Monday, March 29, 2010

The Writing on the Wall

I enjoyed an unexceptional yet memorable evening with the kids on Friday: a stroll through the park, a visit to the video store to select the night's entertainment, and a lively and messy dinner at the local pizza parlor. On the way back we stopped at the playground adjacent to our home, where Abby pretended to be a brown and white terrier named Frisky who liked to fetch sticks and run up slides, while Sam repeatedly--and with spectacular windmilling of the arms--fell and concussed himself on the various steel appendages of the playground apparatus.

It was on this very apparatus--a cube-like structure with slides and ladders and an inner fort-like enclosure--that I spotted this graffito:

As a parent, I have to say I found this disturbing. I don't want my kids exposed to such sloppy disregard for punctuation. I mean, if the author here is exhorting said bitches to smoke weed (as he undoubtedly is) the correct phrasing would require a comma: "smoke weed, bitches." As it stands here, the message could be construed as an attempt at guerilla marketing--an imperative request to smoke a brand called "weed bitches." Unlikely, I grant you, but when one is trying to persuade bitches of one's credibility vis-a-vis the smoking of weed, one needs to be precise.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Seam Stress

One of the disadvantages of sharing a body shape with Barney Rubble is, as you would expect, buying clothes. Last weekend I saw a shirt that caught my fancy--a loose, linen number that I imagined would make me look stylishly casual and artistic, like Pablo Picasso in an outdoor cafe. But the only size that would accommodate my ample rotundity draped down to my knees. That's how I ended up delivering myself and my new purchase to a neighborhood establishment that bills itself as:

Classe* Dressmaking Shoppe
Nothing technically wrong with that, I suppose. But you have to admit it's incongruous: a humble dry cleaning and alterations enterprise in a Canadian suburb, run by a family of Asians, with a name that evokes elements of French haute couture design enlivened with a dash of Ye Olde English quaintness.

Inside, I was led past the front counter into the bowels of the operation--a grimy, dimly lit workhouse populated by a couple of stooped and wizened old women who didn't look up from their sewing machines. In that sense, there was some Olde English authenticity, in a dispiriting, Dickensian sort of way. I was wordlessly guided to the "changing room"--a corner of the dungeon draped off with a sooty green curtain--which I shared with a dust ball the size of a gopher's head, before coming out to have my shirt pinned as I stood in front of a cracked, grease-spotted mirror. Classe**, indeed.

The final insult was that the bill for alterations exceeded the initial cost of the shirt, and now I'm not even so sure I like it that much after all. It makes me look like Barney Rubble trying to look like Pablo Picasso in an outdoor cafe.

*Blogger will not allow me to use an accent over the e, as it is rendered in the original. You'll just have to imagine one.

**Or print this out and draw it in.

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Forbidden Past

Here's another questionable caption--this time from the deliciously addictive time-waster website, Awkward Family Photos*:

Nobody forbid these two to marry, but they decided to poison themselves anyway.

At first I read that opening clause as an imperative (as in, "Don't anybody try to forbid these two...") but it soon becomes obvious that the past tense is what we're going for here, in which case the word should be forbade.

And how should one pronounce forbade? Well, if one has in one's en suite library, on a shelf just above the commode, a copy of The Big Book of Beastly Mispronunciations, by the curmudgeonly and finicky Charles Harrington Elster, one could find this exegesis within:

The spelling pronunciation fur-BAYD has flourished since Webster 3 (1961), in opposition to all previous authority, arbitrarily indicated forbade should be pronounced fur-BAYD...Burchfield, in a peculiar burst of unsubstantiated permissiveness, claims that fur-BAYD "cannot be said to be wrong"; nevertheless, other recent authorities prefer the traditional fur-BAD and current dictionaries list it first.
 So there you have it: fur-BAD is the preferred way to say it, unless you're one of those loosey-goosey linguistic faddists. But wait a minute! Further on in the entry, Elster writes:

The controversy may soon be academic: the evidence of my ears says that forbid is fast replacing forbade as the past tense of forbid.
  WTF? You mean the caption may have it right (or at least acceptable to some standards), after all? I checked around, and indeed some dictionaries appear to sanction the use of forbid in the past tense. I'm afraid I'm going to have to overturn that decision, on the grounds that there is a useful distinction to be made, as indicated by my initial confusion, noted above. That's right--I hereby forbid the use of forbid in past tense contexts. You are, of course, free to appeal my ruling to a higher authority, but until then, court is adjourned.

*Check out their recent collection of  horrendous pictures from the '80s and just try not to squirm as you remember the photographic evidence of your own pastel-shaded, big-haired past.

Friday, March 19, 2010

A Recipe for Disaster

Today's selection comes from a HuffPo slide show of funny corrections. As we all know now, "due to" is used incorrectly in this correction (in fact, we can dispose of the whole "due to" clause entirely and achieve greater brevity and clarity). But the bigger issue, to my mind, is recognizing cilantro as a foodstuff. Cilantro is a vile, odious creation of the devil. It is, as I believe I have said before, the Charles Manson of garnishes: small but devious, and it murders anything it comes into contact with. 

I would rather have the cement.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


Look, I'm not proud of this, OK? But who among us hasn't had the experience of idly trawling the webosphere, mindlessly clicking links, and inexplicably ending up in some louche (and irresistably compelling) corner of cyberspace? In other words, I don't remember how I arrived at this slide show of "When Stars Have a Bad Day"--let's just say I was doing research and leave it at that--but I could not look away once I got there.

Among the photos of the stars and their cellulite and bunions was this snap of Sharon Stone with an accompanying caption.

Sharon Stone's eyes looked bruised as she shopped in Beverly Hills, Calif., Jan. 21, 2010. She wore a fedora and sunglasses that she eventually took off to conceal her dark eyes.

Remember when we covered the whole "that vs which," "restrictive vs non-restrictive clause" conundrum? Neither do I, really. Not in detail, anyway. But in any case, the above is an example of how a misplaced that  can sabotage the intended meaning of a sentence.

Obviously, one does not take off sunglasses to conceal one's eyes, but that's what this caption appears to be saying. If we throw in a couple of commas, however, and have which tap that on the shoulder and take its place, we get: "She wore a fedora and sunglasses, which she eventually took off, to conceal her dark eyes." The fact that she took the glasses off becomes parenthetical (and it explains why she is bare-faced in the picture) while the logical integrity of the sentence is preserved. That way, we gossip-loving voyeurs understand that she had been wearing sunglasses to cover her hideous, probably post-plastic-surgery bruising.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to get back to passing judgments on

Monday, March 15, 2010

No, It's Not Margaret Atwood

I took my daughter, Abby, to the local dollar store on the weekend because her birthday party is coming up and she needed to select some undoubtedly toxic, probably child-labor-produced gewgaws to put in the goody bags her friends will take home. It seems to me that when I was a freckle-faced urchin the only thing I took home from friends' birthday parties was gastric distress from slurping back too many root beer floats, but nowadays one is judged on the value and creativity of one's birthday goody bags, and I didn't want to disappoint.

For that matter, I can recall receiving as a birthday gift from Claus Heckerott a used Hardy Boys book in a brown paper lunch bag that had been festively stapled and scotch-taped. Compare that with Abby's haul from last year's 6th birthday bun-toss, where she was bestowed with pink plastic merchandise commensurate with the gross national product of Brazil, and you begin to see the depth of my resentment for my offspring.

I digress. 

On the way out of the store I discovered the stationery aisle, which I navigated with all the temperance of Lindsay Lohan at a Mardi Gras parade. Steno pads, notebooks, retractable (!) felt tip pens, tape dispensers, and, finally, this...

It is actually a violation of the Sic List constitution to mock examples of "Chinglish"--too easy, too unsporting--but I couldn't pass this up. I didn't really need a writing board. But a "writting broad," with photos of a writting broad in action? Best 99 cents I ever spent.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Who's Your Daddy?

The Vancouver Sun has a story by Peter Birnie on playwright Kevin Loring, whose play is running in town. In the opening sentences, we find this:
When the award-winning playwright telephones to talk about a remount of Where the Blood Mixes, opening tonight at the Firehall Arts Centre, he's busy babysitting 13-month-old daughter Jade Winter.

 Maybe, as a househusband/writer, I'm oversensitive to this sort of thing, but riddle me this: if Birnie was talking to a female playwright who happened to be home with her daughter, would he say she was "babysitting?"

On a recent neighborhood excursion with my 6-year-old daughter and 16-month-old son, I collected no less than three examples of this form of subtle sexism--interestingly enough, all from women.

"Mommy has the day off today, eh?" says the kindly old fossil we pass on the street, as I yell at Abby to stop at the curb while picking up Sam's jettisoned sippy cup from the sidewalk.

"Got stuck babysitting today, I see," says the cashier at the Safeway, as I pull unauthorized chocolate bars out of Abby's grip while wiping Sam's nose with his sleeve.

"Is Daddy taking care of you guys today? Where's Mommy?" enquires the hairstylist who trims Abby's locks, while I spin Sam around in an adjacent chair until his eyeballs roll independently.

"Actually, their mother is dead--rodeo accident," I say.

I didn't really say that. But come on, people! Is it really that unusual for a dad to tend to his kids? I suppose I could look at it another way and be gratified that the bar is set so low for fathers that even the most banal (and marginally successful) acts of solo parental supervision are cause for comment. But I can't help feeling rankled at the condescension. I'm not a babysitter, dammit. This is just another example of the oppression and discrimination that the middle-aged white man has had to deal with throughout history.

Monday, March 01, 2010

We've Heard it All Before

I'm enjoying David Eddie's book, Housebroken: Confessions of a Stay-at-Home Dad. My copy is an old uncorrected proof of the 1999 release that I've had lying around for years. Now that I am, like its author, a bona fide househusband and part-time freelancer, I felt now was the time to crack its flimsy cardboard spine.

A good read it is, too. But that won't stop me from picking a few nits. On page 115, for instance, Eddie describes an ill-fated job interview for a position he really didn't want. It begins:

I passed the first round of interviews with flying colors, talking a blue streak until they gave me the green light to see the silver-haired honcho.
I haven't seen a parade of cliches like that since...well, since last night's Olympic closing ceremonies (I mean, really--inflatable Mounties and beavers? Hockey players and lumberjacks? Why not just douse the crowd with maple syrup, eh?). But maybe it's intentional, you say--the author here is playing off the first cliche of "flying colors" with the "blue streak, green light, silver-haired" combo. I'm not so sure. A few pages later, we have this:

If I have one Achilles' heel, though, it's that I wouldn't mind being part of London's "smart set," rubbing shoulders, clinking glasses and trading bon mots through bad teeth with various brilliant characters like Martin Amis. I don't know, Martin Amis would probably avoid me like the plague, but this was my boyish dream.
Obviously, Eddie's world is a place where people suffer from Achilles' heels, shoulders are rubbed and people avoid others like the plague. This, in combination with the colorful sample above, compels me to accuse him of reckless cliche-mongering. The final irony here being that Martin Amis is the author of the critical manifesto, The War Against Cliche.