A Stet in the Dark: A Grammar Noir Mystery, Part 2

The Baltimore Sun

This is the second part of a four-part serial, the thrilling conclusion of which will be posted on March 4, National Grammar Day.

Part 1: The man with pince-nez


Part 2: Albion Redux

“You’re crackers if you think you can pull this wacko scheme off,” I said. “It’s all over. Why, even Bryan Garner does corpus research. The Associated Press Stylebook’s online site is down to a single page that says ‘Whatever.’ And me, I’ve got no pull. They let me go when they discarded the print edition in favor of doing the news on Snapchat. I’m on the shelf. I’m out to pasture. I’m an extinct volcano.”

The gray man took off his pince-nez and rubbed the red indentations on the bridge of his nose, as red as a night rewrite man’s gin blossoms. “Do you think,” he said, “that you yourself have not contributed to this parlous state with your anything-goes blog posts and insufferably pompous videos? Everything that is good and true in the English language has been undermined by fifth-columnists like you, and we shall put an end to it.”

“Well, Chester,” I said, “it’s not up to me, or you, either. We’ve each got one vote in English, and we’re outnumbered. If enough of them mangle it for long enough, mangling goes into the grammar books. That’s how it’s been since Harold took one in the eye at Hastings. You’re not going to paddle against that tide with a crew of round-shouldered editors.”

“Oh,” he said, “we will not stop with your pathetic little professional organization. Previous efforts have been botched by bunglers. We are going to be more systematic, which is why we have neutralized you. After the editors, the librarians. When we have them, we shall remove the books by that quisling Garner, that degenerate Butterfield’s Fowler’s, and that equivocating Merriam-Webster screed. We shall replace them with Gwynne’s Grammar, that excellent treatise. After we gain control of the schools, we shall make Gwynne’s Grammar the standard book of instruction in English classes throughout the nation. And then the monkey-see, monkey-do lexicographers will have to follow suit.”

“Gwynne’s Grammar? You have given your wits an unlucky shake. It’s not just crackpot and retrograde, but British. If you think Americans will stand for it, that you are well and truly a few signatures short of a quarto. Or perhaps I should just say ‘daft.’ ”

“Impertinence will not serve you. One knows this American people, their plebeian propensity to bow and scrape whenever they hear Received Pronunciation. No, Gwynne’s Grammar will not itself be sufficient for the purpose. But once we have recruited sufficient British instructors, or instructed selected American pedagogues in British pronunciation, we shall be unstoppable.”

“Have you heard American actors attempt to sound like Brits?” I asked. “They’re as unconvincing as a publisher saying the job cuts will improve the product. Faux-Albion schoolmasters will be as ludicrous as trying to pass off apeneck Sweeney here as me.”

“Now you are merely tiresome,” the Gray Man said. “Sweeney, take him to the Chamber.”


Next: In the Chamber

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