Wednesday, August 30, 2006

From the Fan Mail Piles

This came in response to a movie column we wrote:

Subject: your article

First, let me just say this. I don't got nothing against you as a person. It's your puritanical, fascistic morality [that what, you don't like?]. If your only qualifications are you had a job as a high school teacher, watch "Grease" another screening and keep your eye on the principle, Eve Arden, and Blanche, Dody Goodman [huh?]. Perhaps these can be role models for your career. If your "bubblegum" views are what you wish for the rest of us, I'll have Grease, thank you. Keep your prozac world, I'll have the real thing any day.

We were not aware that the world of "Grease" was, in fact, the "real thing." But what are we without our puritanical, fascistic morality? Just an empty, grammatical shell. No thanks.

Cliche Conundrum

This caught our attention today in the New York Times:
PIGS in blankets? “They’re back with a vengeance!” said Sean Driscoll, an owner of the silver-tray catering company Glorious Food in Manhattan. Though they never disappeared from the bar mitzvah circuit (where they are often called franks in jackets, the way Katz’s Delicatessen, being kosher, labels them), they had been disparaged as a cliché for too many years. The classiest caterers kept their distance
Now, of course, pigs in blankets are all the rage (though for some of us, they never lost their allure). The very idea that something can be a cliché, and then not, is more the puzzle for those of us who love language as much as we love pork products.

SPOGG has been researching clichés, and has been very interested to discover that the animosity toward familiar phrases is a relatively recent phenomenon. To that end, we've written a brief bit on them, which we will e-mail on Sunday to all who join SPOGG's mailing list. So if you have not yet joined, please do!

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Not Something to Brag About

This is the subject line of spam we just received:
But now I can penetrate hardly and give the pleasure to every woman!
Newsflash, Mr. Spammy: Penetrating "hardly" is no route to pleasure.

We applaud your attempt to modify "penetrate" with an adverb. Unfortunately, hardly wasn't a good word choice because it means "barely." And by barely, we do not mean lacking clothing (though it's a good start if you're headed down this road).

Hard, the word you meant to use, can function as both an adjective and an adverb. It comes from the Old English "heard," which means "with strength."

Here's what Encarta has to say about hard in its role as an adjective:
adverb (comparative hard·er, superlative hard·est)

1. forcefully: with a lot of force
hit the ball hard

2. all the way: to the greatest degree or extent
pulled the truck over hard

3. energetically: with vigor and energy or industriousness
worked hard

4. with concentration: with great mental concentration
studied hard

5. with difficulty: with effort and great difficulty
Her victory was hard won.

6. compactly: into a solid or compact state
set hard

7. severely: in a way that causes anguish or hardship
hit hard by the recession

8. slowly: slowly and with difficulty
hatred that dies hard

Sunday, August 27, 2006

The Apostrophe Protection Society

We admit it; we're a bit envious of their press coverage, even if we did notice a colon where a comma belongs:

Grammar watchdog attacks 'ignorant' advert

A giant advertising billboard on one of Ireland’s busiest roads was today criticised by a UK grammar watchdog for its “ignorant” use of English.The 40ft-wide sign on the N8 near Portlaoise bypass displays the words “Frans Crash Repairs” to advertise a local garage, but omits a crucial apostrophe.Today the Apostrophe Protection Society in the UK complained that the 3ft-high letters, which are seen by thousands of motorists every day, display an unacceptable and inexcusable lack of punctuation.

Apostrophe Society chairman John Richards said: “This sort of ignorance or laziness towards the English language is something which is being reported to me from almost all English-speaking countries.“It is inexcusable, largely because I assume it was produced by a professional sign-writer who didn’t know his job. It is unacceptable because nobody bothered to check the accuracy of the sign.”

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Grammar Terror Alert: Orange

From SPOGG's Dallas bureau comes this sign, found in the Environmental Protection Agency office there:
Ice Machine in out of order. We a sorry for the inconvenience. The vendor has been call to repair. Thanks for your patients.
Judy M., who sent it, reports that no one will admit authorship. Clearly, the enemy is now terrorizing us with bad grammar.

Cruisin' for Confusion?

Tom Cruise and Paramount Pictures have split up. Here's what Viacom honcho Sumner Redstone had to say about it.

"It's nothing to do with his acting ability, he's a terrific actor. But we don't think that someone who effectuates creative suicide and costs the company revenue should be on the lot."

SPOGG had to look up "effectuate." Frankly, it sounded made up. But it's not. It means "to accomplish."

To us, however, this word choice sounds affected. To put it opaquely, Redstone has effectuated an affectation.

It's not that we don't like the occasional $25 word. We do. We really do, especially when it means exactly what one is trying to say, when no other word comes close. But when there is a perfectly good poor man's alternative that means the same thing, why not use it? "Committed" would have done nicely here.

Perhaps this is why Hollywood people make so much money — it's the only way they can afford their pompous vocabularies. The media dogfight feels like risky business to us. It's far and away from the best way to determine who will be top gun. (And yes, we have to stop watching Tom Cruise movies.)

Friday, August 18, 2006

A &^(*!#& Word on Maledicta

This was in a caption in today's Seattle Times:
Rational people can agree on two things: Snakes are evil, and nobody swears more entertainingly than Samuel L. Jackson. If you're asking, "What more do you need in a movie?" then stop reading and get your (!@#$%) to the (!@#$%) theater.
Please note the curse words that have been obscured by various punctuation marks. Note that the punctuation marks are the same for each of those missing words.

OK, now try to figure out which curse word could possibly fit in both spots. This could take some time. We'll give it to you.

Figured it out yet? Of course not. There is no curse word that acts as both a noun and an adjective, at least not one that we know of, and we know quite a few, in both modern and ancient languages, including one that involves crows.

SPOGG sees a need for a standardized dictionary of maledicta: punctuation and other marks that can be substituted for specific dirty words so that readers can tell what they are without having to see them in their filthy printed glory. We will be writing shortly to the Associated Press, which publishes the style manual used by newspapers nationwide.

Feel free to send us your suggestions, both of dirty words, and their doppelgangers (a word that sounds vaguely dirty, but is merely German).

SPOGGing Ourselves

This is the lead of a column we wrote for MSN Movies:
Becoming a part-time, high-school teacher isn't the easiest way to find good baby sitters, but it's better than, say, hanging out at the mall and hitting on everyone younger than 20 who's not riding a skateboard.
Note the unnecessary comma in red. An editor added this, but our name is on the top of the story, which makes us look like we shoot commas from a shotgun.

Tell us: Are we making a mountain out of this molehill? Or did the editor make a good call?

(Here's the whole story...)

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Ask the Ayatollah

The Grand Ayatollah Sistani keeps a Web site where he posts the rules on everything from anal sex to wine drinking (with stops in the "clogne and perfume" department along the way).

SPOGG noticed that while both cockfighting and anal sex were "permissible but disliked/extremely abominable," grammar and spelling received nary a mention.

It must be an oversight, so we have written to the Ayatollah asking his opinion. Stay tuned...

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Give a Band a Bone

Today's junk-news wire delivers this small treat:

A band that headlined a fair last weekend is accused of masquerading as the rock group Redbone, whose hits included the 1970s song "Come and Get Your Love."

The band at the Butte-Silver Bow Fair performed under the name Redbone, but the real Redbone was playing in Wisconsin, said Ron Kurtz, Redbone's manager.

"I've been in the business for 40 years, and I've never ran into anything this blatant," Kurtz said Thursday from his office in Burbank, Calif. He said the fair board was conned.

It should be "I've never run into anything this blatant.

But really, are we surprised at the bad grammar of a band that pens lyrics like this?

Hell (Hell), what the matter with your head head
Hell (Hell), what the matter with your mind and your sign and a ohohoh
Hell (Hell) nothin the matter with your head baby find it, come on and find it
Hell, with it baby cause you're fun and you're mine and you look so divine.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Acronyms: An Update

SPOGG's vice president for technology and precision, Barry L., writes with excellent clarifications on the acronym/abbreviation debate:

1. "An abbreviation is also made from the initial letters of other words, but it's not a separate word. C.I.A., for example. One may use periods with acronyms, or one may leave them out. It is a matter of style." Give that an edit, and change "acronyms" to "abbreviations" in the second sentence. (SPOGG: Yes! D'oh!)

2. "Acronyms are entirely new words made out of the initial letters of other words." That's correct, but most people would read it to be more restrictive than it is. That is, "initial letters" here *can* mean that you may take multiple letters from the same word, but most people would think it means only the first letter of each word. So you might want to clarify. "Radar", for instance, is an acronym taken from "RAdio Detection And Ranging", and military jargon is full of such acronyms ("CINCPAC" for "Commander IN Chief, PACific"; "SEAL" for "SEa, Air, Land", and so on).

And an aside: Some have used the term "backronym" to refer to an acronym that was defined BEFORE the phrase that it represents, and a phrase was then contrived to go behind it. Probably the most obviously ridiculous example of a backronym is in the name of the "USA PATRIOT Act", "Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism".

Thank you, Barry!

(See original post)

Friday, August 11, 2006

All the Jargon That's Fit to Bungle

Here's the lead of a nasty review in the New York Times.
SOME time ago, A. J. Jacobs, a senior editor at Esquire, set out to become the smartest man in the world, an ambition that meshed poorly with his skills set.
It's skillset. Not that we like that sort of jargon, but if one is going to be snarky about someone's book and writing skills, then one ought to get the spelling right.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Sherbet vs Sherbert


I was appalled to find that the word sherbet, according to my dictionary, may also be pronounced sherbert! What do you think?
SPOGG thinks you would enjoy The Big Book of Beastly Mispronunciations. You might be surprised at the correct pronunciation of the spice cumin. We know we were surprised to read that "ask" was pronounced "ax" in the good old days. In any case, it's a very fun read.

A Dotty Question


Can acronyms have periods after each letter? I thought not, but others disagree...

Ah, it is time to point out the difference between acronyms and abbreviations. Acronyms are entirely new words made out of letters of other words. SCUBA, LASER and SPOGG are examples, though only SPOGG is new enough that it's still routinely capitalized. Some day... some day (insert shaking fist here).

One does not use periods with acronyms.

An abbreviation is also made from the initial letters of other words, but it's not a separate word. C.I.A., for example. One may use periods with abbreviations, or one may leave them out. It is a matter of style.

And speaking of style, this handsome SPOGG logo can be printed on a variety of products you want and badly need. Check out the SPOGG shop for more.

Embarrassing Celebrity E-mail

If only Lindsay Lohan had thought to hire an assistant to send out grammatically correct e-mails. Alas, this is what she foolishly dashed off to -- a gossip site that's frequently grammar-challenged:
"Almost witnessed 3 kids being hit by paparazzi," reads the email. "Never in my life had an expirience [sic] as I just did with the paparazzi. I am not kidding I am shaking, cannot breathe a bit, scared, anxious and sad. If someone doesn't feel bad, than [sic] I will feel bad for myself. It is disgusting what these g-d damn people are doing to me. As well as the people in my life that I work with/for. Its [sic] vulgar and I'm saddened for myself."
Here is the improved version:
"I almost witnessed three kids being hit by paparazzi," reads the e-mail. "Never in my life had an experience like I just did with the paparazzi. I am not kidding. I am scared, anxious, sad, and cannot breathe a bit [SPOGG tip: when listing things, move the longest item to the end for smoother reading.] If someone doesn't feel bad, then I will feel bad for myself. It is disgusting what these g-ddamn (one word) people are doing to me, as well as the people in my life whom I work with/for. It's vulgar and I'm saddened for myself."

(Vulgar isn't the right word here. Vulgar is more apt when describing someone wearing revealing clothes in an inappropriate place. Vulgar is a young girl's heavy smoking habit. Vulgar is talking about one's sex life in national magazines. Perhaps she means appalling. For some reason, it's the word that leaps to mind when Lindsay Lohan's name appears on screen.)

SPOGG thanks Sarah M. for the tip.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

What Kind of Lie?

Star Jones doesn't like how people are talking about her marriage:
"These categorically false stories and their continuation are clearly being generated by someone for vindictive reasons alone. [Star Jones and Al Reynolds'] legal representatives have been investigating the source and motivation of these boldfaced lies for some time now and are very close to exposing the individual who has perpetrated them. At which time, appropriate legal action will be taken."
Forget the gossip about her husband. The real question is whether the lie is bald-faced, barefaced or boldfaced.

Here's what "Take Our Word For It" says:

The examples you cite are actually variations/corruptions of the original barefaced lie. Bare here means `brazen, bold.' However, in the 16th century, one source notes, barefaced meant `beardless,' a condition at that time considered bold to the point of audaciousness in adult men. So the metaphorical sense of `bold' perhaps came to be applied in barefaced lie. Based upon these two explanations, the variations bald-faced lie and bold-faced lie both make perfect sense.

We'll let you know if we find anything more definitive. What this really means is that Star and Al's PR agent is off SPOGG's hook... for now.

A Stylish SPOGG Salute


What are the standards still in use? I'm currently using "The Elements of Style" by Strunk and White, the Oxford English Dictionary (unabridged) and a couple different quick references online. Just wondering.
-- Eric

Dear Eric,

To give June Allyson's answer to happiness: Depends.

Grammar and style aren't quite the same thing. Let's define grammar as the parameters for putting together good sentences -- word order and all that. Style, meanwhile, refers to matters of punctuation and spelling.

Your question largely refers to style. Strunk & White remains a good choice. For spelling, OED is solid, though spelling can vary depending on who's publishing your writing. AP Style says "adviser," for example. Other stylebooks prefer "advisor."

Here's a list of several style guides.

Style can also depend on location. British punctuation rules differ from American ones.

SPOGG encourages you to pick the style that best fits your situation. Furthermore, SPOGG salutes you for being aware that different styles exist.

Amazing! Typing Doesn't Ruin Grammar!

Over the last couple of days, the media have reported rather breathlessly the conclusion that IM does not destroy teenagers' grammar skills. Now, the spin is that using instant messaging might actually help:

Linguistics researchers at the University of Toronto have discovered that new communication technologies such as instant messaging and SMS are actually
helping teenagers develop their spelling and grammar skills.

Teens are showing their ability to use a mastery of both formal and informal language when chatting online or via a cell phone.

“What these kids are doing is showing us that they have a really good command of the English language, so much so that I was really blown away by how fluidly they operate,” commented linguistics professor, Sali Tagliamonte, of the University of Toronto. “[Parents] might as well worry about who those kids are talking to, not how they are saying what they are saying.”

In our other guise, SPOGG reported something similar several years ago, not backed up with science, of course, but with something equally useful: common sense.

You'd never say a teenager who'd become fluent in German was running the risk of ruining his English grammar. You'd be impressed he could keep the rules straight in more than one language. Internet shortcuts are a little like that. As long as they're used in the right context, they're a good thing.

Here's to any technology that gets kids writing to each other, and here's to teenagers, for once again proving themselves not as mush-brained as grownups think.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

A Grammar Quiz

A friend of SPOGG wrote this quiz; we are proud to report we scored 100 percent.

We Had No Idea...

Check out how many grammar hotlines there are. Outstanding!