?” she said.

“Take a load off, lady,” I said pushing a chair, the one with the loose armrest, toward her. Cheapskate publishers. “What can I do for you?”

“Mr. McIntyre, my name is Martha Brockenbrough, and I need your help.”

“What’s the problem, sis?”

“Well, a dear friend of mine is married to a man — he’s a hard worker and a good provider, I don’t mean to say anything against him — but he’s so rigid.”

“What’s his game?” I asked, with a suspicion dawning like the morning sun over the penitentiary down the street.

“He’s a writer.”

“I know the type.”

“No, you don’t,” she said, lifting her stubborn little chin.

“He’s a good writer. Well, most of the time, anyway. It’s just that he’s fallen into some bad ways.”

“Tell me about them, doll,” I said.

“He positively insists that none can only be used as a singular."


“And once he threatened to strike a grocery clerk in the ‘10 items or less’ aisle.”


“He got so angry once over my ... my friend’s placement of only in a sentence that she was afraid she would have to call the police.”

“Baby, I’ve met a million of ’em. This place used to crawl with ’em before the bottom fell out of the paragraph game. But why are you coming to me about this bozo?”

“Well, I heard, Mr. McIntyre, that you’re a highly professional copy editor.”

“I’ve nailed the errant adverb in my time.”

“I thought you could talk to him, work with him, help him somehow.”

“Toots, I’ve got it soft here. Twenty an hour, and I don’t have to furnish my own pencil. I don’t need the aggravation.”

“But Mr. McIntyre, National Grammar Day is almost here. It’s March 4, and I’m so afraid for him, and for my friend, that if he isn’t turned around by then, something terrible might happen.” She sobbed softly into a dainty little lace thing she’d plucked from her purse.

It was the tears that got to me, against my better judgment. I should’ve known better. I did know better. Always a sucker for any sweet dame.

“All right, Ms. Brockenbrough, you’ve got yourself a green eyeshade. Let’s have his name and address.”

“Oh,” she said.

“There’s a problem.”

 To be continued …

Posted by John McIntyre at 11:09 PM | | Comments (10)


I'm not sure the clerk is to blame for the use of "of" instead of "or." The guy just sounds irrational.

My slip , not the clerk's, and now it's fixed. Thanks.

And in case you were wondering, Ms. Brockenbrough has written to assure me that she is a fan of grammarnoir.

Sure, she's a fan of grammanoir, John -- dames like her always are.
Watch your back, or you might end up with a dangling participle in it.

I thought you could talk him,

Okay, you can ride a horse or walk a dog, but 'talk him'? Is this another D@Lesque Girls taste better than Boys things?

JEM: Nah, just a skip.

The next time one of the reporters, at the Sun, complain about the editing of their work, point out that if they had a blog, suddenly everyone's an editor, if not critic. How would they like 'public' editing?

Then it wouldn't be a blog, it would be a wiki.

I think I read this. Under the covers. With a flashlight.

Your headline reminded me of something I heard about the other day. The Reader, a San Diego alt-weekly, ran one of those in-our-pages-way-back-when features that dredged up a story the Reader had done on the big daily's society columnist.

The headline was genius: "I Cover the Watercress."

Thirty years later, by the way, the columnist is still doing the same job for the Union-Tribune.

“He positively insists that none can only be used as a singular."


That's quite a turn! lol


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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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