This year’s Grammarnoir serial is running in four installments, from Tuesday, February 11, to the thrilling conclusion on March 4, National Grammar Day.

 

Part 1:  Trouble wears cheaters

On one of those gray afternoons when the coffee’s worn off and you begin to wonder why you ever got into the paragraph game, he tapped gently at the office door.

Swinging my feet off the desk and checking the bottom drawer to make sure the bottle of Tums was still there, I said, “Come in.”

He crept in, giving off the smell of trouble like the syntax of a freshman essay. He had an apologetic chin, cheaters with lenses a quarter-inch thick, a spoiled-salmon-colored polka-dot tie, and an off-green shirt. I made him for a copy editor.

I looked at him. Sometimes if you don’t talk, they blurt out what’s on their minds; and, even better, sometimes they just turn and walk out. This specimen blurted: “I’m in trouble. Can you help me?”

“Depends,” I said. “If your trouble is with dames or the ponies or nose candy, that’s not my territory. Grammar’s my game. Now if you got hold of a load of bum tropes, then maybe I could do you some good.”

He actually blushed. “No, not any of those things,” he said. “But I do have trouble.”

“Maybe you should sit down and unload.”

He sat. Looked at me for a long minute.

“I don’t know exactly how to tell you,” he stammered.

“Well, sunshine, sometimes it helps to start at the beginning.”

“I suppose,” he said, “it all began when I fell in with the wrong crowd.”

“Not used to fast living?”

“No, nothing like that. They seemed all right at first. Perfectly innocent, nothing sinister or alarming. But I got in deeper and deeper and began to see the fix I’d gotten myself into. And now I don’t know how to get out.”

“Maybe you could let me in on just what this wrong crowd was into.”

He looked over his shoulder, out the office door. “Can anyone hear us?”

“Bub, as far as I can tell, nobody in the past thirty-five years has paid any attention to anything I said. You’re safe as houses here.”

“All right,” he said. He licked his lips.

“C’mon. Give. What black art did they entangle you with? Satanism? Necromancy? Six Sigma?”

He leaned forward and whispered.

“Lexicography.”

 

Next: Perfidious Albion