Saturday, April 29, 2006

Who? That? What?

From one of McSweeney's Open Letters:

But then there are the moments where you reach up with your cute little paw and swat something on my face. Is it an odd hair? A pimple you want to catch? I don't know, but you scratch me! You scratch the face of the person that feeds you! Why, Abbie? I'm always nice to you.

This should be "the person who feeds you." People, no matter how insensitive they might be to cats, are always whos, not thats.

Likewise, the Mari Mancusi book "Boys That Bite" has us gnashing our teeth. It had better be good, if we're going to get over the grammar of the title...

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Grammar for spammers, part 2

This arrived in our inbox today from one Barton Ladner (

Its true because we have a great number of different dr@gs! Pain relief, love life enhancement, depression suppress, weight loss and much more! Our store is VERIFIED BY BBB and APPROVED BY VISA!

Oh Barton.

It's true, because we have a great number of different drugs: pain relievers, love-life enhancers, depression suppressants, weight-loss aids and much more! Our store is verified by the Better Business Bureau and approved by VISA.

Somehow, Barton, we don't really believe you on those last two points. Could it be because you're not only a spammer, you're an abuser of grammar?

Don't drink and write

Drinking and writing ad copy don't mix.

This time, an apostrophe lost its life. What's it going to be next time? A tiny period, just ending its first sentence? A flock of young semicolons waiting for their chance to link two closely related independent clauses, for better or for worse, as long as they both shall live? A comma? Haven't those suffered enough?

We think we need a tissue.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Dear Maple Leafs... don't hit us, please

Dear Toronto Maple Leafs,

We are the Society for the Promotion of Good Grammar, and we have no wish to create an international incident. Not a large one, at any rate.

Nonetheless, we are writing to inquire if the Canadian school system teaches its children how to construct plural nouns. We confess we are not as well informed as perhaps we could be with regard to your northern ways, though we do a mean Canadian accent, if we say so ourselves, eh?
Alas, we skate around our point. Frankly, you large and toothless hockey players scare us. We have no desire to receive a face-off. While we don’t know for sure what one is, we know it has something to do with hockey, and also that it sounds really painful.

About those plural nouns: Are we perhaps the first to inform you that the plural of “leaf” is “leaves”? If so, we are truly sorry.

Nonetheless, we urge you to stop referring to yourselves as the Maple Leafs. It makes you sound as though you'd taken one too many slapshots to your smartboxes. Maple Leaves has an equally lovely ring, if we say so ourselves.

Perhaps a fresh and grammatical start such as this would be just the thing to earn yourselves a playoff berth next year.

We’ll be watching.

Sincerely yours,


Monday, April 24, 2006

From the Pet Peeves Files

American Dreamz? Oh, pleaz.

Surely there has to be a better way of communicating the hilarity of your movie than by abusing Zs.

Seriously -- if you're thinking about upping the comedy factor by spelling something wrong, don't. It's not funny, and people might wonder if you've perhaps accidentally inhaled too many fumes from the paste you ate in elementary school.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

The ad was bad -- it was very, very bad

SPOGG regrets the tiny size of this ad; you might have to click on the graphic to see the errors in their full glory.

In any case, here is the text:

movie's NETFLIX. Only $9.99 a month. Over 60,000 titles, no late fees, free trial!

People, this is from a paid ad on MSN Search, and it was their "suggested search" of the day. Which makes us wonder...

When you're paying for your ad to run on one of the world's largest Web sites, and when you're the editor choosing which search to feature, wouldn't it behoove you to:

1) avoid apostrophe catastrophes;
2) follow the more than/fewer than rule; and
3) manage not to make the entire thing a run-on sentence?

Allow us:

NETFLIX: Only $9.99 a month, with more than 60,000 movies and no late fees. Try it for free!

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Think Grammatical?

The New York Times offered up this headline today:

Puzzles: Think Global!

It immediately called to mind Apple's "Think Different" campaign, which was roundly criticized for being ungrammatical. Technically, it is.

That said, SPOGG will issue Apple a get-out-of-trouble pass, while The New York Times copyeditor will get off with a warning for unfelicitous cribbing.

Why? Because there is a slight difference in meaning between "think globally" and "think global," and "think differently" and its ridiculously trademarked-by-Apple equivalent.

"Think different" and "think global" aren't telling readers how to think; they're telling readers to think about what it means to be different and globally concerned.

The authors of those sentences had a reason for bending the rules of the language; they weren't just breaking them out of ignorance, as is altogether too common with marketing.

They could have used more words to make this more clear, but their constructions almost certainly wouldn't have been as infectious or memorable, in the same way "Got milk" lingers in the memory more than, "Do you have any milk?"

Even this milk line is just an updated of the classic, "Would you have any Grey Poupon," which for years was the marketing slogan for our second-favorite kind of mustard.

Here, the writers had to be perfectly and stuffily grammatical because their commercial involved a butler, two limousines and an undoubtedly illegal roadside mustard transfer. The language fit the high-class brand they were working to establish.

This is part of what good writing does: It evokes ideas and emotion in the reader. The words, artfully and memorably combined, carry more weight than they could alone. As long as the feelings being summoned are those the author intended, then language and its craftsmen are doing the job. In fact, they're working alchemy-like magic.

When it comes to meaning vs. rules, the meaning must be the higher master. Otherwise, we lose the magic -- an idea that offends the good people of SPOGG.

When the writing is memorable enough that others -- even New York Times headline writers -- are ripping it off, then it has to be good.

And we write this with full apologies to whoever wrote, "With a name like Smuckers, it has to be good."*

* Technically, this should be "such as Smuckers." But we think that rule stinks, too, because it encourages clunky prose.

Amelia Earhart

Friday, April 21, 2006

SPOGG declares war on Canada

What's wrong with this picture?

SPOGG has just become aware of the hockey team known as the Toronto Maple Leafs.


This is unbeleafable. It cannot stand. Here in America, the Harvard Crimson does not become "The Crimsons." Nor does our beloved Stanford Cardinal become "The Cardinals."

Therefore, in the name of total North American dominance, leaf must not become Leafs in plural. Stay tuned for the letter campaign.

The outraged people of SPOGG.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Doctor, she's in a comma

If a person who indulges in verbiage is verbose, then is a person who uses too many commas "commatose?"

This comes from a newsletter for writers:

New Yorker magazine editor, Alice Quinn, reads from the new Elizabeth Bishop book, April 27

Those commas around Alice Quinn are as unnecessary as feathers on frogs.

Here's our trick for remembering when to use them:

If the meaning of the sentence depends on the information you're considering wrapping in commas, then don't use the commas.

In this case, the particular editor in question is essential to the meaning of the sentence. Without "Alice Quinn," it's not a complete sentence. It would be if it were changed to "A New Yorker magazine editor reads from the new Elizabeth Bishop book," but it wouldn't tell you which editor. We need Ms. Quinn in there to know what we're getting at the reading.

If the sentence retains its essential meaning without those words, then do use the commas.

Commas, like feathers on frogs, are only used to set off non-essential clauses. (Grammarians call those "non-restrictive," which we find hard to remember.)

Repeat after us...


And yet, uses it thus. Do you think living in Los Angeles has affected the editors' brains? We hear a lot of people down there inject their faces with botulism and snort things they shouldn't. Poor dears.

A press release informs us that the date for next year's ceremony is being pushed back to the last Sunday in February. We thank the Oscar gods for gifting us with one less week of excruciating waiting to see what kind of oversized embellishment will be distracting us on Charlize Theron's shoulder.

Give is a verb. Gift is a noun. One gives a gift. One should not "gift with" anything, not when the good dictionary has already given us a word that works for holidays, birthdays and Mother's Day, which is coming very soon, in case a certain pair of children happens to be reading this.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Two-word Pile-ups

When the tech stock bubble burst in 2000, we saw one silver lining: that the irrationally exuberant marketing people would stop crashing two words together and calling them one.

But we see they've been hired to write copy for the Veronica Mars Web site:

We will love you, regardless of your spelling and grammar. But we thought you should know never mind is two words. Note the copy on your Web site:

"Nevermind the Buttocks"
Tuesday, April 18, 9PM ET/PT
When Veronica decides to take on a case to find the person who ran over a Neptune senior’s dog, she is taken aback by the startling facts she uncovers.

Never mind is two words. Never mind that Kurt Cobain got away with slamming them together. You saw how it ended for him, God rest his tortured soul.

How NOT to pick up an editor

Out Magazine has a new editor, and readers are impressed. Unfortunately, they're not likely to impress the editor with their grammar. Thanks to Gawker for culling these comments.

We've taken the liberty to hand Out a few corrections:

1. “I am pleased to have him as the new editor in chief; he is also sexy.” (Properly used semicolons are sexy, too.)
2. “I hope [that] you will enjoy OUT magazine. […] P.S. You're also very cute[, too].”
3. “Hello. Please show men with [a] nice hair on the chest. Thanks.” (Just one hair on the chest? Really?)
4. “Best of luck! You have great credentials, along with looks.” (While not technically incorrect, this has all the elegance of a Tupperware lunchbox. The comma improves it somewhat.)
5. “I welcome you to OUT, and if you ever want to go for a roll in the sack, that could be arranged! WOW! You should be the next Hot Guy of the Day!” (We believe it's a roll in the hay; one hops in the sack. In any case, the author of this lacks comma sense, to be sure.)

And speaking of Comma Sense, here's the next book we're buying:

Monday, April 17, 2006

Bust a marketer?

Leave it to Microsoft, the company that promised MSN was more useful "everyday*," to write nigh-illiterate marketing copy for the Windows Live beta.

And we quote:

"You want it, you got it"
Here's the lyric we suspect Microsoft is riffing on, a line from "Bust a Move" by Young MC:

If you want it baby you've got it (repeat)

Yes, Young MC could have used a comma before baby (or after, depending on what they wanted to emphasize). But at least his verb forms make sense together.

You know your writing is really bad when the rapper you're ripping off used better grammar. Oh Microsoft. Better luck next time.

* everyday: when it's one word, it means ordinary. Presumably MSN was more useful every day.

Conan the Grammarian

You heard it here second. The latest issue of Verbatim: The Language Quarterly has an article by the famous linguist Richard Lederer, who takes down two grammar rules that have always twisted our knickers in a bunch.

No reputable grammar book, he writes, prohibits splitting infinitives* or ending sentences with prepositions.

We are very pleased to report those are the same two bogus grammar rules we called out to Stanford Magazine, which will feature SPOGG in its May/June issue.

That said, our eyebrows did shoot up just a bit when Verbatim reminded us to keep our subscription "up-to-date."

The hyphens there were unnecessary, because up to date came after the word "subscription." Had it come before, it would have been another story.

We still love Verbatim, though.

* An infinitive is a "to blank" verb form. Some people think you're not supposed to insert a word between to and the verb -- but that would prevent such memorable lines as "to boldly go where no man has gone before." And that just seems wrong.

Over/under and The New York Times

Look, even The New York Times doesn't know when to write over/under and more than/less or fewer than...

Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Associated Press
Course Record at Boston Marathon
Over 20,000 runners crossed the start line during the 110th Boston Marathon. Robert Cheruiyot finished in 2 hours, 7 minutes and 14 seconds.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Mocking Gawker

Evil homonyms strike again:

From today:

Whoever said romance was dead obviously hasn’t past the Chelsea Whole Foods on a Thursday night…

Past? PAST? It's passed, people. Sheesh.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Um, them's the "brakes"

From ABC News...

'Malcolm's' Muniz Leaves Hollywood Rat Race for Pro Racing Sitcom
Star Signs Two-Year Racing Deal, With TV Dad's Approval

April 13, 2006 — Frankie Muniz has a new Formula — and it's not the type you'll see on a primetime sitcom.

The 20-year-old "Malcolm in the Middle" star has applied the breaks to his acting career, at least temporarily, to race for Jensen Motorsport in the Formula BMW competition.

We do believe they mean "the brakes." And we sincerely hope he doesn't go the way of Jason Priestly, who broke his head while driving a racecar. Those kind of breaks are far worse than the ones Hollywood dishes out.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Make That 501 Uses for a Paper Bag

Ordinarily, this is the sort of book we really like.

When it comes to paper sacks, our creativity usually runs out after "Cut Eyeholes and Call It an Ugly Bag."

And this book promises "over 500 great uses" for our spare bags. So what's the problem?

Simple. They're counting, so it should be more than 500 great uses. Over and under is for candlesticks and beds. Jump over candlesticks. Hide under beds. But when the king is in his counting house, counting out his money (or anything else that can be measured), more than and fewer than are the phrases to use. Less than might also be correct, if the king is counting out a quantity of something that can't be broken down into units, such as the amount of resentment his servants have that he has a counting house while they're stuck scraping calluses off his feet.

So what's that 501st use for the paper bag we promised in the headline? That ugly bag. We have a feeling the copy editor of this cover might like to hide in one.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Grammar for Sp ammer$

Oh, the spam we get.

Though this is hard to read, the subject line says, "Do you know that whale's dick weights 1 ton."

First of all, if you have a whale with a one-ton unit, it's not a question, it's an interjection --or an ejaculation, as the case may be.

Second of all, it's weighs, not weights.

Third of all, you should write out numbers one through nine.

In short:

That whale's dick weighs one ton!

And finally: No, we don't wanna see it, try it, or anything of the sort.

Leave us alone. People who deal in animal penises are gross, regardless of their grammar.

In Defense of Jessica Simpson

Jessica Simpson was dumped by text message, apparently. Leave it to those darned bloggers (what kind of person blogs, anyway?) to make fun during this sad, sad time.

VH1's "Sizzler" reports "Jessica Dumped In 118 Characters or Less."

Or less?

That makes us shudder. It's fewer. When you're talking about things that can be broken into countable units -- characters, marbles, celebrity break-ups -- use fewer. When you're talking about things that can't be numbered -- milk, cleavage, disgust -- use less.

Unrelated: Jessica Simpson needs to lighten up on the spray-tan, don't you think?

Saturday, April 01, 2006

"Your" Kidding!

On the one hand, "Veronica Mars" is a great show. On the other hand, she needs to investigate who approved this ad.

P.S.: The show is now moving to Tuesdays. Don't miss it. Really!