Thursday, June 29, 2006

You Lie, Ryan Seacrest!

From Esquire magazine (via

"A friend of mine has a house with a basketball court and a pool. The guys go over and play basketball; I lay by the pool and nap in the sun. That defines me. That's consistent with who I am. I don't pretend to play basketball because I wanna feel like one of the guys. I wanna lay in the sun and relax."

He means he wants to lie in the sun. Honestly! Lay is the past tense of lie, but he's talking in the present tense. In the present tense, one can only use lay if one is laying an object such as an egg. Ryan looks like a lot of things, but hen is not one of them. Usually.

God, That's Some Bad Grammar

All SPOGG ambassador Xavier wanted was a nice, Christian-themed away message for his instant-messaging software.

What he found, however, was that the Devil truly is in the details, at least when it comes to grammar. How many errors can you find below? (Click to enlarge.)

Lest we get our fleece in a tangle, though, it must be pointed out that the Bible itself contains numerous grammatical errors (some people who know more ancient languages than we do insist there is an error on every page).

While some fear this knowledge could erode the faith of believers everywhere, SPOGG interprets it differently: Like most of our male relatives, God just happens to be better at geography and biology than grammar.

But We Are Unrepentant

Dear SPOGG: I do not prefer sentences that begin with conjunctions. You use several in your pages. Begin new sentences without the conjunction or join the two sentences into one. Please, revise your site pages.

I am glad to find your site. I have several peeves I should like to share with you.
Dear Peeves:

We don't "prefer" sentences that start with conjunctions, either. But we do like them just as well as the other kind, when used for a reason.

We'll let another excellent grammar site called gpuss do the talking:

"You must not start a sentence with a conjunction" has been the mantra of many an exasperated English teacher, especially since the oiks started getting state education. Any pupil brave, daft or naive enough to raise a hand and ask "Why?" would probably have received some Kafkaesque explanation along the lines of "Because it is said."

So now we're all grown up, we'll ask again – why? The honest answer is that there is no reason. It's just an arbitrary rule that's been passed through the ages. But all language is arbitrary, isn't it? Words and letters are but abstract concepts, the understanding of which can only come through the education of rules.
Visit gpuss for more...

And here's a shout-out to Sir Mix-a-Lot, who likes big "buts," and, we're certain, all the other conjunctions as well.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Read Our Lips -- Or Not

A friend forwarded SPOGG e-mail his sister-in-law sent regarding the contents of her womb:
"Well, yesterday was my 'what's it going to be' ultrasound. And after much anxiety and anticipation we are going to wait longer to find out. The baby was in a position where the gentiles were not able to be seen at all..."
It's "genitals," ma'am. Genitals. Or genitalia. Your choice.

In any case, mazel tov!

Note: If you Google "gentiles," this picture comes up. We did NOT Google genitals. Not tonight, anyway.

This Makes Us "Tents"

While we were very pleased with the shopping experience in general, we were alarmed at the e-mail this company sent:

Thanks again for choosing We hope that you enjoyed your shopping experience and we sure hope to have you back again.

Please keep on visiting us for new item's and many specials.

Camping R Us? Item's? Clearly, the freeze-dried food has gone to their heads.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The Wrong Fifty-Cent Word

From MSN Health:

Q: My son is anemic and has high cholesterol. I know I should give him multivitamins to help with the anemia. However, I need to know what kinds of foods he should avoid and what he should eat to help with the cholesterol problem. He is 15 years old, always tired and somewhat overweight.

A: Your son’s experience is a neoclassic example of being malnourished yet overweight. He sounds like an increasing number of American youth—he is getting an abundance of calories, likely from highly processed foods, but he’s missing key nutrients and doesn’t get enough exercise. He needs to turn around his health.

This is like wearing tails to the senior prom when everyone knows they're morning wear. Well, not everyone knows that. But the people who do will titter behind their monocles.

Beware the fancy word that sounds like the everyday one you were searching for.

The word this PhD author wanted here was "classic." Neoclassic, in its most common sense, refers to the revival of classic art forms.

Penultimate and histrionics are other examples of formal word-wear donned for the wrong occasion.

SPOGG loves fancy words as much as the next volunteer humanitarian agency. But even more, SPOGG loves plain and simple speech, which is harder to screw up.

Cast-Away Casting Couch

Does anyone else think this famous Hollywood producer's career ended due to his choice to hire a near-illiterate assistant? Errors in red:

Famous Hollywood Producer's Couch, Desk, and Office Furnature For Sale. All furnature must be gone by the end of the week. Set up an appointement to come by. (As opposed to an appointment to hit whoever wrote this over the head with a dictionary?)

Top Quality 2-piece Black Leather Couch and King Chair Set With Glass-top coffee table with Matching Side Table. Hardwood (snicker!) Executive Desk with Matching Runner Wood bookcase.

Sigh. Take a memo, assistant:

1) Dictionary. Use one.
2) Capital letters. If you must use them, be consistent. Capitalize every letter. Or, follow standard English and capitalize proper nouns and first words instead.
3) No one wants a used Hollywood couch. We know where they've been.

(From Craigslist via

Sunday, June 25, 2006

MSN and Unnecessary Quotation Marks

SPOGG is very happy for Keith Urban (and less so for Nicole Kidman, who is now joined in holy matrimony to a country singer who's swapped his cocaine addiction for one to Lady Clairol).

But SPOGG wags the long finger of shame at MSN, which called our attention to the marriage using unnecessary quotation marks. (Click the image to increase its size, if you can't read the offending punctuation.)

Extraneous quotation marks are the air-quotes of the printed punctuation world. Or, to compare them to something we all can understand, they're like legwarmers and high-riding, mesh trucker hats.

While wearing those, one might think, "I am pulling this off. I am jazzy!" But one, alas, would be mistaken.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Drunk Pelican: He Said/She Said?

The reporter covering this story is trying to have it both ways:

A California brown pelican probably was intoxicated by a naturally occurring toxin found in algae blooms when she hit the car on the Pacific Coast Highway in Orange County Thursday, wildlife officials said.

The driver was startled, but not hurt. The pelican needed surgery for a broken foot, and also had a gash on its pouch.
So is the pelican a he, a she, or an it?

Assuming the pelican hasn't been altered and isn't equipped with both parts, the answer to this is a matter of style. In other words, there isn't a firm rule; it depends on who's wielding the red pen at the publication in question.

Some publications argue that animals are all its. SPOGG doesn't subscribe to this theory, particularly in the case of pets. If you know your dog is a girl, and even if she's gone under the knife, it's just mean not to call her a she. In any case, though, one ought to pick a sex and stick with it. Neutering someone mid-story just looks sloppy.

Oh, and as for how they could tell the pelican was a girl, SPOGG believes one looks at the color of the feathers. Unlike with certain animals (we're thinking horses, here), birds don't swing their parts about. In fact, they don't have external genitalia, though some have retractable parts, which come in handy for water sports of a reproductive nature.

In any case, they should not be getting drunk, as this can only lead to collisions with cars and overly frank grammar lessons.

Sober pelican

Friday, June 23, 2006

Myself Flagellation

Yes, the paparazzi are annoying. But is that any excuse to abuse "myself"?

Pitt's security chief, Rich Malchar, issued this statement: "School officials and myself feel that some of these paparazzi are like predators who will recklessly take and sell photos of innocent children for money."

People: Myself is not a fancy substitute for me. Nor is it a replacement for I. Use it only after you've already used "I" in the sentence:
  • I looked at myself in the mirror.
  • I baked the bread myself.
  • I think Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie should smile for the paparazzi, myself.

We're Back from NYC

SPOGG took a week off for an adventure in New York, and we practically wept when we found this in our e-mail. It's a letter from one of our ambassadors in Arizona, who was so moved by bad writing that she actually wrote to the company. Here's the letter that inspired her. May it inspire you, too:

Dear Barry:
I would like to take a moment to introduce you to XXXXX Lighting, a leader in lighting solutions. Not familiar with XXXXX lighting, you see, we been designing lighting systems and specified fixtures here in the valley over thirteen years. We work directly with 240 plus manufactures along with our resource center with over 450 design catalogues. Our award winning design team offers a full range of services including design consultation, CAD plan drawing, product specifications, project management and complete fixture packages. Visit our website at to explore the limitless possibilities of light.
XXXXX Lighting has worked on numerous projects locally, nationally and internationally. Some of these projects are corporate office spaces, retail, hospitlaity, restaurants, historical sites, residential, landscape, building exteriors and more.
When budget becomes an issue, unlike "lighting reps" I can supply alternate fixtures keeping to your budget without compromisng on those "must have" decorative fixture, track system, fiber optic feature or LED applications.
For the best service, attention to details and follow through you own it to yourself, to contact me to discuss how XXXXX Lighting can assist you with your next project.
I would appreciate the opportunity to serve you and look forward to hearing from you soon.
VP, Business Development
Thank you, Ambassador C.F. May they see the light.

Friday, June 16, 2006

The Scariest Spam Contest

This came in our inbox today and frightened us thoroughly:
Even if you have no erectin problems SOFT CIAzLIS would help you to make BETTER SE X MORE OFTEN! and to bring unimagnable plesure to her.

Just disolve half a pil under your tongue and get ready for action in 15 minutes.

The tests showed that the majority of men after taking this medic ation were able to have PERFECT ER ECTI ON during 36 hours!

The corrected (somewhat) version:

Even if you have no erection problems, SOFT CIAzLIS soft Cialis would will help you to make have better sex more often, and to bring unimaginable pleasure to her. (We get this sort of pleasure from good spelling and conventional capitalization.)

Just dissolve half a pill under your tongue, and get ready for action in 15 minutes.

The tests showed that the majority of men, after taking this medication, were able to have perfect erections during 36 hours!

We feel sorry for the poor fellows who get imperfect erecctions, but he “during” part is where we get stuck. Does that mean erections lasting 36 hours each? Or erections at during a 36-hour time span? Outside the rare three-day weekend, both options make us shudder just a wee.

If you get scarier spam, please let us know.

Basic grammar for Britney Spears

Correcting Britney Spears' grammar errors is a bit easy, like finding the seeds on a strawberry. (Hint: They're ALL OVER, and in no way obscured by pesky layers of fruit.)

Here's what she said about getting together with Kevin Federline, who was not quite single at the time:
"Actually, I didn't know...I didn't know until two months later...but I don't blame him because him and his friends tell me...they weren't together when he came to me...they were apart. That happened to Julia Roberts too, but it's more talked about with me. Her husband was married and had kids when they got together."
Because he and his friends, Britney. HE. You wouldn't say "him tells me," would you? Well, on second thought, maybe you would.

Also, we still don't get why you don't blame him and his friends. They lied. Please, in the name of good grammar and adult-length pants, dump the bum!

Thursday, June 15, 2006


Remember that scene from The Princess Bride, where Inigo Montoya tells Vizzini, "You keep using that word. I don't think it means what you think it means"?

We hereby call misused words "Vizzinis."

And Carole Radziwill of Glamour stands accused of dropping a Vizzini into her column:
CNN's Anderson Cooper became a broadcasting star last year by diving headfirst into two big stories, the tsunami in Asia and Hurricane Katrina. But he's not just adept at natural disasters—on his show, Anderson Cooper 360°, he also tackles genocide, famine and war, all with (let's face facts) the bluest eyes in the business. Carole Radziwill joins Cooper at one of his favorite restaurants to celebrate the recent publication of his memoir, Dispatches From the Edge, and discuss his barometric rise.

High pressure and the airhead?Barometric? A barometer is a device used to measure air pressure. No matter how hard we tried, we couldn't gauge her meaning. Was she saying he owed his stardom to hot air? Or to high-pressure situations?

Of course, it's entirely possible she meant to use the cliche "meteoric," which in this context means swift. But surely this Kennedy relative is swift enough to know a cliche isn't a good way to start a new column -- especially if she doesn't quite, um, hit the nail on the head.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

SPOGG Membership Cards Available

Become a card-carrying member of the Society for the Promotion of Good Grammar!

Download your SPOGG membership card today

(It's free — all you need is the Adobe Acrobat Reader.)

Songs That Make Our Ears Bleed

Dear S.P.O.G.G.,

I would like to begin by thanking you for taking the initiative in creating this organization. My friends and I are thrilled.

I'm writing to tell you about an abomination of grammar that I have to listen to on the radio every day. My coworker likes to listen to the local rock station and they frequently play a song by the band System of a Down called "Lonely Day." The chorus is a goose bump-inducing "The most loneliest day of my life."

I've already written to the radio station but they continue to play it. I thought that that members of S.P.O.G.G. could commiserate.

Thank you,

We do commiserate. And this song came so close! We love the melody. We love the sad strumming of the guitar and the achy-breaky harmonies. We do NOT love the phrase "the most loneliest." Loneliest is a superlative. It doesn't get any lonelier, except perhaps when you are writing about the grammar of pop music in a cold, dark basement... (excuse us for a moment).

OK, we're back.

System of a Down will receive a letter from SPOGG shortly. Meanwhile, you can hear the song here.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

OED: I Think I Love You


Has transition always been a noun AND a verb? I seem to remember reading/writing about someone 'making a transition,' but how about "She transitioned to her new job..." or "As we transition..." Is that correct, or is it 'new use' from today's 'new speak?'

Oh, how glad we are you asked this question. It gives us reason to revel in the glory that is the Oxford English Dictionary. Back in the day, we wished we had the money and space to accommodate the entire collection on our bookshelves. Now, this miracle can be searched online.

But to the answer, anon!

Transition has been a noun since at least 1551, the first time it appeared in print. Its adventures as a verb have been more recent. The OED notes it first appeared thus in 1975, meaning it is too young to have ever seen an episode of The Partridge Family outside of reruns.

Here, by the way, is the online OED. Your library might subscribe. Be sure to check out the database and subscription services you can access with your library card.

Monday, June 12, 2006

A Little Something We Hate

Never mind the fact that the owner of this Philly sandwich shop is acting like a jerk and offending anyone who might be visiting from a country that doesn't speak English — not to mention vulnerable immigrants to our supposedly friendly land.

What really has us clawing our eyes out are the unnecessary quotation marks around "Speak English."

This is the typographic equivalent of airquotes. Ugh! Cheesy! This practice must be stopped -- along with such disrespect for people who are learning English. We wonder how many languages he could order a cheesesteak sandwich in....

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Ahoy! Politicians Who Care about Grammar!

Can you imagine American politicians getting all hot and bothered about grammar? Too bad these government ministers are halfway around the world.

This comes from The Malawi Nation:

Health Minister Marjorie Ngaunje and Deputy Minister of Irrigation and Water Development Frank Mwenefumbo on Thursday went to town on fellow parliamentarian Gerald Mponda (Independent) on grammar basics.

But MP for Nkhotakota Central Clement Stambuli (UDF) bemoaned the development, saying there are some Cabinet ministers who also cannot construct
proper sentences in English and that it was unfair to pick on one MP only.

Mponda, who is also UDF MP for Blantyre South West, stood on a point of order, informing Education Minister Anna Kachikho that the problem of lack of educational materials was common in most schools throughout the country.

Mponda, in his remarks, mixed up singulars and plurals like ‘has’ and ‘have’, a development that prompted Ngaunje to express worry over the way the MP was ‘misplacing’ some words.

Ngaunje told the House she was worried with the way Mponda was applying grammar, saying the MP was using plurals instead of singulars and vice versa.

Stambuli said considering that the Queen’s language is not the legislators’ mother tongue, it was not right to rebuke the MP, saying some members of the Executive have problems with sentence construction.

Stambuli then warned the government side to watch out, as the opposition would be on the look out for those who would “murder the Queen’s language.”

SPOGG confesses, meanwhile, to needing to look up the location of Malawi.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Another Apostrophe Catastrophe

Look closely at the quote in white. There's a possessive where a plural belongs, giving Philip Roth fodder for Portnoy's Complaint 2: The Senile Years. (Click to enlarge cover)

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Breaking the Rules

From the movie, "Finding Forrester:"

— Paragraph three starts with a conjunction, "and." You should never start a sentence with a conjunction."
— Sure you can.
— No.
— It's a firm rule.
— No.
— It was a firm rule. Sometimes using a conjunction at the start of a sentence ... makes it stand out. And that may be what the writer's trying to do.
— And what is the risk?
— Doing it too much. It's a distraction and could give your piece a run-on feeling.
— But the rule on using "and" or "but" at the start of a sentence is pretty shaky. Even though it's still taught by too many professors. Some of the best writers have ignored that rule for years, including you.
This reminds us why we loved this movie. Rules can be a wonderful thing for consistency and clarity. But for art's sake, those who know what they're doing must break them!

The Kid's Gonna Be All Right

Please remind people that there is NO SUCH WORD as "alright." It's another one of those words that is cropping up more and more, used by people who don't know any better. I fear, in fact, that some lexicographers are throwing in the towel on this one and including it in some new editions of the dictionary as a "non-standard" alternative to "all right." Arrrrgh! What is the world coming to? — Kathy

Dear Kathy,

Consider it done. And for those who use the dictionary as a permission slip: a non-standard word (think "irregardless") is the verbal equivalent of wearing your underwear as a hat. You can get it over your head (hey, eye holes!). But it looks pretty silly.

P.S. This Web site is a museum of sorts for people who wear underwear hats. Long live the Internet.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006


Would you please explain the difference(s) between the verbs to wake and to awake/awaken? I am not even sure what the infinitive of the latter is, so I am certain that I have misused it. Thanks. JS
Dear JS:

The Awakening is a Robin Williams movie. A wake is the party one has after a funeral.

Oh, but we jest. And not very well, we fear (look, it's been a hard week — we're packing up for a move).

In the literal sense, you may use whichever verb you choose. Both verbs refer to that miserable part of the day when one is ripped from slumber. Not that anyone asked, but we haven't slept past 6 a.m. in years because our household is plagued with small children. If you are speaking figuratively, however — say, you have come to understand that life with a two-year-old and a five-year-old is murder on the REM cycle — then you must used "awakened."

For such questions, we love our dictionary. There are several good ones online; our most frequent source (in no small part because they pay us and our friends work there) is Encarta.

Monday, June 05, 2006

SPOGG has a question for you...

What would the grammar guide of your dreams contain?

Please write to us at info AT

Thank you,

Massachusetts vs. Shakespeare


Perhaps the great minds of SPOGG can help me resolve a question I've been considering for some time. I regularly travel the Massachusetts Turnpike. At irregular intervals, signs have been posted urging tired drivers to take a break:


What's interesting to me is the spacing of the last line. It appears that the sign orignally read FOR SAFETY'S SAKE and was later corrected, probably after an irate motorist called the Turnpike Authority's signage department and accused them, in complete and gramatically correct sentences, of getting it wrong.

If there is such a thing as a "gut feeling" about grammar and punctuation, mine tells me that "for safety sake" is awkward and "for safety's sake" would be preferable. However, this doesn't seem to be consistent with "for goodness sake," and I can only assume Shakespeare got it right when he coined the phrase. If the structure remains constant and only the noun is replaced, then "for goodness sake" (for the sake of goodness), "for safety sake" (for the sake of safety) or even "for chocolate ice cream sake" (for the sake of chocolate ice cream, a cause everyone surely can support) would be correct.

Can you help me and the other motorists on the Massachusetts Turnpike? For grammar sake? For grammar's sake?

With thanks,


Great Scott!

SPOGG now takes aim at Massachusetts. The sign should, indeed, read "for safety's sake."

Your question, however, contains multitudes. We are giddy with all we could write on the topic.

Shakespeare did originate the phrase "for safety's sake," as well as many others (see the list).

SPOGG hereby dubs Shakespeare "The Father of the Cliche." We mean this as a compliment. He said so many things so well, that many writers since have copied him, often without even knowing. See if you can go an entire day without repeating one of Shakespeare's now-hackneyed phrases. It's not easy!

But, getting back to the topic of safety's sake. Just because our modern edition of Henry IV renders it correctly doesn't mean that's how Shakespeare wrote it. Shakespeare was far from consistent in his spelling. He even spelled his own name several different ways.

"Zounds!" one might say, "Does that mean the greatest writer in the world couldn't spell?"

Perhaps. We don't know. We can't, as he lived in an age before spelling had been standardized. This no doubt gave the people copying his work fits. What did he mean to write? It's not a surprise that standard spellings have taken root. They help keep our meaning clear.

But that's the best correct spelling can do. The real art of writing doesn't require standardized spelling. Nor is it hampered by irregularities of phrase or form. As Shakespeare's legacy of cliches proves, creativity outlasts rules of grammar and spelling.

And for that, SPOGG is glad.

Fun links:
Learn to swear like Shakespeare

Wikipedia: Shakespeare lived before standardized spelling

Shakespeare can't spell 'original'

Sunday, June 04, 2006

The Mile-High Grammar Club?


I love the website and the fresh, tongue-in-cheek approach you take to the subject of grammar. Recently a couple of things came to my attention that you might want to post in your blog.

The first has to do with apostrophe catastrophes. I know you've addressed the subject before, but when the New York Times uses apostrophes to make abbreviations and numbers plural not once but seven times in one piece, it seems too good to pass up.

The second concerns the epidemic of businesspeople saying utilize when all they mean is use. While perhaps not grammatically incorrect in the strictest sense of the word, this practice seems to be another case of carelessly throwing in extra syllables in order to sound impressive. My understanding is that the word utilize carries a connotation of having found a novel or more efficient use for someone or something. To talk about utilizing Excel to build spreadsheets or utilizing Photoshop to edit images seems a bit pretentious. By the way, it should be noted that George Carlin discusses this topic in his book When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops?, published by Hyperion Books.

Finally, I'll leave you with a question. A couple of years ago I noticed that flight attendants, when making their announcements, started saying, "Welcome on board," rather than the more familiar, "Welcome aboard." Has someone discovered a grammatical error that flight attendants have been committing for the better part of the last century, or is this just a shift in preference?

Dear Our New Favorite Fan,

So many great points and questions.

1) The New York Times is on our list. Their "style" is to use apostrophes where none belong — 1980's, for example. When we have time, they will receive a letter from us urging them, in the strongest possible language, to revise their style to eliminate apostrophe catastrophes.

2) You are correct; use and utilize have different meanings. Here is what Encarta's dictionary recommends:

utilize or use?

means "make use of something, or find a practical use for something" and so is more specific than use. Utilize is more common in technical contexts: The device utilizes a special plug-in connection. It can also refer to using things in unusual or unintended ways, as a more formal equivalent of "make use of": When the fan belt broke they had to utilize a leather belt. In business jargon and in other contexts, utilize is often found when the meaning intended is simply "use," a use that should be avoided: Successful applicants will be able to use [not utilize] their skills and experience in this field.

3) Flight attendants are expert at serving beverages at high altitudes. They also do a fine job demonstrating seatbelt-fastening techniques. We also marvel at their ability to fly all day long and not end up looking like they've been dragged behind a bus. We can't do this ourselves, and believe us, we've tried. But one should not look to the average flight attendant for excellent grammar. It's just not in the job description.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Fox Sports, Did You Take Your Pills?

From Fox Sports:

"Kelly Jennings started 41 games at Miami and instantly impacts the Seattle defense as a nickel back instantly. And it wouldn't shock me if he started at some point soon. And with Bryce Fisher and Grant Wistrom not getting any younger, Darryl Tapp from Virginia Tech was a very cerebral selection at the end of round 2."

Exhale. What can we say about this crazy little bit of writing? Did the author overdose on Red Vines and Mountain Dew? Or did he maybe see a cheerleader flash some nipple? He's clearly excited beyond reason, and it shows in his prose.

1) Only one instantly is necessary;
2) At some point soon? Soon says the same thing in one-quarter the word-count.
3) Not getting any younger: That whoop-whoop sound you hear is our cliche alarm, ringing.
4) A very cerebral selection: Is this a tortured way of saying, "a smart pick"?
5) Should be round two. Write out numbers one through nine.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Eight Feet in Our Mouth?

Kimberly H. reports that the plural form of octopus has taken a beating at the hands of the Roman invaders. Then there's this, from the Oxford English Dictionary site:

"English words of Latin or Greek origin have rather unpredictable plurals, and each one usually depends on how well established that particular word is. It may also depend on whether the Latin or Greek form of the plural is either easily recognizable or pleasant to the speaker of English.

Although it is often supposed that octopi is the 'correct' plural of octopus, and it has been in use for longer than the usual Anglicized plural octopuses, it in fact originates as an error. Octopus is not a simple Latin word of the second declension, but a Latinized form of the Greek word oktopous, and its 'correct' plural would logically be octopodes.

Other words ending in -us show a very varied pattern. Like octopi, the plural hippopotami is now generally taken to be either funny or absurdly pedantic, and the usual plural is hippopotamuses. Common usage appears to indicate a slight preference for termini rather than terminuses, but syllabuses rather than syllabi. Other usual forms include cacti and gladioli, and our files at the dictionary department show scarcely any examples of nucleuses or funguses. (Omnibi is simply a joke, and quite ungrammatical in Latin!)

Among words ending in -um it seems worth drawing attention to the word curricula, plural of curriculum, and warning against confusion with the adjective curricular (as in extra-curricular)."

SPOGG firmly believes one can be both funny AND absurdly pedantic. So there!

Thursday, June 01, 2006

A Message from Hotmail

Account Temporarily Unavailable

We apologize, but your account is temporarily unavailable. This delay does not affect the entire site or result from any problem specific to your account; however, the server that holds your account information is temporarily unavailable. We do not expect this delay to last much longer, so please continue to check our site for your account status. We will do our best to make your account available as quickly as possible. We appreciate your support, and sincerely apologize for the inconvenience.

But do you apologize for depriving your sentence of proper punctuation marks, Hotmail? Do you? DO YOU?

In An Octopus's Garden... with a Dictionary


I was in the library in the children's section, and noticed a book containing the non-word "octopuses" in the title. I brought it to the attention of the librarian. She looked up the plural of the word octopus in the Webster's dictionary. It listed octopuses along with the correct form of the word, which is octopi. Are we getting so lax with the teaching of proper grammer that we are including the improper forms in the dictionary because they are used commonly?
Dear Momx4,

In a word, yes. We were driving home recently when we read a sign advertising a university that said, "Education doesn't happen in stadiums."

We nearly crashed our chariot. Technically, the correct plural is "stadia." But it's so commonly misused that even institutes of allegedly higher learning now get it wrong on their billboards.

Dictionaries do evolve to reflect how people actually use language. This is tough on well-starched types who know their grammar, but SPOGG understands the merits of this. Consider certain battles to be lost. Meanwhile, the war for correctness must rage on, or before we know it, "irregardless" will be considered acceptable English.