Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Romance Writing: Sometimes, It's a Bit Much

From SPOGG Scout Sue:

Dear Friends at SPOGG--

I just got a magazine called "Romance," from Harlequin Publishers. It has some really amazing and amusing prose in it. The best sentences are in an article written by a woman who won a prize in a writing contest, and I quote:

"…While having romance author-worthy amenities like a swimming pool bordering the sand and a bathtub positioned for gazing out to the ocean, the house also has unique flavors that give a little kick, such as a painting hanging on the wall by Dr. Seuss and a bouquet of colorful flowers wrapped in crisp green asparagus spears sitting on the counter...The calm solitude actually buzzes with life...she gives embracing hugs goodbye...."

We rolled on the floor laughing about the painting hanging by Dr. Seuss. We could not figure out the bouquet wrapped in asparagus spears--what was the author really intending to say?! I'm curious to know if this author won a writing prize, who else entered the contest?

Dear Sue,

Embracing hugs, eh? Are there any other kind? Also, who knew Dr. Seuss was in good enough condition to be hanging on the wall? And, about those asparagus spears... usually when romance writers are talking about spears, it's another kind entirely. What's more, it's deflowering they're concerned with -- not so much the bouquet kind. So, at least on that score, our bodices are heaving in relief.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

The Devil's in the Details

A six-ton granite monument to the 10 Commandments appeared mysteriously at the courthouse in Dixie County, Florida, as if deposited there by a divine being who thinks nothing of carving and lifting such massive pieces of stone.

Unfortunately, the creator misspelled "adultery" and totally botched the syntax of No. 4 -- unless he's fresh off a writing workshop with James "A Million Little Pieces (of Fiction)" Frey and decided to take a little liberty with normal sentence structure.

But we'll cut God some slack. He's obviously really good at biology and geography. Maybe the spelling and grammar is all Satan's territory. Knowing us, we wouldn't be at all surprised.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Quotation Mark Abuse

At our favorite taco stand, a handwritten sign encourages patrons to recycle their "cans."

At one of our favorite relative's homes, a sign that said, "Thank you for 'not smoking' " sat sternly on the coffee table for many years.

Why is it that the people and places we love tend to abuse quotation marks? People, it's not that hard. They're used for direct quotes and, very often, for titles of books, poetry, movies and songs. They should not be used to be cute. They should not be used to be funny. Nor should they be used for emphasis, whether in print, or in their air-quote form in conversations.

We are therefore delighted to introduce you to flickr's "Quotation Mark" Abuse collection. It's a photographic hall of quotation mark shame.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

It's the Spelling That Counts

While researching a piece on gifts, we came across the following at the Toys Are Good Food blog. It's an inscription in a book given in 1972 from a daughter to her parents. The kicker? It's a book called "Open Marriage: A New Life Style for Couples."

Christmas 1972

Dear Mother and Daddy,

I truly hope that you will find at least a little value out of this book. As an observer to your marriage of 24 years, I can see many of the elements of open marriage in your relationship. However, perhaps there is something here which will help you to understand yourselves beter and also help each one of us as we individularry make the step into our own marriages. I love you both and pray that my own marriage (if there is one for me) will be as good as yours is.
God bless you and your relationship.

Love, Dotty

And about the book's title: Lifestyle, though generally one word today, was sometimes written as two in the 1970s. When it was coined in the late 1800s, it had a hyphen (thanks, OED!). We're feeling charitable about this spelling choice and won't ding the authors -- a married couple, no less -- even if we would never want to swap keys with them.)

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Celebrities Can't Spell, Entry 999,873

From Nicole Richie's blog:

BLIND ITEM: What 35 year old raisin-face whispers her order of 3 peices of asparagus for dinner at Chateau everynight, and hides her deathly disorder by pointing the finger at me, and used her last paycheck I wrote her to pay for a publisist instead of a nutritionist? HINT: Her nickname is lettucecup...

The next item comes from Britney Spears' paper on "Antigone." The writing is hard to read, but she spells loses as "looses," there as "their" and rumor as "roomer," and that's just on the first page.

Here's the sad part -- Christie's Auction House is asking $500 for this, which is about what we made on our first book:

(click to enlarge)

Genetic Roots of Spelling Woes

Wouldn't you know it? Dyslexia and spelling problems are genetic -- and appear to boil down to an unlucky combination of 13 genes.

London, Nov 27: Scientists from Edinburgh University claim to having identified the gene sequence that determines a person’s ability to work with letters and numbers.

The findings of the 20-year study conducted by them suggest that those likely to suffer from extreme forms of dyslexia can be identified before they are born, and given extra care to help deal with the condition.

Dr Timothy Bates, one of the co-authors of the study, says that they have unveiled a combination of 13 genes that presumably affects a person’s ability to work with letters and numbers.

"We believe this combination of 13 genes makes all the difference between someone who reads flawlessly and speedily and someone who stumbles on basic words," the Scotsman quoted him as saying.

"We are confident these genes explain the bulk of the genetic effect. It tells us that reading ability boils down to the same common biological mechanism," he added.
The geneticists examined 1,300 people for their abilities in reading, writing and spelling, and thereby identified the genes influencing their performance. They discovered that it was the same set of genes that was responsible for dyslexia, and milder spelling and reading problems.

"This is fantastic news. The earlier dyslexic children are diagnosed and given help, the better their chances of living fulfilled lives,” said Vikki McNicol of the British Dyslexia Association. (ANI)

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Care to, er, Commensurate?

SPOGG Member Tasha R. sends this from Rhode Island:

Prepress Desktop Operator
Reply to:

Date: 2006-11-20, 3:59PM ESTSeeking hard working candidates to work in a growing, fast-paced printing company. Sucessful candidates must have working knowledge of desktop publishing software, great work ethic, ability to follow direction, strong attention to detail and ability to work well with others.

Understanding of printing and prepress is important, but a winning attitude is a must. This is a 1st shift position with some overtime required.

Location: Rumford, RI

Compensation: Pay Commiserate with experience

Principals only. Recruiters, please don't contact this job poster.

Please, no phone calls about this job! Please do not contact job poster about other services, products or commercial interests.

Grammar for Whales

We never suspected this back in the late '80s, when we were relaxing to the "Songs and Sounds of Humpback Whales" CD we bought in the bargain bin at the college bookstore.

Male humpbacks use grammar in love songs
2006-11-28 10:08:01
BEIJING, Nov. 28 (Xinhuanet) -- Scientists have found that not only do male humpback whales sing love songs, they use grammar. And they have a larger vocabulary than previously thought.

Scientists had previously known of a very narrow range of sounds involved in humpback communication. These include calls associated with hunting for fish and long complex songs from male humpbacks linked with mating.

"The most surprising thing was there were 35 different types of sounds found. We were expecting less (fewer!) than 10," said researcher Rebecca Dunlop at the University of Queensland in Australia.

Dunlop and colleagues monitored humpback sounds and activity from land as the whales migrated along the east coast of Australia from breeding grounds inside the Great Barrier Reef to feeding grounds in the Antarctic.

The underwater sounds they recorded included "thwops," "wops," "grumbles," "snorts," "cries," and what are likely underwater blows similar to surface spouting. Surface sounds include those when breaching or repeated slaps of the tail or fins.

The scientists discovered these sounds appeared to have a variety of social uses including to help mothers and calves stay in contact, or as competitive calls among large groups of adults. The whale calls might also be be specific to one sex.

Some sounds are only used by males for social interactions, especially when single males joined females. This could mean the song units are the key sexual signals in the male songs as opposed to song length or loudness, as is the case in some bird species, the researchers said.

Research earlier this year found humpback whales to use grammar in their love songs.

Interestingly, the new study found that a number of sounds were made by lone animals. This suggests their use is not limited to social interactions.
This research could help understand the impact noise from ships and other manmade sounds have on whales.

"This noise is increasing in the ocean," Dunlop said. "We don't know how this will affect individuals and populations of whales without first knowing how they communicate in a relatively 'noise-free' environment."

We're Jealous

The Banterist's Grammar Cop issued a citation we wish we'd written ourselves.

A Fox in the Doghouse

Is Fox Sports the un-SPOGGiest in the land?

We're afraid so. Below, please find our evidence: has learned that the Seahawks QB is scheduled to undergo an MRI today for an injury in his left hand during Monday night's game.
The verdict: This sentence is gets a red flag for being confusing. It should be recast like so: has learned that the Seahawks QB is scheduled to undergo an MRI today for an injury to his left hand he received during Monday night's game.
Then, sent from SPOGG Scout Glenn W.,
"Burdick said Jackson obtained the handgun he is accused of firing lawfully and informed officials in Indiana of his probationary status in Michigan while applying for permits."
Did he fire the gun lawfully? Who knows? We rather suspect he obtained it legally, and fired it while crazy drunk. But we would never say such a thing out loud.

Glenn also sends this little nightmare of editing:
"Paul Casey's ace - the fifth in Ryder Cup history - closed out a 5-and-4 romp for he and David Howell over Stewart Cink and Zach Johnson, part of a dominating afternoon in which Europe expanded its lead to 10-6."
This should be "for him," not "for he."

The ultimate piece for our collection, though, is one submitted by our husband. Please note the spelling of "surrender." To us, that really says it all -- at least when it comes to their copy editors' state of mind.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Grammar Quiz, Anyone?

SPOGG is pleased to report we scored 100 percent. Good luck!

Your Language Arts Grade: 100%

Way to go! You know not to trust the MS Grammar Check and you know "no" from "know." Now, go forth and spread the good word (or at least, the proper use of apostrophes).

Are You Gooder at Grammar?
Make a Quiz

A Band We Like

Name? The Subjects

Members of the band? Two high school graduates and two of their teachers.

Origin of the Name? An argument about grammar. This alone is enough to make our pulse race. Even better, their music rocks.

Go Subjects, Go!

Methinks She Dost Protest Too Mcuh?

If we were Cindy Sheehan, grieving a son lost to a war that didn't need to be fought, we'd probably do exactly what she's doing. But we like to think we'd hang out with better spellers.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Watch the Dangly Bits

It's been a week for misspellings and dangling participles, the two bad clowns of the printed world.

SPOGG scout Sue sends this, from the Nov. 18 New Bern Sun Journal:

"Archaeologists announce find at supposed QAR site," we find the following fascinating flub: "Made of brass or bronze, conservators will be able to clean the bell much more quickly than the iron cannons that can take years to ready for display, Welsh said."

Please note that the headline in the paper was capitalized exactly as shown above. And, for your information, the QAR is the Queen Anne's Revenge, a ship that the pirate Blackbeard captured and then made into his personal ship.

We are guessing here that the conservators themselves are not made of brass or bronze (or at least not entirely so, if they should happen to be the sort of people who sport a brass pair down there).

Is it perhaps the bell that is brass? If so, the author is a ding-a-ling, and should have written this: "Conservators will be able to clean the brass or bronze bell much more quickly than the iron cannons, which could take years to be ready for display, Welsh said."

The following gem came from a Slate story called "The Secret Life of James Bond." Apparently, this life is much more secret than we could have imagined, no matter how many times we watched him ravage Octopussy on those satin sheets:
Bond's attitude toward women cannot be called misogyny, exactly. It's more that Bond views them with a disturbingly elegant detachment. Bond's reaction to the bodacious Vesper Lynd: "As a woman, he wanted to sleep with her, but only when the job had been done."
Forget the easily polished brass pair we always assumed Bond possessed. He's actually a woman, and a lesbian at that. To quote our small round-headed friends on South Park, "niiiice!"

I feel pretty. Oh so pretty.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

It's Um, Adequate

What are we thankful for on this day? Celebrities who can't spell, for one thing.

From the conclusion of Lindsay Lohan's sweet but slightly insane condolence letter to Robert Altman's family:


Lindsay Lohan

Expensive Bad Grammar

From the news:

Grammar costs cancer research $8 million
NEW YORK, Nov. 21 (UPI) -- Poor grammar has led to cancer researchers in Hawaii losing $8 million in funding from cigarette taxes, as only one cigarette was specified in the law.

Linda Smith, an adviser to Gov. Linda Lingle, told USA Today the law's intent was to give 1.5 cents per cigarette sold to research but the law's final wording means they will get 1.5 cents from the sale of one cigarette.

The most recent failure in proofreading was on Arizona's Nov. 7 ballot, when voters approved a tobacco tax increase of 0.80 cents, when the original intent was an 80-cent surcharge, the newspaper said.

New York state also has enacted a law covering "aggravated driving while intoxicated" that sets the minimum blood alcohol percentage at 0.18, it specified .018 grams.

Lt. Glenn Miner, a New York State Police spokesman told the newspaper the gram measurement is too low to measure, and that the body can produce that amount naturally without drinking anything alcoholic.

All three laws will be amended when the various legislatures reconvene, the report said.

Our question is, why didn't the reporters covering those laws before they were passed write something about the sloppy grammar? C'mon, reporters! We know those meetings are dull. We've covered them ourselves. Next time, pay attention to the actual text of the proposed legislation; you'll no doubt have something more fun to write about.

Monday, November 20, 2006

SPOGG in the Wall Street Journal

It's like an old ad for Reese's Peanut Butter Cups: two great tastes that go great together.

Representing the delicious nuttiness of peanut butter is Barry L., SPOGG's chief technical officer, defending "gift" as a verb. Standing in for delicious and healthful chocolate is SPOGG, complaining bitterly about this abomination. Together, they appear in today's Wall Street Journal:

'Gift' often finds holiday usage as a verb

Elizabeth Holmes
Wall Street Journal
Nov. 20, 2006 11:57 AM

It's better to give than to receive, but is it even better to

The noun "gift" is a popular word, synonymous with "present." But this holiday season, it's cropping up increasingly as an encouraging verb - as in, to give something to somebody.

Users of Apple Computer Inc.'s popular iTunes online store can "gift" songs and albums and videos to one another. Mondera, an online jewelry retailer, pushes customers to "go ahead, gift her" a diamond., a gourmet online food guide published by Conde Nast, features an entire section labeled "Thanksgifting." Gossip Web site reported actress Angelina Jolie "was gifted" a diaper bag after the birth of her daughter.

Despite its seeming acceptance, the verbification of "gift" has sparked a lively debate in some quarters, from grammarians to bloggers. "Using gift as a verb is a sign of stupidity, laziness, and verbal sloppiness," wrote the host of the Web log feh-muh-nist. "We frown on this usage," agreed Pam Nelson, a journalist with the News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C., on her blog Triangle Grammar Guide. (The Wall Street Journal also prefers to give rather than to gift.)

Even so, there's a small contingent of supporters - and they've got some history on their side. "The verb gift' is a perfectly good one," declares Barry Leiba in his blog, Staring at Empty Pages. "To be able to use gift' as a verb without raising hackles, well, that would be a gift."

As Mr. Leiba notes, the use of "gift" as a verb isn't new. Most dictionaries, including the Oxford English Dictionary, include a definition of the term as a transitive verb. "And," he says, "it's nice to have a word that specifically means to give as a gift.' "
What's more, the mutation of noun-to-verb is fairly common, according to Geoff Nunberg, chairman of the American Heritage Dictionary usage panel, which regularly surveys writers for their opinions on such issues. Milk a cow. Water the grass. Fax a document. Some experts estimate that as many as one in five verbs began as nouns, Mr. Nunberg says. But that's not to say that he - or his colleagues on the usage panel - approve of the use of "gift" as a verb. "Nobody ever likes this one," says Mr.
Nunberg, who feels it is tainted by commercialism and its overuse in gossip columns and press releases.

Why the recent surge in "gifting"? Martha Brockenbrough, founder of the Society for the Promotion of Good Grammar, blames celebrity magazines commenting on the red-carpet freebies that stars receive.

"Julia Roberts was gifted with this fabulous item," she mocks. "They just want to sound like they're doing something extra fancy."Another theory is that it derives from the world of accounting, as in writing something off as a "gift."

"Gifting" is also the inevitable precursor to "regifting" which became part of the vernacular after an episode of "Seinfeld" that aired in January 1995. The gift-as-a-verb fad got a big boost last year with the launch of iTunes6. At the press conference in October 2005, Chief Executive Steve Jobs stood in front of a massive screen introducing the new "gifting" feature that allows iTunes users to buy a song or file and give it to another user. Still, there are those who are determined to resist what they see as the subtle tawdriness of "gifting"-especially around the holidays. On the Web site for the Vocabula Review, a monthly journal about the English language, one commentator wrote, "How would it sound if said users of gift' as a verb were to present this immortal phrase for our approval: For God so loved the world that he GIFTED us his only begotten Son'."

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Does This Make Us Snobby?

The Times' columnist David Brooks has a piece today accusing people who enjoy "The Daily Show" and "Borat" of snobbery.

Call us grammar snobs, but we couldn't help but notice the spot where Mr. Fancypants Writer Brooks falls victim to an evil word twin:
Cohen also knows how to rig an unfair fight, and to then ring maximum humiliation and humor out of each situation. The core of his movie is that he and his audience know he is playing a role, and this gives him, and them, power over the less sophisticated stooges who don’t.
He's confusing "ring" with its homonym "wring." The latter means "to extract." The former is the sound those clue bells ought to make when he reads his error in print.

We wouldn't point this out, of course, except that we truly enjoy "The Daily Show" and the work of Sascha Baron Cohen. Perhaps Brooks would prefer a humorless world, or one where knock-knock jokes were the only ones allowed. Or perhaps he would prefer jokes that make fun of well-educated city dwellers, or even Jewish people. Barf. We'll take Cohen and Jon Stewart and Co., any day. L'chaim!

P.S. And we were totally lying when we said we wouldn't point this out except for the accusations of snobbery. Of course we would! Mistakes in The Times! Irresistible!

Those Poor, Bulimic Football Players

From Fox Sports (more coming from them later -- we have assembled a collection of hilarity):

News: Leon Washington's Topps Bowman rookie card was released recently and came out looking like he was throwing up his middle finger.

Say it with us: Ewwww!

Just as one must be careful when using a hand gesture to give a shout-out to one's homies, one must also choose verbs carefully when writing. "Sticking up" or "extending" would have worked better here.

The card featuring the inadvertent digitus impudicus is apparently fetching good prices on eBay. Here it is, in case you don't have an extra $100 lying around.

Meanwhile, we are working on a fierce hand gesture as a shout-out for our grammar homies. We'll let you know when we've perfected it.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Re.:. Friendship

We received an e-mail yesterday with this same, oddly punctuated subject line. The message itself, from "Pam," said this:

Do bnot ignore mea please, I found your email sobmeawhere and noaw decided to
writbe you.I am coming to your place in few weeks and thought we can meet
each other. Let me know if ayou do not mind.I am a nice pretty girl. Don't
reply to tabhis email. Emaail me direclty at

Dear Pam,

It wouldn't matter to us if you were the nicest, prettiest girl in the whole, wide world. We don't want to hang out with someone who spells as badly as you do. Also, from your excessive use of the letter b, we can only conclude you have a cold, and we certainly do not wish to infect ourselves.

Love and kisses anyway,

A Quick Spelling Lesson

We were reading Salon yesterday when we noticed a spelling error that gave an interview with Lemony Snicket some unintentional hilarity:

Says Daniel Handler (Snicket's real name):

"If you're Jewish, you find the pope inherently funny. I often forget that there are a great number of people who take him seriously, rather than just thinking of him as some whacky clown. I actually ended up changing some of the text in the book, not because of the sensibility, but because it was interesting watching there be a new pope. I remember watching when his car went on e-Bay -- the new pope's old car. It was just funny to think how fundamentally his life was going to change. He'd never get to decide what to wear ever again. He can't just say, "Today, I'm going to be in jeans!"
"Whacky" is, in some quarters, an acceptable spelling for "wacky." But we don't approve of spelling it with the "whack," because to whack is to hit. Is the pope a hitting clown? We may no longer be Catholic, but we think not.

Likewise, the word crummy -- which means of little value or miserable -- should not be spelled with a b. "Crumby" describes your sheets after someone (the pope?) has eaten crackers in bed. And this makes us whacky, so don't do it.

Grammar: in Vogue

Please pardon our lack of posts lately. Blogger's beta is unfriendly to our template and has been giving us the temper fits.

And now back to our irregularly scheduled updates, minus the pictures, which we can't make work at all.

Teaching grammar, apparently, is back in vogue. Or so says the Washington Post, and also the author of this column.

As with all trends, SPOGG is on the cutting edge. We just celebrated our second birthday, and have more than 3,000 members worldwide.

If you don't have your SPOGG membership card yet, what are you waiting for? You can download your very own print-and-clip card here.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Project Runtway?

Two inexcusable spelling errors here, Macy's: Jeffrey Sebelia's name, and the word WINNER. We're going to skip the easy "loser" joke and simply ask, "What would Tim Gunn have to say about this?"

1) I'm concerned.
2) It's make it work time, people. Get the Wite-Out.
3) SPOGG, carry on.

Answer: all of the above, especially No. 3. We hope Mr. Gunn adores SPOGG as much as we love him.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Grammar: Is There Anything It Can't Do?

This just in from the newswire. If this isn't a reason to teach kids grammar (and also encourage their creativity and lateral thinking) we don't know what is.

Grammar may help fight bacteria
AP Science Writer
© 2006 The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Biologists reached back to elementary school to discover a promising new way to fight nasty bacteria: Apply the rules of grammar.

The unusual method to try to defeat drug-resistant microbes and anthrax borrows a page from "The Da Vinci Code" and the TV show "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation." Studying potent bacteria-fighters found in nature called antimicrobial peptides, biologists found that they seemed to follow rules of order and placement that are similar to simple grammar laws.

Using the new grammar-like rules for how these peptides work, scientists created 40 new artificial bacteria-fighters. They found that nearly half of them vanquished a variety of bacteria and two of them beat anthrax, according to a paper being published Thursday in the journal Nature.

This potentially creates not just a new type of weapon against hard-to-fight germs, but a way to keep churning out new and different microbe-attackers. In theory, that means that when bacteria evolve new defenses against one drug, doctors won't be stymied.

Using grammar as their guide, scientists could easily produce tens of thousands of new bacteria-fighters and test them for use as future drugs, said study lead author Gregory Stephanopoulos, a chemical engineering professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

It would likely take several years to develop the new medicines, but the process conceivably could be speeded up for fighting the worst bacteria, Stephanopoulos said.

In man's war with microbes, bacteria keep mutating to develop resistance to nature-derived drugs. However, this new method could allow scientists to jump several steps ahead of microbes, said Robert Berwick, a computational linguistics and engineering professor at MIT who wasn't part of the team.

Peptides are small proteins that attack the membrane walls of microbes causing them to rupture, said Georgetown University surgery professor Michael Zasloff, who first discovered antimicrobial peptides 19 years ago.

The key turns out to be in the way the peptides are made: stringing together amino acid molecules, which scientists represent with letters. That's when researchers saw a pattern that would make an English teacher beam.

"You have a string of letters and that string of letters reminds you immediately of a sentence, a kind of incomprehensible sentence, and you wonder in that sentence, 'Is that meaning hidden?'" asked Stephanopoulos. He used the example of a sentence: "Dave asks a question." What Stephanopoulos did was the equivalent of substitute different names for Dave and found that the peptide often still beat the bacteria.

Harvard evolutionary biologist Marc Hauser said that using grammar rules to decode genetics and medicine is growing more popular. But he said he worries that too many people are calling grammar what is really just simple code, not nearly as complicated as human language.
Berwick said the bacteria-fighting grammar rules are equivalent to the extremely basic spelling rule, "i before e except after c." The grammar rules Stephanopoulos developed are about what 2-year-olds learn on their own by listening to adults speak, he said.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Two Goofs in One Caption

From the home page of The Seattle Times today:
Giving a show of hands
It isn't size, speed, nor strength that separate Brandon Williams from other top tight ends. It is Williams' ability to catch nearly every football thrown within his reach that makes him a hot commodity. "He has the best hands of any player I've ever coached," says his coach, John Meagher.

Oops! That should be "or." The "nor" makes a double negative, and we don't think that's what the writer intended.

SPOGG also believes the "or" demands a singular verb. If it had been an "and" instead of an "or," those things would work together to make the verb plural. Picky, yes. But this sort of subtlety is one of the delights of language.

Miami Vice

Forget pastel blazers, people. The real Miami vice? Bad spelling.

Unless, of course, the landlord responsible for this listing really is willing to rent to a guy named Owen. If that's the case, we'll take it!
-->Miami $1,150.00 4 Days 21 CONDO 2/1 Remodeled CONDO 2/1
REMODELED New Kitchen, Bathroom, Carpet and Tile. Great Location by the Falls. Many amenities; 2 pools, multiple tennis courts, 2 clubhouses. Rent to Owen option available. call 305-336-6584» More Details

The Butterscotch Stallion himself, Owen Wilson

Saturday, September 30, 2006

We Don't Know What's Sadder...

What makes us cry harder? The fact that the author of this advertisement has confused your and you're? Or the fact that this is an ad for a laminator, and said spelling error will now last much, much longer?

Friday, September 29, 2006

Sticking it to The Man

When The Man raises your rent, you can raise a fuss. Or, you can SPOGG him.

This letter from a certain anonymous SPOGG member in Colorado made our day. She corrects The Man's grammar, even though English is not her first language. Click the photo to enlarge it, and be inspired.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Bad 'Grammer' Speaks for Itself

SPOGG scout Jeff E. sent us this sign, and we took the time today to leave voicemail with Excel Management, Inc. about their problematic spelling.

Hello. We represent the Society for the Promotion of Good Grammar, and we have some concerns about your sign. Grammar isn't spelled with an E. It has an A. It's grammar: G-R-A-M-M-A-R. Again, we are the Society for the Promotion of Good Grammar, and we are here to help you. Please contact us if you have any questions."

Just for kicks and grins, we think we'll call back this afternoon.

Bad 'Grammer' Speaks for Itself

SPOGG scout Jeff E. sent us this sign, and we took the time today to leave voicemail.

Hello. We represent the Society for the Promotion of Good Grammar, and we have some concerns about the spelling on your sign. It's G-R-A-M-M-A-R. Again, we are the Society for the Promotion of Good Grammar, and we are here to help you. Please contact us if you have any questions."

Just for kicks and grins, we think we'll call back this afternoon.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

New Edition Is a Band

A new addition is what Britney Spears added to her family. Unfortunately, points out SPOGG scout Ashleigh W., this is not how US magazine spelled it:
The couple have spent the last month preparing for the new edition to their family. They recently finished painting the new nursery in neutral hues fit for a boy or a girl.

Thank you, Ashleigh, for doing your part to make tabloids safe to read again.

We'd also quibble with the plural verb used with couple. Though British English makes couple, team and other words plural, SPOGG looks upon them as singular words that take a singular verb. In other words "The couple has spent the last month preparing...."

Got Grammar?

SPOGG member Anne M. has a question:

There is an ad on television in which one of the business leaders in a conference says, "We've got to have . . ., which sounds awful. Shouldn't it be something like "We have to have . . . ?" What are rules for got or have?

Some people really, truly, madly, deeply hate the word "got" in all its forms. This includes "Got milk," "You've got mail," and Anne's aforementioned ad.

SPOGG believes there is some use for it. For example, SPOGG doesn't love the construction "we have to have." Word repetitions can sometimes be confusing. Does "have to have" mean "we must have"? Or does it mean "have for the sake of having"? Good sentences don't need to be deciphered.

Also, "got" has a nice punch to it. It's a short word, with a short vowel sound and two hard consonants. The very sound of it adds to the urgency expressed by "we've got to get out of here," a sentence once uttered by a fellow member of our high school cross-country team after he stepped on a beehive. At the time, and even now, SPOGG did not question his use of the word.

The Encarta dictionary has some good advice on the topic:
Get is an overworked verb. It is better to use a more specific term in formal writing whenever you can. The past participles got and gotten convey slightly different ideas. They have gotten an apartment in Boston means they have recently taken the apartment, whereas They have got an apartment in Boston simply indicates that they have it. (There are those who would argue, with reason, that in a sentence like this one got is redundant, and that have alone would do the job.) In informal usage, have got can also be followed by an infinitive to denote obligation (I've got to go to the party means "I must"), whereas have gotten with an infinitive denotes opportunity (I've gotten to go to the party means "I've been given the chance to attend").
The key things to note here are the "formal writing" context, and the redundancy of certain uses. If you should have occasion to write formally, by all means, plump up your writing with fancier words. If you don't need to say "got" to make your sentence clear, don't say it. This goes for other words, too.

Otherwise, and in informal contexts — which describe most of the ones we experience, unless we're politicians, popes, or petifoggers — we can get away with got.

Grammar Ain't Rocket Science

SPOGG scout Sarah M. has proof. She found this goof in an MSNBC story:
"Located within the constellation Pisces, the newly spotted object is called HD 3651 B. It is 50 times the mass of Jupiter and thus considered a T brown dwarf — the coolest of the two brown-dwarf categories. This slow smoldering releases infrared light, which was detected by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope."
Says Sarah, "People who can discuss the physics of the universe should know that, if only two things are being compared, as in this case, superlatives are right out. 'Cooler' is the correct word to use."

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Man Bites Panda in the What?

You know, if we were biting a panda, we'd go for his a$.

If we were writing that headline, however, we would have said, "Beijing zoo panda bites man, man retaliates." But that's just us. We're sticklers for clarity (and before you write to correct our punctuation, headlines don't have semicolons).

We love that they identified the masticating man as a "drunken migrant worker." Would they have done that if he were a "drunken televangelist" or "soused physician"? We doubt it. Poor migrant workers. They don't get a break anywhere. Not even at the zoo.

Thanks to SPOGG scout G. Whipple for this one.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Useless But Fun

Make your own catalog card here.

When Quotation Marks Attack

Not only do we appreciate good grammar, we also appreciate how it feels to have, on occasion, a good hair day. So, we recently purchased a beauty product.

The IMPORTANT SAFETY INSTRUCTIONS that came with the product, however, gave us small seizures. This happens every time quotation marks appear where they are not needed.

And we quote:
To reduce the risk of death by electric shock:
  1. Always "unplug it" immediately after using.
  2. Do not use while bathing.
  3. If an appliance falls into water, "unplug it" immediately. Do not reach into
    the water.
We have only one thing to say about these quotation marks. "Unplug them."

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Fox Sports: A Bunch of 'Loosers'

We couldn't believe our eyes when we saw this text flash on the bottom of the screen:

It's losing streak, Fox. And when it comes to spelling, you're on one. Thanks to Mr. SPOGG for taking the picture while we dusted the piano. (Yes, we love football that much.)

Friday, September 15, 2006


If you built a Web site advertising your writing skills, would you have a section called "Editors Praise"?

We know we wouldn't.

If we were quoting the praise of one editor, we'd call it editor's praise. If we were quoting many editors, we'd call it editors' praise.

Get thee to a proofreader, stat!

Demi's Dummy?

Here's proof that the universe has a sense of fair play.

Ashton Kutcher may have Milk-Dud eyes and the hips of a Greek god, but he can't spell. Next time you're envious of his career, his lustrous hairline, or his lusty relationship with Demi Moore, tell yourself this: "At least I know how to spell 'predator.'" What's more, you probably also know how the shift key works on your computer.

From his MySpace (We have put errors in bold type):
boys dream: today I fullfilled a life-long dream. I got the chance to say “are you ready for some football” for the monday night game (NO vs atl.) it was unbelievable.

btw. there’s a thing on dateline about internet preditors that is just creeping me the hell out. I don’t know what we can do to stop this but something has to be done. PLEASE don’t engage and meet strangers you meet on the internet. AND DON’T GIVE AWAY YOUR INFO TO PEOPLE YOU DON’T KNOW.

posers: just so you all know this is the only sight I’m involved with. I don’t want anyone to get scammed by some other sucker that preys on peoples generosity. I have compassion for there loneliness but don’t want people to be fooled where there is charity involved. Just did a mad tour of talk shows. I have fun on them but they are tough. Had a blast with Conan. He’s such a good guy. if you’ve never seen his show, give it a crack. He’s really funny. we had a funny exchange about “man package” and closet beverages. He rocks.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

The Cost of Bad Grammar

We read this on the newswire today:

Bad grammar proves costly for Australian web designer
Deutsche Presse Agentur

Sydney- Lynne Truss had a surprise bestseller with Eats, Shoots & Leaves, a book that propagated the British author's zero-tolerance approach to punctuation. She wasn't prepared to put up with abominations like "CD's, Video's, DVD's and Book's" and argued that it was time we all joined a crusade against bad grammar and poor punctuation.

Truss would be proud of prominent Australian plastic surgeon Howard De Torres, who wasn't happy with the sloppy work of the woman he engaged to design a web site and went to the Consumer, Trader and Tenancy Tribunal to seek amends. He was awarded 4,278 Australian dollars (3,250 US dollars) against web designer Toni Fitzgerald.

What swung the case in favour of the cosmetic surgeon were infractions like a confusion between "scar" and "scare." The tribunal's Richard Phillips noted: "The copy is not, generally, particularly well-expressed, even where it is grammatically correct."

Our thoughts:

Some of the worst grammar in this bit comes from the tribunal itself. Note the sentence in bold-face, if you please. "Well expressed" does not need a hyphen because it comes after the word it modifies. It's well-expressed copy, or copy that is well expressed.

SPOGG also objects to the commas around generally. Commas require the reader to pause, and such pauses here make the sentence an unnecessarily slow read.

Finally, Web designers are not editors. As much as we despise petty lawsuits that could have been avoided with polite e-mail, it's nice to see real value attached to clean, correct and compelling copy.

This inexpensive book would have saved the Web designer a lot of money:

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Apostrophe Catastrophes at The New York Times

There's just no reason for that apostrophe. It's time we sent a stern letter to The New York Times on behalf of the nearly 2,000 members of SPOGG. (That's right; we're growing like crazy. Fight the grammatical fight!)

Fantasy Football

Maybe we're just bitter that our Fantasy Football team (the Shaved Hasselhoffs) lost in the last minute of play.

But for SPOGG, the real fantasy of football is professional sports coverage that is 1) intelligible; and 2) grammatical.

The circled portion on the screenshot below is neither. Click to enlarge.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Teach Your Children Well

Teach your children well, and while you're at it, teach them when to use good. (Hint: Use well when you're talking about your health, and good to describe your general state of being.)

We saw this article about teaching kids grammar — even making a game of it — and we liked it!

Teach Your Child Grammar Early

Still, this is probably time to confess we let our kids watch Schoolhouse Rock. It's TV, but it's so much more.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

It's International Literacy Day

This just in from the word-nerd wires: Sept. 8 is International Literacy Day.

A disturbing fact:

- 800 million people aged over 15 are illiterate and two-thirds of them are women (who often aren't permitted to attend school)

And then this bit on 14 commonly misspelled words in the UK, which is a charming reminder of differences in British and American English:

  • Accessory

  • Blond/blonde

  • February

  • Occasion

  • Chauvinism (Americans stopped saying this in the 1970s, when neckties with pigs were in fashion)

  • Alright (spelled all right in the U.S.)

  • Its (possessive)/it's (it is)

  • Recommend

  • Email (hyphenated in American newspapers)

  • Webpage (two words in American newspapers)

  • Wednesday

  • Necessary

  • Receive

  • Mind your Ps and Qs (do they really say this?)

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Sunday, September 03, 2006

P.S. And What Kind of Kid Wears Knickers?

SPOGG was in the market for a sign to protect our youngsters from passing minivans.

We love our children, however, and could not insult them with the following sign, no matter how long our oldest took to learn to tie her shoes:

Forget Inspiration and Perspiration

Genius is no longer 1 percent inspiration, 99 percent perspiration. At least when measured by the SAT, genius is 75 percent grammar (and 25 percent No. 2 pencil, we suppose).

From The New York Times:

Perfect’s New Profile, Warts and All


WHEN it comes to the SAT, perfect is now a whole lot harder. But take heart if you favor cursive over printing, the third person over the first, and more over less. You may have an edge.

More than 1,000 students got a perfect 1600 last year, when the college-admissions test consisted of the time-honored two 800-point sections, verbal and math.
But now that the test has been revamped and expanded to nearly four hours, with a new writing section that includes an essay, the average scores have dropped by seven points — and only 238 students received the new perfect score of 2400.
Technically, even perfect isn’t necessarily perfect. Students can get the top score even if they miss a few questions.

“We actually don’t know how many got a perfect perfect,” said Caren Scoropanos, a spokeswoman for the College Board.

What the College Board does know is that the top scorers comprised 131 boys and 107 girls, or just 0.017 percent of the almost 1.5 million college-bound seniors who took the test.

It seems to be the writing test that has made the number of perfects plummet. While the math and reading sections each had more than 8,000 top scores, only 4,102 students were rated perfect on the writing test, the only part of the exam where girls outscored boys.

Most of the writing test — and three-quarters of the writing score — consists of multiple-choice questions on grammar and usage. But most of the anxiety among high school students centers on the 25-minute essay, graded on a scale of one to six by at least two readers, who spend about three minutes on each essay. Their two scores are added. And, the College Board said, the reason so few students won top marks on the writing section is that so few — less than one percent — got sixes from both readers, for that perfect 12.

So what book does SPOGG recommend all high school juniors read? The Elements of Style, by Strunk & White. Not only does it succinctly cover usage basics, its writing advice is sure to boost the scores of any student writer.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

From the Fan Mail Piles

This came in response to a movie column we wrote:

Subject: your article

First, let me just say this. I don't got nothing against you as a person. It's your puritanical, fascistic morality [that what, you don't like?]. If your only qualifications are you had a job as a high school teacher, watch "Grease" another screening and keep your eye on the principle, Eve Arden, and Blanche, Dody Goodman [huh?]. Perhaps these can be role models for your career. If your "bubblegum" views are what you wish for the rest of us, I'll have Grease, thank you. Keep your prozac world, I'll have the real thing any day.

We were not aware that the world of "Grease" was, in fact, the "real thing." But what are we without our puritanical, fascistic morality? Just an empty, grammatical shell. No thanks.

Cliche Conundrum

This caught our attention today in the New York Times:
PIGS in blankets? “They’re back with a vengeance!” said Sean Driscoll, an owner of the silver-tray catering company Glorious Food in Manhattan. Though they never disappeared from the bar mitzvah circuit (where they are often called franks in jackets, the way Katz’s Delicatessen, being kosher, labels them), they had been disparaged as a cliché for too many years. The classiest caterers kept their distance
Now, of course, pigs in blankets are all the rage (though for some of us, they never lost their allure). The very idea that something can be a cliché, and then not, is more the puzzle for those of us who love language as much as we love pork products.

SPOGG has been researching clichés, and has been very interested to discover that the animosity toward familiar phrases is a relatively recent phenomenon. To that end, we've written a brief bit on them, which we will e-mail on Sunday to all who join SPOGG's mailing list. So if you have not yet joined, please do!

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Not Something to Brag About

This is the subject line of spam we just received:
But now I can penetrate hardly and give the pleasure to every woman!
Newsflash, Mr. Spammy: Penetrating "hardly" is no route to pleasure.

We applaud your attempt to modify "penetrate" with an adverb. Unfortunately, hardly wasn't a good word choice because it means "barely." And by barely, we do not mean lacking clothing (though it's a good start if you're headed down this road).

Hard, the word you meant to use, can function as both an adjective and an adverb. It comes from the Old English "heard," which means "with strength."

Here's what Encarta has to say about hard in its role as an adjective:
adverb (comparative hard·er, superlative hard·est)

1. forcefully: with a lot of force
hit the ball hard

2. all the way: to the greatest degree or extent
pulled the truck over hard

3. energetically: with vigor and energy or industriousness
worked hard

4. with concentration: with great mental concentration
studied hard

5. with difficulty: with effort and great difficulty
Her victory was hard won.

6. compactly: into a solid or compact state
set hard

7. severely: in a way that causes anguish or hardship
hit hard by the recession

8. slowly: slowly and with difficulty
hatred that dies hard

Sunday, August 27, 2006

The Apostrophe Protection Society

We admit it; we're a bit envious of their press coverage, even if we did notice a colon where a comma belongs:

Grammar watchdog attacks 'ignorant' advert

A giant advertising billboard on one of Ireland’s busiest roads was today criticised by a UK grammar watchdog for its “ignorant” use of English.The 40ft-wide sign on the N8 near Portlaoise bypass displays the words “Frans Crash Repairs” to advertise a local garage, but omits a crucial apostrophe.Today the Apostrophe Protection Society in the UK complained that the 3ft-high letters, which are seen by thousands of motorists every day, display an unacceptable and inexcusable lack of punctuation.

Apostrophe Society chairman John Richards said: “This sort of ignorance or laziness towards the English language is something which is being reported to me from almost all English-speaking countries.“It is inexcusable, largely because I assume it was produced by a professional sign-writer who didn’t know his job. It is unacceptable because nobody bothered to check the accuracy of the sign.”

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Grammar Terror Alert: Orange

From SPOGG's Dallas bureau comes this sign, found in the Environmental Protection Agency office there:
Ice Machine in out of order. We a sorry for the inconvenience. The vendor has been call to repair. Thanks for your patients.
Judy M., who sent it, reports that no one will admit authorship. Clearly, the enemy is now terrorizing us with bad grammar.

Cruisin' for Confusion?

Tom Cruise and Paramount Pictures have split up. Here's what Viacom honcho Sumner Redstone had to say about it.

"It's nothing to do with his acting ability, he's a terrific actor. But we don't think that someone who effectuates creative suicide and costs the company revenue should be on the lot."

SPOGG had to look up "effectuate." Frankly, it sounded made up. But it's not. It means "to accomplish."

To us, however, this word choice sounds affected. To put it opaquely, Redstone has effectuated an affectation.

It's not that we don't like the occasional $25 word. We do. We really do, especially when it means exactly what one is trying to say, when no other word comes close. But when there is a perfectly good poor man's alternative that means the same thing, why not use it? "Committed" would have done nicely here.

Perhaps this is why Hollywood people make so much money — it's the only way they can afford their pompous vocabularies. The media dogfight feels like risky business to us. It's far and away from the best way to determine who will be top gun. (And yes, we have to stop watching Tom Cruise movies.)

Friday, August 18, 2006

A &^(*!#& Word on Maledicta

This was in a caption in today's Seattle Times:
Rational people can agree on two things: Snakes are evil, and nobody swears more entertainingly than Samuel L. Jackson. If you're asking, "What more do you need in a movie?" then stop reading and get your (!@#$%) to the (!@#$%) theater.
Please note the curse words that have been obscured by various punctuation marks. Note that the punctuation marks are the same for each of those missing words.

OK, now try to figure out which curse word could possibly fit in both spots. This could take some time. We'll give it to you.

Figured it out yet? Of course not. There is no curse word that acts as both a noun and an adjective, at least not one that we know of, and we know quite a few, in both modern and ancient languages, including one that involves crows.

SPOGG sees a need for a standardized dictionary of maledicta: punctuation and other marks that can be substituted for specific dirty words so that readers can tell what they are without having to see them in their filthy printed glory. We will be writing shortly to the Associated Press, which publishes the style manual used by newspapers nationwide.

Feel free to send us your suggestions, both of dirty words, and their doppelgangers (a word that sounds vaguely dirty, but is merely German).

SPOGGing Ourselves

This is the lead of a column we wrote for MSN Movies:
Becoming a part-time, high-school teacher isn't the easiest way to find good baby sitters, but it's better than, say, hanging out at the mall and hitting on everyone younger than 20 who's not riding a skateboard.
Note the unnecessary comma in red. An editor added this, but our name is on the top of the story, which makes us look like we shoot commas from a shotgun.

Tell us: Are we making a mountain out of this molehill? Or did the editor make a good call?

(Here's the whole story...)

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Ask the Ayatollah

The Grand Ayatollah Sistani keeps a Web site where he posts the rules on everything from anal sex to wine drinking (with stops in the "clogne and perfume" department along the way).

SPOGG noticed that while both cockfighting and anal sex were "permissible but disliked/extremely abominable," grammar and spelling received nary a mention.

It must be an oversight, so we have written to the Ayatollah asking his opinion. Stay tuned...

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Give a Band a Bone

Today's junk-news wire delivers this small treat:

A band that headlined a fair last weekend is accused of masquerading as the rock group Redbone, whose hits included the 1970s song "Come and Get Your Love."

The band at the Butte-Silver Bow Fair performed under the name Redbone, but the real Redbone was playing in Wisconsin, said Ron Kurtz, Redbone's manager.

"I've been in the business for 40 years, and I've never ran into anything this blatant," Kurtz said Thursday from his office in Burbank, Calif. He said the fair board was conned.

It should be "I've never run into anything this blatant.

But really, are we surprised at the bad grammar of a band that pens lyrics like this?

Hell (Hell), what the matter with your head head
Hell (Hell), what the matter with your mind and your sign and a ohohoh
Hell (Hell) nothin the matter with your head baby find it, come on and find it
Hell, with it baby cause you're fun and you're mine and you look so divine.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Acronyms: An Update

SPOGG's vice president for technology and precision, Barry L., writes with excellent clarifications on the acronym/abbreviation debate:

1. "An abbreviation is also made from the initial letters of other words, but it's not a separate word. C.I.A., for example. One may use periods with acronyms, or one may leave them out. It is a matter of style." Give that an edit, and change "acronyms" to "abbreviations" in the second sentence. (SPOGG: Yes! D'oh!)

2. "Acronyms are entirely new words made out of the initial letters of other words." That's correct, but most people would read it to be more restrictive than it is. That is, "initial letters" here *can* mean that you may take multiple letters from the same word, but most people would think it means only the first letter of each word. So you might want to clarify. "Radar", for instance, is an acronym taken from "RAdio Detection And Ranging", and military jargon is full of such acronyms ("CINCPAC" for "Commander IN Chief, PACific"; "SEAL" for "SEa, Air, Land", and so on).

And an aside: Some have used the term "backronym" to refer to an acronym that was defined BEFORE the phrase that it represents, and a phrase was then contrived to go behind it. Probably the most obviously ridiculous example of a backronym is in the name of the "USA PATRIOT Act", "Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism".

Thank you, Barry!

(See original post)

Friday, August 11, 2006

All the Jargon That's Fit to Bungle

Here's the lead of a nasty review in the New York Times.
SOME time ago, A. J. Jacobs, a senior editor at Esquire, set out to become the smartest man in the world, an ambition that meshed poorly with his skills set.
It's skillset. Not that we like that sort of jargon, but if one is going to be snarky about someone's book and writing skills, then one ought to get the spelling right.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Sherbet vs Sherbert


I was appalled to find that the word sherbet, according to my dictionary, may also be pronounced sherbert! What do you think?
SPOGG thinks you would enjoy The Big Book of Beastly Mispronunciations. You might be surprised at the correct pronunciation of the spice cumin. We know we were surprised to read that "ask" was pronounced "ax" in the good old days. In any case, it's a very fun read.

A Dotty Question


Can acronyms have periods after each letter? I thought not, but others disagree...

Ah, it is time to point out the difference between acronyms and abbreviations. Acronyms are entirely new words made out of letters of other words. SCUBA, LASER and SPOGG are examples, though only SPOGG is new enough that it's still routinely capitalized. Some day... some day (insert shaking fist here).

One does not use periods with acronyms.

An abbreviation is also made from the initial letters of other words, but it's not a separate word. C.I.A., for example. One may use periods with abbreviations, or one may leave them out. It is a matter of style.

And speaking of style, this handsome SPOGG logo can be printed on a variety of products you want and badly need. Check out the SPOGG shop for more.

Embarrassing Celebrity E-mail

If only Lindsay Lohan had thought to hire an assistant to send out grammatically correct e-mails. Alas, this is what she foolishly dashed off to -- a gossip site that's frequently grammar-challenged:
"Almost witnessed 3 kids being hit by paparazzi," reads the email. "Never in my life had an expirience [sic] as I just did with the paparazzi. I am not kidding I am shaking, cannot breathe a bit, scared, anxious and sad. If someone doesn't feel bad, than [sic] I will feel bad for myself. It is disgusting what these g-d damn people are doing to me. As well as the people in my life that I work with/for. Its [sic] vulgar and I'm saddened for myself."
Here is the improved version:
"I almost witnessed three kids being hit by paparazzi," reads the e-mail. "Never in my life had an experience like I just did with the paparazzi. I am not kidding. I am scared, anxious, sad, and cannot breathe a bit [SPOGG tip: when listing things, move the longest item to the end for smoother reading.] If someone doesn't feel bad, then I will feel bad for myself. It is disgusting what these g-ddamn (one word) people are doing to me, as well as the people in my life whom I work with/for. It's vulgar and I'm saddened for myself."

(Vulgar isn't the right word here. Vulgar is more apt when describing someone wearing revealing clothes in an inappropriate place. Vulgar is a young girl's heavy smoking habit. Vulgar is talking about one's sex life in national magazines. Perhaps she means appalling. For some reason, it's the word that leaps to mind when Lindsay Lohan's name appears on screen.)

SPOGG thanks Sarah M. for the tip.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

What Kind of Lie?

Star Jones doesn't like how people are talking about her marriage:
"These categorically false stories and their continuation are clearly being generated by someone for vindictive reasons alone. [Star Jones and Al Reynolds'] legal representatives have been investigating the source and motivation of these boldfaced lies for some time now and are very close to exposing the individual who has perpetrated them. At which time, appropriate legal action will be taken."
Forget the gossip about her husband. The real question is whether the lie is bald-faced, barefaced or boldfaced.

Here's what "Take Our Word For It" says:

The examples you cite are actually variations/corruptions of the original barefaced lie. Bare here means `brazen, bold.' However, in the 16th century, one source notes, barefaced meant `beardless,' a condition at that time considered bold to the point of audaciousness in adult men. So the metaphorical sense of `bold' perhaps came to be applied in barefaced lie. Based upon these two explanations, the variations bald-faced lie and bold-faced lie both make perfect sense.

We'll let you know if we find anything more definitive. What this really means is that Star and Al's PR agent is off SPOGG's hook... for now.

A Stylish SPOGG Salute


What are the standards still in use? I'm currently using "The Elements of Style" by Strunk and White, the Oxford English Dictionary (unabridged) and a couple different quick references online. Just wondering.
-- Eric

Dear Eric,

To give June Allyson's answer to happiness: Depends.

Grammar and style aren't quite the same thing. Let's define grammar as the parameters for putting together good sentences -- word order and all that. Style, meanwhile, refers to matters of punctuation and spelling.

Your question largely refers to style. Strunk & White remains a good choice. For spelling, OED is solid, though spelling can vary depending on who's publishing your writing. AP Style says "adviser," for example. Other stylebooks prefer "advisor."

Here's a list of several style guides.

Style can also depend on location. British punctuation rules differ from American ones.

SPOGG encourages you to pick the style that best fits your situation. Furthermore, SPOGG salutes you for being aware that different styles exist.

Amazing! Typing Doesn't Ruin Grammar!

Over the last couple of days, the media have reported rather breathlessly the conclusion that IM does not destroy teenagers' grammar skills. Now, the spin is that using instant messaging might actually help:

Linguistics researchers at the University of Toronto have discovered that new communication technologies such as instant messaging and SMS are actually
helping teenagers develop their spelling and grammar skills.

Teens are showing their ability to use a mastery of both formal and informal language when chatting online or via a cell phone.

“What these kids are doing is showing us that they have a really good command of the English language, so much so that I was really blown away by how fluidly they operate,” commented linguistics professor, Sali Tagliamonte, of the University of Toronto. “[Parents] might as well worry about who those kids are talking to, not how they are saying what they are saying.”

In our other guise, SPOGG reported something similar several years ago, not backed up with science, of course, but with something equally useful: common sense.

You'd never say a teenager who'd become fluent in German was running the risk of ruining his English grammar. You'd be impressed he could keep the rules straight in more than one language. Internet shortcuts are a little like that. As long as they're used in the right context, they're a good thing.

Here's to any technology that gets kids writing to each other, and here's to teenagers, for once again proving themselves not as mush-brained as grownups think.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

A Grammar Quiz

A friend of SPOGG wrote this quiz; we are proud to report we scored 100 percent.

We Had No Idea...

Check out how many grammar hotlines there are. Outstanding!

Monday, July 31, 2006

The Other Shoe Drops...

This comes from a blog called "Drunk and Single in NYC":
I will do anything to get my wedding announcement in the Times. Including going $40K into debt in order to ensure my fitness among the competition. And the truth of the matter is that my pedigree is not that impressive. I have to compensate using educational and professional achievement in order to make up for my families’ blue collar past.

Or so I thought.

With that degree from Oxford in hand, it looks like I am a shoe-in. Even if I marry an electrician.
It should be shoo-in. As in, "Shoo, fly! Don't bother me." Not "shoe-in," as in "He put a shoe in my ass after I missed my deadline."

I’ve begun to notice a disturbing trend. I remember the days where my mother and I used to read about the couples, excited to see the closest semblance to our family: a couple whose pedigree included a tiny New England college as opposed to the traditional Ivy.
Semblance and resemblance are not synonyms.

Hell in a Handbasket?

Pardon the cliche, but there is so much wrong about this. Yes, it's bad enough that one of the guys who guards the president is getting into a bar fight. But is there no one in the media who can write about it using complete sentences and correct possessives?

Thanks to SPOGG agent Chris McD for sending this:
Waco Police arrest Secret Service agent

Waco Police tasered and arrested a US Secret Service agent at a downtown Waco bar after a scuffle.

The arrest affidavit say the dispute between the special agent and a bar manager at Crickets all got started. (All got started? When? Finish the sentence please. We're waiting.)

Police say there were reports (By whom? Passive voice stinks.) that in the early morning hours of July 21, 30-year-old John Scott Lewis was being rude to some customers at Cricket's Bar and Grill. (Is it Crickets? Or Cricket's? We'll be looking that up shortly.)

Lewis is a special agent with the US Secret Service and is from Crofton, Maryland.

The report and Police (why is this capitalized?) say Lewis got into an argument with the manager and when the manager asked him to leave, Lewis pushed open the front door so hard it cracked.

Two off-duty Waco officers working security tried to arrest Lewis; he resisted, and was tasered one time.

Lewis was charged with Public Intoxication, Reckless Damage, and Resisting Arrest. (We hereby charge you with excessive use of Unnecessary Capital Letters.)

He was treated and released at Hillcrest Hospital and then was booked into the McLennan County Jail.

Lewis posted a 1,000 dollar bond. (Should be $1,000 according to AP Style, but that's nit-picky.)

Officials with the Waco Secret Service division say they will not comment, and the owner of Cricket's isn't speaking either. (Again: Crickets? Or Cricket's? A quick search of the Waco phone book shows this joint is actually called Crickets Grill & Draft House. So, it should be Crickets.)

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Your Brain on Grammar

Well isn't this interesting? From The Times of India (no doubt picked up from a newswire somewhere):
LONDON: Your brain may be hardwired to know bad grammar too.

Researchers at the University of Rochester have found that certain hallmarks of grammar that are present in all languages occur naturally, even among deaf people who create their own languages without any formal training and no previous knowledge of how people go about using words in a way that makes sense to others.

The finding dovetails with other research that shows we are instinctively capable of understanding the fundamentals of geometry, and even babies have a sense of numbers.

It all suggests we have a birthright that should guarantee our ability to cope with a world in which we are constantly confronted with annoying things like unbalanced checkbooks and, of all things, poor grammar.

Elissa Newport, professor of brain and cognitive sciences and linguistics at the University of Rochester, and Marie Coppola, a postdoctoral student at the University of Chicago, reached their somewhat surprising conclusion about grammar after spending eight years studying three Nicaraguan boys who were born deaf and had no formal education and absolutely no exposure to language, other than that which they created themselves.

They had not even been exposed to signing, the gestural-based form of communication used by deaf people. So like other children around the world, they developed their own sign language, or home-sign system.

During the research, the boys were shown a total of 66 short videos consisting of single actions, such as a woman walking or a man smelling flowers. Then, using their own signing language, the boys described what they had seen.

Significantly, all three boys consistently used the grammatical construction of "subject" the same way it is used in languages around the world.

Newport, whose previous research showed that the learning curve for language is very sharp and begins very early in life, says the notion of "subject" is considered a hallmark of grammatical systems because it is used the same way in all languages.

That has long puzzled linguists, but the Rochester research suggests one reason why that may be the case. Our brains seem hardwired for grammar, which is a bit surprising because we so often get it wrong. Although the idea of "subject" as a grammatical construction may seem simple, it's really very complex and difficult to define, Newport says.

Friday, July 28, 2006

A Letter to Lindsay Lohan

We love this letter to Lindsay Lohan, but wish the Hollywood bigwig who wrote it had remembered that punctuation goes inside the quotation marks.

The exceptions:

1) With semicolons and colons:

  • He loved "Les Miserables"; it was "Phantom of the Opera" he could not stand. (Idiot!)

2) When question marks or exclamation points apply to the whole sentence, and not just to the part quoted:

  • Are you the star of "Nacho Libre"?

Gossip and Grammar: Incompatible?

From Defamer:
It took Owen "The Butterscotch Stallion" a week to formulate a response to Steely Dan's accusation that the actor was currently starring in a movie whose premise was lifted from one of their songs (and the thinly veiled threat of violence at the hands of a certain Russian associate of the band), but The Stallion, always a peaceful sort, finally chose to diffuse the tension with his shaggy-maned sense of humor.

In a statement released by his spokeswoman, Ina Treciokas, Wilson said:

"I have never heard the song 'Cousin Dupree' and I don't even know who this gentleman, Mr. Steely Dan, is. I hope this helps to clear things up and I can get back to concentrating on my new movie, 'HEY 19.'"
Defamer, the word is "defuse." Though, in your defense, the Butterscotch Stallion didn't alleviate the tension, as much as he spread it around.
This bomb should in no way be interpreted as sly commentary on Mr. Wilson's movie. Rather, it is something that can be defused.

Cops and Grammarians

Oh, that the police would someday call us, too....

The Case Against Adam Schein

SPOGG sent this letter today to Adam Schein of Fox Sports. If cliches were cooties, Adam Schein would need a good shavin'.
Dear Mr. Schein,

We are The Society for the Promotion of Good Grammar, writing to give you the verbal equivalent of a red flag. Sports cliché week is over, Mr. Schein. And yet, you're still using cliches like, well, "nobody's business."

SPOGG has followed your work for months, hoping "against hope" that you'd "clean up your act." Alas, that has not happened.

What follows is the top portion of your most recent story. Clichés are capitalized so that you will be able to see them, in case you left your binoculars at the bottom of the barrel, in your back pocket, or perhaps where the sun don't shine.

And we quote:

Terrell Owens' ability to fit in with the Cowboys should be an interesting STORY TO FOLLOW.

In interviewing Owens this week, I am even more convinced that the receiver is clueless and won't change a bit.

During the 20-minute conversation, Owens took no accountability for his actions in Philadelphia, continuously [you mean continually, SPOGG hopes] blamed the media, his old agent David Joseph, and Donovan McNabb FOR EVERYTHING UNDER THE SUN, and HAD THE NERVE TO ACTUALLY SAY Drew Rosenhaus never discussed his contract in public.

And it was made CRYSTAL CLEAR that this was a Jerry Jones transaction.

ALL EYES WILL BE ON Owens' attitude; his rapport with the disciplinarian that is Parcells; his connection with Drew Bledsoe; his demand for the football; and his relationships with coaches and players.

In essence, EVERYTHING THAT WENT SOUR for Owens in Philadelphia.

And the Tuna cannot be happy that he will be PEPPERED with questions early in camp about Owens' new book. [SPOGG wonders: Would the tuna prefer lemon juice and perhaps a sprig of dill?]

Every conversation, fist-bump, high five, etc., between Owens, Parcells and Bledsoe will be shown on the highlight shows and ANALYZED TO DEATH. And with all three pretty headstrong, this is going to be a daily show.

Mr. Schein, you are a writer and broadcaster. Athletes have an excuse for using clichés. Their skills are physical. Sportswriters, meanwhile, are supposed to be as good with words as athletes are on the field. This means less whiffing and more verbal home runs from you, Mr. Schein.

How about it? Can you raise the bar? Start giving 110 percent? Wipe the slate clean of clichés?

Otherwise, we're going to have to start reading that Schatz guy, when we'd much prefer Scheinola.

Sincerely yours,

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Pamela Anderson, Spelling Challenged?

From the "news" this morning about Pamela Anderson's upcoming marriage to dirty and repellant musician Kid Rock:
Asked how she's coping with her nerves before the big event, she replied: "I have two words for you: champagne."
Insert your own seeing double/double-D joke here.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

We Live in Fear of This

This came today over the newswire:

TORONTO (Reuters) - A company that sells software to correct irritating Internet spelling mistakes has reissued its latest news release to correct a minor snafu.

TextTrust, which says it focuses on "eliminating the negative text impressions on Web sites," re-released a Tuesday news release to correct a mistake that listed the most common spelling errors on "the 16 million we (sic) pages it has spell checked over the past year."

It said commonly misspelled words included independent, accommodation and definitely, which were spelled independant, accomodation and definately.

"It's very embarrassing," said Pat Brink, PR consultant for the Toronto-based company. "I made the mistake, not TextTrust -- they do a much better job, It's certainly egg on the face of this public relations person."

SPOGG makes spelling errors and typos from time to time, always more embarrassing because of our mission. But did the PR person responsible have to use a cliche in his or her apology?

We looked up the origins of "egg on my face." The Random House dictionary of slang says it comes from a 1950s detective show. A hard-boiled one, we assume.

(Look -- here's face on an egg!)

Monday, July 24, 2006

We Fear for David Hasselhoff's Heart

From Celebrity Week:

Hasselhoff To Star In Musical Based On His Life

First of all, we are NOT making this up. David Hasselhoff – star of Knight Rider, Baywatch and the new hit variety show America’s Got Talent told us today that he is heading to Australia to appear in a stage production based on his life.

David Hasselhoff: The Musical will include sets inspired by The Young and The Restless, Knight Rider and the songs of Teddy Pendergrass. “I am also doing a heart-rendering set on my life and the mistakes I have made,” the star says. “It sounds like a bad joke, but it is really going to be a good show…totally campy. It’s written by the same people who wrote Bette Midler’s show and produced by the people who produced Chicago in London.”
It's heartrending, Mr. Hasselhoff.

Though "render" does mean, among other things, "to purify fat, leaving small crisp remains." It's entirely possible your musical will do this to the audience, what's left of your dignity, or both. Delicious!