Friday, July 30, 2010


Personally, I would capitalize the p.s. and uncap the "OUR" (the emphasis isn't really needed there). But I don't think I'll bother Emily with those things just now. Something tells me she's not in the mood.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Needle and the Damage Done

I've been reading Michael Specter's Denialism, which is about how life-saving rational science is being undermined by the forces of flaky chakra-balancers, coffee-enema enthusiasts, and other benighted snake-oilers. In his chapter on the current vogue for vaccine-denialism, he talks about the threat to so-called "herd immunity":
The term refers to the fact that if you are unvaccinated and everyone around you--the herd--is, there would be nobody who could conceivably spread the illness.
As Bill Clinton would say, it depends what the meaning of the word "is" is. In this case, by "is" Specter means "is vaccinated." But in this context it can be read differently, to mean you are unvaccinated and everyone around you is, too. To make the contrast clear, it should read: "If you are not vaccinated and everyone around you--the herd--is."

Later in the book, he takes issue with those who would rather see desperately hungry multitudes starve than have them be fed genetically-modified crops--that is, crops designed to grow in arid regions. Specter quotes at length from a press release of an opposition group, then says,
Not one fact in any of those sentences is true.
 But if they're not true, how can they be facts? Probably better to go with "not one assertion," or at least put ironic quotation marks around fact.

Anyway, Denialism is a thought-provoking read--even though it will never be read by those who most need to read it. Although I suppose that's what the author of "How to Balance Your Chakra for Fun and Profit" says about his book, too.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Truth in Advertising

Mad Men is back for another fedora-bedecked season and I for one was raising a stylishly retro martini glass to its return last night. The "On TV" column in yesterday's Province previewed the season opener and reminded readers that at the close of last season:
[Don] Draper convinced his former bosses and some of his best--and often under-appreciated (by him)--employees to literally fly the coop in the middle of the night.
Never mind that, as we saw recently, convince is really not the word to use in this context. And I give a pass on the split infinitive to literally fly--because, like all people of derring-do, I think split infinitives are pass-worthy. But propping up the limp cliche fly the coop by sticking a misused literally in front should get you 40 lashes with Ann Landers' wet noodle (to borrow a 60's-era term).

Literally, we should recall, indicates literalness. I saw the episode discussed and nobody was in a coop, and nobody sprouted feathers and took wing. (It reminds me of another passage I came across a while back in a video game review that said playing the game in question was "literally masturbation." Remind me not to use the controller after you, buddy.) To use literally when you're speaking figuratively is to disarm the word in the service of hysterical hyperbole. This is how many useful words die --not because of premeditated murder, but because of thoughtless "backing over the kid in the driveway" negligence.

Friday, July 23, 2010

But First I Have to Look Under my Hat for Gophers...

Notice how the one penguin depicted in the bottom left illustration is watching his drunken penguin buddy pull the "lie under the car" Jackass stunt. Stupid penguins. Anyway, there should be a colon after Warning.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Palin' Around with Appositives

Consistently sharp satirist (and worthy Tweeter) Andy Borowitz of The Borowitz Report posted a story yesterday headed: Palin Says Refudiate Appears In Fictionary: Calls Critics Incohecent. The piece, mocking the perpetually confused candidate-at-large's most recent grapplings with the English language, "quotes" Palin as follows:
"Everyone makes up words--Shakespeare, George W. Bush, Levi Johnston," she said. "The only person I know who doesn't do it is my husband Todd, who doesn't speak."
Her husband Todd, though, is an example of a non-restrictive appositive (as well as an example of a self-satisfied ignoramus). That means that Todd is not necessary to the meaning of the sentence (or, from the looks of it, to humanity as a whole) and so his name should be sequestered within commas--my husband, Todd, who doesn't speak--to indicate his superfluousness. Now, if she had more than one husband (and let's face it, with that family, anything is possible), we could remove the commas because my husband Todd, the restrictive, would be necessary to let us know which husband she was talking about.

But we still would not be able to understand much else of what she was talking about.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Mean Mr. Mustard

Yesterday, I decided that looking after a fractious 7-year-old girl and a spirited 21-month-old boy with Spontaneous Bowel Release Syndrome wasn't enough fun, so I took in the neighbor's relentlessly inquisitive 5-year-old girl for the day, too, just to liven things up. And since the best way to quell a gaggle of young-uns is to feed them greasy comestibles and foamy carbonated beverages, I led them on a lunchtime expedition to the local A&W burger joint.

While the girls were fighting over who would get which (identical) straw, and Sam was plumbing the far reaches of his nasal cavity with a ketchup-drenched french fry, I perused the copy on the side of the 100% recycled-fibre bag the burgers were soaking through. The self-congratulatory flummadiddle begins: 
A&W was founded on the principle of doing things right 50 years ago.
Rather an odd founding principle, don't you think, to commit to living up to the standards of generations long surpassed? What about doing things right today? Perhaps that explains why the chef couldn't honor my request for no mustard on Abby's burger (mustard makes it taste "soury," she says), and why A&W hires a manager/counterperson with the interpersonal skills of a Homeland Security bureaucrat. That's just the way things were done back then.

Friday, July 16, 2010

From the Makers of "Little Bastard" Toilet Plungers...

A lot of enigmatic hyphenation (and adverbing) going on here, Stupid Child. 

Thursday, July 15, 2010

We Are Living in a Materiel World

On page 289 of Hitch-22, Christopher Hitchens (he of the recent disheartening cancer diagnosis) spends some time charting his conversion from anti-war leftist to supporter of the military intervention that brought down the murderous Ba'athist regime in Baghdad.  Looking back on the sordid US-Saddam relationship, he notes:
It was true that Saddam Hussein had not long before employed poison gas against what President Bush insultingly called "his own" people, but it was likewise true that the war material for this outrage had been supplied by the Reagan administration.
This time, I suspect a proofreader's error of commission. I'm guessing, with absolutely no evidence to support my thesis, that Hitchens wrote "war materiel," and some scrupulously zealous but ill-informed editorial assistant, unaware that materiel means, according to the American Heritage Dictionary, "the equipment, apparatus, and supplies of a military force or other organization,"  mistakenly "corrected" the spelling.

Either that or Hitch was drunk again.

Monday, July 12, 2010

No Apostrophe Please, We're Captious

No unexpected checks (or expected ones for that matter) in today's mail. Just a couple of bills, a supermarket flyer and...oh, what's this? A brochure promoting upcoming events at the local Evergreen Cultural Centre. I must have signed on to their mailing list during our last visit. I can't remember what the play was now, but I recall being captivated as much by the charm of the cozy theatre and the wine-warmed intermission stroll by the adjacent lake as I was by the enthusiastically earnest amateur production. Let's see what's coming up:

"British humour at it's Best!" reads the tagline for No Sex Please, We're British. Once again, there is the matter of random capitalization (Best but not humour), which for some reason I find as nettlesome as a pebble in my shoe. But of course the real solecism here is allowing the contraction it's to stand in for the possessive its. A very common minor infraction, granted, and an easy one to make. All the more reason for these cousins to be on every proofreader's watch list.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

The Sting of the WASP

I was back to Hitch-22 last night, as it came up in the game of chapter roulette I'm playing with a few bedside tomes, and came across this noodle-scratcher of a passage where Hitchens examines the origin of the acronym, WASP:

First minted by E. Digby Baltzell* in his book The Protestant Establishment, the term stood for "White Anglo-Saxon Protestant." Except that, as I never tired of pointing out, the "W" was something of a redundancy (there being by definition no BASPs or JASPs for anyone to be confused with, or confused about.) "ASP," on the other hand, lacked some of the all-important tone. There being so relatively few Anglo-Saxon Catholics in the United States, the "S" was arguably surplus to requirements as well. But then the acronym AS would scarcely do, either.

Huh? The "S," of course, stands for Saxon--it is the "P" that would be superfluous in the face of Protestant homogeneity, as the example of the unacceptable acronym "AS" makes clear. (And why quotation marks for the fictional ASP, but not AS? And why am I using italics here instead of quotation marks for either? And who could possibly care?)

Anyway, I excuse the author here. We all make slip-ups, especially, I imagine, an Olympic-rated drinker like Hitchens. But there are people in publishing houses in offices or cubicles with potted plants who are paid (poorly) to catch these things. And what about all those friends in the acknowledgments to whom Hitch offers "special and snufflingly moist noises?" (I love that description.) These are the friends who are credited with "scrutinizing every line...noticing every weakness, and enhancing every paragraph."

I think at least some of them were skimming.

*I'm going to make that my porn name.

Friday, July 02, 2010