Punctuation Man, a leading authority on punctuation and teaching punctuation to elementary school children, today announced his decision to fully support the use of the serial comma.
Shunned by the Associated Press (AP) Stylebook, the serial comma is still widely accepted by educators, grammarians, and literary circles, including Strunk and White's The Elements of Style, and the Chicago Manual of Style. The announcement coincides with the National Education Association's (NEA) "Read Across America" child literacy program, to be held nationwide on Monday, March 3.
There is no small debate about the serial comma (also known as the Oxford Comma). It is a comma used before a coordinating conjunction (such as "and") before the last item in a series of three or more. For example: The flag is red, white, and blue.
Enter Jeff Rubin -- aka Punctuation Man -- a former newspaper reporter turned newsletter publisher, public speaker, and founder of National Punctuation Day, which will celebrate its fifth anniversary on September 24. Jeff and his wife, Norma, travel the nation to teach children the basics of punctuation with Punctuation Playtime, a live assembly program that is also offered to teachers, schools, and school districts as an instructional DVD.
Thursday, February 28, 2008
Still, this is no excuse for bad grammar. Our task now is to decide which celebrity deserves to win the SPOGG Award for Most Appalling Celebrity Grammar. The contestants:
President George W. Bush
We're not the sort to kick a man when he's down (frankly, we're not fond of upright kicking, either). But President Bush really ought to know the plural of the word child. After all, he's the father of twins.
While running for president, he asked, "Is our children learning?" Then, on Sept. 26, 2007, he proved that this wasn't a one-time fluke when he said, "Childrens do learn." (Not all of them, though. Not all of them.)
Paris Hilton produced a T-shirt that said, "THATS HOT," cheating the poor apostrophe from its rightful place on her bosom. What's more, she sent Lindsay Lohan a text message that said, "i chill with perez, but not enough for your name to get broughten up." Broughten? Is she the only text-messager who likes to lengthen words?
It's perhaps unfair to judge Courtney Love by her grammar. It's not even English she's writing on her blog. And we quote:
have a beer with?
i would never votefor a presidenty based on the "person id most like to have a beer witH" Fox transparently obvious talking point. Its maddeningly sexist and mostly its DUMB.Beer isnt even GOOD. i mean REALLY. "ahh ahm a gonna belly up to the sports bar and have a brewski y'all want one?" i mean who has really had more than TEN beers in thier life on my blog?
It's entirely possible there are too many errors to correct. In any case, vote here:
“If we have an E.M.T. in the house, I think somebody got faint,” he said calmly when a woman keeled over in front of the stage in Cincinnati. “They just need a little water and some juice.”Unless this woman was a gender enigma like Pat from "Saturday Night Live," he should have said "she," not "they."
Somebody is a singular pronoun and needs to be paired with another singular pronoun. Sometimes, this is tough--particularly when you don't know the sex of the somebody in question.
There are also plenty of examples of great writers who've ignored this principle and use "their" as an all-purpose possessive pronoun. This doesn't make it right. For those of us who like a little precision with our speech and writing, keeping sentences parallel is the goal.
We don't love the "he or she" construction as a workaround. It's pretty darned stuffy. But this doesn't mean we shrug our shoulders and give up.
The better alternative is to use the plural when you really don't know the sex of the person in question. And when you do—let's say, when a woman has fainted at your glamorous feet—there's no need to further rob her of her dignity and neuter her.
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
Thanks to Michael V. for the tip. And Simon Cowell, you're wrong about charisma. Word nerds are foxy.
The extortionate spam often contains basic punctuation, spelling and grammar errors. It reportedly originates in Russia and may include personal information about the recipient in order to promote intimidation.
Nathan Bierma of the Chicago Tribune called it a witch hunt. We aren't sure what he thinks we have against witches, but we are certain he should launch a sense-of-humor hunt. He failed to understand we were just kidding about correcting Elvis's verb conjugations, but it can be so hard to read to the end of things when you are a newspaper journalist.
The blog Language Log cites Bierma without checking any of his source material and concludes that we are grammar loonies. They have also concluded National Grammar Day is a nasty holiday. So to them, we say perhaps a grammartini will make you less crabby. We have posted a recipe right here. We might also recommend the high-fiber turkey chili. It might dislodge whatever's stopping up your colons.
Those Language Log people write constantly about grammar prescriptivists, lumping them all into one bucket. Not everyone has the luxury of studying linguistics at a university. Most people are subject to general expectations about grammar and correctness. When you include what is perceived to be an error on your resume, you can't get all huffy and say, "But lots of people do it this way." This is one really good reason to learn the principles, which generally aren't all that difficult for native speakers.
As we have said many times before, and even written about in our maligned Encarta column, not all of the so-called rules are actually rules. Many can and should be discarded. It's worth spending time studying the language, so you can use it to its best effect.
Linguists would have much less to do if everyone wrote and spoke according to the standard rules of English. We can understand their zeal for protecting their tenure. We understand less the desire to call people names, especially without taking the time to understand what they're saying, and just as important, how they're saying it.
In any case, it's true that language is flexible and changing. It's also true that educated people have certain expectations about how language will read and sound, and that a good grasp on it will open doors. Perhaps people cooled by the eucalyptus-scented breezes at Stanford have forgotten what it's like to be on the other side of those doors.
It's never wrong to do your best to speak and write correctly, just as it's never wrong to do your research and be kind. But we must go, now. There are some witches we need to take care of.
Tuesday, February 26, 2008
Jobseekers are missing out because of blunders such as misspelling, inappropriate email addresses and grammatical errors, according to a new poll.
The poll by online recruitment outfit fish4jobs found that three-quarters of employers admit that badly presented and written CVs are more of a turn-off than a candidate showing up late, wearing inappropriate clothes or swearing in an interview.
Worryingly, the most irritating mistakes for employers were, in many cases, the most easily avoided. These include misspelling key details such as the employer's (and even the candidate's) name or job title (reported by 67 per cent of recruiters), grammatical errors (89 per cent) and including irrelevant information (65 per cent). Read more...
Monday, February 25, 2008
"Let me not put it that stark," the likely GOP nominee told reporters on his campaign bus. "Let me just put it this way: Americans will judge my candidacy first and foremost on how they believe I can lead the country both from our economy and for national security. Obviously, Iraq will play a role in their judgment of my ability to handle national security."Would that he had said "starkly." That would have sounded much better to our poor tender ears.
Now that the campaigns are thoroughly underway, we'd love it if you'd send along grammar goofs by our leading politicians, their spokespeople, and the journalists who cover them. We can make this a regular feature. Send your finds to info @ spogg.org. Thank you!
A day to toast precision -- and tolerance
By Jan Freeman
February 24, 2008
MARCH, THOUGH A long month, is sadly short on holidays. But this year, there's relief in sight, at least for language watchers. The Society for the Promotion of Good Grammar has declared March 4 a time to celebrate good usage: National Grammar Day.
SPOGG, founded in 2004 by Martha Brockenbrough (and open to all: Go to spogg.org), sends a slightly mixed message. It seeks members "appalled by wanton displays of Bad English" and threatens "mayhem, misery, madness" all around if we ignore the rules. On the other hand, says its manifesto, "we also encourage having a sense of humor about language."
We freely admit to the charge of sending slightly mixed messages. We prefer to think of them as shaken, not stirred, (though we hope they're stirring in any case). Good grammar is important. So is having a sense of humor about things--and recognizing some allegedly incorrect things aren't wrong, after all.
Good grammar, like life, is more complicated and subtle than you might think. This makes it all the more interesting.
Sunday, February 24, 2008
Saturday, February 23, 2008
Tuesday, 19 February 2008, BBC News
Pierced skull and bones recovered
More bones, including those from a juvenile and a 14th century metal buckle were also recovered during the work.
For those of you who don't know, the buckle is extinct, hunted to death by Velcros and zippers. One can occasionally find the preserved bones of 14th century metal buckles. Contrary to what one reads on the Internets, these bones can't be ground into a penis-enlarging powder.
If there's a camera up in hereBetween you and I? It's "between you and me." Always.
Then it's gonna leave with me
When I do (I do)
If there's a camera up in here
Then I'd best not catch this flick
On YouTube (YouTube)
'Cause if you run your mouth and brag
About this secret rendezvous
I will hunt you down
'Cause they be all up in my bidness
Like a Wendy interview
But this is private
Between you and I
Mariah, you are now on our list, along with Bryan Adams, Paula Cole and others who've botched this. You don't want to be on our list, because some day, we might actually do something with it.
We will not get in your "bidness" about your other artistic choices in this song, if you can just get this one thing right from now on.
There's being authentic to your culture—that's your bidness—and then there's just a hideous error that you can find in any old place, coming from any old mouth. This one's just an ugly, common goof.
We expect more out of you, especially after Christmas 1994, when we listened to your Christmas album approximately 1,000 times in a row, thanks to our younger brother's understandable obsession. You looked so cute in that Santa suit.
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
Amtrak to Start Screening Passengers Carry-on BagsThat should be Amtrak to Start Screening Passengers' Carry-on Bags, of course.
This is a small error, but a timely one, as a SPOGG member has just started a Facebook group called Ban the Misuse of Apostrophes. Surely omission counts as misuse! If your [sic] on Facebook, its [sic] time to sign up!
It was nearly hidden on a New York City Transit public service placard exhorting subway riders not to leave their newspaper behind when they get off the train.
“Please put it in a trash can,” riders are reminded. After which Neil Neches, an erudite writer in the transit agency’s marketing and service information department, inserted a semicolon. The rest of the sentence reads, “that’s good news for everyone.”
Semicolon sightings in the city are unusual, period, much less in exhortations drafted by committees of civil servants. In literature and journalism, not to mention in advertising, the semicolon has been largely jettisoned as a pretentious anachronism.
As electronic mail became widespread, it came to be referred to as "e-mail." Many users soon began to drop the hyphen (fewer keystrokes). Now, "email" is searched on Google nearly six times as much as "e-mail." Is there a plan to switch "e-mail" to "email" in an upcoming version of the AP Stylebook?
Kansas City, Mo.
Call us stubborn, or sticklers for clarity, but AP sees no compelling reason to replace e-mail with email.
Why do we stand on e-mail? That spelling is the first choice of major dictionaries, including AP's primary spelling reference, Webster's New World College Dictionary Fourth Edition. It is also the preference of many newspapers. And e-mail is consistent with other hyphenated, electronic age terms such as e-book, e-commerce, e-shopping and e-business (which would look odd without hyphens).
You're not the first to propose dropping the hyphen. But the arguments of one fewer keystroke and search engine statistics don't convince us that e-mail would be enhanced by excision.
AP Manager for News Administration
"Ask the Editor" columnist, APStylebook.com
"I make no apologies for being able to talk good," Obama told a crowd of about 6,000 at Youngstown State University, drawing chuckles at the deliberate grammatical error.
The age of irony, despite media reports to the contrary, is not dead.
Monday, February 18, 2008
Honey. It's delicious, but it's still not worth its weight in gold.
Shoot. There goes our trade-in honey
So step away from the pantry. Instead, reach into the couch cushions and pull out a comma. One has no doubt wedged itself there, along with loose change and your spare keys. Then insert the comma thus: "Shoot. There goes our trade-in, honey."
Saturday, February 16, 2008
Dear Professor Levine:
In the course of our research, we came across an advertisement for the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York City.
We were disturbed to note that instead of a hyphen the Waldorf=Astoria Hotel management has inserted an equal sign between its two names.
It did occur to us that perhaps there is a legitimate mathematical relationship being expressed by the equal sign, one that we are presently failing to appreciate.
In your vast mathematical experience, does Waldorf, in fact, equal Astoria? Or is this simply an example of a hyphenation abomination?
As it turns out, the professor has a good sense of humor. His reply:
That Waldorf equals Astoria
Comes as an unexpected surprise
Which should not provoke hysteria
Though grammarians must avert their eyes
"'I feel badly' is the correct answer, as feel is a verb and requires an adverb."This is what we wrote in the answer of the quiz. Perhaps he didn't read that far along:
So many people misuse bad and badly that it may seem like nitpicking to point out the distinction in usage. But to feel badly (or awfully for that matter) literally means to touch or handle something in a clumsy fashion. Use badly, an adverb, only to describe an action. Use bad, an adjective, to describe a condition or a passive state of being--such as feeling."Adverbs modify verbs" is one of those rules that some people cling to as if life depended on it. But there is a certain type of verb, called the linking verb, that connects a modifier to the subject. The subject is not a verb; it is a noun. What's interesting is that most people get this in other contexts. You don't see anyone having a cow at the expression, "I feel blue." No one would argue we must say "I feel bluely" to be correct. And yet, with "I feel good" and "I feel bad," there are legions of people who insist those usages are barbaric.
They're not. Truly.
Likewise, the fact that there are a few examples of hypercorrection does not prove that all rules of grammar are for rigid ninnies. Just as traffic rules keep us safe on the road (and in some cases, safely on the road), and just as having rules for sports keep the contest interesting, rules of language help us communicate clearly and artistically with each other. Those things are worth protecting. Think of that on March 4!
Friday, February 15, 2008
I just received a mailing list e-mail looking for actors to audition for a student film. The list of parts available started with this sentence:Casted--ugh! It should be cast. But at least they didn't write "castrated."
“Amber has been casted!” (Amber is the lead role in the film.)
"The article reports that U.S. Rep. Thomas M. Davis III announced on Jan. 30 that he will retire from Congress at the end of the year," Bill writes. "The caption on the photo does a poor job of conveying this to the reader and it would likely lead the reader to draw the wrong conclusion. The caption says, 'Seven-term U.S. Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) announced plans to retire on Jan. 30, 2008.'"
Indeed. It'd be a little bit stilted, but the caption should have read: "Seven-term U.S. Rep. Tom Davis (R-VA) announced on Jan. 30 his plans to retire at the end of the year." And then he should have asked the woman standing next to him why she looked so happy about that news.
Today on top of everything else that went wrong at my house (you do not want to know!), I had to go buy a new iron. I was in the middle of making the bride's maid dress my daughter Rachel is to wear in a wedding in St. Croix, Virgin Islands. Yeah, yeah, lucky her--I know all about that.
At any rate, my old iron quit cold (pun intended), so I had to buy a new one. I got a Rowenta Autosteam. You would not believe what the little owner's manual says: "Do not direct steam at people, animals or iron clothes while they are being worn." Rachel, the always-alert metalsmith, says those iron clothes will rust, in addition to getting awfully hot, if you steam them--while being worn or not!
Furthermore, under "Helpful Hints," I find that in using my new iron, I am to "adhere to manufacturer recommendations on garment label." No option is given for those of us who would prefer not to be stuck to a label forever!
Thursday, February 14, 2008
- language changes;
- we can usually suss out the meaning from badly crafted sentences; and/or
- prescriptivism is often misguided.
While all of these things can be true, there's also that pesky thing called "reality" to consider. Below is a post from the blog of the Arkansas Times. It contains language that will offend some people, so if you're delicate, go ahead and click that back button.
To summarize: A female editor quit because of a perceived sexist, racist environment at the paper. Regular readers of this blog will know that SPOGG leans to the left. We can't help it. As Stephen Colbert says, "Reality has a known liberal bias."
Anyhoo, we're naturally sympathetic to the editor who quit. Because of her bad spelling, punctuation and grammar, however, we aren't sure we believe her claims. She's an editor, after all. If this is how she writes, then yikes--she could very well be incompetent. And how else will an incompetent editor find the atmosphere at work to be? Hostile. And deservedly so.
It's a shame, because there's nothing we like more than someone sticking it to The Man and standing up for injustice. When you do this, though, your spelling and grammar must be perfect, or you're going to look incompetent. Grammar and spelling matter. Here's your proof:
Democrat-Gazette: 'Good ole' boys club'
There's been a bit of a dustup at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette today.
State editor Marilyn Mitchell, who is married to assistant city editor Jack Mitchell, resigned today with a blast at her perception of sexist atmosphere at the newspaper.
We're told by multiple sources that Mitchell had an argument in the newsroom with a superior a few days ago about decisions on storm coverage. Multiple sources also say that Mitchell, who came to the paper last August, wasn't widely liked herself.
Mitchell's blast to all staff members prompted an all-staff response from veteran political editor Bill Simmons to her remarks about alleged managers' references to penis size, blonde bombshells and racially derogatory terms.
Subject: Fuck the glassDate: February 14, 2008 8:36:31 AM CST
Cc: to-all-LR, to-all-NW
All I wanted to do at this newspaper is [SHOULD BE WAS] to do a good job. I came here because I thought it was a good newspaper. But, [NO COMMA NEEDED] it's not. It's a good ole' [OL'] boys club made up of old white males. Nobody else has a voice. This is a newspaper in which: The city editor can verbally abuse another editor in the presence of the managing editor and nothing is done. [SHOULD BE A SEMICOLON, NOT A PERIOD] The managing editor in a news meeting slugs a potential 1A story as blonde bombshells - a story in which bombs were strapped on two retarded foreign women and sent into a crowd. Male editors are allowed to talk about penis size during news meetings. Editors call Hispanics wetbacks [PUT THIS WORD IN QUOTATION MARKS] in news meetings [OOPS, MISSING PUNCTUATION] Editors are proud to call blacks niggers [QUOTATION MARKS, PLEASE] in news stories. A city editor gets his feelings hurt over coverage of a story and I'm penalized for it. The managing editor is a bald face liar [BALD-FACED OR BAREFACED] and the executive editor doesn't give a damn. So to "the glass," I resign effective immediately. Marilyn Mitchell
From: Bill Simmons
Date: February 14, 2008 10:11:20 AM CSTTo: Marilyn Mitchell, To-All
Subject: Re: Fuck the glass
As an old white male, let me offer a few thoughts for perspective (and not to set off an onslaught of similar missives):
1. In my dozen years here, I have NEVER seen anybody (editor or otherwise)"proud" that the "n-word" was used anywhere. I can't say nobody was, becauseI can't be everywhere all the time, but I can say I NEVER saw anybodymanifest any such attitude when I was around.
2. The reference to "wetbacks" has a history -- a history of disagreement over whether the term is acceptable in any usage, with most editors herebelieving it is not. Sometimes the term is used in derision of the view that using it is acceptable, not in furtherance of its use.
3. I suppose some males will discuss penis size in the news meetings (boys being boys), and I have heard in long ago [HYPHENATE ME] meetings some remarks that were offensive. But this hasn't happened in any recent news meeting that I attended and it is not appropriate to convey the idea that this is standard practice in the meetings.
4. The "blonde bombshells" complaint omits the fact that every day some quipish [QUIPPISH] summary of each leading news items of the day's leading is posted on the board. When the governor makes a speech, it may be "Beebe's lips move." When an Al Quaida leader was blown up by a car bomb, it was "Bad Guy Goes Boom!" And political in-fighting in Pakistan will become "Pakitics." And so on. The reference to "blonde bombshells" had no sexist nuance that I perceived, any more than "Econ Tanks" (a summary of a downturn in the economy) was expressing approval of a recession or anything else. Practicing humor has its risks, and one of them is being misperceived and distorted.
|You Are a Colon|
You aren't concerned much with theories or dreams... only what's true or untrue.
You are brilliant and incredibly learned. Anything you know is well researched.
You like to make lists and sort through things step by step. You aren't subject to whim or emotions.
Your friends see you as a constant source of knowledge and advice.
(But they are a little sick of you being right all of the time!)
You excel in: Leadership positions
You get along best with: The Semi-Colon
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
Woman seeks lost pet goat with bagelsAlas, this headline should have said "Woman with bagels seeks lost pet goat." Those darned modifiers. So tricky.
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
BENSALEM, Pa. -- A Bensalem woman has been walking around in the snow with a bucket of bagels and goat feed trying to locate her lost pet Buckwheat. Iris Star said Buckwheat apparently worked her way through a metal cattle fence on Saturday and wandered off from the three-acre property where she has lived for 10 years.
Police have been getting reports of the goat ramming front doors with its 6-inch horns and leaving messes in driveways in the area.
During Tuesday's snow, Star took her bucket to Lower Southampton Township, the area of the latest sightings.
Star said Buckwheat is like a pet and is just seeking companionship and warmth.
Tuesday, February 12, 2008
Spokane photographer held in California killing in 1983
They waited an awfully long time to report that story. Either that, or the copyeditor should have written this:
Spokane photographer held in 1983 California killing
Monday, February 11, 2008
The Associated Press describes how the "Big Fat Greek Wedding" had captivated the students at the elementary school where the bride taught. Unfortunately, the reporter included a big fat grammar error:
The wedding had became a project at Davie Elementary School, where Sjostrom taught first grade. Fellow teachers provided the wedding gown, the flowers and decorations. One of them, an ordained minister, performed the ceremony. (See the story.)
The wedding had become a project. And now, we must go weep in a corner.
Friday, February 08, 2008
It's a word made of two blended together. Frathletic, for athetic frat boy. Funsanity, for fun and insanity (great on Friday nights!). And freakonomics, for freak and economics.
The Freakonomics blog in today's NYT has us freaking out, just a bit.
To an economist, then, it is no shocker that the average American now consumes almost 60 pounds of frozen potato products per year, more than triple the amount consumed per person in 1965.
And at the same time, we’re burning less calories. No surprise...
Doesn't that just sound barbaric? It should be FEWER calories, because you can (and probably should) count them individually. Burning less fat, and fewer calories. That's the American way.
Thursday, February 07, 2008
Are you ready for the Day of Judgment?
Are you in a good place? Have you examined your conscience? Have you gotten yourself right with grammar? Because National Grammar Day is coming, and those of you who are shaky, those of you who are backsliding, those of you who are lapsed, what do you think is going to happen to you on that terrible day, when gerunds blanket the earth, double genitives blot out the sun, and participles fall from the sky?
Get ready, get ready, while there’s still time.
By way of rescuing the wayward, You Don’t Say offers a small primer today on some of the more common lapses. Look carefully to see whether you have been a miserable sinner, and repent while you still have time.
Read his tips...
Sunday, February 03, 2008
Enormity. This is not a synonym for enormousness. It's a whole separate word and it means "extreme evil." Some soft-hearted types have given up, and they accept "enormity" where "enormous" belongs. We think this is addle-pated. We once received a catalog from Williams-Sonoma promising we would not believe the "enormity" of the cookies they had for sale. We didn't buy them. We don't need to taste an evil cookie, not when there are so many pure and delicious ones running about.
Friday, February 01, 2008
"I know the exactitudes of what's going on, having been there," she told Access Hollywood. "Here is what's gonna happen if she doesn't get help — something very, very bad is gonna happen."
Courtney does a masterful job of demonstrating her psychic abilities (yes, something bad is bound to happen to Britney Spears; some might define losing custody of one's children as "bad"). But exactitude is not a fancy way of saying "exactly." The word means precision, or the quality of being exact. Which sort of makes her misuse of the word ironic, no?