Monday, March 4, 2024

The practice of lexis can lead to tsuris

 Once you hang up the green eyeshade, nobody pays you any longer for finding fault and you have to think up other things to do. Sometimes, on afternoons before the bar opens, you go to the library, pick up a book at random, read a few pages, mutter “I’d’ve caught that,” and put it down. 

I was on my way out when my passage was blocked by a stocky librarian looking as determined as a managing editor denying an expense account filing. 

“Ma’am, I’d like to go out,” I said. 

“Don’t ‘ma’am’ me, I’m only thirty-five,” she said. “And if I let you out the door you’d be trapped in the middle of the demonstration.” 

“A demonstration? At the library?”

“They’re protesting Merriam-Webster.” 


"Don’t you see all the Make Grammar Great Again caps?”

“Ah, I only saw as I came in the guy with the petition to restore the default masculine.”

“Oh, him, he's been around forever. But Merriam-Webster recently posted on social media that there’s nothing wrong in English with ending a sentence with a preposition, and it’s been all hell ever since.”

“How d’you mean?”

“Demonstrations like that out front.  They petitioned us to remove all the Merriam-Webster dictionaries from the shelves and cancel the online subscription. Some people tried to take the dictionaries out of the building, and we had to tell them reference books are non-circulating. Moms for Literacy got a city councilman to threaten our funding.”

“Can I just take a look at what they’re doing?”

“All right, but you’re not going out.”

It was wild out there, like the rush for the newsroom pizzas on election night. 

Two guys in black robes were crossing back and forth with a Webster’s Second open on a gurney as if it were the Ark of the Covenant. Marchers waved placards proclaiming “UP WITH THIS WE WILL NOT PUT.” One sign said “LEXICOGRAPHY IS PORNOGRAPHY.” To one side, a knot of protesters was chanting “Not over, more than!” An older woman with a bullhorn was shouting, “Kids are goats! Kids are goats!”

I asked the librarian, “They ever violent?”

“Nah,” she said. “They did get hold of a copy of McIntyre’s Bad Advice and burned it on the front steps, but that’s as ugly as it got.” 

“How’d they get onto some obscure copy editor nerd?”

“He’s some kind of pompous ass on social media all the time, and they ferreted him out there.”

“What are you going to do?”

“Just wait. I called the police.”

In a little while, for sure, a patrol car pulled up and an officer got out. He went from person to person, holding up a document, and one by one they turned and left, like the staff laid off by a hedge fund.

“What’s that he’s got?” I asked.

“Huddleston and Pullum on stranded prepositions. He tells them if they don’t go home, they have to read it. Works every time.”

I said, “I’m going to buy a lexicographer a drink,” and stepped out the door. 


  1. Very droll. Thank you, all the more so as this is National Grammar Day.

  2. A happy ending . . . for now.

  3. Hello, I got here from a Grammar Girl posting on LinkedIn, and I never get to really do this when I see a fellow copy editor's post, but you need an open quotation mark here:
    Don’t you see all the Make Grammar Great Again caps?”

    I couldn't help myself. I'm sorry. I need more copy editor friends.