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Scenes From Our Unproduced Screenplay: ‘Strunk & White: Grammar Police’

By posted at 6:00 am on September 22, 2015 10


Police tape marks the scene. Red and blue lights flash. A young, nervous-looking BEAT COP sees STRUNK and WHITE approaching.

It’s over here, detectives. The body was found about an hour ago.

Use the active voice, rookie.

Oh god, it’s horrible. I feel nauseous.

Unless you mean you’re sickening to contemplate, you mean “nauseated.” Now get out of  my crime scene before you puke all over it.

WHITE (inspecting the body)
It’s definitely our guy, Strunk.

The Crossword Killer?

Yeah. And look, he’s getting more confident. This time, he used a pen.

The POLICE CHIEF, an older man with his pants perilously slung below a heavy beer belly, yanks open his office door.

Strunk! White! Get your asses in here!

STRUNK and WHITE enter, shooting sidelong glances at each other. Before they can sit, the COMMISSIONER flings a newspaper at them; WHITE clumsily catches it.

Look at this disaster!

WHITE (reading the headlines)
“Police Not Effective as Campus Stalked by Crossword Killer, Student Body in Terror.” Oh, Christ, what a mess.


You’re damn right it is! I just got off the phone with the mayor, and let me tell you, she is not happy!

I can see why. An evasive denial rather than a definite assertion, the passive voice — haven’t the copy writers even taken basic composition? And that gruesome phrase, “student body”! My god! “Studentry” is a much more elegant term! Or simply “students.”

I’m not talking about the goddamn grammar, I’m talking about this investigation! If you two don’t make an arrest soon, I’ll have your asses in a sling!

Don’t you mean “slings,” Chief? I mean, if asses is plural–

Get the hell outta my office!

Rain trickles down the plate glass windows of the seedy diner. WHITE idly spins his lucky blue pencil on the tabletop as he talks. STRUNK listens, sipping coffee.

It was my first month on the job, you know? I was young. I thought I could make a difference. And then we got the call…some kids had been screwing around on an overpass, smoking weed, spraying graffiti. This one kid — he couldn’t have been more than 13 — he was dangling way over the edge, trying to write “NYPD SUCKS ITS OWN DICK.” At least, that’s what his friends said he was going to write. He only made it as far as the “its.” He was reaching, trying to add an apostrophe, when he fell. The kid…his mother said he wanted to go to culinary school. Traffic was heavy that night. Lots of trucks. That damn, unnecessary apostrophe. By the time they scraped him off the highway,             there was barely enough left of him to fill a shoebox.

WHITE begins to sob quietly. STRUNK hesitates, then reaches out and takes WHITE’S hand, stopping the movement of the pencil.

It’s okay. It’s okay, partner. Next time you could omit needless words, but it’s okay.

The CROSSWORD KILLER holds both WHITE and PRISCILLA at gunpoint at the ledge, while STRUNK holds his own gun on the KILLER, uncertain whether to shoot. WHITE, barely on his feet, presses his hand to a wound in his side.

What’s it gonna be, Strunk? If you shoot me, I’ll still be able to kill one of them! You can’t save them both!  So what’ll it be — your partner, five letters, Walter _____ of Breaking Bad?  Or your recently reconciled ex-wife, nine letters, beloved of Miles Standish? Who do you  choose? Who?

STRUNK (coldly)
It’s “whom,” motherfucker.

STRUNK fires between the KILLER’S eyes. He tumbles off the rooftop, screaming. STRUNK rushes to WHITE and PRISCILLA. She embraces him, sobbing, while STRUNK helps WHITE to his feet. WHITE grasps STRUNK’S hand forcibly.

Thanks, partner. Standing on that ledge, staring into those crazy eyes, life never seemed so   precious.

Dangling participle, partner.

I’m getting too old for this.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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10 Responses to “Scenes From Our Unproduced Screenplay: ‘Strunk & White: Grammar Police’”

  1. Bill Morris
    at 9:03 am on September 22, 2015

    “Whom” is such a useless motherfucker I wish it would run away and die forever. Sorry for the unnecessary extra and extraneous words. And the missing comma. And the redundant sentence structure. Hey, I’m new at this.

  2. priskill
    at 10:26 am on September 22, 2015

    Its Chinatown, Strunk.

    I mean, It’s Chinatown, Strunk.

    TOO Funny! Loved this

  3. heather curran
    at 5:40 pm on September 22, 2015

    “He’s getting more confident, this time he’s used a pen.” Oh god, dying laughing. Au nothing like a little comic relief at the end of a long day. So funny!

  4. heather curran
    at 5:41 pm on September 22, 2015

    *ah (not au).

  5. Brendan
    at 9:53 pm on September 23, 2015

    Sure, get rid of “whom,” but why stop there? Let’s jettison all the objective pronouns — you know, those useless words “me,” “him,” “her,” “us,” and “them.” Sound good to you, Bill Morris? I’m taking your position on “whom” to its logical conclusion.

  6. rachel newcombe
    at 12:04 pm on September 25, 2015

    The grammar police — this is two, to good! So freakin’ creative. I love it!
    More please.


  7. R Williams
    at 12:52 pm on September 25, 2015

    “He’s getting more confident, this time he’s used a pen.”
    Shouldn’t that comma be replaced by a period or semicolon, since it’s an independent clause?

  8. MrTemple
    at 12:13 pm on September 26, 2015

    Finally a story about grammar criminals, Strunk and White.

  9. Joe
    at 4:13 pm on September 27, 2015

    If someone is shot between the eyes, they don’t fall screaming. They fall dead.

    That wasn’t the passive voice in the newspaper headline.

    And aside from the awfulness of choosing those two, one well-meaning and the other a pompous blowhard offering his fetishes as truth, it was kinda funny.

    Keep writing. But not about S&W.

  10. E. Morgan
    at 5:18 pm on September 4, 2016

    Joe, “Campus Stalked by Crossword Killer” is passive voice. Active would be “Crossword Killer Stalks Campus.”

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