A grammarian’s grammarian…

A brash Carolina Wren feeds at the trough just outside the kitchen window. Woe to other birds that dare to venture onto this feisty little bird's turf.

Once in a blue moon I get an itch to get back in touch with long-lost friends.  Among them is my friend Norm.

He is a great man.  He was my editor at the Associated Press and has a storied journalistic past, notably, he was the long-time shepherd of the AP Stylebook.  The stylebook, which is the arbiter of dangling participles and split infinitives (whatever those are) and everything in between that involves words, is the bible of the sport for all writers all over the world.

Who decided the word Internet should be capitalized?  Norm.  Who decreed the term e-mail should have a hyphen?  Norm.  Who introduced us to Quran and not Koran?  Norm.  Look up the definition of dyed-in-the-wool New Yorker and this is who you will find: Norm.

Norm can go toe-to-toe with anyone, anywhere on the elements of style.  He is a grammarian’s grammarian.  When I sent him my national housing columns, he could have (and perhaps should have) taken a meat cleaver to each and every one, but he didn’t.  He was civil and supportive.  And a good friend.

But as has happened with so many folks in my past, I utterly dropped the communication ball with him.  So, hoping to atone for missteps of the past, I sent him a letter.  And in true Norm fashion, he has already responded.


December 21, 2010

Norm: I’ve often thought about sending you a regular letter but I was always afraid to dangle too many participles or other writing nasty’s that you’d pick up on in a heartbeat.  That’s the problem with associating oneself with someone of your caliber.   I worried that you’d send them back all marked up.

I’m still down here in Charlotte, although my eye is opening a bit wider to retirement.  In that regard, you need to bring me up to speed on what you and Jeanette are up to and how things are going.  Of all things, they’ve given me a chunk of responsibility over correspondence that floods into the mortgage side of the business.  They put me in charge of revamping what passes for a ‘style guide’ although that is like putting a 6th grade graduate in charge of a nuclear facility.  You won’t believe this, but my first recommendation was to make the strong suggestion to bag our own style guide and buy an institutional subscription to your handiwork at AP.  

Incredibly, they never warmed to my theory of media relations which is to be relatively truthful and candid and plainspoken.  That didn’t work out so well.  They gave me a pink slip back in July after which they allowed (sic: me) to stay tethered to my cube to look for other jobs inside or outside the bank until the end of September.  One of those was to become the senior housing columnist for the Charlotte Observer (I think my first column is still online, tepid as the subject is) and I was primed for a once-per-month piece.  But I’m scaling back on it to focus on the task at hand.  The Observer did set a new threshold for freelance pay: $25 for 750 words.  Their Saturday home section is riddled with writers just like me.  I wish I was still penning for the AP since that was the most fun I’ve ever had.

This is a tough spot for the AP.  Their business writer bolted a few months ago for a PR firm in D.C.  She’s not been replaced, and honestly, to my knowledge, AP has two or three people in a rather large office just south of what passes for a downtown.  It’s a real skeleton staff.  Same at the Observer.  If it wasn’t for pick up from the Raleigh News & Observer, the local paper here would literally be a single sheet 8.5”x11”.  I don’t hear much about AP up in NYC these days but they can’t be faring as well as they could.  We’ll just rely on Fox News for our balanced coverage.

But on the whole things are going along okay.  The two kids are on their own, physically and fiscally, and that is a good thing as you know.  Hope you’re getting down to Maryland (isn’t that where your son is?) on a frequent basis.  If you don’t watch out, I may follow through on the veiled threat to visit NYC.  They say the trip up from Charlotte via train isn’t too onerous, so once your weather – not ours – clears, I may slip up north for a quick visit.  Hope your holidays are good.

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