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Grammarnoir: The wages of syntax, Part 2

GRAMMARNOIR 3: The wages of syntax Part 2

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

A rat scuttled around the corner at the content farm, an old warehouse that a developer had gotten government money to rehab, with exemption from taxation until the twenty-second century. No windows, and muscle at the door.

“How are you going to get in?” Rebecca whispered.

“Look at the disguise,” I said, shedding my coat to reveal a faded Blue Oyster Cult T-shirt, ragged jeans, sandals.

“You’re wearing that?” she gasped.

“Listens, babs, there was a time, you wore a short-sleeved shirt and a necktie and carried a clipboard, you could waltz into any building in the United States short of the gold depository at Fort Knox. Now, if you dress like this, they think you’re tech support and too unimportant to notice, or you’re the CEO and too important to challenge. What’s your sister’s name?”


“Figures. Stay here.”

I sauntered through the front door. The muscle barely looked up from his sudoku.

On the main floor a room ran the length of the building, a city block, with row on row of cubicles, each one occupied by someone tappng away furiously at a keyboard while at a platform at the other end a guy in a leather vest was beating cadence on a big drum.

The drumming stopped as a paunchy party stepped forward and bellowed:

“Ten-minute break. Anybody spends more ’n ten minutes in the bathroom, spends the night in the box. Anybody brings back food to a cubicle, spends the night in the box. Anybody tries to leave without he turns in his 9,000 words, spends the night in the box.”

They hustled out, and I wandered around, looking at computer screens, ignored by Paunchy and Leather Vest. One wretch had been writing how-to instructions for making toast. In a toaster. Another was cutting and pasting passages from Wikipedia. Then there was one who seemed to be copying and pasting columns, removing the bylines, and inserting the byline of the editor/publisher.

I spotted Amber’s nameplate on a cubicle wall just as they all hurried back to their places.

I bent down and whispered to her. “You. I’ve come from your sister to get you out of here. I know a safe place. Shut up and follow me.”

I straightened up, looked around, and shouted, “There’s a copyright lawyer in the building!”

All of them, as one person, ducked and covered under their desks. I grabbed Amber’s arm, and we moved.

As we walked, casually, down the street to where Rebecca waited, I asked Amber, “How in the name of Sulzberger did you get mixed up with an outfit like that?”

She whimpered, “It paid better than the Huffington Post.”


Next: Sanctuary in the academy



Posted by John McIntyre at 10:20 AM | | Comments (7)


Again: thank you, thank you, thank you! Very good stuff, and my only regret is that I have to wait a week for the next installment.


P.S. The Huffington Post reference is very topical, seeing what Colbert did to it recently. Timing is everything.

I'm all smiles. Thank you for the Friday laugh.

A link to Part 1, in case you missed the setup:

Excellent! I just hope that this fix'll hold me till you post the last installment.

Prof. McI.,

Was looking forward to a little more of your engaging 'noirish' staccato-like dialogue in this second offering, and perhaps fewer situational descriptive passages, but it's all good, and I do appreciate your efforts.

As an admittedly a-little-wet-behind-the-ears Left-coaster, the name "Sulzberger" didn't immediately ring a bell.

However, a quick trip over to trusty Wikipedia informed me that you were referring to the current publisher of the venerable New York Times, namely Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, Jr., the sion of a virtual East coast publishing dynasty, I've just discovered. Who gnu?

Out here in La La Land, of course, the Chandler family (Times Mirror Co.) had dominated the big-time newspaper biz for eons, until they basically sold out (technically, merged) w/ the powerful Tribune Co. out of Chicago in 2000. By 2007, Windy city-based über-investor Sam Zell had purchased The Tribune Co., which currently controls the now struggling L.A. Times, as well as your current employer, The Baltimore Sun.

Further, I had no clue that the Huffington 'Poster' blog rank & file employees were paid so poorly, but it's no secret that finding workable monetizing models on the Web that can bring in a consistent stream of big buck$, other than from online advertising, has so far, been highly problematic.

But I, for one, am still eager to see how the recent merger of 'The Post' w/ Tina Brown's Daily Beast will pan out. These two bright, ambitious media powerhouse gals have often been at lager-heads in the past, apparently going back to their college debating days, but I feel the U.S. culture-savvy Tina Brown may bring a breezier, less politically rigid, more 'stylish' approach to the issues of the day than her new partner, Arianna , as she did over at Vanity Fair as their editor-in-chief. These two spunky gals clearly have a lot to say, and hopefully a receptive, and faithful audience that will want to hear them say it.

Prof. McI., in your latest Grammarnoir 3 installment I couldn't help but flash back to that Terry Gilliam-directed, thought-provoking British noir/ satiric film, "Brazil", from the mid-eighties, where the hapless main character is caught up in the mind-numbing monotony of laboring in a fictive, dehumanizing government bureaucracy. Existentialist philosopher Herbert Marcuse's "One Dimensional Man", IMO a dreadfully dense, ponderous tome, also came to mind.

Sadly, is this the dreary state of affairs into which the 'content farm', or as you've often euphemistically labelled it, "the paragraph factory', has fallen. Surely not?

Hopefully, Part 3 of your admittedly entertaining, yet cautionary, slightly depressing tale will offer a glimmer of light, and redemption, at the end of this 21st-century fast occluding print (hard copy) media 'tunnel'.


For the last 33.5 years, McIntyre, you've been making me laugh till my nose runs--and you're still doing it. Not a very refined tribute, to be sure, but a sincere one.

The muscle does sudoku?

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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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