Tuesday, July 31, 2007

More Outstanding Grammar Blogs

We think you will enjoy The Red Pen and GrammarBlog.


Be sure to note the changing taglines on GrammarBlog. They're quite entertaining.

Who That Girl

It's perhaps unsportsmanlike to pick on the grammar of a pregnant convict who's being interviewed by Diane Sawyer, but we're not feeling very Girl Scoutish at the moment:

I have a responsibility and it's something that I did wrong, and if I could personally apologize to every single person that has lost a loved one from drunk driving, I would," Nicole Richie said.

It should be every single person WHO has lost a loved one. Generally, that is a pronoun best reserved for things and unnamed animals. There are some cases where people can be "that," but we don't care for it.

All Give and No Took

Ordinarily, we don't make fun of blog posts, especially ones written by minors. This, however, comes from a post on SportingNews.com to a member blog that's been viewed nearly 300,000 times. That's not a small number of readers. The writing is comically bad, though it can be enjoyed by a novelist trying to capture the diction of a sincere but illiterate teen.

There's no way to bold-face all the errors, so we're focusing on the word "tooken," which brought us here:

To my point of this whole blog entry is, your life can be gone in a flash. Your dreams, your love, your likes, and your life can all be tooken away in one little wrong move. I was lucky a couple times to not have my life tooken away by a motorist when one ran a red light and I was on my scooter going across the street when I was eleven and was litterally knocked down by the wind of the criminal.

The wind of the criminal, eh? Our dog emits that every so often, and we are forced to light a candle. We'll do the same for this young writer.

Throw Me a Bone

On a lark, we decided to see how many citations for "throwed" we could find with Google. The answer? 415,000. Many of these seem to be rap-music lyrics, which occupy their own category of probably excusable idiocy.

But this?

Stu did something he never had to do before: He recorded a mechanic's lien and gave a stop notice to the construction lender. Stu started getting legal bills monthly and paying out big money. He sued. Nick countersued. It was a race to the courthouse! Winning this lawsuit had become the most important thing in Stu's life. He'd been throwed off a job! No matter what the cost, he had to prove it was not his fault, and he had to prove it in court.
It comes from a Web site for lawyers who serve the construction industry. The correct form is "thrown," and we'd be mighty skeptical of any lawyer who didn't have this commonplace irregular verb in his or her vocabulary.

Friday, July 27, 2007

The Grammar Lottery

Or, have poor grammar, win $12,000.

We found this funny story today. It boggles the mind, doesn't it?

Boss quit over huffy assistant
By John Ferguson

A FORMER council manager has won more than £6000 compensation after quitting his job because an office assistant would not talk to him.

David Moxey, 52, said he became depressed and had to resign because Maureen McMahon would only communicate by email - even though she sat just a few yards away.

The ex-lottery money manager for Aberdeen City Council was awarded the cash for unfair dismissal, despite having found a new job at a yacht club in Malaysia before he resigned.

An industrial tribunal in Aberdeen heard the pair fell out after Ms McMahon corrected punctuation and grammar in a report he had written.

Mr Moxey complained it was "like having an essay corrected by an English teacher".

That led to Ms McMahon refusing to speak to him.

The pair were both employed in November 2004 but fell out the following spring.

Mr Moxey said he was unhappy the council failed to address the issue. He started to look for another job at the beginning of last year. Soon after, he was signed off work for six weeks with anxiety and treated for depression.

The tribunal yesterday agreed he had been constructively and unfairly dismissed on the grounds that he was given no option but to resign.

However, they found he was 10 per cent to blame as he could have initiated disciplinary action himself.

Tribunal chairman Nicol Hosie said: "We were entirely satisfied the one and only reason for him leaving was the ongoing difficulties which he was having with Ms McMahon and the council's failure to address them."

Thursday, July 26, 2007

More Lindsay Lohan

G. Whipple sends this our way:

"That behavior won't cut it anymore and neither will spa-style clinics,"said Barry Gerald Sands, a Century City defense attorney who's also a certified drug and alcohol counselor.

"Whatever you have done in the past, do a 360-degree turn and go the other way," Sands said Wednesday. "She has to change her alleged friends, people sharing or selling her drugs. She has to lead a clean and sober life."

We believe the 360-degree turn is exactly what led her to be arrested again for DUI. But a woman who can "turn herself into the Beverly Hills Police Department" might be able to manage turning all the way around and still moving in the other direction.

But seriously, this is the problem with cliches. They're so familiar, we don't even know what the words mean, and we fail to notice when they make absolutely no sense. It's time to nip them in the thorn.

SPOGG Endorses Junie B. Jones

It's funny that our newsletter just mentioned the Junie B. Jones book series; the New York Times today has a long story on the debate over the grammar in the books.

An excerpt follows, but we will point out a few serious factual errors in the piece:

1) Junie B. did not want to name her brother Gladys Gutzman. She wanted to name herself "Pinkie Gladys Gutzman," because pinkie is the most beautifulest color, and Gladys Gutzman hands out snacks in the cafeteria and who wouldn't want to be associated with that? She did, however, think her baby brother was a monkey.

2) Junie B.'s antics do receive punishment. When she cut her hair, for example, she was forced to cover her "sprigs" with two hats and a shower cap, and later was humiliated at school for said headgear.

For the record, SPOGG is a huge fan of Junie B. Jones. Parents who refuse to read it because of the grammar are missing serious hilarity, as well as the opportunity to point out the errors and talk about language with their kids. Kids would much rather you correct a book character's grammar than their own, so it's actually a terrific teaching opportunity.

What's more, it's brilliant writing. The author, Barbara Park, captures the language and thinking of young children beautifully -- very much like Mark Twain captured a certain sort of youth in Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Anyone who doesn't like this sort of thing can always clip the "Gallant" pages out of Highlights for their kids. He's a bag-load of correct and clean fun. Yawn.

Is Junie B. Jones Talking Trash?
AT her all-day princess-theme party for her graduation from preschool, Lyra Alvis had her face painted, went first down the water slide and was even allowed to eat the flower on the cake. “It was the best day of my life,” said Lyra, 5, who lives in

At least until bedtime. That is when her father, Lance Alvis, did something he’d never done before: Midway through a book that was a gift from a friend, he insisted she pick out something different to read.

“But I love this book,” Lyra said.

The paperback in question was about Junie B. Jones, the hero of a popular Random House early reading series that has divided parents since it was introduced 15 years ago. With more than 43 million copies in print and a stage show touring the country, the series has its share of die-hard fans and is required summer reading at many elementary schools.

But more than a few parents have taken issue with Junie B., as she is called. Their disagreement is a pint-size version of the lingering education battle between advocates of phonics, who believe children should be taught proper spelling and grammar from the outset, and those who favor whole language, a literacy method that accepts misspellings and other errors as long as children are engaged in reading and writing.

The spunky kindergartener (first grader in more recent volumes) is prone to troublemaking, often calls people names and isn’t averse to talking back to her teachers. And though she is the narrator of the stories, she struggles with grammar. Her adverbs lack the suffix “ly”; subject and object pronouns give her problems, as do possessives; she usually isn’t able to conjugate irregular past tense verbs; and words like funnest and beautifuller are the mainstays of her vocabulary.

Children, however, are not usually strict grammarians. And it’s rare to find a child that isn’t quickly seduced by these silly, often slapstick stories. Even adults who are rankled by Junie B.’s impulsive, oft-unpunished shenanigans (playing with scissors or head-butting other children, for instance), can occasionally laugh at her odd
little-girlisms. They include her passion for fixing toilets with her “grampa,”
her desire to name her little brother “Mrs. Gutzman” after her favorite cafeteria lady, or her belief that green cucumber-like vegetables are named “Sue Keeny.”
Parenthood, though, is full of choices. Breast-feeding: Yea or nay? Muesli or Cap’n Crunch? Public or private school?

And now: To Junie B. or not to Junie B.?

The series has been banned in Lewis and Susan Bartell’s home in Old Westbury, N.Y.“My dad doesn’t like the grammar,” said the Bartells’s youngest, Mollie, 9. “And I guess that’s important, because maybe when you grow up and you’re at work and you say, ‘I runned,’ people will get annoyed at you.”

She added: “I’m also not allowed to watch R-rated movies, but nobody is
these days.”

The series, which had its 27th installment in February, has, like the Harry Potter series, been on the New York Times children’s book series best-seller list since the list was started three years ago.

“Of our series books, it’s the most popular one we have that’s about a little girl,” said Elizabeth Bird, a librarian at the Donnell Library Center’s Central Children’s Room in Midtown Manhattan.

“But it splits people down the middle. There are parents who will defend her till their death and those that call her loathsome. It’s unusual to find that sort of divide for early chapter books. They’re just not the sort of books that usually get much attention.”

Among librarians and teachers, Junie B. has become as familiar a name as Ramona, Pippi or Eloise, but unlike her predecessors she hasn’t been around quite long enough to straddle multiple generations. Many parents in their 20s, 30s and 40s are only now discovering the series as their children enter kindergarten and grammar school.

With every new kindergarten class comes attempts to ban the books. In 2004 Barbara Park was selected as one of the American Library Association’s 10 Most Frequently Challenged Authors, alongside Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou and John Steinbeck.


Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Humor from India

Smita H., who works at one of India's finest business schools, received this e-mail from an applicant:
Sir, pls tell me the details regardin the importance of WORK EXPERIANCE in admissions. On web, its written work exp of 2 years. If i hav work exp with good
profile espec related to management and co-ordination in a team for 1 year n good GMAT score, can i get admission there?Specially rep dis ques pls. Pls give all the details of admission through which i can enter. CAT, GMAT, GD, PI.................... wat are the steps. wat r d cut offs of GMAT and cat? pls give all the details s, i m nt gettin it cearly frm web. pls reply soon s u recive dis mail, so i can proceed for admission.

It might be true that texting abbreviations aren't ruining the ability of native English speakers to spell normally when circumstances require it. In this case at least, the English-as-a-second-language student has sabotaged his ability to get into business school.

We Knew She Was a Good Actress...

But this ticker from Fox News shows Lindsay Lohan is something special. Look at the transformation she managed:
Lindsey Lohan turned herself into the Beverly Hills Police Department.

(Thanks to to Krista K. for the find.)

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Nice Job, Mr. President

SPOGG would like to applaud the way George W. Bush said "try to" instead of "try and" in this Bushism from Slate.com:
"I'm going to try to see if I can remember as much to make it sound like I'm smart on the subject."—answering a question concerning a possible flu pandemic, Cleveland, July 10, 2007

We have no further comment.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Is "Standard" Grammar Racist?

This is a topic we've been thinking about, so we noted with interest this story in the Hartford Courant:
Ebonics: The Subject Still Stirs Strong Feelings

July 23, 2007

Discussing the gap in language acquisition among students, Faye Gage used a term recently at a national conference on grammar instruction that can still raise some hackles: "Ebonics."

"People are afraid of the Ebonics word," said Gage, director of the Connecticut Writing Project. "I have been told not to use it."

Her mention of it at the 18th annual conference of the Assembly for the Teaching of English Grammar, held at Fairfield University, didn't cause much of a stir among the 40 or so audience members. But outside of language circles, it's a topic that can kick up strong feelings more than 10 years after the Oakland school board caused a national furor by proposing an Ebonics program for its schools.

Language specialists still discuss the issue regularly, though it's more commonly referred to these days as "African American Vernacular English" or "AAVE." Because it's so socially charged, many are wary of bringing up the matter in more general forums.

That wariness has been a major obstacle in narrowing the disparities in language skills among students, Gage said. "How do we get around that political sensitivity?" she says. "A lot of people have simply chosen not to."

Robert Williams, an African American social psychologist, coined the term in 1973. Few people were familiar with it until the Oakland school board drew up a resolution to officially recognize it as language in December of 1996. It immediately drew harsh criticism from just about every point along the ideological spectrum. In about a month's time, the idea was scrapped and Ebonics pretty much dropped off the radar.

In retrospect, language specialists say the Oakland board's presentation was bungled. For one, most consider it a dialect, not a language; the board's assertion that Ebonics was "genetically based" drew particular criticism (school board members say the term was misunderstood); and many thought the board wanted students to learn how to speak in Ebonics (board members later said this was never the intention). Even the term "Ebonics" - a combination of "ebony" and "phonics" -rubbed some people the wrong way.

Nonetheless, many educators say the basic idea was a good one: Recognizing the speech patterns of inner-city students as a legitimate system of language is the right step toward teaching students standard English.

When students use non-standard subject-verb formations - "The books be on the table," for instance - Gage says they're not speaking bad or corrupted English. They're correctly applying the rules of grammar they've learned at home. By understanding the rules and patterns of Ebonics, she says, teachers would be better equipped to teach students standard English. And that, ultimately, is the goal.

"I respect Ebonics. It's colorful. It's got great imagery," she says. "But it's not
the language of power."

Amy Benjamin, chairwoman of the Assembly for Teaching English Grammar, says instructors need to recognize the legitimacy of all dialects, whether its Ebonics, Brooklynese or the speech of Appalachians.

"We need to move away from seeing it as deficient and need of correction," she says. Students should be taught that their "home language" is fine, but also how to make the transition to what Benjamin calls "the language of prestige." The transition from home language to standard English is known as "code-switching."

"Like all issues of race and class and socioeconomic status, as Americans, we're very sensitive about it," she says. "So some people are very touchy around the subject."

Nonetheless, she says the code-switching movement has picked up momentum in recent years and making progress.

Gage is less optimistic. From what she's seen, language instruction doesn't seem to have evolved much in the last 10 years. She blames that partly on the Oakland school board. As well-intentioned as it was, the board's handling was so inept that it's still difficult for other school districts to address the issue in any substantial way.

"Oakland so screwed it up," she says. "It kills me because it was such a good idea."

There Is No "ASS" in Pleasure

Our husband belongs to a Web site for movie enthusiasts. He received this invitation today to discuss movies with a fellow member, and it's a fine example of why bad grammar is no way to win friends and influence people (let alone find a movie-chat buddy):

"how are you today i hope that every things is ok with you as is my pleassure to contact you after viewing your profile which really interest me in having ommunication with you if you will have the desire with me so that we can get to
know each other better and see what happened in future."

Do You Want Fries With That?

Craig Conley (Mr. One Letter Words) sends us this entertaining restaurant-menu excerpt. It says:
Spaghetti and beans or
Spaghetti or beans only

Read that out loud. Ignoring the horror of chili served with spaghetti, it's quite fun to say spaghetti and beans or spaghetti or beans only. Too bad it's almost impossible to understand.
It should say:
Spaghetti, beans, or both.

Also, to those of you from places such as Cincinnati, where chili is routinely seasoned with cinnamon and served with hotdogs (and spaghetti, or hotdogs or spaghetti or both), it is really gross, and it looks like cat food. You've just gotten used to it.


Sunday, July 22, 2007

A Bad Sign

If anyone happens to get a picture of this plaque, we'd love to see it. Here's what Ralph V. had to say to the Washington Post. Doesn't anyone proofread signs before they're made?
During coverage of the recent AT&T National golf tournament, there was frequent reference to the $20 million renovation planned for TPC at Avenel. Maybe you could get the folks in charge of the project to correct the jarring grammatical error on the plaque next to the third tee honoring Arnold Palmer's unbelievable feat (he aced No. 3 on consecutive days in the 1986 Chrysler Cup). The plaque now reads "two hole in ones." Obviously, it should read "two holes in one."

- Ralph Vinovich, Washington

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Steve Buscemi's Face is Funny Looking

... But not that funny looking. Karen sends this misplaced modifier from CNN:

As one of cinema's most recognizable faces, Buscemi's many credits in some way chronicle American independent film, from Jim Jarmusch's "Mystery Train" (1989) to Quentin Tarantino's "Reservoir Dogs" (1992) to the Coen brothers' "Fargo" (1996).

The sentence subject is in bold. The misplaced modifier - as one of cinema's most recognizable faces - doesn't quite fit.

It's a good idea to take a second look at any sentence that starts with "As." Unless you're careful, it's pretty easy to slap on an inappropriate modifier.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Annoying Office Jargon: Take the Poll

We put together a poll with some of our least-favorite office jargon.

If these expressions annoy you, please rate them: the more stars, the more annoying. And of course, if you have favorites we've left off the list, we'd love to hear about it. Send e-mail to info @ SPOGG.org.

Not So Fast, Whippersnapper

We found this in the Boston Globe:

Stop sign travesties!
Self-proclaimed "grammar vandal" goes after public mistakes that grate
By Danielle Dreilinger, Globe Correspondent July 15, 2007

The ads said "run easy," but they made Kate McCulley's teeth clench.

The 22-year-old grammarian stared at Reebok's Marathon-themed posters on her commute from Somerville to Fort Point this spring, on her way to her job as a research assistant at a concierge services company. "RUN EASY BOSTON," the ads
announced, inviting locals to . . . do what?

The question began to haunt her.

"Should I run an easy Boston? Should I run, and is Boston a promiscuous city?" she riffed on her travel blog, katesadventures.com. Her conclusion: "Without punctuation, we have nothing."

It didn't help her mood that she was reading "Eats, Shoots & Leaves," the best-selling book about grammar that tickles readers with its gentle wit but hits hard about the sorry state of language usage. Her copy included a packet of punctuation stickers as a do-it-yourself correction kit.

The Reebok sign should have read "run easily," McCulley observed, and it should have had a comma after "easily," before "Boston." (More... )

While we appreciate the zeal, easy can be used as an adverb that means "with ease," and has been used this way since 1400. (We checked in the Oxford English Dictionary.)

There is some widespread misunderstanding out there that all adverbs end in -ly, and anything that ends in -ly is also an adverb. Lolly, lolly, lolly, this just ain't so.

Deathly, as in "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" is an adjective. So are friendly, ghostly and ghastly. As we've said, "easy" can function as an adverb.

So how is one to know what's correct? The dictionary. We use ours several times a day -- when we encounter unfamiliar words, when we're double-checking usage or pronunciation, or just because it's fun to find new treasures in its pages.

It's too bad no one at the Boston Globe thought of doing this, but hey -- that would have ruined a perfectly good story. Why let the facts do that?

The grammar vandal is correct, though, in demanding a comma after "easy." Run easy, Boston. (As opposed to Run, easy Boston -- this really would mean run, you slutty city.)

Sunday, July 15, 2007

A Word on Word Choice

We're working on the wordiness and jargon chapter in our book, and can't help but notice in Sunday's New York Times, Frank Rich comes up with a startling number of synonyms for "lie." They include:

- fictional storyline
- fictionalizations
- propaganda
- hooey
- ingenuity (without scare quotes)
- fiction
- pure hot air

It's interesting to note that even a journalist who routinely bashes the Bush administration rarely writes the word "lie." We get "untruths," "misstatements" and other euphemisms, ostensibly because it's not polite to call people liars.

SPOGG is all for plain language, even if it seems rude. If it can be defended with facts, then it should be said in the simplest terms possible.

The cost of jargon and other spongey euphemisms is altogether too high.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Lay vs. Lie

We never really thought about it in this context before, but at a Romance Writers of America conference in Dallas, the proper use of lay and lie did, um, come up:
At the sexy grammar session, giggles to guffaws broke out as passages were read from love scenes that weren't so good. Presenters explained that a love scene should be used to reveal more about the characters and move the plot forward, and definitely shouldn't be awkward. During the question-and-answer period, conversations ranged from the correct usages of "lay" and "lie" to where to find creative euphemisms that could be used as a scene heats up.

It's the Thought That Counts?

Oops. It's supposed to say "Go Endeavour," because NASA got all British with us when it named the shuttle.

Friday, July 13, 2007

The Gallery of Misused Quotation Marks

To the "curators" of this "online" gallery, we say "thank" you...


Thursday, July 12, 2007

From the Confusing Headline Department

We found this headline in today's Seattle P-I:
Sure, it's noisy, but the litter in Belltown has got to go

Noisy litter -- that would be annoying!

The story itself is here. Alas, the garbage doesn't really talk. But if it did, we're sure it would have interesting things to report.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Funny Student Errors

Adam G. sends these from the Midwest.

For three semesters, I was a grader for a college professor at a Christian college in Cincinnati, and some of the things freshmen type are gramatically sad but personally amusing.

For example, one student wrote in a book review that the book More Than Equals (a book about dealing with racism) was written "through the joint efforts of a black and white man." Sounds kind of "Jekyll and Hyde" to me.

Another student wrote this about Jesus: "if Jesus would have just went up and told them He was the Son of God Then he would have been charged with blasphemy and thrown in jail until he was killed." That's a lot of throwing!

Britney Spears, Translated!

Ohmygawd, y'all!

One of our readers has manage to translate Britney Spears, who wrote:

I apologize to the pap for a stunt that was done 4 months ago regarding an umbrella. I was preparing my character for a role in a movie where the husband never plays his part so they switch places accidentally. I take all my roles very seriously and got a little carried away. Unfortunately I didn't get the part.

Apparently, this means:
I apologize to the pap[arazzi] for a stunt that [I enacted] 4 months ago [in which I] was carrying an umbrella [and appeared to be attacking others with it]. I was preparing my character for a role in a movie. I take all my roles very seriously and got a little carried away. Unfortunately I didn't get the part.

Here's hope Britney hires our talented translator for a spot in her posse, so that we can better understand what's going on in that big, bald head of hers.

Your Typos Give Me Gas

You can now get gas -- of the petroleum kind -- by finding typos in Web sites. We found this press release this morning and have no idea if it's a scam, but we were amused.

High Gas Prices, Slashed For Consumers By GasMoneyToolbar.com

Houston, TX (PRWEB) July 10, 2007 -- A new tool to offset high gas prices hits the Internet. A new website (http://www.gasmoneytoolbar.com/), via TypoBounty.com, is taking the sting out of high gas prices for consumers. By allowing consumers to supplement their fuel budgets while helping to correct the Internet, the gas money toolbar is a popular choice for those consumers feeling the pinch of rising gas prices.

Users sign up for a free error hunter account and find and report errors for a shot at money to pay for gas. TypoBounty.com's business is to make the Internet an error free medium for information. To accomplish this goal, TypoBounty brings together a large number of web surfers to help hunt down these errors and report them. Advertisers can gain the benefit of all of the web surfers that converge on TypoBounty.com hunting an opportunity for gas money by finding and reporting Internet errors. (More...)

The first thing we'd like to correct is their headline. No comma is necessary. Even in a headline, subjects and verbs aren't divided by commas. Then, we have two bones to pick with this sentence that comes later in the release:

TypoBounty.com is also an entertaining game for individuals that join the hunt.
1) It's individuals "who" join the hunt, unless the contest is also open to animals, which we doubt.
2) Though it's not ungrammatical, we deplore the use of "individuals" as a synonym for people, and were quite gratified to watch "Idiocracy," a movie about stupid people in the future. The use of individual for person was one sign of idiocy. So don't say we didn't warn you.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Does the FBI Need a Reprimand

FBI agents have dubbed a bank robber "Slack Jaw Jimmy," which we applaud for its poetry, but deplore for its punctuation. We believe it should be Slack-Jaw Jimmy, or possibly even Slack-Jawed Jimmy. But we are in the midst of a heat wave in Seattle, and we don't think well when it's above 80 degrees (don't laugh).

What do you think? Should we send a stern letter to the Feds?

Celebrity Hilarity, Sponsored by Tori Spelling & Clay Aiken

First, this bit from Tori Spelling's blog, in which she describes the party after a wedding she performed:

We had amazing Martini’s (thank you Krol Vodka) that we named after the couples favorite Broadway musicals.
Note the two-for-one apostrophe catastrophe. Martinis, which does not need one, has one; couple's, which needed one, does not. It's a good thing her last name isn't Grammar, or we'd demand a refund.

Even more amusing, though, are the antics of Clay Aiken's foot, which apparently naps on its own schedule when not lodged in his mouth:
“While sleeping on a plane over the weekend, my foot evidently found a home on the arm rest of the passenger seated directly in front of me. I didn’t realize I was causing the woman any distress until she woke me up with a quick hit to the chest. [AS OPPOSED TO THOSE SLOW HITS THE REST OF US KNOW AND LOVE?] Unfortunately, being that this [OR BECAUSE... YOUR CALL, CLAY] happened on a plane, the FBI was called in to investigate and eventually we were all sent on our way. I’d like to thank everyone for their concern; I am fine and have taken steps to prevent any foot wandering in the future.”
This is inadvertently brilliant writing.

Taken steps to prevent foot wandering: Is this physically possible? Is it a deep paradox representing some unspoken conflict in his nature? And shouldn't it have been hyphenated? The answer to that is clear: Yes!

If Only He Could Have Been Our Professor

We received this from Steven Chappell, Director of Student Media at Middle Tennessee State University:

My all-time favorite from a student is this gem, which came to me when she missed a test.

"Dr. Chappell,

I'm sorry I missed today's test. I wasn't feeling well. I would be glad to discuss my make-up exam with you at your earliest opportunity. I am sorry for the incontinence."

I sent this reply:

"Dear ----,

Please refer to the syllabus, which requires you to contact me in advance regarding all make-up exams, including those for illness. The next time you are sick, it is not necessary for you to be so descriptive regarding your medical problem, but you do need to contact me in advance to schedule a make-up exam."

No. 2 on my list was this lead on a story from a student, who was writing a class-assigned story on a genetic engineering lecture on campus:

"Professor of English Martha Bartter spoke about the implications of a world containing genetically modified orgasms, focusing on the language barrier that causes problems and the religious aspect."

While I think it was genetically modifified organisms that were the topic of the lecture, this new topic would have been much more interesting.

We Would Call This Irony

From a news story today:
The South Zone Spelling Bee Metro Championship is being organised by Apt Eventz to encourage an aptitude and love for English language amongst children and also to inculcate an appetite for reading.

Does a company that spells its name "Eventz" have any business working with children on language matters?

And did anyone else die a little bit on the inside after reading such a pompous sentence about the love of language? (Read the rest of the article.)

Punctuation Dysfunction

Here's another story that came through illustrating the perils the punctilious face on the job, especially with regard to punctuation:

I work as an administrative assistant for an appraisal franchise company in Kansas City. A few months ago, I called our preferred hotel to make arrangements for an incoming client. Upon completing the reservation, the (apparently new) hotel employee asked if I'd like confirmation of the guest's stay e-mailed to me. I agreed that would be helpful, and enunciated to him my e-mail address. In a perplexed tone, he asked me to repeat the address. I spoke more slowly for him, this time dumbing down my words, saying "dash" instead of "hyphen." "Oh! Thank you," he replied. "You should have the confirmation in a few minutes."

Two hours later, I called for that "in a few minutes" e-mail, still unreceived. This time, a chipper, much smarter-sounding lady answered. She quickly pulled up the reservation on the computer, and politely asked me to verify my e-mail address. When I did, she said, "Ah-hah. I see the problem. Whoever reserved this room for you used a comma in your e-mail address." She had no idea why I guffawed, until I
explained my earlier conversation. We then shared in that laughter.

Several weeks later, I called to make another reservation. The same chipper, smart-sounding lady answered. At the end of our call, she nonchalantly asked if I'd prefer a comma or a hyphen in my e-mail address, and we started to laugh.

Never mind he didn't know the word "hyphen."

I can understand a person mishearing "slash" for "dash," and inserting a "/," but comma? Why not just give up completely and use no punctuation at all?

I have, on occasion, been known to overuse the comma, but it's ridiculous to assume the comma will just step-up as a replacement mark. Maybe that's what we need -- (I mean ,,) a "replacement" mark. Why not? Complacency is bliss.

Have a great day,

Keith B.

So That's Why They Call It Hot Air

This came in today from a SPOGG member, and it gave us a good chuckle:


This is not a pet peeve, but I thought it was a clever, if accidental, misuse of the language. I teach an Adult Literacy and Numeracy class and we were discussing the foul weather. One of my students said, "It's all because of verbal warming." Actually, when you think about it ...

Kind regards
Joe L.

Grammar for Spammers

This came to our Inbox today from a "nice girl" named Troy Swift:
Hello! I am bored today. I am nice girl that would like to chat with you. Email me at h@docmaildirect.info only. Mind me sending some of my pictures to you?

We're posting this not because of the unlikelihood of a nice girl going by the name of Troy Swift, but rather, because of a debate we sometimes hear. Is it "me sending" or "my sending"?

It depends.

If Troy is asking whether I object to her in particular sending the pictures, it would be "object to me sending."

If she wonders whether I object to the general act of sending pictures (probably nude) to strangers online, then it would be "my sending."

The answer either way, however, is YES. Go away, Troy!

We're Not in Kansas Anymore

New SPOGG member D'Arcy G. found this doozy in an otherwise tragic story on FoxSports:

Lesa France Kennedy's husband killed
FOXSports.com, Updated
36 minutes ago

Dr. Bruce Kennedy, the husband of International Speedway Corp. official Lesa France Kennedy, was killed Tuesday morning in a plane crash in Sanford, Fla. that left at least five people dead and three others seriously burned.

The plane crashed into two houses trying to make an emergency landing.

An International Speedway Corp. official confirmed Kennedy's death to FOXSports.com.

The way the second sentence is written, it appears the houses were trying to land. This is why it's usually best to put modifiers right next to the word they're describing.

The plane, trying to make an emergency landing, crashed into two houses.

Or, The plane crashed into two houses as it tried to make an emergency landing.

It's true, of course, that the pilot was trying to make the landing, and not the plane. But the basic point remains.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Introducing the Plain English Campaign

Since 1979, Englishwoman Chrissie Maher has led what she calls The Plain English campaign. Her mission is to stamp out jargon, gobbledegook, and other murky language bits that make it impossible for us to understand politicians, corporations, and others.

She keeps a blog here: http://www.plainenglish.co.uk/blog.htm

The site also lists annual "winners" of the Golden Bulls, which -- fortunately -- are shaped like cows and not their droppings.

Here's a taste of what you'll find:

Gobbledygook of the week
'The initial assessment for unscheduled care process, as part of the care pathway, requires the delivery of evidence based knowledge management support tools at this impoprtant decision node and across organisational interfaces to ensure the delivery (without duplication) of evidence based interventions which the patient understands and agrees to undertake.'

Sunday, July 08, 2007

A Fun Book for Spellers

We found this today and we're intrigued. It's a book of short stories, each one based on a winning word from the Scripps National Spelling Bee:

“Good words make good stories,” declares the cover of Logorrhea (Spectra, $13, softcover). This collection of 21 stories is edited by John Kilma — who also contributes a story and introduction. Each of the stories is titled with and expands on the theme of a word, and not just any word either. Each title word is one of the winning words from the Scripps National Spelling Bee. They are, for the most part, fantasy stories, the genre that used to be science fiction but changed when the real world got more outrageous than anything a science writer could dream up.

More about the book

Saturday, July 07, 2007

What's Really Wrong with the War on Terror?

Jon Stewart said it was a losing battle because terror isn't even a noun. Alas, it is. But the "war on terror" still is a silly thing, at least when it comes to grammar.

One doesn't wage war "on" an enemy; one wages it "against" an enemy.

Barry Leiba pointed out exactly why this is a problem in his blog. As proof, he cites the Washington Post headline: President Defends War on July 4th.

What this means is that on July 4, Bush defended the war in Iraq. There is no war against the fourth of July (though the people who've allegedly declared war on Christmas could perhaps use a new holiday to ruin for the fragile-minded masses).

In any case, the next time I see W., I'll say, "Mr. President, I have a preposition you can't refuse..."

Maureen Corrigan on the Semicolon

Behold the power of a punctuation mark:

"The semicolon is my psychological metaphor, my mascot. It’s the punctuation mark that qualifies, hesitates, and ties together ideas and parts of a life that shoot off in different directions. I think my reliance on the semicolon signifies that I want to hold onto my background – honestly, without sentimentality or embarrassment – and yet, also transcend it. I come from, and still partly reside in, a world where most people, including my own parents, didn’t, and still don’t, read or hear what I have to say about books because they are oblivious to NPR, The New York Times, and all the other educated middle- and upper-class outlets where popular conversations about culture and literature take place."

From Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading: Finding and Losing Myself in Books, by Maureen Corrigan

At Least the Word Didn't End in a Z

Mima sends this in from her office:

At work, a new sign went up on the coffee machine saying: "Please use the correct muggs! [Two images of coffee mugs here] Mauve muggs for coffee, grey muggs for hot water." I was extremely tempted to cross out the end of the sentence to make it, "Please use the correct spelling of 'mugs'!"
The world is a sad place when a four-letter word that's largely phonetic -- mugs -- becomes tough to spell. But perhaps the author of the sign is a reader of "Juggs" magazine. Then, it would seem perfectly normal.

In any case, we know which mug we'd take to work...

Friday, July 06, 2007

Make Sense out of Britney Spears

We have no idea what this means, but it's posted on her Web site:

I apologize to the pap for a stunt that was done 4 months ago regarding an umbrella. I was preparing my character for a role in a movie where the husband never plays his part so they switch places accidentally. I take all my roles very seriously and got a little carried away. Unfortunately I didn't get the part.
What's amusing is that she intially wrote "roll" instead of "role." She had her people correct that, but the crazy-talk about the umbrella and body switching apparently seems just fine. Does anyone care to translate? We'll post your thoughts here as they come in.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Almost the Right Word

Barry L. of http://staringatemptypages.blogspot.com sends this our way. As usual, he's right. (And it's an interesting story, to boot.)

Through Boing Boing:
...I found this interesting story:
...about a developer who declared a "public" street in Silver Spring, MD, to be "private", and banned photography, and the photographers who protested by showing up with their cameras.

The article has this sentence, containing an error that I see fairly often:
To help diffuse the situation, a few days before the July 4th march, the Peterson Company said that it would allow people to take photos in Downtown Silver Spring, but that it could remove this privilege at its discretion.

"Diffuse" means to spread out, as a drop of food colouring diffusing into a glass of water. "Defuse" is the word they want here, which means to reduce/eliminate a source of conflict, using the metaphor of removing the fuse from an explosive device. (The writer repeated his error in the blurb he wrote to Boing Boing, so I don't think it was a typo.)

Hyphen Fight

This comes from a Boston Globe news story about a slim grammar guide for people in business:

By the way, Campbell believes that e-mail should be written "email," no hyphen.

Hyphens are for new words just entering the vernacular; at this point, e-mail has become so entrenched in the language that its hyphen, the linguistic equivalent of training wheels, should be discarded, Campbell said.

This is what Bill Walsh of the Washington Post has to say about the matter:

Compound nouns do tend to go from separate to joined, often (though not so often anymore) with a hyphen stage. The problem with "e-mail" is that it's not a simple compound noun. It's an initial-letter-based abbreviation, and no initial-letter-based abbreviation in the history of the English language has ever morphed into a solid word. The "e" isn't simply a syllable -- it's the letter e, for Chrissakes, like the X in "X-ray." Nobody lives in an "aframe," nobody drives a "zcar," and you will find no example parallel to the illiteracism "email." "Email" (the French word for "enamel," by the way) divorces the e, ee, eee! so that the first syllable begs to be a schwa sound. Uhmail. Uh.

We're with Bill on this one. E-mail, people. E-mail.

Calling Dr. Bombay

This is probably not a textbook you'd like your child to read:
Maha govt sets-up committee to probe spelling mistakes

MUMBAI: Maharashtra Government on Wednesday set up a five-member committee to probe the spelling mistakes in the 10th class textbook `Kumarbharti', which led to the recall of 12 lakh copies of the textbook.

"Innumerable mistakes were found in the textbook which led to its cancellation," an official release said.

"This has caused a major financial loss to the state government, which has faced criticism on the issue," the release said.

"It is seen that there was irresponsibility and dereliction in carrying out the job of printing the textbook," it said. (Read more...)

Tartlet, Tartlet, Tartlet

In an episode of "Friends," Jon Lovitt plays a food critic who gets drunk while sampling Monica's cooking and says, "Tartlet, tartlet, tartlet -- the word has lost all meaning."

This is the problem with jargon, whether it's that of TV chefs or newspaper journalists. As Exhibit A, we submit the following Harry Potter caption:
Actor Daniel Radcliffe attends the after party following the European premiere of "Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix" at the Old Billingsgate Market on Tuesday in London, England.

Oh, he went to the after-party after the movie premiere, as opposed to the one before. It's all clear to me now.

After-party is now on the list of laughable Hollywood jargon. Avoid it!

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Shall We Blame the Nuns?

Feast your eyes on this sentence from the Catholic Diocese of Richmond:

The Diocese is a good place within which to work. (More...)
Not only does it display a belief in the myth that sentences can't end with prepositions, it doesn't even use the correct preposition. Ten Hail Marys, stat. (Thanks to Rachel D. for the find.)

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

The Klan Goes Korporate

People claiming to be members of the Ku Klux Klan have been leaving business cards in Indianapolis neighborhoods.

On their fronts, the cards say: We are watching over you while you sleep.


Oops. Someone needs to get a klue. It's Ku Klux Klan. Idiots!

Monday, July 02, 2007

Let's Give a Bronx Cheer

The New York Press is making fun of the spelling on the invitation for a Democratic party fundraiser. D'oh!
If you're going to the annual Bronx Democratic County Dinner next week bring a dictionary. Someone really needs it.On the back of the invitation the County Committee provides a helpful list of each elected official who stands strong with the Bronx Democrats (actually, it just lists every elected official, regardless of their helpfulness to the county machine). That list includes members of the State Senate, Assembly and low-level party functionaries.Oh, and members of the "City Counsel." Apparently, these days you can send out important fundraising material with huge spelling errors.

A Blog After Our Own Shallow Hearts

Celebrity English loves grammar and celebrities -- and correcting celebrities' grammar. Check it out!

Misplaced Modifier Alert

This isn't the worst we've seen, but it's still pretty grisly for a daily newspaper:

A Boy Scout troop found the body of man missing since April while on a weekend canoe trip on the Shookumchuck River near Centralia, police in the southwest Washington town said.

Who was on the float trip? The Boy Scout troop? Or the dead man? If it was the latter, we'd say that was probably the trip of a lifetime... except for that part about being dead.

It would have been better to write the sentence this way:

A Boy Scout troop on a weekend canoe trip found the body of man missing since April in the Shookumchuck River near Centralia, police in the southwest Washington town said.