Tuesday, October 30, 2007

A Really Bad Case of Blaming the Victim

We found this today on Defamer:

Accused of raping a woman he lured to the Bahamas, other women are now coming forward to tell of their own experiences being cherry-picked from David Copperfield's audiences for backstage Q & A and photographing sessions, with one sharing a (completely innocuous yet entirely creepy) voice mail left by the magician, proposing a "very interesting opportunity for you."

So these other women are now accused of rape? What? Oh, you're saying David Copperfield is the creepy one? That makes much more sense. Sort of...

Will the BBC Crack Down on Grammar?

Athough one critic says grammar-obsessives are nostalgic over-40 types, there are others who want the BBC to pay closer attention to the language and grammar of its newscasters.

Read on: Mind Your Language, Critics Warn BBC

Why the Grammar Errors in The New York Times?

One of their editors explains:

Q. What's with all the grammatical errors in the Times? I grew up hearing that I should polish my English grammar by reading the Times, but over the past couple of years I've gotten the impression that many of your writers must not even have graduated from high school!

Particularly striking is the number of errors relating to agreement between noun and verb, i.e. number errors.

Tell me there is hope for The Times. The rest of the country is sliding back to grade school output.

— Peter Kurz

A. I get versions of this question all the time, and I'm sure I'll see more this week, so I may as well try to tackle it now.

Often, as with Mr. Kurz's note, the question includes some variation of the everything-was-better-long-ago theme. Many readers believe that there were fewer factual errors, fewer typos, fewer grammatical lapses in The Times back in the old days. I honestly don't know if this is true, though the perception worries me. I do take a bit of comfort in the fact that I've been hearing similar complaints for all of the 17 years I've been at The Times. Or maybe things really were better up until 17 years ago, when I was hired, and it's been straight down since then. Now that really is something to worry about.

It's possible that there really are more mistakes now than there were 20 or 30 years ago. If so, I truly don't believe it's because today's writers or editors are less talented or conscientious than our predecessors. But I do think The Times today tries to do more than it did years ago. There is more late-breaking news, more variety of sections, topics and stories — and now, of course, there's the Web site, with constant updating of news and a whole new range of offerings. We also have more people handling all these tasks, but it may be that our effort to give readers more means that we fall short of perfection even more often than we once did.

Still, I'm not sure. I also think it's possible that we're making, on average, just about the same number of dumb mistakes we've always made, but that we all have a tendency to think that things were better way back when.

In any case, one thing is clear: we make a lot of mistakes. We make factual errors, which we try rigorously to correct in print and online. We misspell words, we have typos, and yes, sometimes our grammar is just awful. Some such mistakes are inevitable as we handle many tens of thousands of words every day, mostly on tight deadlines. But they should be rare, much rarer than they are. We're trying.

And believe it or not, we're happy to have readers who are sophisticated enough to notice when we slip, and who care enough to let us know.

The editor, Philip B. Corbett, will be answering questions all week.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Vizzini Alert: MSNBC

Ann B. sends this in:

Wildfires threaten stars’ Malibu homes
Suzanne Somers, Courteney Cox, Sean Penn among those effected by blaze (Read more...)

It's affected. Effect is usually a noun. Or, as a verb, it means to do or to make something (as in, to effect change).

Affect is almost always a verb, except in the case of psychological jargon. A person can have a "flat affect," which means he isn't lively.

This usage comes from the 19th-century German word "Affekt," which is a feeling associated with action--an emotion or mood associated with an idea or action, or the external expression of such a feeling. If you can't wrap your head around that definition, don't worry. You're not alone. And you'll generally be safe if you use effect as a noun, and affect as a verb.

SPOGG in The New York Times

Those of you who do not get to spend Sundays blackening your fingers on the pages of The New York times might be tickled to know our organization cropped up in Bob Morris's "Age of Dissonance" column.

You can read the whole story here: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/21/fashion/21age.html

And, in case you haven't yet downloaded your SPOGG membership card, you can do so here. You are entitled to flash it proudly wherever you see bad grammar in public places--particularly where people should know better.

Infected Prose (Eww!)

While reading a New York Times story about drug-resistant staph infections, we encountered two spelling errors:

What does CA-MRSA look like?
CA-MRSA is primarily a skin infection. It often resembles a pimple, boil or spider bite, but it quickly worsens into an abscess or puss-filled blister or sore. Patients who have sores that won’t heal or are filled with pus should see a doctor and ask to be tested for staph infection. They should not squeeze the sore or try to drain it — that can spread the infection to other parts of the skin or deeper into the body.

The word the author wanted was pus. Puss means cat. We would be worried about pus-filled wounds, and horrified with ones large enough to accommodate kitties.

What can I do to lower my risk of contracting MRSA?
Bathing regularly and washing hands before meals is just a start. Wash your hands often or use an antibacterial sanitizer after you’ve been in public places or have touched handrails and other highly trafficked surfaces. Make sure cuts and scrapes are bandaged until they heal. Wash towels and sheets regularly, preferably in hot water, and leave clothes in the dryer until they are completely dry. “Staph is a pretty hearty organism,’’ said Dr. Gerba.

It's hardy, not hearty. Hearty means sincere, lively, and enthusiastic. Only a staph infection's mother would use that word to describe it. Hardy, on the other hand, means robust.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Apparently, Pro Wrestlers Can't Spell

This comes from a review of a video that we'd like to see, if only for stuff like this:

Hornswoggle flees into the Diva’s Locker Room (note grammatical error!) and
emerges with someone’s bra. After another promo with the mysterious binary code
hyping the second coming of... someone, Hornswoggle dives under the ring. What
happens next is straight out of Looney Tunes: Coach pulls a detonator out with a
wire that runs under the ring. He pushes the plunger down once... nothing. A
second push... nothing. But when Coach goes under the ring to check things out,
Hornswoggle pushes the plunger and a big boom erupts from underneath the ring.
Coach staggers out, face and shirt blackened by smoke.

Female wrestlers wear brassieres! We never knew...

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Hyper Hyphens

This article in the New York Times uses some form of the word "hyphen" twelve times. And it's not even about grammar. We'd say we were hyphen-ventilating over it, but we're way above puns like that.


Grammar for Spammers

Sigh. As much as we'd like to receive a tax refund of $249.30, we know the IRS isn't in the business of making "annual calculations of ... fiscal activity."

We also would hope that phishers would be savvy enough to write idiomatic English. What does this mean? Note: Deliberate wrong inputs will be prosecuted by law.

It takes a lot of gall to e-mail out a sentence like this--especially because this sort of identity-theft scam is also "prosecuted by law."

After the last annual calculations of your fiscal activity we have determined that you are eligible to receive a tax refund of $249.30.

Please submit the tax refund request and allow us 3-6 days in order to process it.

A refund can be delayed for a variety of reasons. For example submitting invalid records or applying after the deadline. [SPOGG: Your sentence fragment pains us.]

To access the form for your tax refund, please click here [SPOGG: We will, if you use proper punctuation.]

Note: Deliberate wrong inputs will be prosecuted by law.

Internal Revenue Service

Friday, October 12, 2007

Don't Read This if Dirty Words Make You Cry & Barf

The New Republic ran a bracing essay on cursing this week, and the following passage is relevant to SPOGG. Apparently, one of our fearless political leaders has written a bill that misidentifies the parts of speech of some of our more common curse words. Check it out:
The first is the bone of contention in the Bono brouhaha: the syntactic classification of curse words. Ose's grammatically illiterate bill not only misspelled cocksucker, motherfucker, and asshole, and misidentified them as "phrases," it didn't even close the loophole that it had targeted. The Clean Airwaves Act assumed that fucking is a participial adjective. But this is not correct. With a true adjective like lazy, you can alternate between Drown the lazy cat and Drown the cat which is lazy. But Drown the fucking cat is certainly not interchangeable with Drown the cat which is fucking.

If the fucking in fucking brilliant is to be assigned a traditional part of speech, it would be adverb, because it modifies an adjective and only adverbs can do that, as in truly bad, very nice, and really big. Yet "adverb" is the one grammatical category that Ose forgot to include in his list! As it happens, most expletives aren't genuine adverbs, either. One study notes that, while you can say That's too fucking bad, you can't say That's too very bad. Also, as linguist Geoffrey Nunberg pointed out, while you can imagine the dialogue How brilliant was it? Very, you would never hear the dialogue How brilliant was it? Fucking.

Read the rest...

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

One Last Thing on Hyphens...

This comes from the New York Times:

Overall, hyphen looks like a minus
The New York Times

The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, the scaled-down, two-volume version of the mammoth 20-volume OED, just got a little shorter.

With the dispatch of a waiter flicking away flyspecks, the editor, Angus Stevenson, eliminated some 16,000 hyphens from the sixth edition, published last month. "People are not confident about using hyphens anymore," he said. "They're not really sure what they're for."

Flyspecks? Are these the new crumb? What kind of restaurants does Charles McGrath go to, that fly feces would adorn the tables?

We agree that hyphenating words like bumblebee is unpleasantly persnickety. And to insist on hyphenated distinctions between air conditioners and the air-conditioning they do is probably a sign of an overly uptight mind.

Still. Hyphens are elegant, necessary, and often quite fun. We can't say the same for fly poop.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

When Children Have Children

There's no other way to explain this sign: Babies must be having babies. Good thing they're staying in school, though.
Oh...wait... this is where parents drop off their kids? Not where parents are dropped off? We think we're going to go back to bed. School is just too hard these days.

Thanks to Jeff K. for the photo!

Someone Has a Sense of Humor

There's a new "reality" show called "America's Most Smartest Model."

See more here: http://www.vh1.com/shows/dyn/americas_most_smartest_model/series.jhtml

Ha! We might have to watch, just for the grammar error in the title.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Farther vs. Further: The 'Mostly' Rule

We enjoyed this bit of trivia today in James Kilpatrick's column:

The Court of Peeves, Crochets & Irks resumes its autumn assizes with a petition from Jeanne Schapper from Somewhere in Cyberspace. She asks for definitive guidance on "farther" and "further."

Every commentator on English usage has had a go at this one. Their advice boils down to an agreeable consensus: Use "farther" for concepts of distance, both literal and figurative. Use "further" for concepts of degree. Thus, Stern Father says to Willful Daughter, "Do not push my patience any farther!" She replies, "I will not impose upon your patience any further."
The court's rule is a "mostly" rule -- i.e., it works most of the time, but we're sailing here on a most uncertain sea.

The original word, many centuries ago, appears to have been "further." After a few years, some scribe misspelled it as "farther." It was a typographical error. People took sides. To this day the distinctions are better understood than explained. Let us move on.


Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Apparently, Married Women Are Harder to Impress

This bit of ambiguous spam arrived this morning:

You can impress every single girl with the size of your penis!

Does this mean it only works on single women? Or might this spammer have written, "You can impress all women with the size of your penis!"

Monday, October 01, 2007

Oh, the Irony

We notice this quote in a story this morning about a couple of newlyweds who put their wedding vows in a bottle and tossed them into the waves. The couple that found the message had been married on the same beach, and sent a letter to the newlyweds:
The letter read, "We thought you would want to know where your message in a bottle ended up! We picked it up on the beach between Pentwater and Silver Lake on Sept. 19. An ironic note, we were also married on the beach! Here in Michigan by Pentwater. Even more ironic, it was on August 18, 1979. We wish you both the best of luck in your new lives together."
The actual irony here is the use of irony. There is no irony in the situation whatsoever. Irony is incongruity, or where contradiction of some sort causes humor. The shared wedding dates are a coincidence.