Sunday, December 30, 2007

Yahoo! That's Harsh

Xavier D. sent the text of the message Yahoo! sends its discussion group administrators when people ask to join.

Apparently, Yahoo! has software that automatically kills applicants if the group administrator doesn't intervene in two weeks. Either that, or they have the pronoun problem properly known as an ambiguous antecedent.

Here's their language:
Pending members require your approval. If you take no action, they will automatically expire after 14 days.

The "they" appears to apply to pending members, which makes us wonder what sort of automatic death might occur... sudden cardiac arrest? Futuristic disintegration? Total petrification?

Of course, they probably meant the requests would expire after 14 days. That would have been a good thing to write.

We Like Dessert, But...

This comes from the New York Times:

This year celebrities seemed incapable of limiting their misdeeds to isolated bad choices: a flop movie, a regrettable interview quote, an on-air feud with Rosie O’Donnell. At times, their behavior was flat-out abnormal. If you were hoping to see your least favorite Hollywood princess fall on her crown, 2007 provided a parade of tempestuous starlets shaving heads (Ms. Spears), crashing sports cars (Lindsay Lohan) and checking into rehab (Ms. Spears and Ms. Lohan) or prison (Paris Hilton).
If your taste in just desserts ran more esoteric, the displays of personal collapse available on the Internet were downright Dada-esque: you could watch the former television action hero David Hasselhoff splayed across the floor of his hotel room while eating a hamburger; see Vanessa Hudgens, the squeaky-clean star of “High School Musical 2,” posing in the nude; or hear Alec Baldwin haranguing his 11-year-old daughter in a profane voice mail message that could have come straight out of “Glengarry Glen Ross.”
It's not just desserts. It's just deserts--as in, what you deserve. Which is probably not dessert, if you're a misbehaving celebrity.


We found this in a Jerusalem Post article about the grammar software called WhiteSmoke:

"WhiteSmoke is to text what a calculator is to math," she says.

It's an apt analogy; can you imagine trying to figure out how much to tip in a restaurant or a cab without a calculator? Course not; [THIS SEMICOLON SHOULD HAVE BEEN A COMMA] and users of WhiteSmoke say it's hard to imagine how they wrote business letters without the software as well.
People really think calculating a tip is unimaginable without the help of a calculator? Oy. We thought tip calculators were just a Seinfeld joke.

Still, we're not going to discard the analogy entirely. If people memorized basic math facts--and basic rules of grammar--then they could imagine functioning confidently in everyday tasks without technological assistance. Imagine how freeing that would be....

Friday, December 28, 2007

Too Sad for Words

Here's a holiday tragedy made slightly worse by the Vizzini in it:

Man arrested in fatal hit-and-run crash in Taunton, Mass.

TAUNTON, Mass. -- A New Bedford man who turned himself in to police faces charges in the hit-and-run death of a 13-year-old boy in Taunton.

The police said the victim was slowly peddling a bicycle along the side of Poole Street just after midnight Thursday when he was struck and killed by the 1995 Ford Explorer.

A friend who was on foot escaped injury and helped police identify the vehicle, which took off after the accident.

The police said 31-year-old Craig Bigos turned himself in about 14 hours later, after media outlets broadcast a description of the vehicle.

Bigos was scheduled to be arraigned today on charges of motor vehicle homicide, leaving the scene of an accident, operating to endanger and driving without a license.

The victim's name was not released, but Taunton Schools Superintendent Arthur Stellar said the boy attended Friedman Middle School, where he was a good student and very popular.

-- The Associated Press

It's pedaling, not peddling. One means to ride with feet; the other, to sell.

Thanks, Tasha R., for the find.

Spelling Tips for Textual Intercourse

We saw this in the Houston Chronicle and wanted to pass this along to all our single friends. It's no longer enough to be HWP NS/ND. Now, you must be able to spell to be spellbinding:

RELATIONSHIPS WITH WHIT: Dating while under in-text-ication
Copyright 2007 Houston Chronicle

When a friend of mine left her marriage, she took the knives. She also took the crystal vase, the pictures and the kitschy set of cow-shaped salt and pepper shakers. But when her husband discovered that "she toke the William Sonoma copper sauce pan," well, that was the end.

At least that was what her ex wrote to her in a spate of e-mails itemizing exactly what was missing from their home (that she apparently took, err, "toke") upon their parting of ways.

My friend's ex-husband's spelling of took throughout the aforementioned e-mail spelled out something very clearly — they were not meant for each other. They were only married for a year. That was 10 years ago for her, but had it occurred today, all that misspelled e-mail would have "toke" place via texting.

A chef that's doneIt seems the single spelling gods must be laughing. My misspelling misadventures had just begun with that story. Fast forward a few years to New York where I dated a dashing and charming reality-show chef who sent out an invite to his 40th birthday reading: "Your invited to my ... " I then noticed a slew of his past text messages. There it was, an abundance of possessives where contractions were needed. In fact, he cooked up quite an alphabet soup of spelling with "your" and "you're" and "there," "their" and "they're." But it was the "to" that was too much to keep the two of us together.


Whitney Casey's tips for textual intercourse:

  • Your — possessive of you, e.g. your car, your dress, your spelling. (shorthand Ur)
  • You're — Contraction of you are, e.g. You're happy. You're a bad speller. (shorthand U r)
  • There — A place
  • Their — Possessive showing ownership, e.g. their car, their dictionary
  • They're — Contraction of they and are, e.g. They're not good spellers.
  • To — A preposition links nouns, pronouns and other phrases to the sentence.
  • Too — An adverb meaning also or excessively, e.g. too many misspellings.
  • A lot — Two words, a and lot meaning many.
  • Never end a sentence with the preposition at. "Where are you?" not "Where are you at?"
  • And, of course, took is never spelled toke (unless you are doing just that — taking a toke!)

Thursday, December 27, 2007

From the Irony Department

Sometimes, no further comment is necessary.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

A Dictionary for Martha

'Tis no longer the season—or year—for Martha Stewart jokes, but she brought a bit of this on herself by describing what she did in the hoosegow:

Martha built nativity scene in prison

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The Christmas season brought Martha Stewart one fond memory of her stay in a West Virginia prison.

On the Christmas Day episode of her television show, Stewart showed off ornate clay forms of the baby Jesus, Joseph, Mary, three camels and others she sculpted at a pottery class at the Federal Prison Camp in Alderson, W.Va.

"Even though every inmate was only allowed to do one a month, and I was only there for five months, I begged because I said I was an expert potter - ceramicist actually - and could I please make the entire nativity scene," she said.

Her creations were all fired and glazed at the prison. She completed the effect with tiny artificial palm trees imported from Germany by a New Jersey distributor.

Stewart was imprisoned in 2005 for lying about her sale of ImClone stock.

It would have been fine for her to call herself a potter. "Ceramicist," though, isn't the preferred alternative. That would be "ceramist." Leave it to Martha Stewart to make things more complicated, though. For the record, her recipe for pear tart works just as well without the splash of $28/bottle pear brandy.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

How Can Our Childrens Learn?

That's the question, when they get tests like these:
WASHINGTON -- Whoever created the practice take-home tests given to some elementary students this week could use some spelling lessons themselves.

Some parents noticed that the practice materials sent home with their children had spelling mistakes -- such as the word "device," mistakenly spelled with an "s" as "devise."

The name of a boy in a reading practice section was also spelled inconsistently. Gina Arlotto is the mother of a third-grader, and she called the blunders to the attention of administrators. Arlotto said her child was confused by the spelling differences.

Parents and teachers said that some teachers sent home notes pointing out the mistakes, and others said they were told to administer them anyway.

Arlotto said she got an e-mail from the new chief of teaching and learning for the school system, Sherry Ulery, apologizing and explaining that the original draft was sent to the printer instead of the final copy.

Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee wrote in an e-mail that this was a "significant problem" and that they'd "do better next time."

On the bright side, the school district did take responsibility for the errors.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Love Means Never Having to Be Grammatical

Sue has sent us a couple of howlers from a romance title she's been reading: SNOWBOUND WITH MR. RIGHT by Judy Christenberry.

On p. 96, [Hunter said,] "You know, when you're inside, you forget how cold it is out here." His breath stood out in the night air. [We've heard of bad breath. But breath so bad it stands all by itself? Gross!]

Later (p.147), Hunter and Sally were talking about the town Christmas Festival, and Hunter said he'd really enjoyed it. Part of Sally's response was, "There were several families who got toys for their children and clothes." [Those lucky toys, getting clothes.]

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Emoticons: A Love Story

This week we've melted a bit for two sets of amusing emoticons: one sent by the wit Craig Conley; the other, discovered in our latest issue of The New Yorker.

Craig's submission, from, is what he calls dingbats for dingbats. They're what logically follows the steroid-abuse denoting asterisk in the stats books:

Baseball's record books shall be besmirched no more. Or rather, the achievements therein shall be properly labeled. An asterisk for steroids. Yes. Of course. But how can that single dingbat suffice to explain away more than a century of exploitation, chicanery, and all-around evil doing? Fear not, fans of our Great Pastime, YFSF is here to supply you with a comprehensive system of annotation to illuminate the skeletal closets of the national game.


* = Steroids
! = Amphetamines
$ = Gambling
= Cocaine
~ = Alcohol

The New Yorker's list give us a useful shorthand for reporting news of the war in Iraq:

Emoticons During War Time

:-) No new attacks reported today.

:-( New attack reported today.

=:-)= This e-mail is being monitored by Uncle Sam for your protection.


The Difference a Hyphen Makes

We found this headline in today's paper:

Arrest in student-porn actress' death
We're not porn conoisseurs, but we do not believe there is such a thing "student" porn. There are student teachers, yes. And there is amateur porn as well as professional porn. But student porn? We don't think so. Yet, this is what the hyphen indicates. When two words are linked by a hyphen, they modify the noun that follows. In this case, they imply she was an actress in student pornography.

The punctuation mark the editors should have used was the slash. She was both a student and a porn actress. A student/porn actress, if you will.

What a sad story.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Cousins, Don't Try This at Home!

Oops! Where was the copyeditor here? They're just lucky "" isn't a porn site ( used to be--ewww).

Web post reunites cousins after 70 years

COCONUT CREEK, Fla. -- Two South Florida sisters are catching up with their Russian cousin after 70 years apart. Ossie Rasher, 81, and Sophia Altfeld, 78, last saw their cousin Rosalie Berkovich, 80, in 1937 when the sisters fled to the United States with their parents.

The families lost track of each other until decades later, when Berkovich's relatives tracked down the two sisters using a family tree posted on

Berkovich flew from her home in Acton, Mass., for a reunion Friday night at Altfeld's home in Coconut Creek. They are also planning for a larger family reunion.

For now, the three are catching up by exchanging family photos and stories of life journeys.
It's genealogy, people.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Worth Its Weight in Gold

Interest in finding an ancient book of Turkish grammar is so high, a writers' association is willing to pony up 1,000 golden coins for it. Fascinating!

Efforts to find first Turkish grammar book accelerated

The Eurasia Writers' Association (AYB) is trying to find early Turkic linguist Mahmud al-Kashgari's long-lost Turkish grammar book, Kitabu Cevahirü'n Nahv Fi Lughat al-Turk, which is believed to be the first grammar book on the Turkish language.

The association announced over the weekend that the person to find the book would be awarded with 1,000 Cumhuriyet golden coins -- a haul worth around YTL 226,000. The chairman of the association, Yakup Deliömeroğlu, told reporters that the association has announced 2008 as "the Year of al-Kashgari," marking the 1,000th anniversary of his birth. Deliömeroğlu added: "We know that the book exists, however, no one has seen it so far. We hope that this book turns up like the Diwan ul-Lughat al-Turk (Collection of Turkic words), thus contributing to our cultural heritage."

Read on...

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Sometimes, Grammar is the Least Important Thing

We saw a listing for an unusual piece of jewelry (thanks to Barbara Card Atkinson for the tip).

It's a ring. Made--somehow, mysteriously--from a man's most private bits. Here's his headline, verbatim:
Its my scrotum made into a ring seriously
We could correct this grammar, of course. If we did, it would read, "It's my scrotum, made into a ring. Seriously." But that would be a bit like rearranging doilies in a burning house. It wouldn't fix the deeper problem—namely, that the artist thinks anyone would want to wear a ring made from the scrotum-print of a stranger who might be several noodles short of spaghetti, judging by his grammar.

Here's his big sales pitch:
This ring is both a work of art and a great conversation piece. Please feel free to contact me if you would like more details.
We get the work-of-art thing. We're sure he worked hard on it, and it is an innovative use of materials. We do not, however, want more details, as we can imagine they would involve the words "tiny hairs," "hot wax" and "excruciating tinglies."

Nor would we want our conversations to revolve around such things. In our experience, if you want to end a conversation or a blog post—say scrotum.

See? It works.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

There, There...

This news item from MSN Music gave us a pang—and not because it's about the death of Ike Turner (we're on Tina's side). Rather, it's the appearance of the wrong their:
But over the years they're genre-defying sound would make them favorites on the rock 'n' roll scene, as they opened for acts like the Rolling Stones.
It's since been edited. But still. It hurt our eyes for hours afterward.

Thanks to Carrie B. for sending it.

The Apostrophe Protection Society

If members of the Apostrophe Protection Society were to happen across this Web site, they just might die.

Kelly F. sent it our way; here's an excerpt from the site's navigation:

- Auction Designing Service's

- Personal Website Designing Service's

- Website Designing Service's
What's with using an apostrophe to make a plural? It's just a mystery why some people do this. In the site owner's defense, though, she was at least consistent.

Friday, December 07, 2007

The Grammar Defense

The Arkansas Democrat Gazette carries an interesting story today about a woman denying her alleged role in a $1 million mail-order scam. This could well be the first criminal defense based on punctuation and capitalization. One wrote a letter to her defense attorney:
In the letter, which is included with the motion, Henningsen denies being the Sharon Jeanette Henningsen listed in the criminal complaint, noting that she now hyphenates Sharon-Jeanette and separates her first name from her last with a semicolon. She also claims that the complaint, which spells her name in all capital letters, does not refer to her.

“I learned in first-grade grammar that proper names have the first letter capitalized and the remaining letters in lower case,” the letter states. “Your DEFENDANT is not me, according to the rules of grammar.” Henningsen claims that Neal shouldn’t represent her because he has a conflict of interest, and she declines any legal representation.

“Based on my research, and as there is no contract between Sharon-Jeannette; Henningsen and Barry Neal, I decline an attorney of any kind,” the letter states.

The rest of the story is here; our only question at this point is how do completely insane people get it together enough to steal a million dollars in the first place? Our grasp of punctuation, capitalization, and which end is up hasn't netted us nearly so much.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Conjunction Dysfunction

We're doing a little research for Encarta on presidential debates and famous zingers, and we came across this dysfunctional conjunction at the Commission on Presidential Debates:
DebateWatch is a voter education program of the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD). DebateWatch brings citizens like you together to watch the televised debates, talk about what you learned, and, if you choose to, share your reactions with the CPD.

The beauty of this program is its flexibility; anyone can participate including children, young adults, or retirees. DebateWatches can take place in high-profile televised venues with hundreds of people, or they can occur in people's living rooms with half a dozen neighbors.

What's with the "or"? It makes it sound as though either children OR retirees can participate, but not both. That's hardly the beautiful flexibility they're promising.

Take care with conjunctions. They're not interchangeable.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

They Were Wounded in the Wallet?

The grammar-challenged blogger Perez Hilton reports that Dennis Quaid is suing the makers of heparin after his infant twins were given an accidental overdose of the blood-thinning drug.

Hilton writes: "As a result of the accidental overdose, the papers claim, twins 'ZOE GRACE QUAID and THOMAS BOONE QUAID, suffered and will continue to suffer injuries of a pecuniary nature.'"

This word goof probably isn't Hilton's fault. He's just quoting the lawyers. As terrible as it is what happened to the Quaids and their babies, this is such a lawyerish sort of mistake, all dressed up in its fancy Latin toga.

Pecuniary means "relating to money" or "involving a financial penalty."

What the lawyer meant to say is that they were injured and deserve to be compensated for it. But instead, he reached for a Latin term he didn't really understand, and ended up suggesting that the babies had been hurt by money. They're too young for that; that sort of injury comes later, especially if you have to spend too much of the wrong sort of time with lawyers.

A Bad Spell for a Politician

The education minister in New Zealand is taking well-deserved knocks for sloppy e-mail. Yes, everyone does make errors. Still, a dozen, in one e-mail?

What's more, not everyone is the minister of education. If his constituents can't trust him to have paid attention in school—and to pay attention to what he's typing while he's representing their interests—then they have a right to be outraged. We should all expect excellence from our leaders. Their langauge, the doorway to their thoughts, is no exception.

Bad spell for education minister

Education Minister Chris Carter has been pinged for making more than a dozen spelling or grammatical errors in a short email to a persistent opponent of election funding law reform.

Mr Carter's spokeswoman confirmed yesterday he had written the mistake-ridden email.

However, she otherwise issued a blanket "no comment" on whether Mr Carter was a good speller, prone to making errors of grammar, or should set higher standards for students.

In the email to Simeon Brown, 16, Mr Carter spells the recipient's name "Simon", leaves out a question mark and full stops, spells "elsewhere" as two words, puts "your" instead of "you're" and commits the common error of putting an "e" after the "u" in argument.

It was one of three emails Simeon, a level 12 Correspondence School pupil, had received from Mr Carter. Another also contained errors.

"I'm not a perfect speller. One or two is acceptable, but 12 or 13 is getting crazy," Simeon said.

"There is something called a spellcheck and that would have got rid of a few of them."

Monday, December 03, 2007

Whither the Clichéd Adjective?

We came across this sentence this morning in a review of an album by American Idol runner-up Blake Lewis.

But then it's back to the song, which is so slick with cliché dramatics it might have been directed by Michael Bay ("Pearl Harbor" and "Transformers").
It should be clichéd dramatics. The word, which from the sound metal engraving stereotypes make when over and over as they strike the press, is a noun.

The Queen's English...Betrayed!

The Independent carries this anxious report on the future of English spelling outside England. We're guessing the queen won't be pleased:

The British media's rush to make a mark in Indian ink
For years, Indian newspapers and magazines were infatuated with their English counterparts. Now it is the Western press scrambling to get a foothold in the Indian market, says 'The Times of India''s Manu Joseph

In the largest fragment of the Commonwealth, the spelling of "colonise" has changed – to "colonize".

On 12 November, The Times of India took the first step towards breaking from a long tradition, with an official email instructing senior editors that all verbs ending with the British "ise" must now be changed to the American "ize". "That's the way forward," says Jaideep Bose, the executive editor of the paper, which has an average daily circulation of over 3.1 million.

"'Colour' has to be 'color'. 'Honour' has to be 'honor'. The world is moving towards American spelling. We are largely reading American books, American magazines. Indian children are taking American entrance exams. There is no good reason any more why we should stick to the British spelling."

This betrayal of the Queen's English endangers one of the only two enduring British traditions in India: spelling and keeping to the left of the road. Ironically, the change in spelling convention comes just as British media organisations are besieging the Indian market, seeking growth that is hard to find at home.

Read more: