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Your Nunc Dimittis

I recollect reading somewhere, perhaps in Gay Talese’s The Kingdom and the Power, that it was once a convention at The New York Times that a reporter’s work day was not over until he and his editor had exchanged a formal “Good night.”

When I worked in the composing room at The Cincinnati Enquirer, the makeup editor, the late John Menzies, would announce the completion of the day’s final edition by getting on the intercom, imitating a bosun’s whistle, and saying, “Sweepers, man your brooms.”

Over the years at the copy desk of The Sun, I’ve toyed with various sentences to announce to the editors on the rim that the day’s work is done, with varying success.

My own favorite was “This meeting can do nothing more to save the country” — the code words by which Sam Adams set in motion the Boston Tea Party. But this was invariably met by blank looks. Doesn’t anybody know Johnny Tremain any more?

I experimented with Stonewall Jackson’s lyrical last words: “Let us cross over the river and rest under the shade of the trees.” General Lee’s “Strike the tent!” was more concise and pointed. I toyed with Gen. John Sedgwick’s “They couldn’t hit an elephant at this dis—“ but rejected it.

Tallulah Bankhead’s “Codeine ... bourbon” didn’t seem to hit quite the right note.

Finally, and this has become ritual, I settled on the last words Abraham Lincoln heard in this life, the line in Our American Cousin that produced the laugh that gave John Wilkes Booth the cover to fire: “Well, I guess I know enough to turn you inside-out, you sockdologizing old mantrap!” Reporters filling in on the city desk look up quizzically, but the copy editors understand what it means when they have been sockdologized.

How do they manage it in your shop?



Posted by John McIntyre at 11:41 AM | | Comments (16)


Typically, my slot editor says, "You can go home."

Each person gets up (individually, in no way co-ordinated) and wanders out.

There is the sound of computers powering down. (Corporate IT has the entire network set up to "announce" what they're up to)

I once worked at a place where, on the days when a certain deputy worked, we had "traveling music" -- something that was usually tied to a big story from the paper we'd just finished. An example: When someone hijacked an 18-wheeler and led the police on a merry chase through three counties, the signal it was time to go home was the theme from "Smokey and the Bandit" followed by the Alabama song "Roll on."

Nobody can leave until the narcotic count is done.

It isn't really a "dismissal" but when someone asks, "Is cross-check complete?" that's the suggestion that it is time to call it a day.

While I was working I would usually say "Well, another day, another dollar," a reference to how the "dollar a day" was the amount my expenses exceeded my salary, and that it was a good thing I was independently wealthy so I could afford to work for the Government.

Bucky was that "cross check complete" like what I always hear on airplanes: "Flight attendants arm your doors and cross check"?

R-I-E - Yes, it is.

Great post! Folks in my department usually just slunk out, avoiding passing by my office.

I walk in and tell my boss that "I'm outa here, have a good night, and I'll see you tomorrow".

"All clear," which I take to be a reference to the London Blitz.

"All Clear."

On the old Hong Kong Standard we always had "Well, back to the bar"

I borrow from Dennis Miller's old talkshow (and he in turn no doubt took it from another): when I exit, I usually say to the others "Goodnight, teenagers."

"Yo, ho, ho, gringos go home."

At a publication I once worked for, the editor making the final proofing check would tell the compositor, "It's released".

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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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