Tag Archives: Grammar

How to arm yourself for a grammar battle

How should one fight back in a grammar battle?


Some people are annoyed by the errors they find in others’ choice of grammar or selection of vocabulary. To these guardians of language, there are few more egregious slip-ups (slips-up?) than to leave a participle dangling, end a sentence with a preposition or (heaven forfend) utilize an inflectional, rather than a periphrastic, comparative (stupider, say, instead of more stupid)…

And what of the rest of us, we who are not of the opinion that using verbal nouns and the like is akin to kicking an elderly lady off the bus — what do we have to be annoyed by? We can be annoyed by those people who insist on correcting our use of the English language. My aim here, however, is not to illustrate how to be annoyed by those who insist on correcting your language (that will come naturally) but rather to provide a guide for how to make them go away.

“For instance, I have occasionally been informed that my use of the word stupider, as opposed to the somewhat ungainly phrase more stupid, makes me sound . . . plus stupide. I used to cringe in shame and embarrassment when this was pointed out to me, until I discovered that Ezra Pound also used the word stupider, in a letter that he wrote to William Carlos Williams in 1920: ‘If you weren’t stupider than a mud-duck you would know that every kick to bad writing is by that much a help for the good.’ And so now, rather than feel like an uneducated boor when someone calls me out for my use of this word, I can tell my antagonist that I am referencing Pound.”

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Why punctuation is important: the news blooper

The BBC’s Jonathan Charles puts a comma after his name instead of a period, and reveals a secret past.

Spelling freaks go berserk?

Apparently, some spelling freaks are so obsessive that they won’t even patronize Krispy Kreme Doughnuts.

Fastidious spelling snobs pushed over the edge.

An obsession with proper usage may be related to some kind of perfectionist streak, she says, or it could have to do with childhood patterns of wanting to please adults or teachers by doing things right. Putting somebody down by pointing out their bad spelling also could be a power thing. Or it could simply be part of the brain’s natural function.

“But we don’t just notice mistakes, the psychologist notes. We also pass judgment and assign blame for them.”

“Attribution theory comes into this as well,” she says. “My mistakes are caused by external circumstances, but others’ are caused by a lack of skill or a character flaw.”

The Grammar Geeks Unit would never be so judgmental, of course.

Top ten irritating phrases?

Oxford compiles list of top ten irritating phrases.

“Fairly unique,” “at this moment in time,” and “shouldn’t of” make the list. As of this morning, the article has 2445 comments.

To Oxford’s list I’d add “think outside the box” for “be creative,” and “pull the trigger,” meaning “make a decision.”

(Via Jeff Abbott.)

Today’s punctuation malfunction

Kate sends this photo, and wonders what takes place in Narnia 2: Indiana Jones.

I can only say, it’s a better mash-up than other possibilities.

Hannah Montana 2: Scream.

Die Hard: Teletubbies.

Saw 5: My Little Pony.

Tuesday roundup: Nuns, grammar outlaws, Battling Olympians

I’m going to unplug and write (the book. I have a book to write. I can’t just blog all day.) until I head to the crime authors’ talk this evening. Before I go, here are some links for you.

Both Kate and Rich alerted me to this story: Priest to hold nun beauty pageant.

An Italian priest says he is organising the world’s first beauty pageant for nuns to erase a stereotype of them as being old and dour.
Antonio Rungi says The Miss Sister Italy online contest will start on his blog in September.
“Nuns are above all women and beauty is a gift from God,” he told Italy’s Corriere della Sera newspaper.
He is asking nuns to send their photos to him, saying that internet users will then choose the winner.

Because internet users always have the highest standards of taste, beauty, and spirituality. Let’s see if the Fighting Nuns of Harrogate enter their contender in the novice category, Sister Agnes Fabulosa.

UPDATE: The Miss Sister pageant has been cancelled. Too many nuns were performing miracles in the talent competition, and it sent people into a frenzy. (No. I’m joking. Don’t send hate mail.) (Thanks to Kate for the update.)

Next, Werner sends this link, writing, “When I read this article I immediately thought of you.”

“Vandals in hot water for ‘fixing’ typo on historic Grand Canyon sign.”

Two self-styled vigilantes against typos who defaced a more than 60-year-old, hand-painted sign at Grand Canyon National Park were sentenced to probation and banned from national parks for a year.

Jeff Deck and Benjamin Herson pleaded guilty Aug. 11 for the damage done March 28 at the park’s Desert View Watchtower. The sign was made by Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter, the architect who designed the rustic 1930s watchtower and other Grand Canyon-area landmarks.

Deck and Herson, both 28, toured the United States this spring, wiping out errors on government and private signs. They were interviewed by NPR and the Chicago Tribune, which called them “a pair of Kerouacs armed with Sharpies and erasers and righteous indignation.”

An affidavit by National Park Service agent Christopher A. Smith said investigators learned of the vandalism from an Internet site operated by Deck on behalf of the Typo Eradication Advancement League, or TEAL.

Dumb, guys; dumb. Earlier this year I cheerled for the Typo Eradication Advancement League. But there’s a difference between adding discreet apostrophes and commas to modern, grammatically mangled signs mass-produced by ignorant bureaucrats, and permanently defacing an old, irreplaceable handwritten sign. We need grammar rangers, not a grammar Taliban.

Bonus: Scroll past the story on the grammar bust for more weird headlines, including “Florida Cops Taser Plop-Plop, Escaped Emu Who ‘Went Crazy'” and “Wisconsin Woman Arrested for Ignoring Library Fines.”

And, finally: “It’s Time to Kick Out Some Olympic Sports.” Time magazine wants rhythmic gymnastics and synchronized swimming to get the heave-ho. I have to agree that sports which “involve such copious amounts of cosmetics that they make a Texas beauty pageant look sedate” are inherently suspect. Plus, I think some of the synchro swimmers have been genetically modified with dolphin DNA. Did you see that Russian squad tail-walking backwards across the pool, squeaking at each other like Flipper? But if these sports are dropped, what should replace them? My kids suggest modifying two existing sports. (1) Get rid of sailing. Make it piracy. ( “The French boat has been boarded. The British skipper has a knife in her teeth! And… the Spanish boat is now flying the Union Jack. And its crew have been made galley slaves!”) (2) Turn track and field into a Battle Royale. Javelin throwers against hammer throwers. Spikes against shot put. Attack!

You can tell I have teenagers.

Alternately, there’s extreme ironing.

See you later.

When cakes go bad

“When professional cakes go horribly, hilariously wrong” — Cake Wrecks.

**Extra treat for the Grammar Geeks Unit** Because so many disastrous cakes feature misspellings, random capitalization, and hyperactive use of quotation marks, Cake Wrecks points would-be bakers to a wonderful site: Correct Punctuation.

(Via Andrew Sullivan.)

Die, semicolon; die!

Laurie R. King points me to a Slate article that asks, “Is modern life killing the semicolon?” Laurie writes, “Thought if you hadn’t seen it you needed to, if nothing else than for the statement, ‘Decades later, columnist Jimmy Breslin still marveled that “Berkowitz is the only murderer I ever heard of who knew how to use a semicolon.”

And the article has the best headline of the summer:  ; (

We don’t need no educaiton

Typo on diplomas embarrasses Ohio principal.

As well it should:

WESTLAKE, Ohio – A Cleveland-area principal says he’s embarrassed his students got proof of their “educaiton” on their high school diplomas.

Westlake High School officials misspelled “education” on the diplomas distributed last weekend. It’s been the subject of mockery on local radio.

Principal Timothy Freeman says he sent back the diplomas once to correct another error. When the diplomas came back, no one bothered to check things they thought were right the first time.

Fighting for grammar, on the street

A “grammar vigilante” heads to Seattle in his fight to make the USA “a safer place for spelling.”

The Typo Eradication Advancement League.

(Via Wordsmith.)

Misplaced apostrophe of the day: New Zealand


Susan Daly, staunch member of the Grammar Geeks Unit, sends this “creatively placed apostrophe” that she spotted “somewhere in the northwest corner of the South Island.” She notes, “All right, perhaps it’s an acute accent that shifted left.”

National Grammar Day

Yesterday was National Grammar Day in the US. And though I’m late to this shindig, I want to pull out the party hats and sparklers and crank up Kool and the Gang singing “Celebrate.” Somebody cares about grammar! Have some fun and browse the Grammar Day website for style tips, celebrity English, and awards for worst grammar of the year.

The Semi-colon Ranger

Correct punctuation must be extremely rare in New York, because the Times has taken the trouble to hunt down a city transit employee who correctly used a semi-colon on a subway placard.

It was nearly hidden on a New York City Transit public service placard exhorting subway riders not to leave their newspaper behind when they get off the train.

“Please put it in a trash can,” riders are reminded. After which Neil Neches, an erudite writer in the transit agency’s marketing and service information department, inserted a semicolon. The rest of the sentence reads, “that’s good news for everyone.”

Yes. Yes, it is. You go, punctuation boy.

The article’s amusing, not least for including this quote.

“When Hemingway killed himself he put a period at the end of his life,” Kurt Vonnegut once said. “Old age is more like a semicolon.”

A punctuation simile. Grammar: is there anything it can’t do?