Monday, April 30, 2007

Mark Your Calendars


We just received word that National Grammar Day has been accepted by the august Chase's Calendar of Events.

This means that March 4, 2008 is our day to celebrate good grammar. Why March 4? Because it's both a date and an imperative. Hooray! So, come March 4, we will march forth to spread the word.

It also means that we're officially taking suggestions for proper ways to celebrate grammar. Please send us yours. (info @

Many thanks,

Sunday, April 29, 2007

A Better Password Idea

One of the things we love about SPOGG is that our 3,500 or so members are experts in many topics. When we posted about bad grammar in password security, we received a swift response from Barry L.

Seriously, though, I don't know where this guy's advice is coming from.

There are two basic classes of password/phrase attacks: random and directed. It's true that one shouldn't use short passwords that are dictionary words, because they're too easily found by brute force (exhaustive dictionary search). It's also true that words or phrases that are related to oneself are prone to directed attacks using guesses (if I know you like Frank Zappa, I can try the titles of Zappa songs and albums, and popular lyrics).

But directed attacks against you and me are vanishingly rare, and a perfectly grammatical, perfectly spelled passphrase of, say, 22 characters would be essentially impossible to break. So, for instance, "directed attacks against you and me" would be a very nice 35-character passphrase.

Anyway, the most egregious bit of what you quoted is the second sentence of the first paragraph:
> A 15-character password, even if vast computing power were applied to
> the problem of cracking it, would take many years to accomplish that,
> according to Stamps.
What does "would take many years to accomplish that" go with?

Yes, indeed. That was a nonsensical sentence we should have corrected. We think they mean it would take years to crack a 15-character password. This is why Strunk and White recommend simple, declarative sentences. It's not that those are the only grammatical ones out there, of course. It's just much harder to mess those up.

So, here are some long, grammatical password suggestions:

- i_before_e_except_after_c_or_when_sounding_like_a_as_in_neighbor_and_weigh
- between_you_and_me,_this_is_a_hard_password_to_type

Animals and Sex

Oh, what a cheap headline.

This, alas, is not an entry about bestiality, which we know you know is not spelled "beastiality
" even though it's beastly.

Rather, it's a nod to the issue of how we refer to animals -- as he, she, or it. The AP Style guide, which we use for our work in journalism, does have advice on this count. Read about it in this blog entry from Shepherd Express:
Grammar is Murder
PETA takes issue with AP style.
April 27, 2007 | 06:05 PM

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, an organization not known for thinking their campaigns through, has formally lobbied the Associated Press to stop using 'it' to describe animals and start using 'he' and 'she.' The animal rights group claims the new pronouns are what the critters "deserve" and notes that many magazines have already made the switch.

If paying regard to animals' genders seems like a good idea, then don't credit PETA. AP style already requires that 'he' or 'she' be used whenever they have been given names or sex has been established.

"The dog was scared; it barked," begins the example given in the news organization's guide book. "Rover was scared; he barked. The cat, which was scared, ran to its basket. Susie the cat, who was scared, ran to her basket. The bull tosses his horns."
For more, click here.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Joe Sent Us!

Security experts recommend you use strong passwords for your computing. Check out this bit from the charmingly named "Canton Repository":
But as passwords (or phrases) become longer, they become exponentially harder to crack. A 15-character password, even if vast computing power were applied to the problem of cracking it, would take many years to accomplish that, according to Stamps.

He advises using longer phrases in systems that can handle them. It shouldn't be a well-known phrase, slogan, expression, song lyric, quote from film or theater, or anything else obvious.

A "uniquely exotic" combination of words and names that's easy for the user to remember would be difficult to guess. Nonsense phrases also are almost impossible for someone else to guess.

He also says you can base your pass phrase on some private fact, known only to you, and advises using intentional misspellings, bad grammar, and foreign or invented words.

People disagree on the most commonly used Passwords. Stamps says that, based on various informal studies, the seven most common passwords are: no password at all, sex, love, god, secret, money and password.
Bad grammar makes for a good password? SPOGG is amused. Our suggestions:

1) i_could_of_died!
2) between_you_and_i
3) just_desserts

A Question About Spelling

We just came across an ad in a home-porn--we mean decorating--magazine for the very same type of bed inhabited by Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes (though not necessarily at the same time).

This bed retails for as much as $59,750 (Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes not included).

The ad claims people pay would pay this much for a mattress "If they knew that it takes weeks for the most skilful craftsmen of the company to build just one..."

SPOGG believes that for $60,000, customers are entitled to all three ls that should appear in skillful. SPOGG also believes that in American magazines, standard U.S. spellings should be used. Apparently "skilful" is an acceptable spelling in Canada and England.

Is SPOGG losing sleep over nothing? Or are we due for a new matres? Oops. We meant mattress.

Dreaming of a More Better Future

A couple years back, the Columbus Art Institute in Ohio hosted an exhibit called "Dreaming of a More Better Future."

Does anyone know why they gave it such an ungrammatical title? If so, please tell us. (info @

Thank you!

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

When Prison Guards Can't Spell: aka Kentucky Fried Justice

Bad boys, bad boys -- whatcha gonna do?

Though we'd like to think spelling and grammatical errors tend to tip a criminal's hand, this isn't always the case. Thanks to Denise N. for this tip:

Phony Fax Frees Ky. Prisoner

(AP) - HICKMAN, Ky.-Officials released a prisoner from a state facility after receiving a phony fax that ordered the man be freed, and didn't catch the mistake for nearly two weeks.

Timothy Rouse, 19, is charged with beating an elderly western Kentucky man and was at the Kentucky Correctional & Psychiatric Center in La Grange for a mental evaluation. He was released from that facility on April 6 after officials received the fake court order.

It contained grammatical errors, was not typed on letterhead and was faxed from a local grocery store. The fax falsely claimed that the Kentucky Supreme Court "demanded" Rouse be released.

Lexington police arrested Rouse at his mother's home Thursday evening.

"It's outrageous that it happened," Fulton County Attorney Rick Major said. "I'm just glad nobody got hurt because he's dangerous."

Police are still investigating who faxed it.

Attorney Carlos Moran, who is representing Rouse, declined to comment.

Prison officials did not notice that the fax came from the grocery store because policies in place did not require checking the source of a faxed order, said the LaGrange facility's director, Greg Taylor.

"It's not part of a routine check, but certainly, in hindsight, that would perhaps have caused somebody to ask a question," he said. He added that misspellings on orders are common.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Artistic License Revoked!

Beyonce and Jay-Z, SPOGG hereby revokes your artistic licenses for the following crimes against rhyme, grammar, and good taste:
From "Upgrade U"

Just when you think we had it all
Big ends, condos, collecting cars [he said it, Beyonce, not us]
Picture your life elevating with me [wha?]
You my project celebrity
I keep your name hot in them streets
That little glimpse of light
Makes that diamond really shine
And you already is a star
Unless your flawless
Then ya dynasty ain't complete without a chief like me

(Nope, she's not smuggling a dictionary.)

Thanks to Sonia H. for the tip!

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Don't Drink and Shave

This just in from SPOGG scout K. Bryant:

CNN's politics page listed these story highlights today:
• John Edwards' campaign paid $800 for two haircuts at a Beverly Hills saloon
• Former senator's campaign also paid for spa visits in Iowa and New Hampshire
• Spokesperson for North Carolina Democrat declined to comment on reports
I just hope the person who cut the senator's hair at the saloon wasn't intoxicated.
We've seen that haircut. There was definitely drinking involved.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Still, We'd Rather Eat Ribs

This is what happens when you go for cleverness over clarity. Not that we don't have a good sense of femur, but this was just .... hammy.

I Do Declare...

Strunk & White gave good advice when they urged writers to use "simple, declarative sentences."

The New York Times reporter on the Virginia Tech shooting story could have used more simplicity. Barry L. sends this tangled prose our way:

From the NY Times: Today's shooting at Virginia Tech comes in the same week, eight years ago, as the April 20 shooting at Columbine.


Maybe: Today's shooting at Virginia Tech comes in the same week as the April 20 shooting at Columbine, eight years ago.

Or: Today's shooting at Virginia Tech comes eight years to the week after
the shooting at Columbine on April 20, 1999.

Likewise, stop writing when your sentences are done. Our inbox today contained this almost-correct pitch:

"Save 20% off on pajamas!"

It's either "save 20 percent," or "20 percent off." (Unless it's "save 20 percent off the price of pajamas," but that would just be silly. What else would one save 20 percent on -- the fabric?)

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Stop the Presses

A perfectly grammatical spam: We thought this day would never come. For posterity, here is the message.


If you have a problem getting or keeping an erection, your sex life can suffer. You should know that you’re not alone. In fact, more than half of all men over 40 have difficulties getting or maintaining an erection. This issue, also called erectile dysfunction, occurs with younger men as well!

You should know there is something you can do about it. Join the millions of men who have already improved their sex lives with VIAGRA!

We wondered, at first, whether it should read "maintaining erections." After all, we're talking about men. Shouldn't the object be plural to match the subject?

After some thought, we concluded the spammer's grammar was good. A man doesn't want erections; that would suggest some unfortunate anatomical abnormalities. Rather, he wants just one (at a time, anyway).

Unfortunately, we still have no use for Viagra, and won't until we get that sex-change operation we've always dreamed of. (Kidding! We don't want to own those parts; we just want to borrow them from time to time.)

Introducing Vizzini

Remember "The Princess Bride"?

If so, you will recall the scene where Inigo Montoya (you killed my father; prepare to die) observed his boss say "inconceivable" to describe events that, nonetheless, came to pass.

Montoya's reply: "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

Likewise, we don't think New York Times reporter George Vecsey really meant to use "bemused" here:

O’Neill is somewhat bemused that she is working with a young woman born in Russia; as it happens, O’Neill majored in Russian history and has lived there and speaks the language. While Jessica is blonde and perhaps classically Russian-looking, O’Neill notes, “She is the all-American girl.”
Bemused means "bewildered" or "engrossed" according to Encarta; to the NYT itself, it means "So lost in thought as to be unaware of one's surroundings: absent, absent-minded, abstracted, distrait, faraway, inattentive, preoccupied. Idioms: a million miles away. See ability/inability, awareness/unawareness."

We think the reporter meant to write "amused," but liked the fancier tone of bemused. In gussying up his prose, he wound up with his very own Vizzini.

This is what often happens when people reach for the fanciest-sounding word in the bowl without really knowing what it means. We see this sort of thing a lot.
Histrionic, example, is not an upscale version of "history."

Utilize is not a fancier way to say "use." (It actually has quite a delightful meaning, though we don't use it often. It means to make use of, and is more specific than just plain old "use." Let's say you lost your suspenders in a bet. You could utilize corn husks to make a rustic belt.)

In any case, go ahead and use fancy words if you really know what they mean. If they just sound like a 24-carat version of something in your everyday word bucket, beware. You could end up drinking iocane poison, an odorless, tasteless powder that will kill you instantly.

Ask SPOGG: Reader Questions Answered

Do you have a question for SPOGG? We'll do our best to answer. The following questions come from the lovely Lucy, who's been forced to play grammar pingpong between her teachers and her bosses.

Our answers are in red (and Lucy's teachers should be spanked).

Hi, hope you can help resolve the discrepancy between what I was taught and what I'm now being told.
1. Taught: Period goes outside the quotation marks.
Example: John replied, "I'm going home".
Told: Period goes inside the quotation marks.
Example: John replied, "I'm going home."

Did you learn English in England? With British punctuation, the period does go outside. In the United States, we put periods and commas inside. So, your second example is correct while your first is not (assuming you're writing in the colonies, that is).
2. Taught: Put a colon at beginning of a series and never put a semi-colon in front of the word "and".
Example of taught: Responsible for all non-sales related operations such as: A/P, A/R, payroll, and human resources.
Told: No puncuation at the beginning of a series and yes, put a semi-colon in front of the word "and".
Example of told: Responsible for all non-sales related operations such as A/P; A/R; payroll; and human resources.

It depends on two things: how your series is introduced and how complex it is.

1) If you'd said, "Responsible for all non-sales-related operations: A/P, A/R, payroll and human resources," then you'd use a colon. But you have "such as" there, so no colon is needed.

2) You do NOT need the semicolons with a simple sequence such as the one you've described. But if the sequence were more complex, like this one, it would help keep things clear:

"I love the characters in Harry Potter: the academic, passionate Hermione; the bumbling, loyal Ron Weasley; and the oleaginous, intriguing Professor Snape."

A comma between characters and their descriptions here would not be sufficient.

We recommend "The Associated Press Stylebook and Libel Manual" for questions like these, unless you're writing for a more formal publication, in which case "The Chicago Manual of Style" is a better choice.

How Good's Your Chinese?

Another tip from the eagle-eyed Viktoria: the AP article below on an effort by Beijing officials to clean up the English in their city in time for next year's Olympics.

While it's always funny to read bad translations of English, we're actually quite impressed that any English is offered in Beijing. It's not as though we're offering up loads of Chinese to visitors (outside restaurants and some government buildings). In fact, the United States is often downright hostile to any language other than English. We've heard many aspersions cast against immigrants who don't speak great English, often by people who haven't managed to master any other tongues, let alone one as vocabulary-rich and complex as ours.

So instead of making fun of people whose English is imperfect, we say be honored by their attempts to make it easier for us to get around when we visit.

That said, some of these goofs are funny. Enjoy!

The word is out in China: Speak better English
April 11, 2007

BEIJING (AP) -- Along with spitting, run-down housing and bad manners, add unintelligible English to the list of things organizers of the 2008 Beijing Olympics want to ban.

Municipal officials promised on Wednesday to crack down on awkward, Chinese-inflected English, known as "Chinglish," and asked the public to help police bad grammar and faulty syntax.

With 500,000 foreigners expected for the Olympics, taxi drivers who can't speak English -- or signs that mangle the language -- could be an embarrassment and distract from the $40 billion being poured into rebuilding the city for the games.

Throughout the city, examples abound.

A store selling tobacco products advertises: "An Excellent Winding Smoke."

On the floor at Beijing's Capital Airport, a sign reads: "Careful Landslip Attention Security."

On a billboard, this mysterious message: "Shangri-La is in you mind, but your Buffalo is not."

In an elevator, parents are warned: "Please lead your child to tare the life."

Liu Yang, who heads the "Beijing Speaks Foreign Languages Program" for the city government, said 6,500 "standardized" English-language signs were put up last year on Beijing roads. But he acknowledged private businesses were not following the rules, which were handed to reporters -- a stack of glossy documents weighing 2 pounds.

"We will pass the message on to authorities in the advertising sector," Liu said. "If English translation is needed it must be subject to the standards set forth in the regulations."

Liu said a language hotline may be set up for the games to encourage the public to report nonsense English. China's diplomatic missions abroad are assisting, Liu said, "and our people working in foreign companies are helping with correct usage."

"In the future when we set up new signs in public places in English, we hope all these standards will be followed to avoid more additional mistakes."

Liu said Beijing taxi drivers must pass an English test to keep their licenses. But he acknowledged most speak only Chinese, and many are skipping language classes.

"The taxi training courses are not working effectively, and there is a problem of taxi drivers missing classes," he said. "Taxi drivers need to get their licenses renewed every year, and an English test is now part of that that exam. But the exam is not so difficult."

"Some taxi drivers do speak some English, and that's a big change from the past," Liu added. "But the overall level still needs to improve. Some taxi drivers speak no English; they understand no English."

Despite the problems, Liu said one-third of Beijing's 15 million residents speak some English, a claim that was challenged by a local reporter from China's state-run CCTV.

"I think 5 million is a big number," the reporter told Liu.

Liu stood by the figure, but conceded the vast majority of the English speakers fell into a category he labeled "low level."

"They can have very simply conversations, like: `Who am I? Where am I going?"

Thursday, April 12, 2007

That vs. Who

This headline turned up in today's news:

D.A. apologizes to ex-Duke lacrosse players
'I apologize to the three students that were wrongly accused,' Nifong says
In our research, we've encountered grammar experts who say "that" and "who" can both be used to refer to people. Perhaps this is the case. But we don't care for it at SPOGG.

We like to distinguish between animate and inanimate objects. We like to honor people with the word "who"; it feels infinitely more elegant than that. (We also call named animals "who.")

Besides, "that" reminds us of the televangelist Jim Bakker, whose organization PTL stood for "Praise the Lord" or "People That Love."

People That Love? Ugh. That's some hellish prose. Amen.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

We Know Who We'd Send to Detention

SPOGG scout Viktoria V. sends this error from Indiana. It's a description of a home-detention program for good criminals, apparently. But it contains a goof that would cause the grammar police to reach for their red pens and handcuffs:
The Home Curfew program is designed as a reward for individuals who have displayed the ability to follow every aspect of the Home Detention program for
at lease 45 days. In order to be eligible for Home Curfew one must show a strong adherence to the rules and regulations, make a consistent effort in paying fees, and are recommended by their respective field officer.

Here is a direct link to the offense:

It is under the title, “Home Detention Curfew Program.”

That should be "at least."

And while we're at it, can we say how much we hate the word "individuals" as a synonym for "people"? It's not ungrammatical, but it's pompous. We hate pomposity, which is why we didn't put "whom" in our headline even though strict grammar rules call for it. There is such a thing for having an ear for informal usage, and we applaud that sensibility.

Here's how we'd rewrite that paragraph to strip away the oleaginous pomposity, if we may indulge in such vocabulary while picking on the very same thing:
The Home Curfew program rewards people who have obeyed the program rules for at least 45 days. To be eligible, you must obey the rules, pay your fees, and earn the recommendation of your field officer.
There. Isn't that better?

This Has Us Panting

SPOGG is forced to shop in the petite section of the department store, and if it weren't for loyal lieutenant Katie R., we would have missed this gem from the Tall Girl Shop:

We're speechless, but panting in anticipation of the letter we must send.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Oh, Canada...

We read this today with interest:
Bad grammar on new Vimy plaques

MONTREAL (CP) — The French-language plaques at Canada’s recently renovated Vimy Ridge memorial in France are riddled with grammatical errors, Radio-Canada reports.

The plaques, which are found in the visitor’s centre of the memorial, contain mistakes stemming from a poor translation of their English counterparts, says the CBC’s French-language service.

The mistakes include references to a landmine as “le mine“ rather than “la mine” and numerous improperly conjugated verbs.

Veterans Affairs Canada is responsible for the monument, which commemorates the 10,000 Canadians killed and wounded capturing Vimy Ridge.

According to Radio-Canada, the job of translating the plaques fell to volunteers. (Oh, those awful people, translating badly for free!)

Veterans Affairs Minister Greg Thompson told the state broadcaster that he was unaware of the errors and promised to look into it.

French President Jacques Chirac will join Prime Minister Stephen Harper and several other dignitaries next week at a ceremony marking the 90th anniversary of the battle.

Many historians point to Vimy Ridge as a key point in Canada’s history, as it was the first time Canadian soldiers fought together as a unit.
Can anyone provide us with pictures?

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Contraction Afflictions II: Reader Post of the Day

This bit of entertainment comes from the delightful Barry L. (Staring at Empty Pages):
The only thing worse than counting 1-2-3-3 is counting 1-2-5 (note Monty Python reference here). However it's counted, though, I agree with your "maybe" statement about "where's". I think "where's == where does" is a perfectly acceptable, if colloquial, contraction, and the fact that "where's" can now mean "where is" or "where does", or, indeed, "where the bathroom at, jive-ass?", well, it's just how English worketh.

I've even been known to use things like "I'ven't". Creativity, within some reason, is to be commended, don't you think?

What's perhaps more disturbing in Key Bank's advertising campaign than the use of a creative contraction is the excessively folksy tone of something like "Where's 'at leave ya?" It makes me want to say, "No. You are not my beer buddy. You are my m'f'in' BANK. Act professionally." (And note creative contraction of "m'f'in', which serves at least three purposes here.) (SPOGG note: So it's OK to choose a president based on beer-buddy potential, but not a bank? ;-) )

While we're talking of contractions, I should point out the sort of contraction that we use in the 'puter industry -- perhaps you already know about it. It's the technique of using a number instead of an apostrophe, usually in long words where we take the first letter and the last letter, and put the number of missing letters in between.
It's almost always used with words ending in "-tion":

internationalization == i18n
globalization == g11n
localization == l10n
optimization == o10n
...and so on.

It does save on typing, and, I'm happy to say, no one seems to *pronounce* the contractions (that is, we always say "internationalization", never "eye-eighteen-en"). Still, it's enough to give one a c8n.

Contraction Afflictions

From the SPOGG front lines in Burien, WA:


We have been celebrating your website for months now, appreciating a society as passionate about the correct execution of the English language as we are. However, the glaring grammatical offenses illustrated on advertisements and signs for various businesses in our small city of Burien, Washington, have called us from our passive enjoyment of SPOGG to the world of grammatical action as full-fledged SPOGG members.

The following grammatical errors must be reported:

1. A local toy store has a bold sign it its window proudly declaring, "Game Night Friday's 5-7 pm". You can imagine our horror that a possessive would be used in place of a plural. When we saw this sign, we wondered who would allow their children to attend a game night at a store that couldn't even figure out how to make a day of the week plural.

2. At a local elementary school's Ice Cream Social, a sign read, "Sundae's 50 Cents". Clearly, the misuse of possessive sundae disturbed us to no end.

3. Again, a misplaced apostrophe got the best of a local salon, whose sign reads, "Walk-In's Welcome". Kelly almost choked on her coffee when she first spotted the mistake.

3. (d'oh!) 4. Key Bank (which no doubt poured oodles of money into this advertising campaign) has a poster reading, "Where's that leave your 401K?"" If the writers of said advertisement were to write this without the contraction, they would say "Where is that leave your 401K?" This is obviously unintelligible. Clearly, the contraction "what's" is short for "what is", and the misguided writers used "where's" interchangeably with "where does." One wonders if there is a contraction for "what shame"... (SPOGG note: We're going to look into this where's issue; we think these contractions might be permissible. We do love the idea of a contraction for "what shame" -- wh'ame?)

We will make sure to keep you posted on any and all grammar errors we spot around town. Thanks for your hard work in the fight for proper grammar and usage.

Kelly and Sue
Burien, WA

Bless You, Fox News

They edited this before we could snag a screen shot, but check out this evil word twin Fox News accidentally posted yesterday as a headline:
Key Milestone Reached in Drive to Beautify Pope John Paul II

It is hard to leave a beautiful corpse unless you live fast and die young, and we don't think the Popemobile can go above 20MPH. It's beatify people. Beatify.

(Thanks to Mrs. McC for the swell find.)