Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Tales from the Casting Ouch

Our woman in Hollywood offers up this month's casting call failures:

One casting call asked for a skateboarder who could perform a certain trick: an ole. They meant ollie, but they wrote ole. I hope they have castinets ready.

Online Mock New's Report
This just in: We mock you for your misplaced apostrophe.

Looking for a femee fatale.
Is that a female Furby, or just someone who is hungry and saying "feed me" in a rushed or unclear fashion?

Age Rang
Hold on, I have to get the phone...

This typo caught my eye. I looked it up on a whim and discovered it's an acronym for the Asian Center for Research on Remote Sensing at the Asian Institute of Technology in Thailand.

Cocktail Party Dress's
There are no words.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Altered States

If we were Miss Manners (oh, the dream), we might comment on the rudeness of making a Facebook status update from your wedding, thereby reminding all the rest of your "friends" they weren't invited.

Instead, we'll get a bit sniffy at how the groom, Dana Hanna, spelled "altar."
"Standing at the alter with @TracyPage where just a second ago she became my wife! Gotta go, time to kiss the bride."

Friday, December 25, 2009

Friday Sign of the Apocalypse: Next, They'll Want Shoes

Tableclothes: what tables use to cover their legs. (The correct spelling is tablecloths.)

Thanks to Asa D. for the photo.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Friday Sign of the Apocalypse: Oh, Deer

On the bright side, they're consistent with the way they spell "processing." Also on the bright side, there's no hair in the sausage.

Thanks to Matt K. and his daughter for the photo.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Friday Sign of the Apocalypse: Classic Gas Station Edition

An artist friend sent along photos he'd used to create an oil painting of a charming vintage gas station. Are you not charmed?

Step a little closer, though, and you see something slightly off about the sign:

Ah, that's it. Vechicles, which sounds like a 3-year-old's word for spinach and peas.

Kindly, Richard Jesse Watson fixed the spelling in his final art.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Literary Road Trip, Anyone?

Stepping momentarily out of our trademark first-person-plural point of view, I'm pleased to report I was featured on the Literary Road Trip blog. Care to take a brief journey with me?

Monday, December 07, 2009

Church Bulletin Funnies

Linnea D. sent these along. We're not sure who the original source is, but there are some funny errors below:

They're Back! Those Wonderful Church Bulletins! Thank God for church ladies with typewriters. These sentences actually appeared in church bulletins or were announced in church services (Summer, 2008 Release).


The Fasting & Prayer Conference includes meals.


The sermon this morning: 'Jesus Walks on Water.' The sermon tonight:

'Searching for Jesus.'


Ladies, don't forget the rummage sale. It's a chance to get rid of those things not worth keeping around the house. Bring your husbands.


The peacemaking meeting scheduled for today has been cancelled due to a conflict.


Remember in prayer the many that are sick of our community. Smile at someone who is hard to love. Say 'Hell' to someone who doesn't care much about you.


Don't let worry kill you off - let the Church help.


Miss Charlene Mason sang 'I will not pass this way again,' giving obvious
pleasure to the congregation.
---- ---- --------------------------------------------------

For those of you who have children and don't know it, we have a
nursery downstairs.

-------------------- --------------------------------------

Next Thursday there will be tryouts for the choir. They need all the
help they can get.


The Rector will preach his farewell message after which the choir will sing: 'Break Forth Into Joy.'


Irving Benson and Jessie Carter were married on October 24 in the
church. So ends a friendship that began in their school days.


A bean supper will be held on Tuesday evening in the church hall.
Music will follow.

------------------------------ ----- ---------------

At the evening service tonight, the sermon topic will be 'What Is
Hell?' Come early and listen to our choir practice.


Eight new choir robes are currently needed due to the addition of
several new members and to the deterioration of some older ones.


Scouts are saving aluminum cans, bottles and other items to be
recycled. Proceeds will be used to cripple children.


Please place your donation in the envelope along with the deceased
person you want remembered.


The church will host an evening of fine dining, super entertainment
and gracious hostility.

------ -------------------------------------------

Potluck supper Sunday at 5:00 PM - prayer and medication to follow.


The ladies of the Church have cast off clothing of every kind. They may
seen in the basement on Friday afternoon.


This evening at 7 PM there will be a hymn singing in the park across
the Church. Bring a blanket and come prepared to sin.


Ladies Bible Study will be held Thursday morning at 10 AM. All ladies
invited to lunch in the Fellowship Hall after the B. S. is done.

--------------------------- --------- ------------------- ---

The pastor would appreciate it if the ladies of the congregation would

lend him their electric girdles for the pancake breakfast next Sunday.

-------------------------------- ------------

Low Self Esteem Support Group will meet Thursday at 7 PM. Please use
back door.


The eighth-graders will be presenting Shakespeare's Hamlet in the
basement Friday at 7 PM. The congregation is invited to attend this



Weight Watchers will meet at 7 PM at the First Presbyterian Church.

Please use large double door at the side entrance.


The Associate Minister unveiled the church's new tithing campaign

slogan: Last Sunday: ''I Upped My Pledge - Up Yours'

Copy Editing: It Works

Here at SPOGG, we love a good editor--so much so that the bad editors in our past, including the one who changed a woman's name from "Wanda" to "Panda" in a news story, are forgiven.

Lately, copy editors have on occasion been deemed not central to the core business of journalism. This is patently untrue, even if it's not particularly surprising given the myopic, conservative, often clubby way the newspaper business is run.

Hence, we particularly enjoy this bit from the blog of John McIntyre, formerly of the Baltimore Sun:

Save money: Cut back on editing

A correction from The Washington Post:

A Nov. 26 article in the District edition of Local Living incorrectly said a Public Enemy song declared 9/11 a joke. The song refers to 911, the emergency phone number.

Read the rest. It gets better from here.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Friday Sign of the Apocalypse: Quotation Mark Edition

Oooh. Unnecessary capitalization and quotation marks for emphasis. If only they'd added a frowny emoticon at the end. Then we could be certain they mean business.

Because we are still just a tad bit confused, though, we will light up this cigar...wait, no...we will ignite our portable grill and smoke this turkey right in their building. Who wants a sandwich?

Thanks to Marlon for the photo.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Truth in Headlines

The sharp-eyed Asa D. sends this along:

This was the top story on Yahoo! Finance at 4:30pm today:

Down Ends at New 2009 High as Dollar Slides- AP
Stock buying picked up momentum Tuesday as rising commodity prices and reports on manufacturing and housing pointed to a rebound in the economy.

Calling the Index the “Down Jones” now might be apropos…

Badumcha! Thanks, Asa.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Myriad: How Does This One Work?

Tamara K. wrote with this question:

The word myriad has been popping up more and more lately. I even heard it in a show about the Great Barrier Reef, on sports newscasts and in business meetings. But, my understanding of the word that it should be used like the word “many.” However, whenever I hear it used it is used more like the work “lot,” as in “a lot.” Which is the proper usage?
We love questions like this (even though they are more about usage than grammar). When questions like this pop up, though, it doesn't take SPOGG to answer them. A good dictionary--the Oxford English Dictionary is a favorite--will tell you all sorts of things about the origin of words. We log into the OED through our local library's site, which offers free subscriptions to patrons. Does your library? Check it out. That's what your tax dollars pay for.

We learned myriad has been used as a noun longer than it has been used as an adjective, even though many people prefer the latter use. Originally, it meant 10,000. Then it meant "a lot." As an adjective, it means "many."

Bryan Garner, author of the indispensable Garner's Modern American Usage, writes that "myriad is more concise as an adjective than as a noun...but the mere fact that the adjective is handier doesn't mean the latter is substandard." (Note: a brand new version of Garner's usage guide is out. We highly recommend it.)

In short: There's no need to spend any time wondering about what words mean and how they're best used. Make a habit of looking things up at the OED and in Garner's book, and you will fill your brain with useful language facts. SPOGG does love questions, of course. So keep on sending them!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Let's Get Something Straight

We know! Let's buy or sell an apostrophe together! The side of your car looks like it could really use one.

"Lets" without the apostrophe means "permits" (among other things).

"Let's" is a contraction of "let us," which is what the slogan intends.

Thanks to Asa D. for the photo.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

More Tales from the Casting Couch

SPOGG's Hollywood actress friend has sent us more real errors from casting calls, along with her biting repartee:

Seeking: ametaur decorators.
Is that someone who outfits a centaur's cousin?

Wardrobe: Glases. High hills.
The hills are alive with the sound of glazing...[SPOGG suspects the hills they desire are at least a C-cup.]

Wardrobe: Two peace baiting suit.
What, a floppy hat and a fishing pole? [SPOGG: And love for one's fellow man, natch.]

"Excellent scene for someone looking to build there real." the foreman points to the empty lot and says, "Build there. Real."

Seeking: Backround.
You spin me right 'round, baby, right 'round, like a record baby, right 'round 'round 'round.

This was also spotted last month. Are you still hiring rubber bands, or did you mean all ethnicities?

Let Us Give Thanks...For Copy Editors

We fully admit we are jealous we did not get to attend this swank White House party. This is why we got a good chuckle out of the New York Times blog post this morning making fun of the editing on the menu:

The White House pulled out all the stops in preparation for President Obama’s first state dinner on Tuesday night, hiring a new florist, selecting a renowned guest chef and even inviting a number of high-profile musicians to perform.

But one person the White House apparently neglected to hire was a spell checker.

The special dinner menu — a lavish mélange of Indian and American favorites as well as several excellent wines — was rife with typos.

The second course of the evening was paired, for example, with a delicious 2006 Brooks Riesling, which, the menu noted, was bottled in “Wilamette Valley, Oregon.”

A diligent copy editor would have changed that to the proper spelling, “Willamette Valley.”

For their third course, the 320 guests were offered a dish that, according to the menu, included potato dumplings with tomato chutney and “chick peas,” which should in fact have been “chickpeas.” That course, the menu noted, was paired with an excellent red wine, a “2007 Granache” from Beckmen Vineyards. The correct spelling of the popular varietal, one of the most widely planted types of red grape in the world, is actually “Grenache” with only one “a,” not two.

The last bottle of the night was equally impressive, a sparkling chardonnay from Virginia. It was listed as a “Thibaut Janisson Brut,” missing a hyphen between the first two words. And last but not least, the dessert may have been free of error in taste, but not so in spelling. It included, according to the menu, passion fruit and vanilla “Gelees,” the French word for “gelled,” which, when written correctly, includes an acute accent on the second “e.”

For future reference, SPOGG is always available for menu editing. We work for food.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

We're Thinking He Missed Some Punctuation

We've watched this clip a couple of times now and do not believe this Dana person is taking the day off because he was murdered and set ablaze while celebrating his birthday.

Rather, we think Dana is taking the day off, and the subject of an entirely separate news report had the worst birthday ever. We can't see the teleprompter, but we bet there's a missing bit of punctuation--or even paragraph break--that would have made this a bit clearer. In any event, yikes!

Thanks to Peter W. for the video.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Apparently, There's Something Worse Than Bad Grammar and Punctuation

This comes from the Seattle P-I:

The nominees for Literary Review's 2009 Bad Sex in Fiction Awards were announced last Friday evening.

The awards were established by the editors to "gently dissuade authors and publishers from including unconvincing, perfunctory, embarrassing or redundant passages of a sexual nature in otherwise sound literary novels." They are annually awarded to the author who produces the worst, most laughable and/or jarring description of a sexual encounter in a modern novel.

At first, we thought we'd hit the jackpot: Ungrammatical sex scenes! Yes! (And yes, and yes!) Apparently, though, this is not the case. We don't completely follow this paragraph, but it ends with dirty punctuation puns, which earns automatic forgiveness:

In other words, when sex scenes go horribly wrong secondary to punctuation, syntax, or falling off a cliff into a seething, moist cleft of sexual imagination, and penetrating, deeper into the black velvet-painting darkness, with pen and paper meeting as one in a turgid embrace that ends with exhausted stylus squirting its bounty directly upon the face of the laid paper, the defiled page now laying there, humiliated but with a twisted smile. "Did you comma?" the pen asked. "I prefer verso to recto," the paper said, suggestively, "semi-colon."

The award itself is in the form of a "semi-abstract trophy representing sex in the 1950s," which depicts a naked woman draped over an open book.

This year's nominees are (with brief excerpts from offending passages)...

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Dear Facebook, What's Going On Here?

Our brother-in-law has befriended us on Facebook, which continues to taunt us with its crazy grammar:

You are now friend with [INSERT SECRET IDENTITY HERE].
Friend? FRIEND? How about friends? We cut Facebook a bit of slack for using "their" as an all-purpose pronoun. We look the other way when we see things that say "you have 1 new messages." But we can't think of a scenario where "friend" would be the correct choice.

Have you considered a copy editor, Facebook? We know quite a few who're looking.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Good News/Bad News

The good news is, the billboards in this Huffington Post feature are outstanding. The bad news? The HuffPo introduces the hilarity with a misplaced modifier.
When jetting down the highway advertisers only have seconds to catch your eye and keep your interest. We're pretty sure these billboards did just that. Also, they made us laugh.
We're pretty sure the advertisers work in offices. Doing anything but driving on the highway is discouraged.

Check out the billboards, though.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Friday Sign of the Apocalypse: An Apostrophe Catastrophe

This does not make us smile. It makes us weep.

Thanks to Bryan S. for the photo.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Really Unfortunate Quotation Marks

This comes from the BBC site. What's with the quotation marks?

Hijacked tanker's captain 'dies'
Pirate attacks continue despite the presence of naval forces The captain of a ship seized earlier this week off the Seychelles has died of gunshot wounds he suffered during the hijacking, Somali pirates say.

The quotation marks here make it seem as though he faked his death. If it's unclear, attribute it--even in the headline--to the pirates making the claim. Otherwise, the effect is terribly insensitive.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

On 'coinage'

Twice in two days we've come across an incorrect use of the verb "coin." Today's misuse appeared in Maureen Dowd's column.

To coin a phrase or word means to invent it.

Sarah Palin did NOT coin the phrase "bass-ackwards." The spoonerism has been around for years. For years! Let's not give Palin any more credit than she deserves. Feel free to interpret that as you will.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Grammar for Spammers: Cat Contest!

Finally, spam that isn't about penis enlargement. Instead, this one's about...cats (you thought we were going to say pussies, didn't you?).

SPOGG was amused enough that we are holding a contest. The person who rewrites this e-mail most persuasively (and grammatically) wins an autographed copy of THINGS THAT MAKE US [SIC]. Please post your revision in the comments section. When we have a respectable amount of replies, we will judge.

Do you need help understanding your feline?

Improve your own life by helping your cat improve their life.

Cats are smarter than dogs. You can't get eight cats to pull a sled through snow…

Problem cat behaviours ~ UGH! We’ve all had them and we all need to know how to remedy them! In Cat Secrets Revealed, a Texan cat trainer opens up the understanding and strategies that can transform an antisocial wildcat into a lovable housecat in less than two weeks!

It’s the best way to train your cat without going crazy in the process

Cat Secrets Revealed is a simple step-by-step guide that will teach you to change the behaviour of your cat. The techniques are based on the knowledge of the feline psyche.

Only when you understand your cat’s behaviour, are you able to change it.

Don’t despair – Help is at hand – click on the link to find out more – this could change your lives – don’t delay, click today – you’ll be so glad you decided to take action.

Click Here

Yours sincerely,

Steve Goodwin

Friday, November 13, 2009

Friday Sign of the Apocalypse: Oh, North Carolina

Courtney C. sends this along from the North Carolina state fair. Though we can't read all the text, we're impressed with the two visible goofs. She scores in the spelling and punctuation categories.

If the food won't give you a heart attack, the sign will. Bon appetit!

Update: A reader wrote asking SPOGG to include an explanation of the errors. We will do so starting now. In this photo, "chili" is spelled wrong. And they should have written 'n' instead of "n."

Use apostrophes to indicate a missing letter or letters. This is how we make contractions.

Put quotation marks around a letter or a word if you're referring to it as a letter or word itself.

For example: "Buttery" is the sort of word that sounds like what it means; "pulchritude" is not.

But you wouldn't say "Try our 'buttery' biscuits" unless you were using fake butter, which would be all kinds of wrong.

Quotation marks are widely used for emphasis, of course, but SPOGG does not care for this. It can get "annoying." And it can look "silly." See the "Blog" of "Unnecessary" Quotation Marks for more.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Friday Sign of the Apocalypse: Not So Grand

Maybe the third time will be the charm.

Thanks to Emily in L.A. for the photo.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Another Swell Portmanteau

Spamouflage: The practice of disguising your junk mail as desirable mail from your company (like, making it look like it's in response to an order you placed).

Thanks to Barry L. for sending it.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

How to Use an Apostrophe

If you are wearing pants, this will charm them right off of you. We're sorry about that.

How to use an apostrophe: the flowchart. Click the link for the whole darned thing.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Friday Sign of the Apocalypse: Phallic Fallacy

Or should we say "phallusy"?

Read carefully and try not to throw up in your mouth.

Thanks to Mim E. for the photo.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

A Referral Is Needed

You know, when you are the "Referral Institute," you probably should refer to a dictionary in times of doubt.

Thanks to Asa D. for the photo.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Not Exactly Grammar

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is being accused of hiding a secret message in this letter. His office says the dirty word therein is nothing more than a coincidence.

SPOGG is agog if it was intended, though. Clever, direct, and ballsy. Good writing, Governator.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

What's a 'crash blossom'?

Holly and Carey sent us a link to this story about the confusion that can sometimes arise with headlines that try to condense too much:

Linguists give a name to an old headline hazardIf brevity is the soul of wit, it is also the trapdoor of ridiculousness—at least in the world of headlines, which have long been prone to unintentional comedy along the lines of “Woman Better after Being Thrown from High-rise” and “Scientists Are at Loss Due to Brain-eating Amoeba.”

Now there’s a name for the phenomenon of ambiguously or bizarrely worded headlines: “crash blossoms,” as suggested by a poster at the Testy Copy Editors site in response to the headline “Violinist linked to JAL crash blossoms.”

Read the rest.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Dread Pre

The spam fairies were good to us today:

Subject line: Limited time offer lets you preplan for eternity

Schedule a preneed cemetery consultation and get $100 cash plus a preneed courtesy space certificate - a $900 value! Offer available only to the first 100 respondents and expires October 31, 2009. Take advantage of this limited time offer by clicking the link below.
SPOGG submits that you either plan or you don't. There is no such thing as pre-planning. This is called procrastination, and truly, we ought to know.

The idea of a "preneed" cemetery consultation is even more amusing, though. Presumably the time of need arrives when you're actually dead. Frankly, we would pay much more for a consultation that could come after our deaths, because that would allow us to remind our dearly pre-departed husband to keep the heat at 66 degrees or he will be sorry when the bill comes.

An unrelated note: neither preplanning nor planning for eternity sounds pleasant. In the days when we worked in an office, some planning meetings seemed to stretch on for eternity. We grew sick to death of that--figuratively speaking, of course.

Tales from the Casting Ouch

One of our readers is a Hollywood actress who will no doubt start getting even better parts when she is able to emulate the genuinely bad spelling and grammar directors use in their casting calls. Below are excerpts of classified ads that really ran, along with zingers from the thespian herself:

Director's note on a real casting call:
"I am a goo director"
How exactly does one direct goo? (SPOGG: Flubber!)

"Nicole is pregnant with her boyfriend Jason."
That's impossible.
And gross.

"We are BIZZZZY!!"
Nice to meet you, Bizzy. Are you the eighth of Snow White's friends?

"Plain collard shirts"
Do they have to be green?

"If you have you're own [costume]"
Truly possessed.

"Brake Danzers"
I'm picturing Tony Danza in the driver's seat.

"All elasticities welcome and highly encouraged to audition."
Did you mean ethnicities, or are you auditioning rubber bands?

Saturday, October 24, 2009

You Know the Nightmare of Forgetting to Put on Pants?

We've had that one. Worse, though, would be this scenario, which actually happened.

Scholars turn to style manuals for guidance in authoring error-free manuscripts, but what happens when the manual itself is laden with errors?

Users of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association are trying to answer that question now, after the APA last week released dozens of corrections to the first printing of the book’s sixth edition. In addition to being used in psychology, the manual is also used in sociology, economics, business, nursing and justice administration, among other fields.

“It’s egregious,” said John Foubert, an associate professor of education at Oklahoma State University, who bought two copies of the book – one for his office and one for home – when it was released in July. “These are the standards for how we write our manuscripts and how our students write their papers …. The irony is so thick.”

Read the rest.

Thanks to Jessica M. for the link.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Friday Sign of the Apocalypse: Vice Squad

No shoes, no shirt, no... what? Clearly, we won't have any fun inside this establishment.

Thanks to Jonnie and Aaron for the photo.

Friday Sign of the Apocalypse: A Tight Squeeze

This comes from beneath a table. We think it reads more like it comes from a contortionist's instruction manual.

Thanks to Mim. E for the photo.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

A Favor for Bryan Garner

Every so often we link to Bryan A. Garner's daily tips. We also rely on Modern American Usage and recommend it to other writers. We just received this rather disheartening e-mail from Bryan:

I have a favor to ask of you as a loyal reader: In the next few hours or days, would you please go to or and buy one or more copies of the new third edition of Garner’s Modern American Usage as holiday presents? In fact, keep this gift possibility in mind through the end of the year, won't you?

I need your help in sending a message to the major bookstore chains: they’re not stocking the book because they’ve told Oxford University Press that they consider usage guides a “defunct category.” It’s maddeningly unbelievable. Please help me show them that they’re stupendously wrong.

Meanwhile, in the coming months you might ask about the book when you’re in a bookstore: ask the managers why they don’t stock copies, and encourage them to do so.

If you’re curious to see what effect you’re having, watch the rankings on or in coming days and weeks. We’ll be alerting the major chains to those numbers, and we want to get as close to the top 50 as we can. If you're trying to order and see that the book is labeled "out of stock," order anyway: the effort is also to ensure that the online booksellers keep adequate stocks.

In return for this favor – it’s a grassroots effort – I’ll be happy to inscribe copies that you send to LawProse for that purpose, if you (1) include a filled-out FedEx airbill for returning them to you, and (2) suggest an appropriate inscription.

Thank you for whatever help you can provide in this endeavor to show booksellers that the concern for good English is alive and well.

Please consider doing this.

Another plea: Consider requesting copies of your favorite books and authors when you go to bookstores. Stores won't carry smaller books if people don't ask for them, particularly back-listed titles. Unless you want to live in a world where only "big" books--Dan Brown and the like--have a chance, it's incredibly important to support writers you like.

Brown can be one of those writers, of course. But there are great, great books that never get noticed on a tremendous scale, and when the big stores--Barnes and Noble, Costco and the like--refuse to carry them, we run the risk of a literary world determined by the mass appetites. It's not that these books are bad (though some of them aren't, shall we say, good). It's just that they crowd out the stuff that's idiosyncratic or meant for people who aren't typical. It's sort of like reducing everything to hot dogs. These are fine at times. But sometimes, you want a finer cut.

So if you think of yourself as anything different from average and if you have tastes that go beyond hot dogs, please express this about yourself by reading widely and courageously, and by supporting authors. Thank you!

When Unnecessary Quotation Marks Make Sense

This arrived today in our junk mail folder. Ordinarily, we are not a fan of the quotation mark used for emphasis, as it injects a certain insincerity into the mix. Today, though, we approve:


We are pleased to notify you the "Winner" of our last Secured Mega Jackpot Online Sweepstakes result. This is a reward program for the patronage of internet services and all email addresses entered for this promotional draws were randomly selected from an internet resource database of registered software and domain users.

Reference Number: AU 73 ES 2009
e-ticket number: 76545556452 009
Category: A
Amount: $2,500,000.00 (Two Million, Five Hundred Thousand Dollars)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A Hat Tip to the Horn Book

We saw this Monday on Twitter:

@HornBook Note to reviewers: an adventuress is NOT a girl adventurer.
Tis true! An adventuress is a woman pursuing money or position, or a woman who uses unscrupulous means in order to gain wealth or social position ( dated ).

This is why we refer to our dictionary often. Words that sound similar to another word, but perhaps a tad fancier, are particularly dangerous. This is how bemused and nonplussed are so often found botched in such vaunted places as The New York Times.

That said, we can't wait to use "adventuress" in context...something like this:

The adventuress eyed the ancient millionaire, slack-jawed and drooling in his wheelchair, and knew she'd marry him within a fortnight. With luck, he wouldn't be alive much longer.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

For Elements of Style Junkies, Part II

This continues our interview with Mark Garvey, author of Stylized: A Slightly Obsessive History of Strunk & White's The Elements of Style, in which it is revealed that E.B. White once took William Strunk's daughter Catherine out for at least one night on the town. (Vavoom!)

What’s your favorite part of The Elements of Style?

My favorite section is White's essay "An Approach to Style," which constitutes the book's fifth and final chapter. The core message of the chapter is that writers needn't strain to write with style. "To achieve style, begin by affecting none," White says. Style is something that accrues naturally--if a writer is doing her best to write with clarity, naturalness, and honesty. "All writing is communication," says White. "Creative writing is communication through revelation--it is the Self escaping into the open. No writer long remains incognito." The energies of chapter five are directed toward helping writers clear the murk from their writing so that the aforementioned self-revelation can be achieved with the fewest hurdles. I appreciate White's positive, inspiring message in "An Approach to Style."

What things did you learn about E.B. White and William Strunk that people will be most surprised to read in your book?

I was surprised to learn that Strunk and White had been friends. Up to now, all we really knew about Strunk was what White had told us about him in the New Yorker in 1957, in the piece that has been used as the introduction to The Elements of Style since 1959. In that essay, their relationship comes across as a typical teacher/student relationship. The fact is, they were good friends during White's college years (White spent considerable time at the Strunk home, they played chess together, enjoyed music and literary discussions, and White even took Strunk's daughter Catherine on at least one date). And they maintained a friendly correspondence throughout the rest of Strunk's life (he died in 1946). Strunk followed White's writings with avid interest and would often write to give White his thoughts on his latest published piece. I was also surprised to learn that Strunk had taken a one-year sabbatical near the end of his career to work in Hollywood as a literary consultant on a film version of Romeo and Juliet. He had a great time in Tinseltown.

I was delighted, too, if not particularly surprised, by the letters exchanged between White and his editors at Macmillan. I'm privileged to be able to reprint some of their correspondence in Stylized, and I think readers will find it as charming as I did. As I say in the book, their letters are a poignant reminder of the days when business took the time to breathe.

Monday, October 19, 2009

For Elements of Style Junkies

It's no secret that SPOGG loves The Elements of Style. We refer to it often. We still have the version we bought in eighth grade, when we first read it and felt the proverbial scales drop from our eyes. We also have the version we bought to replace that first one when the pages started falling out. And we have an illustrated edition signed by Maira Kalman.

It makes us somewhat less delighted to learn that the Unabomber also enjoyed it. Sigh. Still, we remain happy to have discovered Mark Garvey's Stylized: A Slightly Obsessive History of Strunk & White's The Elements of Style. It's the perfect book for people who cherish their slim, little volumes: full of anecdotes, letters, and even photos of the original authors.

Mark was gracious enough to answer some of our questions, which we'll post today and tomorrow. And of course, we had to ask what he thinks of the people who can find no good in the book we love so much.

What do you make of some of the critics of The Elements of Style? Do they have a point? Or is it just nastiness?

It depends on the critic, and on the criticism. Those who fault Elements for being an incomplete guide to grammar and rhetoric have a point. The book is a bit of a hodgepodge, and it's not a thorough treatment of the subject, though it covers many issues that are of fundamental importance to writers. But its incompleteness is not what gets under the skin of most of the noisier critics. Those who are most inflamed by the book often have a political axe to grind (for example: the book demeans women, it protects male privilege, it even promotes violence (the current issue of College English, an academic journal for comp teachers, includes a long piece suggesting, with a straight face, that the Strunk and White attitude contributed to the creation of the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski, who is apparently a fan of Elements)). Other critics react less against the book itself than against the way it has sometimes been used, bludgeon-like, in the hands of dogmatic teachers. Still others are anti-Elements because they claim that some of the information in the book is incorrect or that S&W "don't follow their own advice."

How to answer these objections? The political criticism seems to be just another outgrowth of the "theory" fetish that has overtaken the humanities departments of our universities, and to that extent I find it irrelevant and largely uninteresting (though it can sometimes be unintentionally hilarious, as in the Kaczynski example). It is also unhelpful to student writers, who would be better served by reading and heeding the advice in Elements than by sweating the politics. To the critics who claim the book has been misused by overzealous teachers: maybe it has, but I don't see how that can be the fault of Strunk and White. As to those critics who decry the book's factual errors, they often turn out to be factually mistaken themselves. For instance, one particularly shrill professor has said (ad nauseam) that Strunk and White advise writers to stop using adjectives and adverbs (they don't) and that S&W don't understand the concept of passive voice (they do). As for Strunk and White not following their own advice, I think both authors would admit to sometimes falling short. But don’t we all? And is that any reason to stop striving toward the ideal?

The overarching concern with many critics is that the book strikes them as too prescriptive, too doctrinaire, too stodgy. But teachers and critics who see the book as nothing more than a prescriptivist cudgel are simply not reading it right. Both Strunk and White went to some pains to be clear on the point: Rules can take you only so far. If they hamper your art, it's OK to bend them, dance with them, and even occasionally ignore them. Elements is simply not as dogmatic as it's sometimes made out to be.

One more point about the critics: You’ll notice that the best of them—those whose arguments are stated clearly and persuasively—tend to follow Strunk and White’s advice even while cursing it.

[SPOGG: Oh, snap!]

Friday Sign of the Apocalypse

Smoking pets wearing shoes, though, are entirely welcome.

Thanks to Denis in Vermont for the picture.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Copacabana Explained

We know you've long wondered about the grammatical structure underlying the genius that is Barry Manilow's Copacabana. Wonder no more.

Thanks to Lynne P. for the link (though we do object at the claim that "Copacabana" is an inexcusable fragment. We excuse it. We embrace it. Indeed, unto our very bosom.)

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A swell portmanteau

Carey B. sent along a portmanteau we rather like: floordrobe.

She says, "This is a form of clothing storage that does not require dressers, closets, or hangers. The clothing is stored on the floor and the user simply pulls out the desired item. This could also be called a walk-on closet."

Monday, October 12, 2009

Most Annoying Words?

Barry L. recently reminded us of one of last year's most irritating portmanteaus: staycation. The word still sticks to the roof of SPOGG's mouth like rancid peanut butter.

But apparently, Americans are more annoyed by another word. There's been a poll. All we have to say to that? Whatever.

Friday, October 09, 2009

New Feature: Friday Sign of the Apocalypse

It's Friday and SPOGG is pleased to introduce a new feature: The Friday Sign of the Apocalypse*.

We got the first picture from Asa D., who has a sharp eye for errors and for potentially dirty puns, a combination we always appreciate. Given what's happening in politics today, though--wide stances, love children, surprise soul-mate trips to Argentina, paid-off mistresses--do we really need this sort of thing?

On second thought, if he gets caught with his proverbial pants down, he'll at least be able to say he was keeping his promises.

And then there's this, from the wags at Upstart Crow Literary, the rare sign with two spelling errors:

Happy Friday!

* This feature will last as long as it amuses us. Send your Friday Sign of the Apocalypse photos to info @

Friday, October 02, 2009

Not Our Cup of Tea

Amy H. sends this paragraph from a company picnic invitation:

Tickets are available for purchase between now and Oct. 16 and will not be sold at the picnic. Anyone consuming food or beverages, including children, will need a ticket.
Much as we think tender, young children sound delicious, we are opposed to eating them, and even more opposed to drinking them. Unless, of course, someone has taken the time to strain all the lumps. (Oh, but we kid! We kid!)

Thursday, October 01, 2009

The Hyphen Marches On (and Away)

Yes, the English language is an ever-changing thing. Hyphenated word pairs often lose the punctuation and become one word. If only we could lose our pot-belly, er pot belly, as easily...

Thousands of hyphens perish as English marches on
Fri Sep 21 20:54:35 UTC 2007

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).

The hyphen has been squeezed as informal ways of communicating, honed in text messages and emails [SPOGG: THIS USED TO BE E-MAIL], spread on Web sites and seep into newspapers and books.

"People are not confident about using hyphens anymore, they're not really sure what they are for," said Angus Stevenson, editor of the Shorter OED, the sixth edition of which was published this week.

Another factor in the hyphen's demise is designers' distaste for its ungainly horizontal bulk between words.

"Printed writing is very much design-led these days in adverts and Web sites, and people feel that hyphens mess up the look of a nice bit of typography," he said. "The hyphen is seen as messy looking and old-fashioned."

The team that compiled the Shorter OED, a two-volume tome despite its name, only committed the grammatical amputations after exhaustive research.

"The whole process of changing the spelling of words in the dictionary is all based on our analysis of evidence of language, it's not just what we think looks better," Stevenson said.

Researchers examined a corpus of more than 2 billion words, consisting of full sentences that appeared in newspapers, books, Web sites and blogs from 2000 onwards.

For the most part, the dictionary dropped hyphens from compound nouns, which were unified in a single word (e.g. pigeonhole) or split into two (e.g. test tube).

But hyphens have not lost their place altogether. The Shorter OED editor commended their first-rate service rendered to English in the form of compound adjectives, much like the one in the middle of this sentence.

"There are places where a hyphen is necessary," Stevenson said. "Because you can certainly start to get real ambiguity."

Twenty-odd people came to the party, he said. Or was it twenty odd people?

Some of the 16,000 hyphenation changes in the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, sixth edition:

Formerly hyphenated words split in two:
fig leaf
hobby horse
ice cream
pin money
pot belly
test tube
water bed

Formerly hyphenated words unified in one:

Thanks to Sheryl M. for the story.

Worst. Portmanteau. Ever.

It's "vook," a hideous hybrid of video and book. While we're not at all opposed to the concept, the word is so far from good it seems like it's a joke. It sounds almost dirty. Either that, or like an ethnic insult. From this moment forward, we will only use it wrapped in the quotation marks of disdain.

C'mon, Simon and Schuster! You're supposed to be word people. Try harder. (See the NYT piece on "vooks" here.)

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Eggs Over Easy? Or Over Easily?

One of our members just sent in this question:

My optometrist told me he once joked with a breakfast server by ordering his eggs 'over easily,' rather than 'over easy.'

Understandably, spoken language in this setting is casual; however, in theory, is one form more acceptable than the other? Or, is the use of 'easy' in this case automatically recognized as an adverb?

I suspect the preposition 'over' complicates matters and may originate from how eggs were, and continue to be, served over toast.

Some food for thought; no pun intended!
We love questions like this.

Easy is an adverb as well as an adjective, and it means "without difficulty." So in another context, something like "sleep easy" is grammatical (even if some people say it's not).

So is it an adverb or a noun here?

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, "over easy" is a 79-year-old idiom that works as an adjective. That means it's modifying the noun "eggs." It's in a special class of adjectives the OED calls postmodifiers, which means it's a phrase follows what it modifies, limiting the meaning of the original word.

Here's the definition:


Of a fried egg: turned over when almost cooked and fried briefly on the reverse side. Also occas. of other fried foods. Cf. sunny side up at SUNNY adj. 5b(c), once over lightly at ONCE adv., conj., adj., and n. Phrases 11. Chiefly as postmodifier.

1930 Newark (Ohio) Advocate & Amer. Tribune 30 Aug. 4 Mikos, a restaurant owner, received an order for ‘two over easy’. He broke one egg into a pan and it was perfect. But the next egg, on being broken, yielded no yolk. 1945 California Folklore Q. 4 53 ‘Sunny side up’ and ‘Over easy’ are used in many American homes. 1946 Amer. Speech 21 88/2 Over easy, eggs fried lightly on both sides. 1972 J. MITCHELL Barangrill (song) in Compl. Poems & Lyrics (1997) 89 Ah, her mind's on her boyfriend And eggs over easy. 1994 Trav. & Leisure Dec. 67/1 A menu that includes over-easy fried porcupine, deep-boiled ox,..and fried silk worms. 2000 Elle Sept. 79/1 Sarah Jessica slithers into a seat and orders two eggs over easy, bacon and a toasted bagel.

So, the optometrist is being funny by being hypercorrect. But it's the kind of funny that means he probably shouldn't quit his day job.

Welcome, Encarta Readers

If you're coming to the SPOGG blog because you heard about us on Encarta, welcome. Actually, no matter how you discovered us, welcome! We're always glad for company, and we hope you're entertained.

If you like what you read here, please consider picking up a copy of our book, THINGS THAT MAKE US [SIC]. It's a funny guide to bad grammar--like EATS SHOOTS AND LEAVES, but it's not restricted to punctuation. What's more, 10 percent of our royalties support the National Brain Tumor Society, so every book sold raises a bit of money for a very good cause.

You can learn more about the book here.

Thank you for reading, and welcome to SPOGG.

Monday, September 28, 2009

In Defense of a Young Paul McCartney

The Guardian has a piece today about the earliest example of writing by Paul McCartney--an essay he wrote when he was just 10.

The essay has specialist significance for Beatles enthusiasts thanks to a grammatical error, ringed in red by his English master at Joseph Williams primary school in Belle Vale. Although McCartney may have been wrong to begin two sentences with the conjunction "But", his capital Bs reveal the same twirly ends later used on the Beatles' drum skin in 1962 – his contribution to the design. (Read the rest.)

Let's just have a moment of awww for how cute this is. We always liked Ringo for his big, goofy nose. But now, we're going with the crowd. Paul McCartney really is the cutest Beatle, at least until someone digs up Ringo's math homework from third grade.

McCartney's only real mistake here was starting a sentence with a conjunction in an English class. English teachers are often wrongly hung up on this non-error. Great writers have started sentences with conjunctions for at least as long as English teachers have been slinging red pens. It's not worth arguing the point with the teachers, though, because they're the ones who have the power to give out the points that count toward one's grade.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Slightly Pornographic

At least it is thus for some members of SPOGG: an inside look at the life and times of a New Yorker copy editor, Ms. Mary Norris, who has been with the magazine for 31 years.

Our favorite quote:

"The thing I like most about my job is that it draws on my entire background. I know a little Italian and Greek that sometimes come in handy. I once caught a mistake in Middle English (in a piece by Andrew Porter yet)—the only time my graduate degree has ever had a practical use. I know the name of the airport in Cleveland, and that can be useful when you’re reading a piece of fiction by a Southern writer who is making things up about northern Ohio. It’s redemptive to have a practical use for the arcana of Roman Catholicism."

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Look, Ma! We Make Stupid Puns

Oh, for peat's sake. We don't want to get bogged down with tiny things in the face of such an interesting story, but it's "wicker," not "whicker," unless the man is half horse.
'Whicker Man' tomb to yield Bronze Age secrets, say scientists
19 September 2009

HUMAN remains uncovered at a burial site in the Highlands are extremely rare and could provide new information about Bronze Age life, experts say.

The site was discovered in February when landowner Jonathan Hampton was using a mechanical digger to clear peat from Langwell Farm, Strath Oykel, in Sutherland.

He found a substantial stone cist (tomb) containing a skeleton that archaeologists believe was partially wrapped in animal hide or was wearing furs. A wicker basket lay over its face. Read the rest.

Thanks to Sue for the link.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Oh, Really, Greta Van Suspectpunctuation?

Explain the apostrophe, then, madam.

Thanks to Barbara Card Atkinson for the screen shot.

Monday, September 21, 2009

National Punctuation Day


National Punctuation Day is Thursday; how will you celebrate?

SPOGG's planning to use every punctuation mark from A-Z in this post, something that seemed like a good idea a few minutes ago, but now seems sort of silly--especially after the blatant exclamation-point-abuse in our opening sentence. "Did we really start a post with OMG," we wonder.

A quick review of the punctuation marks we've highlighted thus far: exclamation point, semicolon, question mark, apostrophe, en-dash, comma, em-dash, quotation marks, hyphen, colon... and now ellipsis. What are we missing?

Oh, that's right. The virgule. A punctuation mark/50-cent word. Happy National Punctuation Day!

Do let us know if we've forgotten anything. It is Monday, after all.

Friday, August 28, 2009

The English Lesson

We're about to head out on vacation, but we wanted to share an English lesson sent by SPOGG member Ashleigh before we go. Enjoy!

The English Lesson
We'll begin with box, and the plural is boxes;
But the plural of ox should be oxen, not oxes.
Then one fowl is goose, but two are called geese
Yet the plural of moose should never be meese.
You may find a lone mouse or a whole lot of mice,
But the plural of house is houses, not hice.
If the plural of man is always called men,
When couldn't the plural of pan be called pen?
The cow in the plural may be cows or kine,
But the plural of vow is vows, not vine.
And I speak of a foot, and you show me your feet,
But I give a boot - would a pair be called beet?
If one is a tooth and a whole set are teeth,
Why shouldn't the plural of booth be called beeth?
If the singular is this and plural is these,
Why shouldn't the plural of kiss be nicknamed kese?
Then one may be that, and three may be those,
Yet the plural of hat would never be hose;
We speak of a brother, and also of brethren,
But though we say mother, we never say methren.
The masculine pronouns are he, his and him,
But imagine the feminine she, shis, and shim!
So our English, I think you will all agree,
Is the trickiest language you ever did see.
I take it you already know
Of tough and bough and cough and dough?
Others may stumble, but not you
On hiccough, thorough, slough, and through?
Well done! And now you wish, perhaps
To learn of less familiar traps?
Beware of heard, a dreadful word
That looks like beard and sounds like bird.
And dead; it's said like bed, not bead;
For goodness sake, don't call it deed!
Watch out for meat and great and threat,
(they rhyme with suite and straight and debt)
A moth is not a moth in mother.
Nor both in bother, broth in brother.
And here is not a match for there.
And dear and fear for bear and pear.
And then there's dose and rose and lose --
Just look them up -- and goose and choose.
And cork and work and card and ward,
And font and front and word and sword.
And do and go, then thwart and cart.
Come, come, I've hardly made a start.
A dreadful language? Man alive,
I'd learned to speak it when I was five,
And yet to write it, the more I sigh,
I'll not learn how 'till the day I die.
***** ********** *****

Monday, August 24, 2009

Where's the Devil?

In the details of church signs, apparently. God doesn't make junk...or church billboards, apparently.

Thanks to Asa D. for taking the photo.

'Apostrophe Warrior' Attacks

Steven C. sends this today from the Telegraph (note the British punctuation in the story):
Apostrophe warrior Stefan Gatward's mission to correct our wayward grammar
Accountant Stefan Gatward, who shot to fame for correcting the grammar of a street sign in Royal Tunbridge Wells, has launched a campaign to correct errors in signs across the town.

By Patrick Sawer
Published: 9:00PM BST 22 Aug 2009

Even his admirers admit he is "a bit of an old codger". But Stefan Gatward –accountant, former private in the Gordon Highlanders and now Anglican day chaplain – remains unrepentant.

The apostrophe warrior of Tunbridge Wells Known as The Apostrophe Man of Royal Tunbridge Wells, Mr Gatward shot to fame last week after taking the law (or at least a bylaw) into his own hands by adding a missing apostrophe to the street signs on his road.

St Johns Close became St John's Close and overnight Mr Gatward gained respect and derision in equal measure. While many of his neighbours congratulated him on his stand, the apostrophe was scratched off three days later.

Fearful of an appearance at a magistrate's court – or should that be magistrates' court? – Mr Gatward decided not to paint in the apostrophe again.

Read the rest.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Sometimes, the Spelling Is So Bad...

... that it's downright adorable.

Check out the spelling of "refrigerator" on Alexia's blog.

Diagnosis: Bangorrhea

Oh, MC Hammer. We're worried about you and your exclamation points. You might stab yourself on one. Do we need an intervention?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

What Sounds Like a Machine That Makes Idiots?

Idiomatic--what a great word. And yet, it doesn't mean "machine that clanks out idiots automatically," which would be cool in a Dr. Seuss/Willy Wonka kind of way.

No matter, though. Idioms are still great fun. Even though the book I'm Not Hanging Noodles on Your Ears isn't a grammar reference, people who love language are going to get a kick out of it. Written by Jag Bhalla and published by National Geographic, it's amusing, surprisingly deep, and explains the importance of idioms nicely: "Languages make visible what's important to their users." In it you'll find a collection of 1,000 or so idioms from languages around the world, along with brief, insightful essays to put things in context.

Some of the idioms are funny. The French call a man who is attracted to any woman the "lover of a goat whose hair is combed."

Some will give you a little pang. "To eat like a child of God" (i.e., an orphan) is to eat quickly in Mexico of Spain. Meanwhile, children are "fruit of heaven" in Hindi. But an unexpected, not altogether welcome event is "a daughter of yesterday" in Arabic. Ouch.

It's an especially useful book for fiction writers looking to give life to their characters. Do check it out.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Flubber Remake?

From a note on a director's casting call:

"I am a goo director"

(Thanks, Little Willow!)

Signs of the Times

Thanks to Little Willow for this list of unintentionally hilarious signs--and thanks to the anonymous person who assembled the list in the first place:

Did I read that sign right?

In a Laundromat:

In a London department store:

In an office:

In an office:

Outside a secondhand shop:

Notice in health food shop window:

Spotted in a safari park:(I sure hope so)

Seen during a conference:

Notice in a farmer ' s field:

Message on a leaflet:

On a repair shop door:

Monday, August 17, 2009

Finally, He's Playing Our Song

However brilliant he is at parody, Weird Al has always been vaguely embarrassing to watch. Now, though, we are singing along. Thanks to Forrest for the link.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

From the front lines of human resources

Julie R. sent us these resume gaffes. She's hiring new people for her business--but only one of these candidates made it to the second round. You'll see why:

1) From a two-paragraph Objective: “I am very goal-oriented and I achieve over half of all goals I set for myself.”

Maybe I’m too type A – but “over half” is not my idea of success. I can see it now,
"Gee – I set a goal to take the customer’s order and bus their table, but I just couldn’t get 100% of my goal completed."

2) From a cover letter: “I live right up the road so if you want to give me a call at anytime I can come down there in mins.”

Why abbreviate the word minutes? Is that to show just how quickly this person can get to work? Before the word “minute” is finished--and so fast a period is not required between sentences?

3) Here is an example of the shortened resume-speak taken too far. It still needs to make sense, after all. Peppering one’s resume with fancy phrases like “as to” and “therein” doesn’t improve incoherent phrases: “Practice French service and advise as to wines.”

Since the rest of the resume was written in the standard resume past tense, this person should have said, “Practiced French Service and advised patrons about wine.”

4) “HERE I WORKED IN THE SEAFOOD AND PRODUCE DEPT. PREPARING AND MAINTAINING THE DEPTARTMENTS AS WELL AS OFFERING GREAT CUSTOMER ASSISTANCE WAS DONE DAILY. Though I didn’t appreciate the all caps, this seemed more like a cut and paste error from editing. I gave this person a pass to round two because I liked the rest of the resume.

5) And finally, to the person who misspelled their name at the top of their resume: Come on! That is just lazy.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

This Sounds Painful, Possibly Criminal

Thanks to John L. for the picture.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Putting the Twit in Twitter

From Jessica Simpson's Twitter feed:

Is "asks" even a word? If not, sorry 4 my layziness with grammar.
6 minutes ago from UberTwitter

love it when the lyric of a song asks me a question
14 minutes ago from web
This is one of those times when additional commentary feels unnecessary.

Bank robbery--foiled by bad vocabulary?

We read this in the Seattle Times this morning. It's a story about a bank employee fired for chasing down a robber. What jumped out at us, though, was this section of the story:
When the man came into the bank, at 434 Queen Anne Ave. N., dressed in a knit cap on one of the hottest days of the year, Nicholson says he was immediately uneasy. The suspicious-looking man walked in and out of the bank, then got in the teller line, then stepped out of line.

When he finally approached the counter, he walked toward Nicholson and said, "This is a ransom, fill the bag with money," Nicholson said.

Hearing the word "ransom," Nicholson stopped for a second and asked to see the man's gun.

The man said, "It's a verbal ransom." Nicholson then lunged over the counter at him.

"My intent was to grab his glasses off his face, or him," Nicholson said.

Fortunately for Nicholson, the man wasn't armed.
Interesting! When the robber used the wrong word, the bank teller decided he was a joker. Had the robber said, "This is a robbery," he might have intimidated the teller and gotten away. It just goes to show that when you use the wrong word, people take you less seriously--even when you say you have a gun.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Perez Hilton: Vizzini Alert

From his blog:

Gossip Girl star Taylor Momsen shares her extremely diluted opinion of herself in an interview accompanying her September Teen Vogue cover.
Oh, Perez. How you manage to be so popular despite your terrible, terrible writing remains a mystery. The word is "deluded." It's probably a good one for you to know.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

'Drink Drivers'? Or Drunk Editors?


NZ judge rejects drink [sic] driver's swine flu defense
WELLINGTON, New Zealand -- A New Zealand woman had a novel defense when she appeared in court on a drunk-driving charge: It was swine flu's fault.

That would be drunk. DRUNK.

Source: a local newspaper that recently laid off a good chunk of its staff.

UPDATE: A couple of people have written to let me know that in the U.K., Australia and New Zealand, it's "drink driving." That is all jolly good/bollocks/brilliant for them. In the United States, though, it's drunk or drunken driving. SPOGG's clumsy point was that newspapers that lay off copy editors and fill their pages with wire copy will have all sorts of goofy things in their pages. Now back to our grammartini...

Punk Rock Paint review

The genius behind Punk Rock Paint has reviewed our book, THINGS THAT MAKE US SIC. Check out the SPOGG baseball card. We're honored!

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Trouble with Omitting Apostrophes

The Boston Globe ran a story on apostrophes today that contained this paragraph:

One that bugs him is the name of a mountain whose shape is so iconic that it's stamped on the state quarter: Camels Hump. Trouble is, leaving the apostrophe out of the first word runs the risk of making the second look like a verb, creating what Sanford called an "unfortunate" image.

Amen, even if camels are entitled to their carnal pleasures, too. Read the whole story, if you'd like.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Typo Scuttles Launch

This caught our eye today:

July 22, 1962: Mariner 1 Done In by a Typo
By Tony Long July 22, 2009 12:00 am

When The New York Times copy desk lets a typo slip through, it’s embarrassing but no one gets hurt. When NASA programmers screw up, the consequences are a tad more dramatic, not to mention expensive. In this case, a “missing hyphen” in code forces mission control to abort the launch of the unmanned Mariner 1 probe less than five minutes after liftoff. (Read more.)

Is it just us, or should the "after" above actually read "before"? We're not rocket scientists, but can you stop something that's already happened? Is there a difference between launch and liftoff? Space cadets want to know.

The Case of the Incognito Photographer

We wonder what "Gerry" has done that requires him to talk about himself with unnecessary quotation marks--as if he really isn't "Gerry," but some other character just using the name for kicks and "giggles."

Maybe he's doing time for quotation mark "abuse" and is using an alias to protect his true identity. Yes, that's most likely it. It's a "shame." Grammar jail means hard time, people, especially if the semicolon decides to make you her bi--oh, never mind.

Nice photos, though.

Saturday, July 25, 2009


"Bow-wow-tique, I could understand," writes the sensational artist Jaime Temairik, who sent us this photo.

She makes an excellent point. We excuse all sorts of creative spellings when puns are involved. But "ice cream" as one word? No. Never. Or at least not yet.

The only word they got right on this sign was "bakery, which our relentless punster wishes they'd made "barkery."

This sign, people. Perhaps it's catty of us to mention, but it's a total dog.

Misspelled Tattoos

The first one says "Only God will juge me." Maybe so. But everyone else will judge your spelling.

Check out all the unfortunate and hilarious misspellings here.

If you like those, there are 10 more. (Our favorite: the come-hither bosom tattoo that says "beautiful tradgedy," though "imermanence is forever" wins the irony award.

Thanks to Jessica for the links.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Wonder What They Were Selling

And this is why newspapers shouldn't lay off all their copy editors...

Ballard businesses file lawsuit challenging Burke-Gilman Trail extension
By Lindsay Toler
Seattle Times staff reporter

Two cyclists peddling along the docks in Ballard stop and ask two maritime-industry workers leaning against a truck for directions to the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks.
The word here should have been "pedaling."

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Cremation of Your Dreams...

Carey sends along this delightful advertisement:

When Copy Editors Attack

Vanity Fair has edited Sarah Palin's resignation speech. Read if it you want to see red.

Grammar for Spammers: Dirtybird Edition

In the inbox this morning:

Looking for a one night stand?

Hookup tonight with other hot, sexy people in your area looking for some "No Strings" adventures!
Sigh. It's one-night stand--we would never dream of doing it without a hyphen. And "hook up" is two words when used as a verb. There is no reason to capitalize No Strings. And for the love of index fingers, please! Stop with the unnecessary quotation marks.

We will always wonder, though, how they knew those sexy people were in our "area." We do try to keep that part covered with a bathing suit...

Monday, July 20, 2009

Man...or Octopus?

Michael V. sends this unfortunate headline our way:

Man's arm severed, 3 others critically injured in crash near Midway
Does the man have four or more arms? Is he some sort of octopus? While we are very sorry to hear about the crash, we shake our heads (yes, we are a freak and have many) in dismay at the headline.

The first subject--the arm--isn't quite parallel to the second and it leads to strange interpretations of what happened. Yikes.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Grammar: Not Rocket Science

"While many teachers might doubt this, the teaching of grammar is not rocket science!" —Phyllis C. Hutson, The Essentials of Grammar Instruction, 2006, p. 1

So many terrible jokes could come of this...But grammar is such a gas! Really, so potent it could be rocket fuel!

Instead, though, we will refer you to the hilarious book Not Rocket Science, by our beloved friend Craig Conley. It's the world's only compendium of things that are not, in fact, rocket science--and it's infinitely more amusing than our lame puns.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Split Infinitives: We Care

We saw this today on the Huffington Post, and it makes a point we made in our book, Things That Make Us [Sic]: split infinitives are fine, and sometimes better than the alternative.

I think about this phrase constantly: "The secret is not to care." Because if I don't want to let certain things make me unhappy, the secret is not to care. (Not to mention not caring about the weird grammar of the phrase.)

Compare these two sentences:

- The secret is not to care.
- The secret is to not care.

The words are the same--but their meanings are different. The first doesn't say what the secret is. It just says that not caring isn't the secret. Anything could be the secret. The secret is not to care; it's to wear plaid pants.

The second is clearer. The secret is to "not care." You'll be a happier person, in other words, if you don't give a darn. This is probably true. And yet we find ourselves caring more about words than we do our own happiness. Alas!

This whole business of split infinitives is maddening. Despite what you might have heard from your English teachers, there is NO rule in English that requires the to+verb of an infinitive to appear together. It was an attempt long ago to make English more like Latin, where the infinitive form is one word and can't be split. This is worse than the rule banning white shoes after Labor Day, because at least that rule spares us from the sight of ugly footwear.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Do You Think the Jury Will Notice?

Note to self:

When you become a dermatologist taking care of a world-famous celebrity who most likely has an addiction to the narcotic Demerol, have someone proofread your letter so that when the inevitable court case comes about, you don't look like you went to medical school in a South American strip mall.

Thanks to Jessica M. for the find.

Friday, July 10, 2009

And This Is Why...

This is why SPOGG thinks authority (along with foam curlers, hairspray, and sensible suits) is highly overrated.

Thanks to Adam for the screenshot.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Monkeying Around

These will be the monkeys who--someday, while smoking and pounding away on tiny typewriters--will someday reproduce Shakespeare's plays and poetry.

BBC: Monkeys recognise bad grammar

Oooh oooh! Aaaa aaa! (Insert armpit scratching here.)

Strange Usage and a Fun Debate

This comes from James M. Do read on; there are some gems in here.

A couple of months ago, I sent some statements my freshmen students made (and made me cringe!). I have discovered that bizarre usages are scarcely restricted to college students.

My wife and I are spending about eight weeks in Pompano Beach, Florida (smart move, right, in the summer?), so we read the Sun-Sentinel down here. In yesterday's paper, there was a feature article on the famous Ft. Lauderdale air show, which is resuming after a three-year hiatus. Jack Seiler, mayor of the city, called the air show "one of the neatest, one of the funnest events you can put on."

Ouch! Talk about things that make one "sic"! When and where did "fun" become an adjective and have comparatives? Young people use the expression "so fun" and "very fun" among other strange usages. Is there any hope?*

Also, in the online Paulist Press news for today, there was a headline, "St. John Neumann Stole for Pope." Good grief -- a cardinal breaking the Seventh Commandment?! Turns out the story reported that Obama is visiting the pope soon and will present him with the stole worn by Cardinal Neumann. Sigh of relief coming soon.

Finally, also relating to a mayor, a friend of mine was originally from Nebraska and proudly displayed the big "N" in the rear window of his car, as a supporter of their football team. One day, he said, he parked right outside city hall in Omaha. The mayor happened by, nodded to the sign and said, "You know, son, that letter doesn't just stand for Nebraska football. It also stands for knowledge." As the great Mark Twain once wrote, "Let us draw the curtain of charity over the rest of the scene."

* SPOGG is going out on a limb here, but we think it's OK to use "fun" as an adjective. Bryan A. Garner says it's only as a "casualism," which is a hilarious stuffy word given its meaning.

Here's how "fun" has slid into the adjective forest, Garner explains in A Dictionary of Modern Usage. When we say, "This is fun," fun could either be an adjective or a noun. It's a short leap from this to full-fledged adjectivehood. He clearly hates it, though, calling it "casual at best."

Even though "funnest" remains a silly, awful word, there's just no way we can stop people from using it as an adjective, or they will rightly accuse us of not being

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

We Hate It When That Happens

Bill Walsh's Blogslot has a very funny newspaper correction. Check it out.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Michael Jackson's Curious Coffin

We received this e-mail on the 4th of July from Jessica M., who was clearly avoiding getting a sunburn. We were amused by her rant and are reproducing her comments in their entirety because Michael Jackson is being laid to rest today and it seemed as inappropriate as everything else related to his untimely death:

Soooo, it appears information about Jackson's casket have been released. Alas, the attention to detail in the coffin was not used on the reporting. It appears that this is a "custom casket" and that "This is the same casket used to bury James Brown."

Now I know I'm a word nerd, but this leaves me with two impressions: (I'll get to my issues with the name of the casket in a moment)

A) this is not really a custom casket in the normal usage of the phrase, since this "Promethean" model is made for others who can afford it...but, I'll leave them alone on that one since they didn't say "one of a kind."


B) "THE SAME CASKET USED TO BURY JAMES BROWN!?!?!" .....ummmmm, OK, that's a little unusual, No?
Did they dig him up so they could use the same casket again? Sorry reporters, this one I can't let slide. Perhaps "the same model of casket" or "a similar casket" would have been more accurate reporting.
Then again, they do say the casket is "extremely rare" and I suppose if Jackson is getting to use the exact same casket that James Brown is/was in then that would, really and truly - be very, very, very rare. It's also just the sort of weird thing Jackson might have wanted. Therefore, when dealing with someone as strange as Michael Jackson, it really seems best to be very specific.

Michael Jackson's $25,000 Custom Casket
Jul 2nd 2009 6:22PM
A $25,000, solid bronze, 14-karat gold plated, custom
casket has been ordered for Michael Jackson.The casket -- ordered last night from Batesville Casket Company -- is called a Promethean and will feature a flame blue velvet interior and a hand-polished, mirror finish.This is the same casket used to bury James Brown... and is extremely rare.

The rest of this e-mail has nothing to do with picking on the news. Now I'd like to pick on casket makers:

I have to question the Batesville Casket Company's wisdom on naming the casket the "Promethean." I don't know about you, but for me this brings to mind the titan of the same name chained to a rock, having his liver eaten daily by a huge bird as punishment by Zeus for giving humans fire. "Promethean" seems like a better name for a model of urn because of the whole fire thing...maybe...but nobody asked me.

There is also the small trouble of a Promethean usually being a soulless shell, either made from clay or other "parts." Clearly this was what Marry Shelley took away from the name Promethean - her famous book is actually titled "Frankenstein: a The Modern Prometheus" but most current publications have dropped the subtitle. Perhaps it's just me, but I don't want my loved ones and Promethean to be linked together in my mind.

In other awesomeness, "Promethean: The Created" is a video game that has this description:
A Promethean is created from the corpse of a human by a creator; in certain cases, desired components from more than one corpse are combined into a single end-product. Very rarely, otherwise inanimate matter may be used, making a sort of magical android similar to a
Golem but with considerably greater variation in form and composition. The Promethean is not human, in either the physiological or cognitive sense. It is a corpse that walks, its autonomic functions and soul replaced by the power of the Divine Fire. While the Divine Fire allows him to pass as a human from a distance, it does not make up for the lack of a soul. When a Promethean spends enough time around humans, the humans begin to fall prey to Disquiet, the feeling that there is something not just fundamentally different, but utterly wrong about the Promethean. Disquiet initially manifests itself as distrust or avoidance of the Promethean; at its worst, it can blossom into mindless rage that can only be abated by the death of the Promethean. Different Promethean Lineages generate different manifestations of Disquiet, each with their own enervating effect on the local environment and population. Disquiet affects more than just mortals; a Promethean who spends too long in one place will find the landscape and environment itself becoming tainted by his Disquiet, eventually turning into a Wasteland. Leaving the tainted zone far behind allows the land to eventually heal, but it does require the Promethean to keep on the move.

Since the video game was made back in 2006, they clearly weren't talking about Michael Jackson, but still...

Thanks for joining me on my random proofreading and Promethean coffin name tangent!