Part 1: An editor walks into a bar
The day was leaking sunlight all over Baltimore at three o'clock, but that was not doing me any good. I was taking the healing waters in a dark saloon with a group of congenial barflies, discussing the finer points of demurrage and maritime law, when a seedy character crept in, put his hat on the bar, and ordered a beer.
The tapster set down a brimming beaker, and the seedy character said, "Hey, don't splash it on my fedora."
"It's a trilby," I said.
"Those stingy-brim hats are called trilbies, named for the headgear of the eponymous heroine of George du Maurier's novel. Fedoras, which have wide brims and a center crease, were named for the hat Sarah Bernhardt wore as she played the eponymous heroine of Victorien Sardou's drama."
"You must be a copy editor. Nobody else knows that kind of stuff. Hey, are you the one that upstart publication lured out of retirement?"
"I own the soft impeachment. What's your game?"
"You're the guy I came to see. They told me you hang out with these tosspots all the time. But, like, it has to be confidential."
"All right," I said. "Let's step into the back room for a minute."
We repaired to an even darker corner. He looked around guardedly and turned a sweaty face to me.
"Spill it," I said.
He whispered, "The peeververein are consolidating."
"Usage cranks? Consolidating"?
"Yeah. Different groups coming together. The Decimate Means 10 Percent crowd and the Kids Are Goats group have formed Etymology Is Destiny. Then they hooked up with the Two Spaces After a Period mob, the Over/More Than element, and the Standard English Is the Only English alliance."
"They're calling their organization Make English Great Again."
"So what? They can't do anything beyond infesting social media and talking among themselves."
"You're wrong, I'm tellin' ya. They've consulted Nevile Gwynne and Jacob Rees-Mogg. They mean business."
"What kind of business?"
He looked around again and bent close to my ear.
"Their goons got Paula Froke."
Part 2: The plot that failed
I gave him a look of disbelief that would credit a managing editor looking over a foreign correspondent's expense report. "What in the name of Henry Watson Fowler do they think they're going to do with the editor of the Associated Press Stylebook?
"They're going to slap her up in a secure facility at the University of Austin and make her revoke all the changes she's made since becoming editor, and then they're going to start dictating new rules to her."
"Where are they holding her now?"
"They got her in a ballroom at the Hotel Pedantry."
"Drink your Smithwick's. I've got this."
The cabbie who dropped me off at the hotel half an hour later gave a fishy look at my bow tie, but my tip kept his mouth buttoned.
I entered the lobby and walked up to the muscle standing at the ballroom door.
"No admission," he said.
"Listen, sunshine," I said, "I used to be an assistant managing editor, and I don't take any guff from reptiles like you."
He went pale and swung the door open.
I walked up to some dimwit standing in front of a MEGA banner and gassing on about the split-verb rule, and took the microphone from him.
"Listen, you mugs," I told the crowd, "this little escapade is as pointless as reverse body type. Writers don't pay any attention to the AP Stylebook. They've never opened one. The only people who care about the stylebook are the copy editors, and the copy editor has been snuffed out like the dodo, the passenger pigeon, and the moderate Republican."
"Now scram, the lot of you. I've got an autographed copy of Dreyer's English, and I'm not afraid to use it."
They scuttled away like an op-ed columnist who's seen a fact checker.
As I untied the ropes holding Froke in a chair she opened her mouth to begin thanking me, but I said, "Skip it, sister. There's still enough afternoon left to take the healing waters. Come along and I'll buy you a drink."
She likes Manhattans.