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Grammarnoir: The wages of syntax, Part 3

GRAMMARNOIR 3: The wages of syntax

Part 3: Sanctuary in the academy

Amber and Rachel and I hoofed it to the car.

“Where are we going?” Rachel asked. Always with the questions.

“I know a place,” I said.

We pulled up behind a blank brick building. Didn’t look much different from the content farm. In the parking lot, empty bottles, sandwich papers, silk handkerchiefs, cardboard boxes, cigarette ends, and other testimony of summer nights.

“What’s this?” Rachel asked. Again with the questions.

“It’s the Blair-Glass School of Mass Communications and Nugatory Studies. A pal of mine once taught here as an adjunct for beer money.”

It was unlocked. We walked down a corridor of drab offices that looked as if no one had kept hours for many semesters. Unclaimed manuscripts and portfolios lay on the floor by office doors, dust thick on them. And then a voice came: “Well, well, well, what have we here?”

A little man, balding, gray, with a limp bow tie and cigarette ashes mingling with dandruff on his tweed jacket popped out of an office. He smelled as stale as a Saturday bulldog edition on Sunday morning.

“I am Professor, ahh, Luce, ahh, Charles Foster Luce. What brings you to our department?”

I had to think fast. Amber needed a place to crash before the content farm goons could find her and drag her back.

“We have a potential student for you, Professor. Young Amber here is interested in a writing career.”

“Splendid, ahh, splendid,” Luce said. “Step this way, please.”

He popped back into his office, and we followed.

Place looked like a museum sacked by vandals. Teetering stacks of yellowed newspapers on the floor, desk and table piled as high as an elephant’s eye with folders and tear sheets, gnawed pencils, stubs of grease pencil, broken-backed books, paper cups and plates with remnants of food not even mice would touch.

The professor began his song and dance. “We have, ahh, a complete program here, and you, Miss, ahh ...”

“Amber. Amber Wurd Smith.”

“Yes, Ms. Wurd Smith, owing to a recent, ahh, diminution in enrollment we can offer you individualized instruction in, ahh, the elements. We’ll start you with Bernstein’s Headlines and Deadlines and Arnold’s Modern Newspaper Design. You’ll learn the inverted pyramid form for articles, ahh, and go on to more, ahh, technical matters: picas and points, how to count a headline by hand, how to, ahh, size a photograph with a proportion wheel—have you ever operated an electric typewriter?”

“Well, doc,” I said, I can see she’s in good hands, so I’ll be off.”

“No you won’t.”

It was Rebecca. She had picked up a rusty copy spike from the professor’s desk and was pointing it at my midsection.

“You will not be going anywhere just yet.”

Next: The mother tongue


For readers catching up:

Part 1: It's always some dame

Part 2: How you're gonna keep 'em down on the farm



Posted by John McIntyre at 8:59 AM | | Comments (8)


Nothing nugatory about this installment!

Thanks again for the noirish fun,

But what happened to Rebecca?


Hmm........Rebecca must have sauntered off to Sunnybrook (content) Farm.......... Prof. Wiggin, presiding.HA!


I think Rebecca morphed into Rachel and back again.

Here is Belladonna, the Lady of the Rocks, The lady of situations.

Eagle-eyed Picky noticed that I unaccountably shifted Rebecca into Rachel in this episode--damn my eyes, I've told you people that everyone needs an editor. I considered introducing some convolution into the final episode to account for it, but then decided that it was simpler, and better, just to fix it and fess up.

Shantih, Shantih, Shantih, chaps.

At least young Amber hasn't unwittingly shape-shifted............. yet. HA!

Hmm.......... does 'nugatory" have anything to do w/ those curious McDonald's chicken McNuggets? He asked sheepishly. HA!

I could hardly argue that these popular deep-fried, battered, bite-size fowl morsels are of little, or no value ("nugatory"), 'cause for those diehard Golden Arches fans that can't seem to get enough of these tasty, highly calorific treats, they do qualify as quite the fast-food bargain. But i digress.

Shifting gears------ Prof. McI, could you have made the 'warden' of the Blair-Glass School of Mass Communications and Nugatory Studies (BGSMC&NS for short HA!), any more odious, and down-right repulsive? The dandruff mingling w/ fallen cigarette ashes on his tweed jacket (w/ warn and wrinkled faux leather elbow patches, no doubt), really creeped me out, big-time.

The limp bow-tie was a dead giveaway that this time-worn, disheveled prof had clearly seen better days. Your exacting, detailed description of his cluttered inner sanctum, by extension, only painted a larger tableau of this insular, very odd academic. He would be a prime candidate for one of those chronic hoarder cable reality TV shows.

I wish you would have had him beckon your fictive 'double', and sweet Amber into his office w/ "Walk this way, please.", instead of "Step this way, please." Of course
"Walk this way, please." was that classic line delivered by actor Marty Feldman, as Igor, toward the young Dr. Frankenstein (Gene Wilder), and his comely assistant played by Teri Garr, as he hobbles, all hunched over, thru the huge castle doorway. As i recall, Dr. F. and his fetching German crumpet imitate the deformed hunchback's
staggered gait. as they follow his lead.

Clearly the line works much better as a filmic visual, than a passage of prose on the printed 'page'. Oh, well.

Prof. McI, despite Picky's sharp continuity catch which we totally forgive as a minor glitch in your narrative, I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed this 3rd installment of your noirish tale, and can't wait for number four. A fine effort, indeed.

(On a parenthetical note-------Prof, McI, I had a pleasant dim sum repast yesterday afternoon in Arcadia, CA, w/ my copy editor buddy from the L.A. Times, and a visiting former lady colleague of his who now works as a copy editor at a major newspaper in Austin, TX. I happen to have brought up your blog in casual conversation, and dropped your name as the official blogmeister. Immediately she spouted, "I know that guy, Prof, McIntyre. He was one of my journalism profs many moons ago. He was one of the good ones. Quite the natty dresser, w/ the bow-tie, and tailored, jacket and trousers." Bottom line, it was very cool that she had such positive things to say about you. I guess I wouldn't have expected anything less. HA!)


Uh oh... is there violence ahead?

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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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