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GRAMMARNOIR: The wages of syntax, Part 1

GRAMMARNOIR 3: The wages of syntax

Part 1: It’s always some dame

It was late, last call long past, and I had just gotten home from the paragraph factory. I was nearly at the door, my lunch pail in one hand and Garner on Usage in the other, when she ran up to me.

“You’ve got to help me,” she said, clutching at me, her doelike eyes wide with fear. She might have been twenty.

“Easy on the waistcoat, sister,” I said. “It’s not as if it has bespoke stitching.”

“Sorry,” she gulped,’ “but I’m in terrible trouble, and you’re the only editor on earth who can help me.”

Dames. Why am I always the only one who can help them?

“All right. Sit down here on the porch. I don’t know how much trouble you’re in, but I’d get in more by taking you inside.”

She sat, trembling like a rewrite man’s hands the morning after.

“All right, poopsie, first off, what’s your name?”

“Rebecca Wurd Smith.”

“Uh-huh. And what’s the story?”

“Well, I’m a communications major.”

“Sorry to hear it. Have you considered professing vows in a religious order? Then at least they’d have to clothe you.”

“No, really, I’m ready to go to work. I’ve had five internships and freelanced for six publications. I’ve got clips,” she said, tilting her little chin proudly in the air.

“Good for you. Then you can’t need me for anything.”

“It’s not for me. It’s for my sister. You’ve got to help her.”

“No way, toots. No more Galahad stuff. I’ve got a cushy berth now—I’m a Night Content Production Manager. Do you know what a Night Content Production Manager does?”


“Neither does anyone else. That’s the beauty part. When no one knows what your job is, you can make what you will of it.”

“But you’ve got to help her. You’re the only one who can.” And she turned those blue eyes on me with a wattage that would have thawed, temporarily, a managing editor’s heart.

“Oh for Fowler’s sake, all right,” I said. “I know I’ll live to regret this. What’s your sister’s trouble?”

“Well, she’s working …”

“That’s good. That’s a start. Working where?”

“She’s on … she’s on ..”

She gulped, swallowed.

“She’s on a content farm.”


Next: How you’re gonna keep ’em down on the farm



Posted by John McIntyre at 10:07 AM | | Comments (10)


Good start! Looking forward to the next installment.

Prof. 'Noir',

It was a dark, dark night in Charm City.........

For some reason the way you've constructed this little narrative, for me, immediately conjures up shades of raconteur/ author/ renaissance man Garrison Keillor's NPR Prairie Home Companion's hapless old-time, '40s era detective, Guy Noir. Clearly that was your intent. HA!

Right now I'm picturing your Grammarnoir character in a George Raft-ish classy fedora, his signature non-clip-on bow-tie slightly askew, sporting a charcoal-gray suit jacket and slacks, w/ a slightly rumpled, tan-colored London Fog trench coat draping his slightly bowed form.

Of course, classic terms of mild endearment (or some might argue, condescension) like "poopsie', and 'toots" kind of clued me into that bygone era in the once highly regarded newspaper trade when men were men, women were women, and Night Content Production Managers were Night Content Managers?

Prof. Noir, you've cleverly managed to leave your 'audience' hanging, trying to figure out what exactly, pray tell, is a "content farm". Sounds slightly ominous. Dare I say, shades of some Siberian Soviet gulag, or isolated collective farm (kolkhoz).
Some bastion of repressive rigidity, arbitrary rules, breeding strictly enforced mass conformity. "You WILL NOT dangle that participle, comrade!"

But alas, we must linger in a cloud of mystery as we await w/ baited breath for Part Deux of this clearly dark and most twisted tale.

Would that be tomorrow, or do we have to hold out till Monday?


Thank you, thank you, thank you! Do we have to wait all the way into tomorrow for the next installment?

Oh heck, don't trust her! Her name's really Orfamay!

At first I thought you were speaking pig latin, Picky, but I'm onto your game now.

I dunno, I think Night Content Production Manager is just Corporatese for pimp.

Alex, don't forget, that London Fog trench coat was manufactured right here in Baltimore.

The next installment is scheduled for posting on Friday, February 18. The third on Friday, February 25. The final installment on Friday, March 4, National Grammar Day. JEM

We'd better not have to wait till Valentine's Day for the next installment.

You don't think NCPM sounds more like "Potential Scapegoat"?

Alex McCrae,

McIntyre is not following the muse of Garrison Keillor but more likely Raymond Chandler and/or Dashiell Hammett.

I haven't written a fan letter since that missive to Ricky Nelson when I was 10. I'm a fan.

Oh, Eve, you have something in common with my cousin who grew up in Tucson. When Ricky Nelson was filming in Arizona my cuz and a few of her friends realized it was his birthday, so they showed up on the set with a cake and were allowed a few moments in his presence.

Laura Lee,

You are eminently correct re/ London Fog trench coats being originally made in your fair Charm City.

In fact, a few season's back, on AMC's hit dramatic '60s period serial drama, "Mad Men", an entire episode was devoted to the 'big boys' at the ad agency Stirling Cooper Draper Pryce making a special 'pitch' trip down to Baltimore from the Big Apple to convince the London Fog mucky-mucks that they were far and away the best ad firm out there for promoting their stylish men's outerwear. Sadly, the deal fell through.

Hmm........ maybe our Prof. Noir might look better in say a subtle earth-toned Harris tweed number, befitting his Scots-Irish heritage. Although we wouldn't want him encroaching on old Sherlock's H.''s territory, would we? HA!

By-the-by Laura, I loved your short London Tube-set poetic stanza from, i would guess, T.S. Elliot on an earlier post of yours. I felt it perfectly reflected Dr. Mohler's untenable, rigid, in my mind, indefensible position.

Rusty------ Respectfully, Prof. Noir is clearly taking a few pages out of Keillor's Guy Noir play book, (and I trust he would admit as much), most evidently in the satiric tone and cadence of his dialogue. Last time i checked neither Chandler, nor Hammett wrote from a satirical bent, but their narratives were, in the main, pretty dark, suspenseful, gritty, and in sum, seriously angsty.

I'm sure Keillor stylistically drew from both these universally recognized literary pioneers of the modern urban noir novel, but in his regular Guy Noir character portrayal on NPR, he takes it into the realm of parody, and hammy melodrama, which our Prof. Noir has so cleverly glommed on to in the latest installment of his Grammarnoir tale(s). So I would strongly suggest that Prof. Noir IS following Keillor's "muse", as you stated to the contrary, Rusty.

Rusty, i would grant you that both Chandler and Hammett's works (and maybe even a little Jack Webb thrown in for good measure HA!) inform all of this stuff. It's pretty much unavoidable. Yet I would argue that Garrison Keillor has taken it to another level (or some might claim, sullied it), into the campy-noir mode, a whole other manner of mystery, suspense and intrigue, but w/ an intended comedic twist.

"Just the facts, Ms. Wurd Smith. Just the facts." (I know the term "Ms" wasn't even extant back in the '40s/ '50s, but you folks hopefully get my drift?)


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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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