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A point of honor

All conversation in the newsroom stilled as John McIntyre strode purposefully to Sam Sessa’s desk.

Sessa, absorbed in his work, did not immediately take in the looming figure at his side, but the sudden quiet must have registered. He looked up. “Yes?” he said.

“I am given to understand,” said McIntyre, that you have transmitted to the copy desk a cover article bearing a ‘’Tis the season’ headline.”

“Yes, I have,” said Sessa, “and what of it?”

“It is an intolerable affront, and I must demand satisfaction.”

Sessa stood and, drawing himself to his full height, said, “Indeed. My second will wait on your second for particulars.”

“As you wish,” said McIntyre, turning on his heel and walking away.

Conversation, though muted, resumed throughout the newsroom.


The next morning two small boats made their way through the fog to a low-lying island in the Chesapeake Bay.

Disembarking, McIntyre and Sessa, pale and white-lipped, stood some distance apart as their seconds conferred with the referee.

Beckoning them forward, the referee asked, “Before this matter proceeds further, is it not possible for you two gentlemen to resolve your differences?”

“It is an affront that cannot be excused,” said McIntyre, and Sessa simply shook his head.

“Very well, then,” said the referee. "I believe that, through your seconds, you have determined to exchange two volleys of insults each. Is that so?”

McIntyre and Sessa nodded.

“If you please, then, take ten paces each in opposite directions, turn, and proceed when I drop this handkerchief.”

The combatants took their places, and the referee allowed his white handkerchief to float slowly to the ground.

McIntyre fired first: “Miscreant!” But Sessa was almost as quick: “Pedant!”

The seconds gasped in unison.

McIntyre: “Blackguard!”

Sessa: “Dogmatist!”

Stepping smartly between the two, the referee raised his hands and said, “Gentlemen, gentlemen, can we consider, before there is any further effusion of blood, that the demands of honor have been satisfied?”

McIntyre nodded, reluctantly, and Sessa stepped forward. The two bowed slightly to each other, and then Sessa extended his hand, which McIntyre accepted. The seconds also exchanged handshakes, and the referee shook hands all around.

Honor had been restored.



Posted by John McIntyre at 6:22 PM | | Comments (15)


While I cannot condone the barbarism of dueling or of one-word epithets, there are times a person must make a stand, not for his own honor but for the honor of the cause. I am sipping the last of my Woodford Reserve in your honor, even as I dread that there are 23 publication days remaining until Christmas.

Ah, the joy of such educated silliness. It must be the season...

I should like to say that I encourage both duels and one-word epithets,as long as the duels are fought with fake swords and the epithets are sufficiently arcane as to confound and confuse each participant. Also,in the grand tradition, each should be provided with a silver flask of the best B&B, as both a restorative, if necessary, and to summon up the blood, which will surely be necessary. Gentlemen, you may fire when you are ready!

Hahaha, brilliant!

The last time I confronted someone who tried to use a "Tis the Season" headline, I did my brand a disservice by losing my temper. But that's what it took to keep the headline out of the paper and I would do it again.

John, your hilarious fictive account of the infamous McIntyre vs. Sessa "Tis the Season" pre-Xmas 2010-dual, for me, immediately conjured up that fateful historic dual-to-end-all-duals..... namely the Alexander Hamilton- Aaron Burr fatal skirmish at Weehawken, New Jersey on July 11th, 1804.

(Just think it wasn't that far off, geographically, from where "Old Blue Eyes", Frank Sinatra, was born....... Hoboken, NJ. Thought I'd put a little historical perspective on things. HA!)

I wouldn't doubt your having set the stage for your hypothetical dual-of-words w/ colleague Sessa w/ the dramatic image of you two denizens of the Sun's "paragraph factory" heading for the island dueling-grounds in two small boats plying thru a thick fog bank cloaking Chesapeake Bay, was a deliberate attempt to harken back to the very real, very similar scenario leading up to the Hamilton-Burr confrontation, only the might Hudson was their fateful route of passage?

Hmmm...... if only cooler minds and sharper tongues could have prevailed on that fateful July morn, circa 1804. Instead of exchanging potentially lethal pistol shot, and Hamilton sadly receiving that fatal blow to his lower abdomen, the two long-standing political arch-rivals could have merely assumed their requisite dueling positions, as you and Sessa so commendably had done, and proceeded to spout off a few carefully aimed bon mots salvos, or politically charges accusatory verbal volleys, and American history could have been spared this sad, ignominious, and barbaric chapter.

At any rate John, thanks for your gripping and witty little narrative. Strikes me that as a rule, most pedants, dogmatists, blackguards (?), and miscreants have historically been pretty lousy marksmen, w/ more bluster than muster (Custer?), if you get my drift.

Well, maybe not those rascally "miscreants"......... John Wilkes Booth comes to mind. Hardly a fair fight there, of course?


I'm back folks,

Noticed a couple of spelling 'irregularities' in my earlier dispatch.

In my 3rd paragraph I dropped the "y" in what should have read, "mighty Hudson", and in the next paragraph I wrote "charges", instead of "politically charged accusatory verbal volleys", unwittingly swapping an "s", for a "d".

I'm a bit of a nitpicky sort, so thanks for your indulgence. I'm sure it WILL happen again. HA!


Consider yourself lucky. As the challenged party, Sessa had the right to choose the weapons; would you have been ready for accordions at ten paces?

Hey Ol' Scrapiron,

If his (Sassa's) opponent were say John Cleese, rather than miffed blogmeister John Mcintyre, Monsieur Sassa would have to contend w/ a pair of hair-trigger dueling bananas at ten paces. And as the master of "silly walks", Cleese would likely have paced off over 60 yards, and then about-faced------- quite a formidable distance for even a master banana-as-lethal-weapon wielder to be an immediate threat. HA!

But I do like your concept of dueling concertinas. A-one-and-a-two-and-a-three.

(Apologies to Lawrence Welk.)

Banjoes would work too, no?


"Disembarking, McIntyre and Sessa, pale and white-lipped, stood some distance apart as their seconds conferred with the referee."

Tell us: who was pale and who white-lipped?


Alex, we have had dueling banjos before, but those playing were not nearly as dignified as Prof. McIntyre and Mr. Sessa.

This was great..Just found TEXTLINGO..
LMAO....You've got a terrific sense of humor,and I enjoy your column's so much.

Great post, even though "It is the season" does not sound quite right.

Sir William Petty, the 17th-century English economist, was once challenged to a duel by a soldier. Petty did not want to fight, as he was nearsighted, but could not afford to be publicly branded a coward. Since the choice of place and weapons was with him as the challenged, he chose as the place a dark cellar, and carpenter's axes as the weapons. This (as John Aubrey says) "turned the knight's challenge into ridicule, and so it came to nought."

A fictional American football player was asked what would be his weapon of choice in a duel. "Ten-pound sledgehammers," he replied.

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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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