Thursday, October 30, 2008

More Preposition Problems

Lisa S. sends this in from her morning commute. The truck has a sticker that says "There's a difference in 'Living' and 'Living Well.'"

What, there was no room for between? Sigh.
Here's a quick preposition primer for all you truckers out there.
  • I see a difference in your driving these days.
  • There is a difference between apples and applesauce. (Namely, your truck tires.)
  • There are differences among the three (or more) drivers. (One likes bumper stickers. One doesn't. And one only likes the grammatical sort.)

Keep on truckin'!


Pity Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The Times has misspelled her name just about once a year since 1980. Today is the first time they've apologized. Do you think the just have Allen Ginsberg on the brain?

This Seems Sort of Mean

We get spam, er, helpful promotional marketing in our inbox for all sorts of pop culture happenings.

This arrived yesterday, on Wednesday, Oct. 29.

Thursday, October 29, 2008 – One week before the national polls open, tens of thousands of texting moviegoers have spoken! Senator Barack Obama beat out Senator John McCain by moviegoers when polled via text message "who would
you rather take to the movies?"

Does it mean Obama, provoked by a text-message poll, attacked John McCain when standing by a group of moviegoers? We hope not.

It would be terribly unsportsmanlike to attack an elderly veteran who lost a lot of arm movement when he was a prisoner of war in Vietnam. And Senator Obama has been so restrained up to this point (though in a fistfight, he would totally beat McCain and possibly hold his own against Sarah Palin's inevitable eye-gouges and hairspray attacks).

Or does the sentence mean Obama beat McCain among moviegoers polled by text messages? We rather suspect it's the latter. What a relief. Prepositions, people. Use them with care.

And don't forget to vote next week.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Pallet Cleanser?

We found this on the Huffington Post:
And just in case America was still pondering real issues rather than nonsense and name-calling, you know who was on the show after my segment? Hulk Hogan. I wish that were a joke. What a perfect pallet cleanser to help Roto-Rooter out the remaining bits and pieces of rational discourse!

It's palate cleanser--as in the roof of your mouth, or more idiomatically, your sense of taste. A pallet is a wooden thing you store products on at Costco and other fine stores. We can imagine those do need occasional cleaning, particularly if Hulk Hogan and his family stand on them for any length of time.

In any case, we believe a palate cleanser and Roto-Rooter used together in the same sentence is a mixed metaphor, and a painful one at that. We prefer a fruity sorbet between courses (and discourses, for that matter).

Friday, October 24, 2008

"Grambar" from the Campaign Trail

Slate posted this gem from the McCain campaign:

Thursday, October 23, 2008
Event: John McCain Participates in "Joe the Plummer" Tour Rally
Location: All Star Building Materials, Inc. 1361 North Highway U.S. 1 Ormond Beach, FL 32174
Date: Thursday, October 23, 2008
Let's hope they're not worried real Americans wouldn't recognize a properly spelled (let alone licensed) plumber....

The 8th Grade Grammar Test

A friend sent this along, much to our delight. The style of the questions is a bit stodgy and we object to capitalization for emphasis, but we're all in favor of ensuring today's eighth-graders are as competent in their language skills.

8th Grade Test
Remember when our grandparents, great-grandparents, and such stated thatthey only had an eighth-grade education? Well, check this out. Could any of us have passed the eight grade in 1895? This is the eighth-grade final exam from 1895 in Salina, KS, USA. It was taken from the original document on file at the Smokey Valley Genealogical Society and Library in Salina, KS, and reprinted by the Salina Journal.

Grammar (Time, one hour)
1. Give nine rules for the use of Capital Letters. [SPOGG: For starters, don't insert them randomly into sentences. It scares us.]
2. Name the Parts of Speech and define those that have no Modifications.
3. Define Verse, Stanza and Paragraph.
4. What are the Principal Parts of a verb?
Give Principal Parts of lie, lay and run.
5. Define Case, Illustrate each Case. [SPOGG: Oops! Use a semicolon or "and' to join two independent clauses.]
6. What is Punctuation? Give rules for principal marks of Punctuation.
7. Write a composition of about 150 words and show therein that you understand the practice and use of the rules of grammar.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Bad Logic and Spelling

Barry L. found this curious text on a sign:

"No tresspassing without authorization."

Assuming "tresspassing" isn't something you do with your hair (Rapunzel! Pass the tresses!), this sign makes no sense. Can you trespass with authorization? Is it still trespassing? Or just weird? Did anyone like our Rapunzel joke? Why didn't she just cut her own hair and climb down?

And the Three Bears ... if they'd mixed their oatmeal, the temperature would have been just right. Why didn't they do that and go about their business? When Goldilocks had trespassed, they could have had her for dessert and spared their furniture....

So Close to the Right Word

From an exclamation-point-filled Entertainment Tonight Story:
"Heroes" star Ali Larter and fiancé Hayes MacArthur celebrated their engagement this weekend and couldn't help but bring up how they met!

Ali met her soon-to-be husband on the set of the cave man comedy film "Homo
" where the two were both wearing loin clothes!

That would be loincloths. And, well, eww....

Friday, October 17, 2008

TWISS: This Week in Silly Spam - the IRS Edition

We received this e-mail today, purportedly from the Internal Revenue Service:

After the last annual calculations of your fiscal activitywe have determined that you are eligible to receivea [sic] tax refund under section 501(c) (3) of theInternal [sic] Revenue Code. Tax refund value is $189.60. Please submit the tax refund request and allow us 6-9 daysin [sic] order to IWP the data received.If u[sic] don't receive your refund within 9 businessdays from the original IRS mailing date shown,you[sic] can start a refund trace online.

We know spammers aren't the smartest wildebeest on the Serengeti. But do they really think we'll fall for a phishing scam from a government agency that uses "u" as an abbreviation for "you"?

We do like that they cited 5013c, the designation for charity. When we pay our state business taxes, we file under the same category as gamblers do. We much prefer this work be considered charity than chance.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Democracy in the Nude!

Michael V. sends this sentence our way:

The State Board of Elections decided today to adopt a ban on clothing, including buttons and hats that directly endorse a candidate or issue. (See more...)
So it seems unlikely that the elections board is banning clothing. This highlights the difference an extra comma and word can make.

The state board of elections has decided today to adopt a ban on clothing, buttons and hats that directly endorse a candidate or issue. [EDITED FROM EARLIER VERSION WHEN SPOGG WAS TOO TIRED TO THINK CLEARLY.]

Vote early! Vote often! Vote ... in the nude!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Because Everyone Should Have a Gospel Choir Announce Good News

OK, so this is sort of silly. But we confess we have watched this gospel choir announce the arrival of our book several times.

What's especially funny is that the book title and the remainder of the announcement combine to make an ungrammatical sentence. Irony lives!

Seasonal Portmanteaus

These come from Marty B.:

1. Cornucopius: cornucopia+copious - horn of more than plenty

2. Flibbertygiblet: flibbertigibbet+giblet - organs of a nervous turkey

Now, to be completely true to the meaning of flibbertigibbet, it would be organs of a flighty turkey. But that's an oxymoron.

More Fuller, Less Grammatical

Nicole Kidman loves her new husband, apparently:
“I didn’t foresee it, that you can meet somebody who you have a deep and more profound love with... I don’t mean to take away anything with Tom, but I would hope that he has the same thing — I know he has the same thing with Katie. You move into a stage where you’re able to be a more fuller person in your relationship.”

It's either "more full" or "fuller," but not both.

Note: There are some people who think a construction like "more full" is incorrect. It's not. "Full" is an adjective. "More" is an adverb. Adjectives modify nouns; adverbs modify adjectives. Certainly "fuller" is the more idiomatic construction, but it's not a problem at all to use "more full" as a comparative with many, many adjectives. It would sound weird to say "more big," for example, but that doesn't mean all more+adjective constructions are out. Could we make that more clear? We don't think so.

Thanks to Ashleigh for the find.


Kerri sends this our way along with a warning: apparently this supplement gives one diarrhea. Losing weight is hard, but loosing it--miserable.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Where Do These People Do Their Larnin'?

We're thinking they know a different English than we do--one with really lax spelling rules.

Monday, October 06, 2008

The Word of the Day

It's "panjandrum."

Thanks to John McIntyre of the Baltimore Sun for reading our book and finding kind things to say about it.

This Started as a Spelling Post, But the Hyphen Error is Better

This comes from one of those Indian news services that pilfers content and reproduces it without attribution (they have done this to our Encarta columns), so we don't know if the punctuation errors are original or added. At any rate:

Gloucestershire, October 3:
A primary school in Gloucestershire, [sic] finally decides to do away with the teacher’s all time [sic] favorite - dictation or spelling tests, as [they are?] more commonly known, for the fear of instilling a sense of failure in the child incase [sic] he/she didn’t make it in the test. [Failed the test, perhaps? Or is the penalty for misspelling death?

Quoting the tests as "unnecessarily distressing" [this is a direct quote?] for the children, the Headmistress Debbie Marklove of the Whitminster Endowed Church of England Primary School, near Stroud, decided to do away with the whole process of learning words at home and reproducing them at school in the form of a test.

"Each school and each pupil has different needs and each school knows its own pupils best," she said. According to Debbie, the whole process left the children with a sense of failure when the words learnt by them at home were finally reproduced in the test wrongly spelt.

All the parents of the 105 odd [sic] students attending the school received a written message from the school in order to inform them about the school’s new policy, which banned all spelling tests.

It should be 105-odd students--otherwise, it's calling the students "odd" when they're merely sissies for falling to pieces over spelling exams.

This Does Not Please Us

Our e-mail has been unreliable for the last two days. When we wrote to customer support, we received this message:
We would like to apologize but we have a common issue wherein exchange issue are still on going. There has been a mail delays on random exchange servers and we would like to apologize where your account is affected.

If we knew what it meant, we might feel better.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

And Then We'll Torah Across Canada!

Craig Conley sends this curious construction our way. It's the first time we've seen "Bible" used as a verb. No less interesting is the story behind the tricked-out bus. A Bible publisher is traveling across the country to get a handwritten version of the good book. His reason:
"The Bible is America's favorite book of all time. And because of its accuracy, clarity and literary quality, the NIV has become the most successful Bible translation of all time," said Moe Girkins, president and CEO of Zondervan, in a released statement. "We believe that a completely handwritten version of the NIV Bible by people from all across our country will help America rediscover the Bible in a fresh, new way."
We would really like to see that. We can just imagine the part handwritten by the drill team, complete with heart-dotted Is. The portion written by a team of doctors will be completely illegible. The section completed by a kindergarten class, meanwhile, will contain phonetic spelling and pictures (we really hope they get the Book of Revelation).

Or course, if this company really wanted to be fresh and of-the-moment, it would have a Bible in txtspk. Fr dst thou Rt, and 2 dst thou shll rtrn.

In any case, we wish them well as they Bible in their "luxury" motorhome donated by a company called Spartan Motors. The world is a strange place, indeed.

Have It Your Way

No doubt this is somebody's favorite way to enjoy a Whopper. We're guessing, though, that the sign-maker needs to consult the menu a little more closely. There should at the very least be a space between "a" and "cheesy."

Thanks to our brother John for forwarding the image, which allegedly came from the wife of a colleague.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Diagramming Sentences

Confession time: When we first heard about sentence diagramming, we tingled with excitement. Our anticipation soured, however, when we learned that sentence diagrams were not pictures that went along with the words. This sour feeling turned to out-and-out nausea when we actually took to the task of diagramming, which our teacher made us do with a ruler to ensure every line was straight.

We do not like sentence diagramming. Nor do we like fancy terms for parts of speech and constructions. Like raw oysters and roasted beets, those are fine things for people who like those things. We are not those people.

Nonetheless, we recommend this Slate article on diagramming Sarah Palin's sentences.

The author argues that sentence construction offers a window into the mind the person who spoke or wrote it. We tend to agree. Sarah Palin, alas, has uttered some sentences that are the equivalent of a window overlooking a scrap heap. Grammarians can't find much meaningful substance in a few of her more notorious squirts of prose.

We do take issue with one point in the Slate article--that a really complex, convoluted sentence can signal a "richly educated mind" with a "Proustian" grasp of language. That's crap. Truly finely tuned minds can take complicated ideas and express them so that people don't need to whip out a straightedge and Warriner's English Grammar and Composition to understand what's going on. It's an assault on the very notion of good writing to argue that such things should ever be needed to understand words on the page.

People who take pleasure in rat-nest constructions care more about impressing than communicating. They are the ones who write the textbooks that make students alternate between weeping and sleeping. They are the ones who write laws that confuse and alienate. They are the ones who write novels that are so inscrutable, very few people find actual pleasure in reading them--and instead have to settle for the satisfaction of completing them and the bragging rights they confer at cocktail parties with assorted cakesniffers.

Don't be cowed by this sort of thing. The difference between good writing and bad is the difference between steak and sawdust. You can chew on either, but no one who cares about you would feed you the latter.

The Trouble with Cliches

Sarah Palin demonstrated last night one sort of trouble you can run into when you use cliches.

She said this: "Nuclear [or 'nukyular'] weaponry, of course, would be the be-all, end-all of just too many people and too many parts of our planet."

"Be-all and end-all" means "the most important thing." There might be some lunatics for whom nuclear weaponry would be the ultimate possession. In fact, we believe those people are right now lubricating the axis of evil with rendered baby fat, or something along those lines.

But we're guessing Sarah Palin thinks the expression means something else--perhaps "the end"?

When our brains go on autopilot and insert entire phrases that sound familiar and vaguely right, we should beware. Unless we really know what the whole phrase means, we shouldn't use it. It reminds us of that scene in "The Little Mermaid," where Ariel combed her hair with a fork. Disney meant that to be funny. Sarah Palin probably wasn't playing nukes for laughs.

In any case, it's the mark of a fine and creative mind that can dispense altogether with second-hand phrases.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Beware of Words in Sheep's Clothing

Pardon that terrible headline.

At least it's not as bad as this reader comment on Tim Egan's New York Times column:
For many died-in-the-wool progressive Democrats, it would be natural to be cheered by the scholarly findings that our 43rd president has set a new low. Instead, I just want this long national nightmare to be over.

Dyed, not died. Though wet sweaters, we admit, smell deadly.

Back from the Dead to Threaten Us All

Sue sends this headline along from the Archaeologica Web site:

Ancient Saxons could hold up supermarket

The story itself is about an archeological find that could impede construction of a supermarket. We much prefer Sue's interpretation, and we quake in fear of what might happen if some ancient Huns decided to take on the neighborhood dry cleaner.

(Actually, we don't. They just ruined our favorite coat, and while the label that said "Dry Clean Only Do Not Dry Clean" was perhaps ambiguous, we hoped they'd know what to do with it. So have at 'em, Attila.)

We Dream of a Reality TV Show

Joanne B. was eavesdropping on "Judge Judy" last night when she witnessed the sort of thing we'd like to confront in our imaginary reality TV show. She writes:

My daughters were doing their homework and much to my chagrin, Judge Judy was playing in the background... and one witness stood up next to the defendant and said "Judge, I'd like to collaborate his story." Now, you and I know he meant corroborate, but I don't think anyone else noticed.
Though using the wrong word isn't technically a grammar error, it's the sort of thing that drives language lovers up the proverbial wall. With that in mind, we pitch "SPOGG: Grammar Police Edition."

Stay tuned. We might even actually get around to making a YouTube video clip one of these days.