Weapons of Mass Instruction

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Tools of the Trade

Here, at the fifth precinct, my partner and I investigate the improper use of grammar. We take our jobs seriously. With advanced degrees in both Criminal Justice and English, we seek to rid the world of abuses of the English language.

Most cases we investigate are simple misdemeanors, such as individuals using the wrong form of there, their, or they’re. The misuse of directions in conversation is another crime we look into.

One such example occurred a few years ago, when a coffee barista kept referring to Maine as being “down there,” even though we were in Maryland. We intervened after the third complaint was filed. After taking mandatory Geography courses, he’s back at work.

In lieu of guns and tasers and beat sticks, we are armed with pocket versions of the latest edition of dictionaries. We carry handcuffs for the aforementioned violent felony offenses.

The other night, we were called to a residential neighborhood in a rather upstanding part of town for a domestic misuse of clichés, or as we refer to it, a code 222. We approached the scene with caution, as we always do.

In the front yard stood the male victim, clearly shaken by the events that had transpired before we arrived. The beat cops, who had been the first responders, were busy attempting to console him.

“Sir,” I said, as we approached the victim, “I’m Detective Hyperbole and this my partner, Detective Onomatopoeia. What seems to be the problem?”

“Well,” he stated, “my wife came home from work and started spewing clichés at me, for no reason!  She wouldn’t stop, so I called you.”

“What were some of the clichés she uttered, sir?” I asked.

He staggered to speak, finally finding the words. “She told me I should look in the mirror, don’t judge a book by its cover, or cry over spilled milk. It was horrible!”

“Where is she now?” I asked.

“In her Eames chair, reading a book,” he responded, clearly feeling guilty for turning in his wife.

My partner went in and booked her for misuse of clichés.

“She can’t hurt you any longer,” I said.

Most of these perpetrators don’t even know they are committing crimes, so punishment tends to be on the lighter side, such as mandatory English 101 courses. Every once in a while, however, we catch a case so grammatically gruesome that it rises to the level of a heinous felony.

The particular case I’m referring to started way back in 1999. I was a young detective, eager for my first piece of the action. My partner at the time, Detective Conjunction, was a stereotypical tough guy. Perps didn’t cross him. We were called to a local Spelling Bee to investigate reports of a middle-aged man running through the hall, purposely yelling incorrect sayings.

When we arrived at the scene, witnesses claimed this troubled individual was screaming that he “could care less” who wins the spelling bee. Surely, he knew the error of his statement, as he was clearly trying to state that he could not care less. This dumbfounded us.

Over the years, reports had surfaced of this individual attacking additional spelling bees, libraries, and even high school English courses! Each time, he would commit heinous dictionary violations. In one such incident, he told his victims that he would “get off scotch free,” even though we knew he meant “scot free.” In another case, he told his victims that he would never get caught, so it was a “mute point.” The victims knew he meant “moot point,” and so did we.

The stress got to Detective Conjunction in 2004, forcing him to leave the force. He spent years in therapy as a result of this case.

My new partner and I have been tracking the perp ever since.

We caught a break in the case last week, when we found a professor’s ID card at a crime scene. Further investigation led us to a distinguished retired professor who was now working at a local junior college.

After his course the other night, we approached him at his car. He knew why we were there.

“You can’t arrest me,” he claimed. “There is no statue of limitations any longer.”

“Maybe not,” I said. “But there is no statute of limitations, either,” I said, with that typical cop grin on my face.

“Irregardless,” he said, “you think you really nipped me in the butt?”

“Regardless, we did nip you in the bud,” I responded. “Book him,” I told Detective Onomatopoeia.

“Gladly,” she responded. “You won’t be ruining the lives of aspiring English students any longer.”

It turns out that he had become so jaded by the apparent disinterest in learning the proper use of English that he had decided to take revenge. He’s awaiting trial in the court of public opinion, but we feel confident we have a strong case.

If you are the victim of a grammar crime and don’t know where to turn, turn to us. We are here for the public – not at your beckon call, but at your beck and call.

9 thoughts on “Weapons of Mass Instruction”

  1. I enjoyed reading this blog post, too! {or, “to” or “two”}
    I dislike sentences written in passive voice, and the misuse of subject pronouns: No, the delicious chilled soup was NOT served to Alex and I”! Ahem.

    Today is E B White’s birthday, so I’m re-reading Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style.

    Disclaimer: for YEARS, I believed that “purposely” isn’t a proper word. I have since learned that it is, and it might be even more versatile than “purposefully”.


  2. Hilarious, Josh! I agree with Terpie’s assessment: one of your best, and perhaps my favorite so far.

    One quibble on verb tense. You wrote: “Over the years, reports had surfaced of this individual attacking additional spelling bees, libraries, and even high school English courses! Each time, he would commit heinous dictionary violations.” I’d use the past tense in the first sentence: “reports surfaced.” In the second, I’d use either the past (“he committed”) or the past perfect (“he had committed”). Simpler and smoother.

    Hope you can find a buyer for this one!


  3. This. This is why I love reading your stuff. Besides your smartassedness, you’re a dream come true to a proofreader/editor’s eyes in this ignorant world of bloggdom.
    A true word nerd – bless you Officer Hyperbole (or was it Detective?) … bless you.
    My only problem now is to get through your pieces without snorting out loud next to my sleeping husband. It’s bad enough that my silent laughing is shaking the bed…


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