Hardboiled Verbal Crime: What Is the Meaning of L.A. Noire's Extra E?

Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog
May 25 2011 12:19 PM

Hardboiled Verbal Crime: What Is the Meaning of L.A. Noire's Extra E?

Among the things that Copy-Editing the Culture can't abide—a list that includes novels in the second person, dogs with stubby legs, marzipan peaches, and misuses of the word moot —few offenses irk him as much as the playing of video games. Aficionados of this pastime devote hours that could be applied toward proofreading (or joyful contemplation of such classics as Garner's Modern American Usage ) tethered to a screen on which meandering and laborious plots unfold with little printed matter. No red pens are involved. Diagrams are not of sentences. In what sense could this possibly be enjoyable? Imagine Copy-Editing the Culture's double horror, then, when he read news of a video game, new this month, called, perversely, L.A. Noire .

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This is a puzzling kind of grammatical androgyny. Noir , French for black , is today used to refer to a fiction and film style orbiting corruption, dangerous blondes, suave gangsters, and rainy nights—the sort of material that, as far as Copy-Editing the Culture can tell, this new video game aspires to include. Noire , in French, is the feminine form of that adjective. In English, it's a word that has no meaning. To call a game L.A. Noire is more or less like describing someone's broken-down car as "kaputtes"—a variant of the word required by the original tongue but virtually nonsensical in English. What is this but the most odious form of pretension?

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Copy-Editing the Culture hates pretension with a vengeance. He is tempted, too, to read insidious motives into the presence of this extra E. Are the game's producers trying to toss players a verbal red herring? Could the E conceal a coded message? The most dangerous possibility, alas, also seems the likeliest: that some cruel agent of the criminal underworld is trying to manipulate the English language.

Spot a grammar clunker in the cultural limelight? Send it to  copyeditingtheculture@gmail.com .

Nathan Heller is staff writer for The New Yorker and a film and TV critic for Vogue. You can follow him on Twitter.