“What the hell is this supposed to mean?” said the tough-looking hombre in jeans and a flannel shirt. He was stabbing at the editorial page with a cold cigar.
“God forbid,” said the copy editor.
“But there it is,” said the hombre.
“That’s what it means,” said the editor. “It means ‘God forbid.’ ‘God prevent.’ Whatever.”
“Then why don’t we say ‘God forbid?'” said the hombre, waving some clippings under the editor’s nose. He sneered and read aloud. “Tribune editorial page, January 28 — ‘The lawyers swore that Mayor Richard Daley’s regime was abiding by the Shakman decrees against most political hiring. Patronage? Clout? Heaven forfend!’
“And here’s one from January 7,” the hombre went on. “Something about worker productivity. And then, ‘Heaven forfend!’ What the hell kind of message are we trying to send — that the Tribune‘s some kind of goddamned hospice for archaic language before it gives up the ghost completely?”
The two-day stubble sported by his interrogator had the editor off-balance. Who was this guy? Was he one of Sam’s cowboys? Or was he just another panicked suit from the old regime who’d flung off his coat and tie and gone denim to survive?
“If you wouldn’t say it on a Harley you can’t say it in the Tribune,” growled the hombre.
The editor liked “heaven forfend!” He liked “kerfuffle.” If other papers didn’t use language like that — well, they weren’t the Tribune. He knew of elderly readers in Winnetka who would say the only reason they subscribed was because the Tribune used words that made them think of feather beds. He thought, “There must be a way to have archaic and eat it too.”
“Sam likes it,” he said. “His motto is, ‘We don’t eat our words. We spit ’em out.’ He’s looking for new language for new ideas for a new day. Retro’s part of the mix.”
He sensed the hombre wilting.
“This page is only the start. Business is next — ‘Bernanke lowered the prime interest rate Tuesday to forfend the economy from slipping into a recession.’ Then science. ‘The laboratory hopes the new vaccine will forfend an outbreak of avian flu.’ Sports, of course. ‘The Bears shifted to a forfend defense and gave up the winning touchdown.’ Finally folk wisdom. ‘Don’t eat the forfended fruit.’ ‘An ounce of forfension is worth a pound of cure.'”
“Sam’s good with it?” said the hombre, beginning to tug awkwardly at his shiny brass belt buckle.
“All the way. He says what the Tribune needs is a vocabulary that isn’t tired and worn out. And, of course, some new faces in management.”
“What have you heard?” said the hombre, quaking in his boots.
Wuss! thought the editor.