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?