Sunday, December 30, 2007

Yahoo! That's Harsh

Xavier D. sent the text of the message Yahoo! sends its discussion group administrators when people ask to join.

Apparently, Yahoo! has software that automatically kills applicants if the group administrator doesn't intervene in two weeks. Either that, or they have the pronoun problem properly known as an ambiguous antecedent.

Here's their language:
Pending members require your approval. If you take no action, they will automatically expire after 14 days.

The "they" appears to apply to pending members, which makes us wonder what sort of automatic death might occur... sudden cardiac arrest? Futuristic disintegration? Total petrification?

Of course, they probably meant the requests would expire after 14 days. That would have been a good thing to write.

We Like Dessert, But...

This comes from the New York Times:

This year celebrities seemed incapable of limiting their misdeeds to isolated bad choices: a flop movie, a regrettable interview quote, an on-air feud with Rosie O’Donnell. At times, their behavior was flat-out abnormal. If you were hoping to see your least favorite Hollywood princess fall on her crown, 2007 provided a parade of tempestuous starlets shaving heads (Ms. Spears), crashing sports cars (Lindsay Lohan) and checking into rehab (Ms. Spears and Ms. Lohan) or prison (Paris Hilton).
If your taste in just desserts ran more esoteric, the displays of personal collapse available on the Internet were downright Dada-esque: you could watch the former television action hero David Hasselhoff splayed across the floor of his hotel room while eating a hamburger; see Vanessa Hudgens, the squeaky-clean star of “High School Musical 2,” posing in the nude; or hear Alec Baldwin haranguing his 11-year-old daughter in a profane voice mail message that could have come straight out of “Glengarry Glen Ross.”
It's not just desserts. It's just deserts--as in, what you deserve. Which is probably not dessert, if you're a misbehaving celebrity.


We found this in a Jerusalem Post article about the grammar software called WhiteSmoke:

"WhiteSmoke is to text what a calculator is to math," she says.

It's an apt analogy; can you imagine trying to figure out how much to tip in a restaurant or a cab without a calculator? Course not; [THIS SEMICOLON SHOULD HAVE BEEN A COMMA] and users of WhiteSmoke say it's hard to imagine how they wrote business letters without the software as well.
People really think calculating a tip is unimaginable without the help of a calculator? Oy. We thought tip calculators were just a Seinfeld joke.

Still, we're not going to discard the analogy entirely. If people memorized basic math facts--and basic rules of grammar--then they could imagine functioning confidently in everyday tasks without technological assistance. Imagine how freeing that would be....

Friday, December 28, 2007

Too Sad for Words

Here's a holiday tragedy made slightly worse by the Vizzini in it:

Man arrested in fatal hit-and-run crash in Taunton, Mass.

TAUNTON, Mass. -- A New Bedford man who turned himself in to police faces charges in the hit-and-run death of a 13-year-old boy in Taunton.

The police said the victim was slowly peddling a bicycle along the side of Poole Street just after midnight Thursday when he was struck and killed by the 1995 Ford Explorer.

A friend who was on foot escaped injury and helped police identify the vehicle, which took off after the accident.

The police said 31-year-old Craig Bigos turned himself in about 14 hours later, after media outlets broadcast a description of the vehicle.

Bigos was scheduled to be arraigned today on charges of motor vehicle homicide, leaving the scene of an accident, operating to endanger and driving without a license.

The victim's name was not released, but Taunton Schools Superintendent Arthur Stellar said the boy attended Friedman Middle School, where he was a good student and very popular.

-- The Associated Press

It's pedaling, not peddling. One means to ride with feet; the other, to sell.

Thanks, Tasha R., for the find.

Spelling Tips for Textual Intercourse

We saw this in the Houston Chronicle and wanted to pass this along to all our single friends. It's no longer enough to be HWP NS/ND. Now, you must be able to spell to be spellbinding:

RELATIONSHIPS WITH WHIT: Dating while under in-text-ication
Copyright 2007 Houston Chronicle

When a friend of mine left her marriage, she took the knives. She also took the crystal vase, the pictures and the kitschy set of cow-shaped salt and pepper shakers. But when her husband discovered that "she toke the William Sonoma copper sauce pan," well, that was the end.

At least that was what her ex wrote to her in a spate of e-mails itemizing exactly what was missing from their home (that she apparently took, err, "toke") upon their parting of ways.

My friend's ex-husband's spelling of took throughout the aforementioned e-mail spelled out something very clearly — they were not meant for each other. They were only married for a year. That was 10 years ago for her, but had it occurred today, all that misspelled e-mail would have "toke" place via texting.

A chef that's doneIt seems the single spelling gods must be laughing. My misspelling misadventures had just begun with that story. Fast forward a few years to New York where I dated a dashing and charming reality-show chef who sent out an invite to his 40th birthday reading: "Your invited to my ... " I then noticed a slew of his past text messages. There it was, an abundance of possessives where contractions were needed. In fact, he cooked up quite an alphabet soup of spelling with "your" and "you're" and "there," "their" and "they're." But it was the "to" that was too much to keep the two of us together.


Whitney Casey's tips for textual intercourse:

  • Your — possessive of you, e.g. your car, your dress, your spelling. (shorthand Ur)
  • You're — Contraction of you are, e.g. You're happy. You're a bad speller. (shorthand U r)
  • There — A place
  • Their — Possessive showing ownership, e.g. their car, their dictionary
  • They're — Contraction of they and are, e.g. They're not good spellers.
  • To — A preposition links nouns, pronouns and other phrases to the sentence.
  • Too — An adverb meaning also or excessively, e.g. too many misspellings.
  • A lot — Two words, a and lot meaning many.
  • Never end a sentence with the preposition at. "Where are you?" not "Where are you at?"
  • And, of course, took is never spelled toke (unless you are doing just that — taking a toke!)

Thursday, December 27, 2007

From the Irony Department

Sometimes, no further comment is necessary.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

A Dictionary for Martha

'Tis no longer the season—or year—for Martha Stewart jokes, but she brought a bit of this on herself by describing what she did in the hoosegow:

Martha built nativity scene in prison

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The Christmas season brought Martha Stewart one fond memory of her stay in a West Virginia prison.

On the Christmas Day episode of her television show, Stewart showed off ornate clay forms of the baby Jesus, Joseph, Mary, three camels and others she sculpted at a pottery class at the Federal Prison Camp in Alderson, W.Va.

"Even though every inmate was only allowed to do one a month, and I was only there for five months, I begged because I said I was an expert potter - ceramicist actually - and could I please make the entire nativity scene," she said.

Her creations were all fired and glazed at the prison. She completed the effect with tiny artificial palm trees imported from Germany by a New Jersey distributor.

Stewart was imprisoned in 2005 for lying about her sale of ImClone stock.

It would have been fine for her to call herself a potter. "Ceramicist," though, isn't the preferred alternative. That would be "ceramist." Leave it to Martha Stewart to make things more complicated, though. For the record, her recipe for pear tart works just as well without the splash of $28/bottle pear brandy.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

How Can Our Childrens Learn?

That's the question, when they get tests like these:
WASHINGTON -- Whoever created the practice take-home tests given to some elementary students this week could use some spelling lessons themselves.

Some parents noticed that the practice materials sent home with their children had spelling mistakes -- such as the word "device," mistakenly spelled with an "s" as "devise."

The name of a boy in a reading practice section was also spelled inconsistently. Gina Arlotto is the mother of a third-grader, and she called the blunders to the attention of administrators. Arlotto said her child was confused by the spelling differences.

Parents and teachers said that some teachers sent home notes pointing out the mistakes, and others said they were told to administer them anyway.

Arlotto said she got an e-mail from the new chief of teaching and learning for the school system, Sherry Ulery, apologizing and explaining that the original draft was sent to the printer instead of the final copy.

Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee wrote in an e-mail that this was a "significant problem" and that they'd "do better next time."

On the bright side, the school district did take responsibility for the errors.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Love Means Never Having to Be Grammatical

Sue has sent us a couple of howlers from a romance title she's been reading: SNOWBOUND WITH MR. RIGHT by Judy Christenberry.

On p. 96, [Hunter said,] "You know, when you're inside, you forget how cold it is out here." His breath stood out in the night air. [We've heard of bad breath. But breath so bad it stands all by itself? Gross!]

Later (p.147), Hunter and Sally were talking about the town Christmas Festival, and Hunter said he'd really enjoyed it. Part of Sally's response was, "There were several families who got toys for their children and clothes." [Those lucky toys, getting clothes.]

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Emoticons: A Love Story

This week we've melted a bit for two sets of amusing emoticons: one sent by the wit Craig Conley; the other, discovered in our latest issue of The New Yorker.

Craig's submission, from, is what he calls dingbats for dingbats. They're what logically follows the steroid-abuse denoting asterisk in the stats books:

Baseball's record books shall be besmirched no more. Or rather, the achievements therein shall be properly labeled. An asterisk for steroids. Yes. Of course. But how can that single dingbat suffice to explain away more than a century of exploitation, chicanery, and all-around evil doing? Fear not, fans of our Great Pastime, YFSF is here to supply you with a comprehensive system of annotation to illuminate the skeletal closets of the national game.


* = Steroids
! = Amphetamines
$ = Gambling
= Cocaine
~ = Alcohol

The New Yorker's list give us a useful shorthand for reporting news of the war in Iraq:

Emoticons During War Time

:-) No new attacks reported today.

:-( New attack reported today.

=:-)= This e-mail is being monitored by Uncle Sam for your protection.


The Difference a Hyphen Makes

We found this headline in today's paper:

Arrest in student-porn actress' death
We're not porn conoisseurs, but we do not believe there is such a thing "student" porn. There are student teachers, yes. And there is amateur porn as well as professional porn. But student porn? We don't think so. Yet, this is what the hyphen indicates. When two words are linked by a hyphen, they modify the noun that follows. In this case, they imply she was an actress in student pornography.

The punctuation mark the editors should have used was the slash. She was both a student and a porn actress. A student/porn actress, if you will.

What a sad story.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Cousins, Don't Try This at Home!

Oops! Where was the copyeditor here? They're just lucky "" isn't a porn site ( used to be--ewww).

Web post reunites cousins after 70 years

COCONUT CREEK, Fla. -- Two South Florida sisters are catching up with their Russian cousin after 70 years apart. Ossie Rasher, 81, and Sophia Altfeld, 78, last saw their cousin Rosalie Berkovich, 80, in 1937 when the sisters fled to the United States with their parents.

The families lost track of each other until decades later, when Berkovich's relatives tracked down the two sisters using a family tree posted on

Berkovich flew from her home in Acton, Mass., for a reunion Friday night at Altfeld's home in Coconut Creek. They are also planning for a larger family reunion.

For now, the three are catching up by exchanging family photos and stories of life journeys.
It's genealogy, people.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Worth Its Weight in Gold

Interest in finding an ancient book of Turkish grammar is so high, a writers' association is willing to pony up 1,000 golden coins for it. Fascinating!

Efforts to find first Turkish grammar book accelerated

The Eurasia Writers' Association (AYB) is trying to find early Turkic linguist Mahmud al-Kashgari's long-lost Turkish grammar book, Kitabu Cevahirü'n Nahv Fi Lughat al-Turk, which is believed to be the first grammar book on the Turkish language.

The association announced over the weekend that the person to find the book would be awarded with 1,000 Cumhuriyet golden coins -- a haul worth around YTL 226,000. The chairman of the association, Yakup Deliömeroğlu, told reporters that the association has announced 2008 as "the Year of al-Kashgari," marking the 1,000th anniversary of his birth. Deliömeroğlu added: "We know that the book exists, however, no one has seen it so far. We hope that this book turns up like the Diwan ul-Lughat al-Turk (Collection of Turkic words), thus contributing to our cultural heritage."

Read on...

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Sometimes, Grammar is the Least Important Thing

We saw a listing for an unusual piece of jewelry (thanks to Barbara Card Atkinson for the tip).

It's a ring. Made--somehow, mysteriously--from a man's most private bits. Here's his headline, verbatim:
Its my scrotum made into a ring seriously
We could correct this grammar, of course. If we did, it would read, "It's my scrotum, made into a ring. Seriously." But that would be a bit like rearranging doilies in a burning house. It wouldn't fix the deeper problem—namely, that the artist thinks anyone would want to wear a ring made from the scrotum-print of a stranger who might be several noodles short of spaghetti, judging by his grammar.

Here's his big sales pitch:
This ring is both a work of art and a great conversation piece. Please feel free to contact me if you would like more details.
We get the work-of-art thing. We're sure he worked hard on it, and it is an innovative use of materials. We do not, however, want more details, as we can imagine they would involve the words "tiny hairs," "hot wax" and "excruciating tinglies."

Nor would we want our conversations to revolve around such things. In our experience, if you want to end a conversation or a blog post—say scrotum.

See? It works.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

There, There...

This news item from MSN Music gave us a pang—and not because it's about the death of Ike Turner (we're on Tina's side). Rather, it's the appearance of the wrong their:
But over the years they're genre-defying sound would make them favorites on the rock 'n' roll scene, as they opened for acts like the Rolling Stones.
It's since been edited. But still. It hurt our eyes for hours afterward.

Thanks to Carrie B. for sending it.

The Apostrophe Protection Society

If members of the Apostrophe Protection Society were to happen across this Web site, they just might die.

Kelly F. sent it our way; here's an excerpt from the site's navigation:

- Auction Designing Service's

- Personal Website Designing Service's

- Website Designing Service's
What's with using an apostrophe to make a plural? It's just a mystery why some people do this. In the site owner's defense, though, she was at least consistent.

Friday, December 07, 2007

The Grammar Defense

The Arkansas Democrat Gazette carries an interesting story today about a woman denying her alleged role in a $1 million mail-order scam. This could well be the first criminal defense based on punctuation and capitalization. One wrote a letter to her defense attorney:
In the letter, which is included with the motion, Henningsen denies being the Sharon Jeanette Henningsen listed in the criminal complaint, noting that she now hyphenates Sharon-Jeanette and separates her first name from her last with a semicolon. She also claims that the complaint, which spells her name in all capital letters, does not refer to her.

“I learned in first-grade grammar that proper names have the first letter capitalized and the remaining letters in lower case,” the letter states. “Your DEFENDANT is not me, according to the rules of grammar.” Henningsen claims that Neal shouldn’t represent her because he has a conflict of interest, and she declines any legal representation.

“Based on my research, and as there is no contract between Sharon-Jeannette; Henningsen and Barry Neal, I decline an attorney of any kind,” the letter states.

The rest of the story is here; our only question at this point is how do completely insane people get it together enough to steal a million dollars in the first place? Our grasp of punctuation, capitalization, and which end is up hasn't netted us nearly so much.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Conjunction Dysfunction

We're doing a little research for Encarta on presidential debates and famous zingers, and we came across this dysfunctional conjunction at the Commission on Presidential Debates:
DebateWatch is a voter education program of the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD). DebateWatch brings citizens like you together to watch the televised debates, talk about what you learned, and, if you choose to, share your reactions with the CPD.

The beauty of this program is its flexibility; anyone can participate including children, young adults, or retirees. DebateWatches can take place in high-profile televised venues with hundreds of people, or they can occur in people's living rooms with half a dozen neighbors.

What's with the "or"? It makes it sound as though either children OR retirees can participate, but not both. That's hardly the beautiful flexibility they're promising.

Take care with conjunctions. They're not interchangeable.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

They Were Wounded in the Wallet?

The grammar-challenged blogger Perez Hilton reports that Dennis Quaid is suing the makers of heparin after his infant twins were given an accidental overdose of the blood-thinning drug.

Hilton writes: "As a result of the accidental overdose, the papers claim, twins 'ZOE GRACE QUAID and THOMAS BOONE QUAID, suffered and will continue to suffer injuries of a pecuniary nature.'"

This word goof probably isn't Hilton's fault. He's just quoting the lawyers. As terrible as it is what happened to the Quaids and their babies, this is such a lawyerish sort of mistake, all dressed up in its fancy Latin toga.

Pecuniary means "relating to money" or "involving a financial penalty."

What the lawyer meant to say is that they were injured and deserve to be compensated for it. But instead, he reached for a Latin term he didn't really understand, and ended up suggesting that the babies had been hurt by money. They're too young for that; that sort of injury comes later, especially if you have to spend too much of the wrong sort of time with lawyers.

A Bad Spell for a Politician

The education minister in New Zealand is taking well-deserved knocks for sloppy e-mail. Yes, everyone does make errors. Still, a dozen, in one e-mail?

What's more, not everyone is the minister of education. If his constituents can't trust him to have paid attention in school—and to pay attention to what he's typing while he's representing their interests—then they have a right to be outraged. We should all expect excellence from our leaders. Their langauge, the doorway to their thoughts, is no exception.

Bad spell for education minister

Education Minister Chris Carter has been pinged for making more than a dozen spelling or grammatical errors in a short email to a persistent opponent of election funding law reform.

Mr Carter's spokeswoman confirmed yesterday he had written the mistake-ridden email.

However, she otherwise issued a blanket "no comment" on whether Mr Carter was a good speller, prone to making errors of grammar, or should set higher standards for students.

In the email to Simeon Brown, 16, Mr Carter spells the recipient's name "Simon", leaves out a question mark and full stops, spells "elsewhere" as two words, puts "your" instead of "you're" and commits the common error of putting an "e" after the "u" in argument.

It was one of three emails Simeon, a level 12 Correspondence School pupil, had received from Mr Carter. Another also contained errors.

"I'm not a perfect speller. One or two is acceptable, but 12 or 13 is getting crazy," Simeon said.

"There is something called a spellcheck and that would have got rid of a few of them."

Monday, December 03, 2007

Whither the Clichéd Adjective?

We came across this sentence this morning in a review of an album by American Idol runner-up Blake Lewis.

But then it's back to the song, which is so slick with cliché dramatics it might have been directed by Michael Bay ("Pearl Harbor" and "Transformers").
It should be clichéd dramatics. The word, which from the sound metal engraving stereotypes make when over and over as they strike the press, is a noun.

The Queen's English...Betrayed!

The Independent carries this anxious report on the future of English spelling outside England. We're guessing the queen won't be pleased:

The British media's rush to make a mark in Indian ink
For years, Indian newspapers and magazines were infatuated with their English counterparts. Now it is the Western press scrambling to get a foothold in the Indian market, says 'The Times of India''s Manu Joseph

In the largest fragment of the Commonwealth, the spelling of "colonise" has changed – to "colonize".

On 12 November, The Times of India took the first step towards breaking from a long tradition, with an official email instructing senior editors that all verbs ending with the British "ise" must now be changed to the American "ize". "That's the way forward," says Jaideep Bose, the executive editor of the paper, which has an average daily circulation of over 3.1 million.

"'Colour' has to be 'color'. 'Honour' has to be 'honor'. The world is moving towards American spelling. We are largely reading American books, American magazines. Indian children are taking American entrance exams. There is no good reason any more why we should stick to the British spelling."

This betrayal of the Queen's English endangers one of the only two enduring British traditions in India: spelling and keeping to the left of the road. Ironically, the change in spelling convention comes just as British media organisations are besieging the Indian market, seeking growth that is hard to find at home.

Read more:

Friday, November 30, 2007

More on Hypercorrection

This comes from Garner's Usage Tip of the Day:

Hypercorrection (3).
Part G: Unsplit Infinitives Causing Miscues. Writers who have given in to the most widespread of superstitions -- or who believe that most of the readers have done so -- avoid all split infinitives.

They should at least avoid introducing unclear modifiers into their prose. But many writers do introduce them, and the result is often a miscue or ambiguity -- e.g.: "Each is trying subtly to exert his or her influence over the other." Mark H. McCormack, What They Don't Teach You at Harvard Business School 26 (1984).

In that sentence, does "subtly" modify the participle "trying" or the infinitive "to exert"? Because we can't tell, the sentence needs to be revised in any of the following ways:

  1. "Each is subtly trying to exert his or her influence over the other,"
  2. "Each is trying to exert his or her influence subtly over the other,"
  3. "Each is trying to subtly exert his or her influence over the other," or
  4. "Each is trying to exert his or her subtle influence over the
Part H: Unsplit Verb Phrases. A surprising number of writers believe that it's a mistake to put an adverb in the midst of a verb phrase. The surprise is on them: every language authority who addresses the question holds just the opposite view -- that the adverb generally belongs in the midst of a verb phrase. The canard to the contrary frequently causes awkwardness and artificiality -- e.g.: "I soon will be calling you." (Read: "I will soon be calling you.")

Part I: Prepositions Moved from the Ends of Sentences. "That is the type of arrant pedantry up with which I shall not put," said Winston Churchill, mocking the priggishness that causes some writers and speakers to avoid ending with a preposition.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007


This is how former supermodel Janice Dickinson spells "pretentious." She claims to have a house full of dictionaries, and a 10-word-a-day learning plan.

We just thought you'd like to know.


This is Irony

A square named in honor of dictionary daddy Noah Webster features a mural with a spelling error. Whoops!

WEST HARTFORD, Conn. -- West Hartford's Blue Back Square opened to much fanfare earlier in the month, but is now being criticized for a spelling error.

The square is named after the "Blue Backed Speller," a book written by West Hartford's most famous resident -- Noah Webster, the author of the first American dictionary.

However, despite being named for an acclaimed speller, a mural in the square is marred by a spelling mistake.

The word "cemetery" is spelled with an "ary" on a mural depicting the town's Old Center Cemetery.

Channel 3 Eyewitness News reporter Aleesha Chaney reported that the mural is located feet from a Noah Webster statue and next door to the Noah Webster Memorial Library.

Developers said that they are aware of the error and plan to correct it by the beginning of the year.

Ah, Spellwrecker

The New Scientist will feature this article in its Dec. 1 issue:
IF YOU have ever received a document containing off-putting expressions such as "At your desecration" or "Sorry for the incontinence", then you have witnessed the havoc that can be wreaked by placing unthinking trust in spellcheckers. The problem is widespread enough to have acquired a name: the Cupertino effect.

Cupertino, a city in northern California, is home to computer giants Apple and Hewlett-Packard. It owes the dubious honour of sharing its name with a dumb error to the fact that some early spellcheckers flagged up the word "co-operation" if it was spelled without a hyphen. Type "cooperation," and they came up with the suggestion "Cupertino".

That problem was soon fixed, but a quick search of the UN website still turns up evidence of Cupertino carnage. There are references to the "South Asian Association for Regional Cupertino", "political, economic and trade Cupertino," and a "presentation on African-German Cupertino" - ...

It reminds us of when we were in college--not too far from Cupertino. The first Gulf War was in full swing, and we often carried stories about Saddam Hussein in the school newspaper. Spellchecker didn't know what to make of the name, and would inevitably suggest Sodomy Hussy.

Later, in our cub-reporter days, we had an editor who liked to spell-check and send, instead of reading stories. This could lead to interesting errors, so smart reporters always snuck into the production queue and read the stories after he touched them. Spellchecker once changed a source's name from "Wanda Coats" to "Panda Coats."

There's an eats, shoots and leaves joke in there somewhere, but we're too lazy to find it. Either that, or we're sodomy hussies. We can't decide.

But Never Octopussy...

We liked this entry today from Garner's Usage Tip of the Day:

Hypercorrection (1). Sometimes people strive to abide by the strictest etiquette, but in the process behave inappropriately. The same motivations can play havoc with language: a person will strive for a correct linguistic form but instead fall into error. Linguists call this phenomenon "hypercorrection" -- a common shortcoming. In the coming tips we'll look at some ways this happens.

Part A: False Latin Plurals. One with a smattering of Latin learns that in that language, most nouns ending in "us" have a plural ending in "i," so "fungus" forms "fungi." The trouble is that not all "us" words do end in "i," and traps abound for those trying to show off their sketchy knowledge. (Besides, the plain English plural is usually better anyway.)

So the true Latin plural of "apparatus" is "apparatus," not "apparati" (but prefer "apparatuses"); and the Latin plural of "prospectus" is "prospectus," not "prospecti" (prefer "prospectuses"). Some trip over the "um" neuter nouns: the Latin plural of "forum" is "fora," not "fori" (prefer "forums"). Some "us" words now used as nouns were always verbs in Latin: "ignoramus" never formed a plural "ignorami," and as an English formation the plural is "ignoramuses." And some Greek words are mistaken for Latin ones: the Greek plural of "octopus" is "octopodes," not "octopi" (prefer "octopuses").

Interestingly, if you search on Google, you will find more than 358,000 references to "octopi," 348,000 for "octopuses," and a mere 21,700 for "octopodes."

"Octopussy," the Bond movie, generates 116,000 results. Not too bad, for a creepy single-entendre.

The Angry Grammarian

He blogs here about the Second Amendment. The upshot? Even grammar nerds remain confused, though likely to cling to the clarifying (sort of) powers of the comma:

Eats, Shoots and Dies

Last week the Supreme Court decided to hear a Second Amendment case on the D.C. handgun ban, and it sent opponents scurrying for the battle lines. On one side, Charlton Heston, Ted Nugent and the militiamen of Pennsyltucky. On the other, grammarians.

This particular case, say the grammarians, reignites an age-old debate about how many commas are actually in the Second Amendment. The number of commas has the potential to dramatically change the meaning.

The handwritten copy at the National Archives reads: “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”

But lots of folks—including the official U.S. Government Printing Office—omit the first and third commas: “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

As University of Illinois English professor Dennis Baron wrote in the LA Times earlier this year, “The first comma in the Second Amendment signals a pause. At first glance, it looks like it’s setting off a phrase in apposition, but by the time you get to the second comma, even if you don’t know what a phrase in apposition is, you realize that it doesn’t do that.”

Instead, Baron says, “That second comma identifies what grammarians call an absolute clause, which modifies the entire subsequent clause.” Which basically means that the framers intended the Second Amendment to be about not guns, but militias.
Typically, the fewer commas the better, but with an argument this sound, we’ll hold onto commas like our lives depend on it.

When does a hyphen follow the word “well”? I’m always confused by this.

Don’t tell the militia, but the framers actually got this one wrong.

“Well” needs a hyphen whenever it’s part of a compound modifier (i.e., two words combining to modify the same noun): well-dressed man, well-known woman, well-written amendment. The only times compound modifiers don’t get a hyphen are after “very” and after any adverb ending in “-ly.” And when older interpretations are needed to talk down psycho right-wing gun nuts.


Monday, November 26, 2007

Let Freedom, um, Rain

We liked this essay from The Christian Science Monitor:

Reign in those vocal chords

The English language is a thing of wonder. But, alas, spellings that were once deemed incorrect have gained official acceptance.

By Robert Klose

I consider myself rather progressive in my political and social views. (Look to wind and waves for electrical power? Seems like a good idea to me!) But when it comes to the English language, I may very well be a fogy.

Recently, on National Dictionary Day, there was a report on the evening news about revisions being made by the Oxford University Press (OUP) to its American Oxford Dictionaries. In short, the spelling of many terms and expressions, long deemed incorrect, would now be listed as acceptable forms simply because a lot of people use them.

One example is "vocal cord." As a biology teacher, I've written this on the board so many times that I consider myself an expert on its spelling. However, the OUP tells us that many, many people write "chord." Therefore, "chord" has now been given the status of a bona fide spelling.

Another instance is "to rein in." I am not a horseman, but I've always understood that this refers to a rider's pulling back on the reins to either slow his steed or get it to stop. However, many people, it seems, like to write "reign." And so – poof! – this is now acceptable.

Read on...

Video Camera Technology We'd Like to See

Diana J. sends along this find today:
I was visiting our local (Eugene, OR) Jack-in-the-Box and noticed a sign that said, "This Premise Under Video Surveillance." As far as I know, a premise is a proposition supporting or helping to support a conclusion.

She's correct, of course. Premises is a plural noun that means building, part of a building, or in a legal context, "things stated at the beginning."

Sigh. This is what happens when people dig into their fancy-Latin-word bag and pull out the wrong thing. What's so bad about saying "This restaurant is under video surveillance"? Or even "You are being videotaped." Either is going to be more clear to the people who most need it: the sadsacks who can't figure out how to behave in a fast-food joint.

Still, we would like a video camera that would examine premises--the plural form of the singular noun premise. It would be nice if a camera let us know when someone, a politician, maybe? is making a bad argument.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Hypermammifery, hyphens

Barry L. alerted us this morning to an interesting bit on Contact Music. The actress Salma Hayek credits her bountiful bosom to a benediciton before God.

While it's perhaps a shame she didn't think to ask for world peace when the almighty was listening, we're frankly more aghast at the inappropriate hyphen between flat and chest.

Let nothing come between us and our flat chest, we say!
Mexican actress SALMA HAYEK was so upset by childhood jibes about her flat-chest, she would pray to God for larger breasts. The Ugly Betty star reveals she was bullied for having small breasts as a youngster - and decided to turn to her Catholic religion for help. She says, "My mom and I stopped at a church during a road trip we were making from our home in Mexico. "When we went inside, I prayed for the miracle I wanted to happen. I put my hands in holy water and said: 'Please God, give me some breasts'. "And he gave me them! Within a few months, I developed a growing spurt, as teenagers do, and I was very pleased with the way I grew outwards."

Monday, November 19, 2007

Facebook: the Enemy of SPOGG

OK, so we're not really enemies--yet. That said, the grammar on the newsfeed there is atrocious. See the attached screenshot, sent by Mr. SPOGG.

(You might have to click to enlarge the image.)

The Fountain of Youth

Well, isn't this interesting? We're not sure it lives up to the headline, but it does reveal something noteworthy about spelling: that it can be an indicator of how your brain will age.
Secret of staying youthful is in your spelling
Poor spellers get worse at spelling as they get older, whereas good spellers don't. That's according to Sara Margolin and Lise Abrams who are reported by the British Psycological Society as saying that being a good speller appears to afford people protection from the detrimental effect that getting older can have on spelling ability.

The spelling ability of 64 healthy younger participants (aged 17 to 24 years) and 64 healthy older participants (aged 61 to 91 years) was tested by asking participants to say whether words presented to them were spelt correctly or not, or by asking them to write out the correct spelling of words that were spoken to them.

Among the younger participants, the half who scored higher in the spelling tests were categorised as good spellers; the half with lower scores were categorised as poor (i.e. a median split). The same good/poor split was also applied among the older group members.

Margolin and Abrams found that the older good spellers were just as good at spelling as the younger good spellers, but crucially, the older poor spellers were significantly worse at spelling than the younger poor spellers.

"...these results suggest that being a poor speller is especially problematic in old age, where ageing compounds the existing problems caused by poor spelling," the researchers said.

Margolin and Abrams went on to say that their finding raises some interesting questions for future research. "If being a poor speller compounds age declines in spelling, then the same principle may also apply to other cognitive processes," they wrote. "i.e. Do young adults with poorer memories exhibit more pronounced memory declines as they age than young adults with good memories?"

This comes from the British Psychological Society by way of Abeceder. Note: "spelt" is the British way to spell "spelled."

Caught by Bad Spelling!

November 19, 2007

WHEN an old man came to them asking about a family treasure, the experts at the British Museum were glad to help.

But when George Greenhalgh, 84, hinted that he would be willing to let go of the 2,700-year-old Assyrian stone frieze for £500,000 ($1.5m), the museum staff got suspicious.

They inspected the carving of a bearded horseman leading two steeds, and found that something was wrong with the way the harnesses were drawn, reported The Independent.
More importantly, there was a spelling mistake in the ancient Mesopotamian writing.

The piece was a clever fake.

This discovery was promptly reported to Scotland Yard, and an 18-month investigation was launched.

The detectives were astonished to find that Greenhalgh, his wife, Olive, 83, and their 47-year-old son Shaun, an antiques dealer, were at the heart of a huge fake art scam.

The Greenhalgh's home was filled with a collection of carefully faked treasures, made from original materials like Egyptian glass and Roman silver, and given extensive fake histories based on detailed research.

The 120 pieces found would have brought in an estimated £10 million in total if they had been sold at market prices.


Still, aren't there any examples of spelling errors in ancient works? Or were sculptors better proofreaders than we are?

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Whom Shall We Blame?

The Seattle Times today is reporting on the case of the "Hoody [sic] Bandit."
A man nicknamed the "Hoody Bandit" for his propensity of wearing hooded sweat shirts and masks while committing robberies in King and Snohomish counties
struck again Wednesday, police said.
It's HOODIE. That's an IE, not a Y, on the end. Check the Oxford English Dictionary, which lists:

hoodie, n. A hooded sweatshirt, fleece, or other garment.

1990 R. DOYLE Snapper (1993) 130 They heard cloth ripping.You're after ripping me hoodie. 1994 i-D Oct. 86/2 Those with bumpy areas...can look forward to lurking fascinatingly beneath one of his striped velour hoodies. 2005 Daily Tel. (Nexis) 12 July 22 Members of this demographic wear the dodginess of their surroundings as a badge of honour on their Marks & Spencer hoodies.

There is, of course, hoody. It's a type of crow--which someone should be eating for giving a criminal a misspelled name. That's enough to give a robber a complex.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Punctuation Rap

SPOGG has a new favorite teacher: Ms. Lindsay Rivas of the University Charter School in Modesto, Calif.

Check out the punctuation rap she shares with her kindergarteners. We love it!

Punctuation Rap

Punk, Punk Punctuation
Punk, Punk Punctuation

Paulie the period.Looks just a dot.
Every time you see her, You must stop!
Punk, Punk Punctuation
Punk, Punk Punctuation
Quincy question mark.
I wonder what he’ll do.
He’ s at the end of questions like
Where, what, or Who?
Punk, Punk Punctuation
Punk, Punk Punctuation
Collin the comma.
Looks like a hook.
Every time you see him
Slow down and look!
Punk, Punk Punctuation
Punk, Punk Punctuation
Lexi exclamation markis like WOW!
If your writin’ so excitin’ then put her in now!
Punk, Punk Punctuation
Punk, Punk Punctuation
Quinn and Queeny quotation marks.
They’re in groups of two.
Every time you see them
Talking is what they do.
Punk, Punk Punctuation
Punk, Punk Punctuation

Seema the Semi-Colon,
is a pause.
Who’s friends with 2 sentences.
She’s an independent clause.

Punk, Punk Punctuation
Punk, Punk Punctuation

Coaly the COLON,
has two dots.
She’s in between time and the introducer
to express your thoughts.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Yes, What *Does* This Mean?

The New York Times today has a story about the strict gun laws in Washington, D.C., which might soon come under review by the Supreme Court. One thing the Justices will consider is the meaning of the Bill of Rights statement described here:

A decision in 1939, United States v. Miller, held that a sawed-off shotgun was not one of the “arms” to which the Second Amendment referred in its single, densely written, and oddly punctuated sentence: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

We wouldn't call the punctuation odd. The syntax, however, is a mess. Did Yoda write it? We love to call him our Founding Father. May the Force be with us all.

I've Fenged My Shui

Mr. and Mrs. SPOGG spent the weekend painting the bedroom, only to realize they'd chosen a non feng-shui-approved color.

Bad Bedroom Feng Shui Tip # 6: Decorate you bedroom in dark, drury colors. For a splash of color, get creative with your halloween costumes and accessories.
At least they're just guessing it's non-approved, as "drury" is not in the dictionary.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

You Can Keep Your Hat On

This comes from the back of the Netflix envelope. It's an advertisement for "Pulse: Stomp Odyssey," (which, if you didn't know, is a dance routine). Apparently, this version features
"...hard hat-clad men strutting atop a mining platform."

We're guessing this rental is rated R. Had the men been wearing anything--hard hats, perhaps--it would have been spelled and hyphenated thus:
...hardhat-clad men...

Either way, we'd watch.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Banana Peels: Always Funny

The comedy potential of the banana peel remains fresh as ever, apparently. Kelly F. sends this find;

I was eating at the ice cream chain Marble Slab Creamery and caught a funny error. On a large commercially printed poster were the words "Freshly Pealed Banana". I was shocked that a national chain would have such an obvious misspelling.

Ah, but it is a misspelling? Or is the sound of "pealing" bananas an awful lot like cash register bells? OK, fine. It's just a bad misspelling. Even so, we're sort of hungry for ice cream now.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Typo Tee Hee Hee

Rachel sends this titillating typograhic nugget from Neil Gaiman's blog:

Neil Gaiman put this up on his journal today (he's involved with the movie), under the label "department of faintly amusing typographical errors:

"Angelina Jolie has admitted she was got a little shy when she saw her nude scenes in her latest film 'Beowulf.' The actress says although the nude scenes were stimulated, she was still a little embarrassed. 'I was a little shy,' she says. 'I was really surprised that I felt that exposed. There were certain moments where I actually felt shy – and called home, just to explain that the fun movie that I had done that was digital animation was, in fact, a little different than we expected.'"
-- from

Friday, November 02, 2007

Justin Timberlake and Rolling Stone

Xavier sends in an amusing misplaced modifier:

"It's like, I'm over myself. I'm sure a lot of other people are too." -- Justin Timberlake

The singer shared his thoughts on the approaching end of his tour with Rolling Stone.
As Xavier points out, the Trousersnake didn't tour with Rolling Stone, the magazine, or the Rolling Stones, the band.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

SPOGG Contest!

This Joe Biden quote comes from MSNBC:

SEN. BIDEN: I’m not running against Hillary Clinton. I’m running to lead the free world. I’m running to lead this country. And the irony is Rudy—Rudy Giuliani, probably the most underqualified man since George Bush to seek the presidency…. Rudy Giuliani. I mean, think about it. Rudy Giuliani. There’s—there’s [sic] only three things he mentions in a sentence: a noun and a verb and 9/11. I mean, there’s nothing else.
Hmm... a noun, a verb, and 9/11. Sounds like the makings of the first-ever SPOGG grammatical/political construct-0-matic sentence contest.

Which noun and verb best complete your 9/11 sentence? Send your nomination to

*Note... We will soon need to establish a category for things that are called ironic that aren't actually ironic. Ironic, isn't it?


We're just going to pick on the Associated Press today. That's all there is to it.

Check out the headline:

Elaborate prank leaves Oregon officers in custody of gnomes
The Associated Press

That sounds interesting, right? How'd those gnomes subdue the cops? Did they use weapons? Enchanted buttons? Flatulence?

Read on...

SPRINGFIELD, Ore. — A number of gnomes have taken sanctuary at the Springfield police station.

Somebody apparently collected 75 lawn ornaments from around town and then, on the night of Oct. 17, placed them meticulously on and around the lawn of one house.

Among the plastic and porcelain geese, deer and frogs are gnomes, such as a weather gnome outfitted with a rain gauge.

Police want to find the rightful owners.

"We need to get them out of here," Capt. Richard Harrison said. "Every time I leave my office they're sitting in my chair, working on my computer. I can't seem to get rid of the darn things."

There will be a public viewing Tuesday.

"If they come here and they can identify it," Harrison said, "we're more than happy to let the gnome go home."

After that the gnomes, and any other ornaments, will be sold at auction.

Oh... It's the other way around. The officers have the gnomes. Only flamingoes would care about that.

This is the trouble with stock expressions, like "in custody of." We get a little soft on what they mean, and sometimes use them in entirely the wrong way. This is what's happened to the expression "I could not care less." It morphed into "I could care less," which makes no sense. I could care less, only I don't care enough to care that little. What?

If you find yourself auto-inserting multiple-word expressions into your prose, stop. Make sure you're doing it right. Or someone might leave gnomes around your house in protest.

Semicolons: Why All the Hate?

We all do regrettable things when we're young, and in school. Patricia Bobek, however, might never live this one down:

Semicolons Sever the Spirit of a Sentence
Patricia Bobek / Columnist

Semicolons: What an absolute waste of punctuation. Who really uses the semicolon anymore? You do? Really? Well then: You are a square.

Talk about being something it’s not. Semicolons, you are not a colon: You do not introduce the logical consequence to the fact stated before or introduce a description. You are like the Donald Trump in a world full of people with hair. Just because you comb that little bit of hair forward, semicolon, doesn’t mean one day you will be caught in a disastrous wind and it won’t blow right off. Global warming is watching and waiting for you, semicolon. The jig is up.

Read more:

Seinfeld, with a Side of Irony

This comes from an Associated Press interview of Jerry Seinfeld:

To those who wish they saw him more, Seinfeld replies with his characteristic flare for language: "Me too, but I wonder if they would be willing to accept me being not good. I wish I could do more, too, but I can't do more as good, so I figure I'll do less, but good."
Read the story.

That would be a flair for language. And it should be "I'll do less, but well." Some flair...
Now that's some flair, Jennifer Aniston

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

A Really Bad Case of Blaming the Victim

We found this today on Defamer:

Accused of raping a woman he lured to the Bahamas, other women are now coming forward to tell of their own experiences being cherry-picked from David Copperfield's audiences for backstage Q & A and photographing sessions, with one sharing a (completely innocuous yet entirely creepy) voice mail left by the magician, proposing a "very interesting opportunity for you."

So these other women are now accused of rape? What? Oh, you're saying David Copperfield is the creepy one? That makes much more sense. Sort of...

Will the BBC Crack Down on Grammar?

Athough one critic says grammar-obsessives are nostalgic over-40 types, there are others who want the BBC to pay closer attention to the language and grammar of its newscasters.

Read on: Mind Your Language, Critics Warn BBC

Why the Grammar Errors in The New York Times?

One of their editors explains:

Q. What's with all the grammatical errors in the Times? I grew up hearing that I should polish my English grammar by reading the Times, but over the past couple of years I've gotten the impression that many of your writers must not even have graduated from high school!

Particularly striking is the number of errors relating to agreement between noun and verb, i.e. number errors.

Tell me there is hope for The Times. The rest of the country is sliding back to grade school output.

— Peter Kurz

A. I get versions of this question all the time, and I'm sure I'll see more this week, so I may as well try to tackle it now.

Often, as with Mr. Kurz's note, the question includes some variation of the everything-was-better-long-ago theme. Many readers believe that there were fewer factual errors, fewer typos, fewer grammatical lapses in The Times back in the old days. I honestly don't know if this is true, though the perception worries me. I do take a bit of comfort in the fact that I've been hearing similar complaints for all of the 17 years I've been at The Times. Or maybe things really were better up until 17 years ago, when I was hired, and it's been straight down since then. Now that really is something to worry about.

It's possible that there really are more mistakes now than there were 20 or 30 years ago. If so, I truly don't believe it's because today's writers or editors are less talented or conscientious than our predecessors. But I do think The Times today tries to do more than it did years ago. There is more late-breaking news, more variety of sections, topics and stories — and now, of course, there's the Web site, with constant updating of news and a whole new range of offerings. We also have more people handling all these tasks, but it may be that our effort to give readers more means that we fall short of perfection even more often than we once did.

Still, I'm not sure. I also think it's possible that we're making, on average, just about the same number of dumb mistakes we've always made, but that we all have a tendency to think that things were better way back when.

In any case, one thing is clear: we make a lot of mistakes. We make factual errors, which we try rigorously to correct in print and online. We misspell words, we have typos, and yes, sometimes our grammar is just awful. Some such mistakes are inevitable as we handle many tens of thousands of words every day, mostly on tight deadlines. But they should be rare, much rarer than they are. We're trying.

And believe it or not, we're happy to have readers who are sophisticated enough to notice when we slip, and who care enough to let us know.

The editor, Philip B. Corbett, will be answering questions all week.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Vizzini Alert: MSNBC

Ann B. sends this in:

Wildfires threaten stars’ Malibu homes
Suzanne Somers, Courteney Cox, Sean Penn among those effected by blaze (Read more...)

It's affected. Effect is usually a noun. Or, as a verb, it means to do or to make something (as in, to effect change).

Affect is almost always a verb, except in the case of psychological jargon. A person can have a "flat affect," which means he isn't lively.

This usage comes from the 19th-century German word "Affekt," which is a feeling associated with action--an emotion or mood associated with an idea or action, or the external expression of such a feeling. If you can't wrap your head around that definition, don't worry. You're not alone. And you'll generally be safe if you use effect as a noun, and affect as a verb.

SPOGG in The New York Times

Those of you who do not get to spend Sundays blackening your fingers on the pages of The New York times might be tickled to know our organization cropped up in Bob Morris's "Age of Dissonance" column.

You can read the whole story here:

And, in case you haven't yet downloaded your SPOGG membership card, you can do so here. You are entitled to flash it proudly wherever you see bad grammar in public places--particularly where people should know better.

Infected Prose (Eww!)

While reading a New York Times story about drug-resistant staph infections, we encountered two spelling errors:

What does CA-MRSA look like?
CA-MRSA is primarily a skin infection. It often resembles a pimple, boil or spider bite, but it quickly worsens into an abscess or puss-filled blister or sore. Patients who have sores that won’t heal or are filled with pus should see a doctor and ask to be tested for staph infection. They should not squeeze the sore or try to drain it — that can spread the infection to other parts of the skin or deeper into the body.

The word the author wanted was pus. Puss means cat. We would be worried about pus-filled wounds, and horrified with ones large enough to accommodate kitties.

What can I do to lower my risk of contracting MRSA?
Bathing regularly and washing hands before meals is just a start. Wash your hands often or use an antibacterial sanitizer after you’ve been in public places or have touched handrails and other highly trafficked surfaces. Make sure cuts and scrapes are bandaged until they heal. Wash towels and sheets regularly, preferably in hot water, and leave clothes in the dryer until they are completely dry. “Staph is a pretty hearty organism,’’ said Dr. Gerba.

It's hardy, not hearty. Hearty means sincere, lively, and enthusiastic. Only a staph infection's mother would use that word to describe it. Hardy, on the other hand, means robust.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Apparently, Pro Wrestlers Can't Spell

This comes from a review of a video that we'd like to see, if only for stuff like this:

Hornswoggle flees into the Diva’s Locker Room (note grammatical error!) and
emerges with someone’s bra. After another promo with the mysterious binary code
hyping the second coming of... someone, Hornswoggle dives under the ring. What
happens next is straight out of Looney Tunes: Coach pulls a detonator out with a
wire that runs under the ring. He pushes the plunger down once... nothing. A
second push... nothing. But when Coach goes under the ring to check things out,
Hornswoggle pushes the plunger and a big boom erupts from underneath the ring.
Coach staggers out, face and shirt blackened by smoke.

Female wrestlers wear brassieres! We never knew...

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Hyper Hyphens

This article in the New York Times uses some form of the word "hyphen" twelve times. And it's not even about grammar. We'd say we were hyphen-ventilating over it, but we're way above puns like that.

Grammar for Spammers

Sigh. As much as we'd like to receive a tax refund of $249.30, we know the IRS isn't in the business of making "annual calculations of ... fiscal activity."

We also would hope that phishers would be savvy enough to write idiomatic English. What does this mean? Note: Deliberate wrong inputs will be prosecuted by law.

It takes a lot of gall to e-mail out a sentence like this--especially because this sort of identity-theft scam is also "prosecuted by law."

After the last annual calculations of your fiscal activity we have determined that you are eligible to receive a tax refund of $249.30.

Please submit the tax refund request and allow us 3-6 days in order to process it.

A refund can be delayed for a variety of reasons. For example submitting invalid records or applying after the deadline. [SPOGG: Your sentence fragment pains us.]

To access the form for your tax refund, please click here [SPOGG: We will, if you use proper punctuation.]

Note: Deliberate wrong inputs will be prosecuted by law.

Internal Revenue Service

Friday, October 12, 2007

Don't Read This if Dirty Words Make You Cry & Barf

The New Republic ran a bracing essay on cursing this week, and the following passage is relevant to SPOGG. Apparently, one of our fearless political leaders has written a bill that misidentifies the parts of speech of some of our more common curse words. Check it out:
The first is the bone of contention in the Bono brouhaha: the syntactic classification of curse words. Ose's grammatically illiterate bill not only misspelled cocksucker, motherfucker, and asshole, and misidentified them as "phrases," it didn't even close the loophole that it had targeted. The Clean Airwaves Act assumed that fucking is a participial adjective. But this is not correct. With a true adjective like lazy, you can alternate between Drown the lazy cat and Drown the cat which is lazy. But Drown the fucking cat is certainly not interchangeable with Drown the cat which is fucking.

If the fucking in fucking brilliant is to be assigned a traditional part of speech, it would be adverb, because it modifies an adjective and only adverbs can do that, as in truly bad, very nice, and really big. Yet "adverb" is the one grammatical category that Ose forgot to include in his list! As it happens, most expletives aren't genuine adverbs, either. One study notes that, while you can say That's too fucking bad, you can't say That's too very bad. Also, as linguist Geoffrey Nunberg pointed out, while you can imagine the dialogue How brilliant was it? Very, you would never hear the dialogue How brilliant was it? Fucking.

Read the rest...

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

One Last Thing on Hyphens...

This comes from the New York Times:

Overall, hyphen looks like a minus
The New York Times

The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, the scaled-down, two-volume version of the mammoth 20-volume OED, just got a little shorter.

With the dispatch of a waiter flicking away flyspecks, the editor, Angus Stevenson, eliminated some 16,000 hyphens from the sixth edition, published last month. "People are not confident about using hyphens anymore," he said. "They're not really sure what they're for."

Flyspecks? Are these the new crumb? What kind of restaurants does Charles McGrath go to, that fly feces would adorn the tables?

We agree that hyphenating words like bumblebee is unpleasantly persnickety. And to insist on hyphenated distinctions between air conditioners and the air-conditioning they do is probably a sign of an overly uptight mind.

Still. Hyphens are elegant, necessary, and often quite fun. We can't say the same for fly poop.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

When Children Have Children

There's no other way to explain this sign: Babies must be having babies. Good thing they're staying in school, though.
Oh...wait... this is where parents drop off their kids? Not where parents are dropped off? We think we're going to go back to bed. School is just too hard these days.

Thanks to Jeff K. for the photo!

Someone Has a Sense of Humor

There's a new "reality" show called "America's Most Smartest Model."

See more here:

Ha! We might have to watch, just for the grammar error in the title.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Farther vs. Further: The 'Mostly' Rule

We enjoyed this bit of trivia today in James Kilpatrick's column:

The Court of Peeves, Crochets & Irks resumes its autumn assizes with a petition from Jeanne Schapper from Somewhere in Cyberspace. She asks for definitive guidance on "farther" and "further."

Every commentator on English usage has had a go at this one. Their advice boils down to an agreeable consensus: Use "farther" for concepts of distance, both literal and figurative. Use "further" for concepts of degree. Thus, Stern Father says to Willful Daughter, "Do not push my patience any farther!" She replies, "I will not impose upon your patience any further."
The court's rule is a "mostly" rule -- i.e., it works most of the time, but we're sailing here on a most uncertain sea.

The original word, many centuries ago, appears to have been "further." After a few years, some scribe misspelled it as "farther." It was a typographical error. People took sides. To this day the distinctions are better understood than explained. Let us move on.


Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Apparently, Married Women Are Harder to Impress

This bit of ambiguous spam arrived this morning:

You can impress every single girl with the size of your penis!

Does this mean it only works on single women? Or might this spammer have written, "You can impress all women with the size of your penis!"

Monday, October 01, 2007

Oh, the Irony

We notice this quote in a story this morning about a couple of newlyweds who put their wedding vows in a bottle and tossed them into the waves. The couple that found the message had been married on the same beach, and sent a letter to the newlyweds:
The letter read, "We thought you would want to know where your message in a bottle ended up! We picked it up on the beach between Pentwater and Silver Lake on Sept. 19. An ironic note, we were also married on the beach! Here in Michigan by Pentwater. Even more ironic, it was on August 18, 1979. We wish you both the best of luck in your new lives together."
The actual irony here is the use of irony. There is no irony in the situation whatsoever. Irony is incongruity, or where contradiction of some sort causes humor. The shared wedding dates are a coincidence.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Sochol Sukcs

Let's just say this is part of the "no childrens left behind" initiative.

Workers Repair Spelling Error At School Crossing
POSTED: 11:51 am EDT September 28, 2007

Seminole County officials scrambled to fix a typo on a roadway after a motorist informed them the word school was misspelled.

The error was reported along state Road 426 at Reed Road in Oviedo. School was misspelled as "scohol" and painted on the road to warn motorists they are entering a school zone.

Seminole County traffic engineers said the typo was to be repaired on Friday morning. Workers removed the error and placed a new warning with school spelled correctly.

Childrens Do Learn

But does [sic] grownups?

Cleaning up after Bush: It was 'childrens do learn'
By Mark Silva

The White House said today it will be sure to clean up the official transcript of the comment which President Bush made yesterday about education: “Childrens do learn.’’

The problem is that White House stenographers got it wrong. The transcript reported it as “Children do learn.’’

But Bush had given new meaning to the term, plural, when he spoke in New York City yesterday about gains in student achievement made since the enactment of his education reforms. The gains were registered in the newest results of national testing this week.

"As yesterday's positive report card shows," the president said, "childrens do learn when standards are high and results are measured."


Compare to and contrast with an earlier presidential grammar gaffe. Here's Bush making fun of himself:
Then there is my most famous statement: "Rarely is the question asked, is our children learning." (Laughter.) Let us analyze that sentence for a moment. (Laughter.) If you're a stickler, you probably think the singular verb "is" should have been the plural "are." But if you read it closely, you'll see I'm using the intransitive plural subjunctive tense. (Laughter.) So the word "is" are correct. (Laughter and applause.)

The applause and laughter are courtesy of the guests at the American Radio-Television Correspondents' dinner. It's nice to see the press in its watchdog role. Fierce beasts, they are. Way to stick up for good grammar.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Hope for the Hyphen

The Oxford University Press says reports of its death have been greatly exaggerated:

When a new edition of a dictionary is published, you never know what people are going to pick up on as noteworthy. Last week, when the sixth edition of the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary was officially launched, much of the surrounding publicity had to do with the all the brand-new material: the 2,500 new words and phrases and 1,300 new illustrative quotes.

But what’s gotten just as much attention is something that’s missing. The hyphen, that humble piece of connective punctuation, has been removed from about 16,000 compound words appearing in the text of the Shorter. The news has been making the rounds everywhere from the BBC to the Wall Street Journal. “Hyphens are the latest casualty of the internet age,” writes the Sydney Morning Herald.

“Thousands of hyphens perish as English marches on,” a Reuters headline bleakly reads. A satirical paper even warns of a “hyphen-thief” on the loose. But don’t worry, hyphenophiles: the punctuation lives on, even if it’s entering uncertain terrain in the electronic era.

The hyphen has been with us since at least the time of Gutenberg... (Read on)

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Week of Vizzinis

If you've seen "The Princess Bride," then you no doubt remember the scene where Vizzini (played by Wally Shawn) says "inconceivable" every time the Dread Pirate Roberts does something unexpected.

Eventually, after the Dread Pirate Roberts does one inconceivable thing after another, Inigo Montoya (Mandy Patinkin) says, "You keep on saying that word. I'm not sure it means what you think it means."

Vizzinis, therefore, are words that don't mean quite what their authors think. Craig Conley sent a great one from the George Washington Carver Interpretive Museum in southeast Alabama, which earned a $1,000 grant to pursue "Artistic interpretation[s] of historical experiences of Americans of African dissent."

Says Craig, "I wonder if the exhibit will live up to its promise of nonconformism."

The museum meant to write "descent," which sounds like dissent, but means something entirely different.

Monday, September 24, 2007

The Saddest Article, Ever...

Thousands of hyphens perish as English marches on
Fri Sep 21, 2007 4:54pm EDT
By Simon Rabinovitch

LONDON (Reuters) - About 16,000 words have succumbed to pressures of the Internet age and lost their hyphens in a new edition of the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary.

Bumble-bee is now bumblebee, ice-cream is ice cream and pot-belly is pot belly.

And if you've got a problem, don't be such a crybaby (formerly cry-baby).


Isn't That Special?

Sue sends this from her church bulletin:

Don't Like Your Picture?
Members, you can now access member information online and upload a new more current picture. You can replace the one when you wore that weird stripped dress or the tie your mother-in-law gave you...."

Grammar Police, Where Are You?

Catherine G. sends in this lead from a news story:

PHILADELPHIA -- At least one possible suspects are in custody after in the shooting of a Philadelphia Police Officer in West Philadelphia Monday morning.

Does the suspect have multiple-personality disorder, by chance?

That's a Really Bad Drug Problem

We're a bit prudish when it comes to substances. Our body is a temple and all that stuff.

But we're quite concerned with Britney Spears' reported habits. From Perez

Britney Spears is going to extreme measures to lose weight!

According to a Los Angeles court, the former pop star is a “habitual, frequent, and continuous” user of drugs.

Continuous would mean she never stopped taking drugs. Not even to eat burritos, shop, or shave her head. Continual means "happens regularly." So, while illegal drug use is never something to jump up and down and celebrate, continual drug use is better than the continuous sort.

Cheap Real Estate?

We found this in the paper today and initially thought it was a bargain on some sandy land:

Resort charges $14,500 for desert

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — This dessert may be a little too rich for you, but you're probably not rich enough for it. A Sri Lankan resort is charging $14,500 for what it calls the world's most expensive dessert, a fruit infused confection complete with a chocolate sculpture and a gigantic gemstone.
Apparently, though, it's food -- which reminds us of the excellent find Jonathan Caws-Elwitt sent:

"Breakfast was the usual bagel faire . . . "

Fare is food. Fair is, well, foul and vice versa. But faire? That's for people who run around in puffy balloon pants and shields on weekends.

Confuse these words, and you'll get your just deserts. You probably will not get a $14,500 dessert, alas.

Friday, September 21, 2007


We are helping a friend find a desk and encountered this atrocious Craigslist offering:


DRAWS? Is it SO hard to write "drawer"?

Say It Isn't So!

Shall we prepare an obituary?

Hyphen falls victim to the email [sic] society
By Nigel Reynolds, Arts Correspondent
The U.K. Telegraph

It's small, flat and a useful piece of punctuation. The hyphen, according to the latest edition of the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, is becoming extinct, a victim of the text message and the email. [SPOGG: HE MEANS E-MAIL.]

The sixth edition of the dictionary has knocked the hyphens out of 16,000 words, many of them two-word compound nouns.

Fig-leaf is now fig leaf, pot-belly is now pot belly, pigeon-hole has finally achieved one-word status and leap-frog is now leapfrog.

The reason, says Angus Stevenson, editor of the dictionary, is that we no longer have time to reach over to the hyphen key.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Happy Birthday :-)

How'd we miss this? Alas, the birthday was yesterday, but it's never too late to :-) about it.
It's smiley's 25th birthday

IT was a serious contribution to the electronic lexicon.

:-) Twenty-five years ago, three keystrokes - a colon followed by a hyphen and a parenthesis - were first used as a horizontal "smiley face" in a computer message by Carnegie Mellon University professor Scott E Fahlman.

Language experts say the smiley face and other so-called emoticons, or emotional icons, have given people a concise way of expressing sentiments in e-mail and other electronic messages that otherwise would be difficult to detect.

Fahlman posted the emoticon in a message to an online electronic bulletin board at 11.44am on September 19, 1982, during a discussion about the limits of online humour and how to denote comments meant to be taken lightly.

"I propose the following character sequence for joke markers: :-)," wrote Fahlman. "Read it sideways." The suggestion gave computer users a way to convey
umour or positive feelings with a smile - or the opposite sentiments by reversing the parenthesis to form a frown. Carnegie Mellon said the smileys spread from its campus to other universities, businesses and eventually around the world as the Internet gained popularity. Variations, such as the "wink" that uses a semicolon, emerged later.

Spell Well, Meet the President

This comes from a San Jose Mercury News story about the national spelling bee champ's meeting with President Bush. The president appears to have impressed the family. Who knew spelling well had such perks? From the story itself:

Bush leaned on his desk while Evan [O'Dorney, the spelling whiz] stood in front, as the two talked about spelling, music and math -- another of the student's talents -- and the president gave him advice on how to make good decisions, Jennifer O'Dorney said.


Veglexia: Do You Have It?

We read this today and chuckled:

Casting a spell over broccoli
By JEAN WHITE - North Shore Times

Broccoli. That's what bothers me.Well not broccoli exactly after all it's nutritious and basically non-threatening to anyone over the age of 12.

It's the fact that no one can spell it.

You look at the sign outside your local vegetable store, what does it say? Brocolli? Broccolli?
Or do you live near that really gifted signwriter who spells it borcoli? My computer is already doing overtime with red underlining.

Unfortunately this vegetable spelling disability (which I will call veglexia) does not stop at mere broccoli alone.

Have you bought any califlower lately or aspragus? Or how about corgettes? (Okay I'll help. Correct spellings are cauliflower, asparagus and courgettes.)

I'm one of those (the only one maybe) who surreptitiously (phew, spell that one!) rubs out the wrong letters on chalk boards especially if they announce avacadoes at two for a dollar.


Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Read Our Ellipse...

This snippet from an AP story shows why newspapers *really* need to use maledicta:

NEW YORK — A former New York Knicks executive at the center of a sexual harassment lawsuit repeatedly complained to a friend from work that coach Isiah Thomas had berated her with foul language, according to trial testimony Tuesday.

"What are your job responsibilities, you ... ho?" Thomas, with an obscenity added for emphasis, told former vice president Anucha Browne Sanders in 2004, according to the secondhand account of her friend, Jeffrey Nix.
What does that ellipse stand for? We just don't feel the truth has been reported here.

Just for kicks, we'll reprint our maledicata key, which allows you to use punctuation to create a whole host of naughty words:

Vowel substitutions
A = @
E = #
I = !
O = Ω
U = ¥

Consonant substitutions
C = ©
F = #
H = *
K = <
L = £
P = ¶
R = ®
S = $
T = +
W = π

The Princess and the Pee

MSNBC contained this curious item today:
It was the Princess and the Pee, reports TMZ, when Paris Hilton stepped in a puddle of sewer water after exciting an exclusive nightclub. When an onlooker announced that the puddle might very well be urine, a perturbed Paris made a misguided announcement regarding communicable diseases. “Oh my God, I have, like, AIDS,” she exclaimed.
Yes, I'm sure her presence was "exciting" for the nightclub. Do you think anyone will sewer for it? Or would a lawyer simply poo-poo the problem?

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Funny British Report on Jargon

Amputee Criminals at Large

From the Seattle P-I, in a column about the ineffectiveness of video surveillance cameras:

And a recent case, straight from the streets, shows why cameras are no panacea. The presence of a camera outside the Century Square Building, near Third and Pine, did not stop a pack of thugs from viciously beating a man on June 1. Nor did footage of this three-minute attack crack the case. The assailants, with blood on their hand, are still out there.
If we see any criminals sharing a blood-soaked limb, we'll definitely call the police. Meanwhile, why don't those thugs just go out and buy hooks? And big, curly wigs and flamboyant jackets? That's what all the classy crooks do.

The Queen's Apartment Complex

Catwoman sends this our way :

The management of my apartment building issued an updated list of "Policy and Procedures" today.

Among them was reminder to the night owls to keep the noise down late at night. They state this by saying:

There is a Quiet Time after 10:00 p.m., 7 days a week. Please have the curtsy of your neighbor in mind when you are up late into the night.

My neighbors and I hardly acknowledge each other, much less curtsy!

Alas, what a shame. We think the world would be a much nicer place if we all bowed and curtsied to each other. And it's almost certain we'd have stronger backs and knees for the exercise.

Old Clip, But Still Funny

If you haven't seen Jon Stewart's riff on "The Cavuto," a question mark used to soften an outrageous claim with a veil of uncertainty, then you might enjoy this video:


We don't think The Cavuto has much chance of catching on, but is a good reminder of how punctuation can sometimes be abused. This is the equivalent of asking, "When did you stop beating your wife?"

In a way, it's similar to the misuse of quotation marks. Sort of like Jon Stewart calling Jim Cavuto a "journalist."

Thursday, September 13, 2007

So Young to Be a Father, Even Younger to Fly

Holly B. sends this comical goof from the San Francisco Chronicle about Steve Fossett and other missing airplane pilots:

"William Ogle hopes some of the wreckage will be from the plane his father was flying when he vanished on a flight from Oakland, Calif., to Reno. He was only 5 at the time."

Monday, September 10, 2007

Little Shop of Horrors

Sue sends these souvenirs of her Michigan vacation:

While we were in Michigan a couple of weeks ago, my sister got a catalog called "Touch of Class." It features Victorian-style furnishings (Diane owns a Victorian house built in 1900).

We got the giggles reading some of the descriptions, so I thought I'd pass a couple along. They may not be worthy of the web page, but they're good for a laugh anyway!

Description of a vase (I presume it's a vaaahze!):

As its name suggests in Japanese, the exquisite Takara Vase is indeed a possession you will "treasure." The body of the warm black cherry-colored porcelain urn has a central medallion design of roses in burgundy and gold, and scrolling fleurs on a creamy beige background...." [I have never heard of black cherry-colored stuff. Black-cherry-colored, yes, but not the other.]

In a description of some truly amazing bedding, they say, "...The rich, silky texture will bring unending praise to your boudoir while the brilliant colors bring the luxury of royalty to mind."

They also carry a product called the "Tiara Teester." (it should be a tester)

But this one takes the cake:

"Imagine an African woman in stylized tribal costume as you search for meaning in the handcrafted resin Delu Vase, 28''H. Dress is green, a color often symbolizing renewal and growth, with golden bronze striped highlights. Beige belt with buckle, wrapped neck, leaf embellishments, faux jewelry of metal and beads, and two brown tassels all provide accents."


A terrible headline on a very sad story, sent to us by Catwoman.

Toddler Ran Over In Driveway, Dies

Watch Where You Sit

Catherine G. sends this today from work:
Good Afternoon:

Please be advised that there is a major chilled water leak in Griffith Hall 2nd floor. We are shutting down all chilled water to the building pending repairs to this situation.

If you have any questions please feel free to call Facilities @Ext.8955.

We appreciate your understanding to this emergency and apologize for any incontinence this may cause.

Thank You

Facilities dept.

Yes, this did make us wet our pants a little bit.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Bananas Splits

Many of us have been told not to split infinitives. This is largely a silly rule, used only to make English conform to the rules of Latin grammar. In Latin, an infinitive is one word. It can't be split.

This headline is a good example of why this rule is a bad practice in English:

Officials: Sen. Hagel not to run again

WASHINGTON -- Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel, a persistent Republican critic of the Iraq war, intends to announce on Monday he will not seek a third term, according to Republican officials.


He's "not to run" again? Does that mean he's been forbidden to run? That's what it sounds like.

But this isn't the case; the article says later it was his own decision.

A better solution here would be to say "won't run" instead of "not to run." But "to not run again" would have at least kept the intended meaning.

So go ahead and split infinitives if it keeps your meaning intact. Keep the words together in other cases, just so you won't raise the dander of the nuns and other rigid constructionists.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

From the Confusing Headline Department

We found this headline online today:

B-52 carrying nukes mistakenly overfiles U.S.

We think they meant to say flies over, and tried to make that into the single faux-word overflies, but then transposed some letters.


But not as stupid as sending armed nuclear warheads over the United States in a B-52 bomber. Read more...

Too Bad to Be True?

This sounds fishy, but nonetheless interesting for people who care about spelling:

Misspelling Costs eBay Seller $500,000
Posted Sep 4th 2007 5:39PM
by Terrence O'Brien
Filed under: eBay

Let this be a lesson to you: spell check, spell check, spell check. We can't say it enough. We're not spelling snobs. We don't even care if other people think you're a doofus. We just want to save you the pain and humiliation of losing $500,000 due to a bonehead-spelling mistake -- something one poor sap recently experienced on the mean streets of eBay through the sale of a priceless bottle of beer. (Read more)

Spelling aside, who'd pay half a million dollars for a bottle of beer? Sheesh.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

This Makes Us Weep


From the Examiner via "Think Progress" comes this bit from from Jeffrey Toobin's new book on the Supreme Court: Justice David Souter was so troubled by the court's decision in Bush v. Gore that he sometimes weeped when he thought about the case and actually considered resigning over it. Toobin says that Souter decided to stay on "at the urging of a handful of close friends" but that his "attitude toward the court was never the same."

It should have been wept. He wept when he thought about the case. He's not the only one.

Sunday, September 02, 2007


This headline appeared on today:

Bar patron awakens minus pants, containing $41,000

We get that he lost his pants. What we're wondering, though, was how someone stuffed him with $41,000. Even if they used large bills, that sort of thing sounds painful.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

The Dangly Bits: Even Published Authors Do It

From a review in the Guardian of Anthony Loyd's "Another Bloody Love Letter":
At times, the drama is weakened by Loyd's writerly tics. At one point, he muses that "it was only a matter of time before their dumbfounded sledgehammer would recollect its sense and plough down on the ripe insurgent fruit". And he has an unfortunate habit of dangling his modifiers, the grammatical error that so amuses the pedants. Every half-dozen pages, one crops up: "A maverick of her generation, the men in my mother's life had always been more conservative than she." It's easy to forgive, but a more rigorous edit would have helped.
The rigorous edit here would have changed the sentence to read: "A maverick of her generation, my mother always dated men more conservative than she."

We love how British critics spank, then forgive. It's a nation of Super Nannies. Jolly good!

Plurals of Wisdom

The Washington Times contains this Q&A with our president.

Q: Mr. President, what do you think you have achieved with regards to U.S. ties with Asia during your time in office? And what do you consider to be unfinished business?
THE PRESIDENT: Unfinished business is North Korea. It's -- let me just say, it is finishing. In other words, we're making progress. The six-party talks is working.

Are working, Mr. President. Are working.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

We Love Mime!

Our editor at St. Martin's sent this error along.

Some background: Remember that O.J. Simpson book? The one called "If I Did It"?

It's going to be published after all, by the Goldman family, which owns the rights.

Denise Brown is apparently so mad, she's resorting to hand gestures and declining Oprah appearances:
"The Goldmans have retained a publisher who is rushing the book to market as we speak. And thus, has made the show a mute point for me." Brown also said, "I very much wanted to be on the show if I could have brought about a change for the positive but the Goldmans, Sharlene Martin the agent and Eric Kampmann the publisher, have made sure that could not happen."

Unless she's planning something with a mime, she should have said moot point.

The New French Perfume

Angelo B. sends this New York Times headline:

France: Anger Over Homeless Spray

Granted, headlines are tricky because they're short. You can compress writing so much, though, that you squeeze new meaning in. It's not as though the French would be happier about this spray if it were properly housed. They're angry that the spray is being used on homeless people (who in all likelihood smell bad enough and don't need any further assaults on their dignity).

A better headline would have been: French: Don't Use Spray on Homeless