The Conditional Entente

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John McIntyre's "Grammarnoir 7: 'The Corpus Had a Familiar Face'" is available at The Baltimore Sun.

At the start of the story, a thug with "fists the size of Westphalian hams and the cold, dead eyes of a community press content coach" strong-arms John's narrator into a big room "with a glass wall overlooking a formal garden. Around a large table sat half a dozen people: Jeans. T-shirts, mostly black. Bottles of imported water. Three-day stubble on every face. No women."

The Consortium of Clickbaiters ("Unworthy", "Gawper", "Buzzbreed", "Daily Trawler", and "Huff & Post Post") is annoyed with John because

“Your attacks on our grammar quizzes might begin to discourage the badly educated and socially insecure from coming to our sites. We depend on those quizzes to lure them in, and every time you expose some zombie rule or usage superstition, you, in your small way, potentially cut into our traffic. That will not be tolerated.”

But their attempts to intimidate him are interrupted by the intervention of "two familiar figures":

“Who are these bozos?” Unworthy asked.

“Boys,” I said, “take off your caps. You are honored by the presence of Bryan A. Garner, author of Garner’s Modern American Usage, and Geoffrey Pullum, co-author of The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language.”

Huff & Puff Post said, “Doesn’t the first one pal around with Justice Scalia and the other one despise Strunk and White?”

“Full marks,” said Pullum.

“But wait,” said Huff & Puff Post, “you guys hate each other. You know, prescriptivist vs. descriptivist. We get a ton of hits whenever we set that one up. You should see the comments. They’re ready to take each other’s heads off.”

“Whatever our past differences,” Garner said, “Professor Pullum and I are in agreement about baseless crotchets and superstitions, the sort of shibboleths that your sites are perpetuating.”

“So we’ve come to an understanding,” said Pullum. “We’ve established a Conditional Entente to combat nonsense. And since this fellow you’ve dragged here has managed to come to a dim understanding of genuine English despite working as a newspaper copy editor, we insist that you let him go.”

To see how it all comes out, read the whole thing.



  1. Ralph Hickok said,

    April 9, 2015 @ 6:44 am

    That's great! I love his Chandleresque metaphors, especially "the size of a columnist's ego."

    But I guess I've been out of the newspaper business for too long. What on earth is a community press content coach?

    On second thought, don"t tell me. I don't want to know.

    [(myl) I wondered the same thing. Whatever a "community press content coach" is, there are apparently a lot of them. Here's a job description from a want ad:

    As Community Press Content Coach: 100% of your work is focused on the 25-45 audience. You work with reporters to identify the watchdog questions that will help readers make smart choices for their communities and get to the bottom of their questions. You ensure the reporter uses public records and the best sources to be authoritative. You ensure watchdog stories deliver clear findings that are unique in the community. You identify stories that are best told through emotional narrative and coach reporters to develop the characters and places relatable to the 25-45 audience. You ensure that the Community Press/Recorder reporters collaborate well with Enquirer rpeorters. They should share tips, sources, and report stories together to ensure all Enquirer Media readers get the best and most relevant content. You plan for mobile first to determine the best storytelling approach and what assets the reporter must gather to produce content that …

    There's more.]

  2. Bloix said,

    April 9, 2015 @ 9:11 am

    I get emails from a company that makes a product called WordRake, which is software for writers (in my case lawyers). It promises to eliminate useless words, which if it worked would genuinely improve a lot of legal writing. I've never tried it.

    WordRake emails "writing tips" in order to keep its name in front of its prospective customers. Today's was on the correct usage of "nor." It's a classic specimen of garbled prescriptivist explanation and a set of rules that are contradicted by its own examples of correct usage.

  3. Hershele Ostropoler said,

    April 9, 2015 @ 9:49 am

    Community press content coach? So we've given up on the whole J-school thing?

  4. kevinm said,

    April 9, 2015 @ 1:32 pm

    Only a profession conditioned by crash blossom headlines could come up with "Community Press Content Coach".

  5. Chris C. said,

    April 9, 2015 @ 4:37 pm

    That story was grittier than a society editor's soul.

  6. ohwilleke said,

    April 10, 2015 @ 11:01 am

    What a hoot!

  7. John McIntyre said,

    April 10, 2015 @ 3:44 pm

    For anyone who enjoyed Grammarnoir 7, I have posted links to the previous six:

  8. Viseguy said,

    April 11, 2015 @ 4:47 pm

    Thank you, John McIntyre. These are wonderful!

  9. Around the Web Digest: Week of April 5 | Savage Minds said,

    April 12, 2015 @ 7:55 am

    […] This Language Log post links to a modern noire masterpiece about a detente between prescriptivists and descriptivists as they face off against the clickbaiters: The Conditional Entente […]

  10. Yuval said,

    April 13, 2015 @ 1:14 pm

    A typo in the introduction of "Huff & Post Post".

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