Grammar noir

« previous post | next post »

John McIntyre's grammatical noir, serialized in his Baltimore Sun blog You Don't Say in preparation for National Grammar Day tomorrow, is now complete:

"Down these mean sentences I walk alone", 2/14/2009
"'What are we going to do now?' she asked", 2/18/2009
"The Fat Man chuckles", 2/23/2009
"The rule you don't break", 3/2/2009

My favorite plot twist:

Ducking around a corner, I stood behind a tree and waited. A figure in a dark raincoat came around, and I grabbed an arm and twisted.

“Hey! Take it easy, buster. Do you know who I am?”

A woman’s voice. I pulled her over to a streetlight for a look. “Well, well, a little far from home, Ms. Freeman.”

Jan Freeman, copy-editor-turned-moll for Language Log’s Boston family. First non-linguist to be named a consigliere. I let go.

Rubbing her arm, she said, “You’re out of your depth here, McIntyre. Go home.”

“No chance, sister. I’m not going to walk away and let you do Steven Pinker’s dirty work. I know about the putsch, and what’s more, I figured out who killed the Mister.”

Her shoulders slumped. She shook her head and turned. She stopped and hissed at me: “You're just a two-bit grifter, and that's all you'll ever be.” Then she was gone.


  1. James said,

    March 3, 2009 @ 9:15 am

    Jan Freeman's parting remark is a line from a Randy Newman song, You Can't Fool the Fat Man.
    I don't know what the significance of this fact is. Probably it's that John McIntyre likes Randy Newman.

  2. Cecily said,

    March 3, 2009 @ 10:15 am

    Sorry to be picky, but is a "grammatical noir" a specific sort of bete noir? It's not a phrase I am familiar with.

    [(myl) "Noir", borrowed into English, refers to a certain kind of detective story, or a film of the same type. It started as an adjective, of course, but if you look around on the web, you'll find plenty of things like

    QUIET PLEASE, MURDER! is a really nice, modest little wartime noir written and directed by a fellow who doesn’t seem to have gotten the breaks he deserved, John Larkin.
    The film, starring the same couple of Ghost Rider, Nicolas Cage-Eva Mendes, and whose shooting will start at the end of the summer, won't be a simple remake of the noir by Ferrara but a completely different story.
    They watch a movie in the backseat – "Kiss Tomorrow Good-bye," a noir starring James Cagney.
    In several noirs, … a somewhat innocent man gets caught in a dizzying world of murder and intrigue.

    The OED has an sub-entry for noir as a noun, with the gloss "A genre of crime film or detective fiction characterized by cynicism, sleaziness, fatalism, and moral ambiguity", and citations from 1977 onwards: "1977 Washington Post (Nexis) 2 Jan. K1 Films that overflow with evil and discontent..two of the really classic noirs, ‘Out of the Past’ and ‘Kiss Me Deadly’, are on the AFI series."]

  3. sleepnothavingness said,

    March 3, 2009 @ 10:30 am

    Think "film noir".

  4. marie-lucie said,

    March 3, 2009 @ 11:36 am

    In French it is bête noire, literally "black beast" (une bête is a colloquial term for an animal). noir/e is an adjective, not a noun (unless you use le noir to mean "the colour black" or "the darkness" (= absence of light)).

  5. Faldone said,

    March 3, 2009 @ 12:28 pm

    When we mug a foreign language for its useful words we generally strip the words of all those useless grammatical niceties and leave them scattered about the dark alley.

  6. marie-lucie said,

    March 3, 2009 @ 12:48 pm

    Faldone, of course, that's typical of borrowings, but "noir" in English "bete noir" is not explainable as another type of "noir".

  7. sharon said,

    March 3, 2009 @ 3:03 pm

    I can't help thinking of the final line of the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band's Big Shot.

RSS feed for comments on this post