Friday, December 02, 2011

There's a First Time for Everything

After reading today's withering editorial in The Province, I was delighted to find that the tabloid "paper of record" in our fair town is now on the record as being adamantly opposed to...virginity.

I'm not kidding. In a piece chiding a local group of insufferably smug chaste young women bloggers, the editorialist really lets them have it (as it were).
While no one should judge them for their personal--what previously would have been private--choices, their advocacy of virginity until marriage is a dangerous, out-dated, anti-sex philosophy that most people have rejected.
The last thing that anyone needs, particularly young people, is anything that promotes shame or guilt about sexual desire. 
Having worked himself (it's got to be a guy, don't you think?) into a lather (as it were), the essayist continues:
The idea that only sex within marriage is healthy is absurd.
As we've seen before, the word only can change the meaning of a sentence depending on where it's placed. As it stands here, the sentence could be taken to mean that what is absurd is the idea of sex being the only thing in a marriage that is healthy. But if you moved only to come after sex (as it were) it would still be open to ambiguity. It could sound like we're talking about a "sex-only" marriage, and that truly would be absurd. The only solution is to recast the sentence to something, you know what? Fuck it. (As it were.)

Thursday, December 01, 2011

The Atlantic Announces its Own Passing

Time for more dangling modifier unintentional humor. Today, the (formerly) venerable Atlantic slips on an old syntactical banana peel with this Table of Contents blooper in their online edition:
Letters from Stalin’s Daughter: 
Before dying Monday at 85,
 The Atlantic reviewed her 1967 memoir, "wrung from an agonized conscience"
But of course as regrettably moribund as the (formerly) venerable Atlantic may have been (and is), it did not die last Monday. If it had, we would not be reading this amusingly amateurish subheading.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

It's Just a Faze You're Going Through

A languid, guilty-pleasure scroll through this week's offerings on PostSecret delivers the usual funny/disturbing/annoying revelations, including this "look how I shocking I am" submission:

Well, I am shocked all right. Shocked that the confessor doesn't know the difference between phased and fazed. And shocked at the price. Does this mean I owe my cat 200 bucks?

Monday, November 21, 2011

Point of Order

We took the kiddies to city hall on Saturday to watch the local election returns come in, because nothing says family fun like sitting in a funereal council chamber silently watching numbers change on a screen.

On the way we in, we saw this propaganda poster full of demographically-correct smiley faces, hectoring us to do our civic duty:

  You know what else matters, creator of run-on headline? Punctuation.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Peekaboo! I See You!

Take a look at this picture from The Province:

Now note the caption:
Gang task force undercover police are in evidence Thursday in and around the court complex in Vancouver where several trials involving gang members are in progress.
I don't mean to tell the Donnie Brascos on the VPD how to infiltrate a gang, but I would suggest that if you want to conceal where your true affiliation lies, you should probably lose the "POLICE GANG TASK FORCE" attire, so that you are not so plainly "in evidence." Either that, or perhaps undercover is just not the word to use here.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Make No Mistake...

I have here in the writing cockpit a broadsheet-sized book called The Copywriter's Bible, which, like any real bible, is full of outdated anecdotes and questionable advice. I like to refer to it sometimes to remind myself that there was a time when a magazine ad could be this maggoty with verbiage:

This particular novella-length ad, entitled " A FEW ENCOURAGING WORDS FOR THE TOTALLY INCOMPETENT" contains this apercu outlining the oratorical deficiencies of a past U.S. president:
William Gamaliel Harding wrote his own speeches while President of the USA in the 1920's.  
When Harding died, e.e. cummings said, "the only man, woman, or child who wrote a simple, declarative sentence with seven grammatical errors, is dead." 
Here is a rewarding sample of the man's style. "I would like the government to do all it can to mitigate, then, in understanding, in mutuality of interest, in concern for the common good, our tasks will be solved."

I don't know--it sounds like George W. on a good day, if you ask me.

Anyway, as it turns out, Malcolm Gladwell wrote about this president in his book, Blink, where he used the hapless Harding, whom everyone agreed "looked presidential," as an example of what happens when we choose appearance of ability over, well, ability. He called it "The Warren Harding Error." He did not call it "The William Harding Error." That would have been an error. Not "totally incompetent" perhaps, but definitely an error.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Where's the Last Place You Had It?

A sad story in today's Province opens with:
The body of an 85-year-old Invermere man who was reported missing Tuesday was found near a dirt road in the Jumbo Creek area a day later. 
As I say, a sad story. But not as odd as the headline would have you believe:
Missing Body Found
It wasn't a body that was missing--it was a man. A minor quibble, perhaps, but Body of Missing Man Found would have made the point more clearly, and without the misleading macabre overtones.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

A Sneek Peek at Tomorrow's Lunch Feature

Back to school time--which means back to figuring out what to put in the kid's lunch each day. You can toss a package of processed-cheese-and-crackers into the Dora the Explorer lunch bag only so many times before you hear from Child Protective Services, so I was glad to see this suggested recipe for a simple blueberry banana bread in the morning rag. The mixture is in the oven right now.

But before I try to clean the baking powder out of the toaster and stovetop elements (thanks, Kim, for keeping the open box on the top shelf of the cupboard where I have to jump for it) let's take a look at that ad at the bottom of the page. "A full line-up of concerts, dance, theatre, family, movies..." One of those things is not like the others. "Family events" would probably be more accurate. And "we give you a peak..."? Give me a brake.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

And You Thought Your Job was Tedious

I've always felt sorry for Jimmy Buffet. Sure, he gets to spend most of his life wearing Hawaiian shirts, strumming his six-string for half-drunk tourists, and generally being the exemplar of the middle-aged laid back surfer dude. But you just know that in every single gig he performs, he's not getting off the stage until he sings that song. How sick he must be of it. How does he even pretend to want to do it again?

Then I read about this guy in an AP wire story today:

NEW YORK — Saturday night's performance of "The Phantom of the Opera" on Broadway will be perhaps most memorable for someone who's seen the show a lot.
It will be the last one for actor George Lee Andrews, who will have wrapped up his 9,382nd show over 23 years. The show helped him capture the Guinness World Records title for the most performances in the same Broadway show.
Producers revealed this week that 68-year-old Andrews would not be continuing in the role of Monsieur Andre. Aaron Galligan-Stierle, who is Andrew's son-in-law, will take over the part beginning Sept. 5.
I don't know--I saw "The Phantom of the Opera" once, and that seemed plenty for me. This guy must be seeing flying chandeliers in his sleep.

The error here comes in the final sentence, and it raises an issue that always gives me the heebie-jeebies: how to possessive-ize a name ending in S. I know it should be simple, but this is one of those situations where (metaphorically speaking, anyway) I just mumble into my hand and avoid eye contact and hope nobody presses the point.

Strunk and White have a clear opinion on this--in fact, it is the first rule in the "little book": "Form the possessive singular of the noun by adding 's." It's "Charles's friend" and Burns's poems" they say with characteristic assuredness. (And yet, somewhat curiously, they make exceptions for "ancient possessive names ending in -es and -is," and for Jesus. So it would be "Jesus' iPod," for Christ's sake. That guy gets all the special breaks.)

But it's not really that simple. If you believe this source (and come on, it's on the Internet--why wouldn't you?) it's "Arkansas's former governor" but "Alexander Dumas' first novel." It's "the Smiths' car" but "the Joneses' home." But is it "the boss' memo" or "the boss's memo"? (Or what about "the bosses's memo"?) At this point, let's admit it, we just want to leave it for the intern and go get something to eat.

In any case, in the example above, the iron-man actor's surname is Andrews--which means that most people would form the possessive thusly: Andrews'. Some counter-culture goth types might argue for Andrews's, even at the risk of sounding like Homer Simpson referring to his neighbors as "the Flanderseseses." But no civilized person in possession of their possessive faculties could possibly justify rendering it Andrew's.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Who You Calling Toddler?

Here's an alarming story from The Province, attributed to that prodigious contributor, Staff Reporter:
A baby was pepper-sprayed  Tuesday morning in a dispute between two dog owners. The mother and the six-month-old baby were walking with their pit bull in the 9400-block 132A Street in Surrey just after 9 am. when a man with a doberman pulled out a canister and sprayed the pit bull. The toddler was hit with some of the spray.
According to RCMP, the man says his dog was being attacked. 
 My problem here is not with the "he barked, she barked" nature of the crime, but rather with the inconsistent identification of the child in question. "Six-month-old baby" makes perfect sense. But you have to be old enough to toddle (i.e.: stumble about in an amusingly drunken manner) to be considered a toddler, so that second designation is just wrong.

And while we're on the topic--who among us hasn't at least fantasized at some point about giving an obstreperous toddler a blast in the puss with bear spray? Be honest, now.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

I See Dead People Seeing Things

I was just going from the fridge to the patio-cum-office (if you're going to spend the weekend working, you may as well throw some sunshine and Margaritas into the mix), and as I passed the TV, I caught a snippet of newscast. Something about a fundraising bike ride up a North Shore mountainside, called The Cyprus Challenge. The ride is in honor of Jack Poole, who, according to the perky newscaster,
"...was integral in bringing the Olympics to Vancouver. Poole died in 2009, just months before he saw his dream become a reality."
I don't mean to be a Debbie Downer, but as I understand it, one's powers of observation are among the first things to go after one dies.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Points of Pride

It's Pride Weekend in Vancouver, which means tomorrow I can take the kids to the West End to see spangled parade floats full of hairy gay men in assless chaps flagellating each other with foot-long purple dildos.

The Vancouver Sun is getting into the spirit of things with their weekend edition. There's a column explaining why hairy men in assless chaps flagellating each other with dildos came to be a Pride Parade staple (it has to do with irony and self-parody), and a number of other related stories, including an interesting history of the storied Davie Street neighborhood and how it's becoming less gay-centric. Ron Dutton, who is described as an archivist for the B.C. gay and lesbian communities is quoted as saying that nowadays...
There are gay Buddhists and gay volleyball and gay knitting. There's a gay antique car club...So now you can be a part of your community with ever darkening the door of a bar or an overt gay business.
The way I see it, the visitor in this idiom is blocking the light at an open threshold, so I always thought the expression should be "darkening the doorway." Darkening a door just doesn't make sense in that context. And it's interesting to note that although there are plenty of sources that list the "darkening the door" idiom (going back to Ben Franklin),and offer a definition, none that I found provided an explanation for the metaphor. There are, of course, a number of citations for "darkening the doorway" as well, including this from a test of English idioms:
"Get out of here, Jed! First you show up drunk, then you hit on my wife and then you insult my son. Get out of here and don't come back! Never darken my doorway again!" An irate Matt told him.
Correct answer: (c) doorway
So I suppose we can deduce that either version has a respectable claim, but I'm sticking with my "doorway" preference. We can also deduce that Jed is an asshole.

But back to the Weekend Extra section of the Sun. A few pages on, there is another story, this one about how, many years ago, the owner of Joe's Cafe on Commercial Drive asked a lesbian couple to stop kissing, and how a rival (lesbian-friendly) cafe opened nearby in response. The story begins with this puzzling sentence:
A decade ago, Pat Hogan opened up Josephine's Cappuccino Bar and Wimmin's Crafts just off Commercial Drive as a place for lesbians to grab a cappuccino and, if they wanted, each other's hands or lips.
I'm certainly no expert on the amorous techniques of the urban lesbian, but this idea of them reaching out and gripping each other's lips strikes me as unlikely behavior, even for the really butch ones who ride the motorcycles topless in the parade.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

You Don't Say

What Your Favorite Author Says About You
...blares the inane Huffpo headline. Gosh, I didn't realize Paris even knew I existed, let alone that she was talking about me!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

You Look Familiar...

 Woman Who Looks Like Casey Anthony, Sammy Blackwell, Attacked By Driver In Oklahoma
A woman outraged over the Casey Anthony verdict was arrested in Oklahoma for allegedly attacking a convenience store clerk who resembles the Florida mom acquitted of murdering her daughter. 
After leaving work in Chouteau on Friday, Sammay Blackwell said a customer who had told her that "you look like Casey Anthony" followed her for several miles and then crashed her car into Blackwell's, causing her to flip several times...
Sure it sounds insane, but I must confess that there is a clerk in my local liquor store who bears an uncanny resemblance to insufferable Euro-twit Piers Morgan, and I consequently find myself suppressing the urge to slap his smug puss as he bags my moderately-priced Shiraz. So I can relate.

The nit I'm picking with this AOL-HuffPo story (we'll just overlook the "Sammy/Sammay" inconsistency) is an oldie, and it comes in the final sentence:
In an ironic twist, Blackwell has a daughter named Caylee too, Channel 9 said.
Its claim to the contrary notwithstanding, that sentence suffers from an irony deficiency. As some tedious scolds never get tired of pointing out, irony and coincidence are not the same thing. The fact that the Casey Anthony doppelganger has a daughter named Caylee is a coincidence--and an astonishing one at that. It may even be a good enough reason to attempt to kill her. But it is not ironic.

On to the the fresh-from-the-mailbox Maclean's for another example of usage and abusage from the collection of greatest hits. In a capsule review of the Swedish thriller novel, The Hypnotist, comes this scene-setter:
Shortly before Christmas, almost an entire family is slaughtered in a Stockholm suburb, two parents and a two-year-old girl literally sliced to ribbons.
Charming. But, as some tedious scolds never get tired of pointing out, literally means literally, not "I-really-want-to-emphasize-or-hyperbolize-this."  It's unlikely the murderer actually filleted the family into sushi with such painstaking precision, especially since the following sentence tells us that another family member, a son, "though cut by as many knife wounds as the others, is still alive." Or perhaps Swedish surgeons are impressively adept at reconstituting ribbons into whole people. 

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Unintentionally Funny Headline of the Day...

From HuffPo:
Sarah Palin's Documentary a Nearly Empty Audience
It's the auditorium that's nearly empty, not the audience. On the other hand, if they're spending 15 bucks each to see this...

Friday, July 15, 2011

Dead Man Marching

Today in The Province, columnist Jon Ferry writes about a friend and colleague, Claude Adams, who was sacked from his job as a writer for the CBC evening newscast after an unfortunate error made in the heat of wordsmithing battle:
Under intense deadline pressure, he was tasked to write an intro to a story about a police dog reportedly locked in a sweltering SUV while its RCMP handler went fishing. Adams assumed the dog was dead, which is what anchor Tony Parsons faithfully read on the air.  
The problem was the dog, a 10-month-old German Shepard, survived. Which was good for the dog and even for Parsons, who calmly delivered an on-air correction. But it was bad for Adams...the next day he was called into executive producer Wayne Williams' office and given his marching orders.
But "marching orders" are directives a superior gives when dispensing an assignment. I think Ferry means that the hapless Adams received his "walking papers," which, although it sounds better (who wouldn't prefer a blithesome amble with some papers to a forced march?) is in fact the more disagreeable of the two.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Wile E. Cougar

The bears are back--and this time they've brought the cougars with them. Each day seems to bring another news account of a lively unexpected encounter between man and homicidal woodland beast. There have been two bear maulings in recent days (one fatal) and a sign on my local running trail advising of a cougar sighting in the area had me nervously scanning the perimeter for crouching cats.  

The Province tells us of a teen girl on Vancouver Island who forestalled a cougar assault with the time-tested trick of "making herself taller" and ringing her bike bell. That's a trick I'd like to learn. The spontaneous heightening, I mean. I already know how to ring a bike bell.

The piece goes on to inventory other encounters, ending with:
And in the Squamish area, in mid-June, a cougar possibly trying to pounce on a rider preparing for the annual Test of Metal mountain bike race missed and landed on his real wheel.
The cougars have wheels now? Given their already significant predatory advantage, that hardly seems sporting.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Right Stuff?

What do you do when you've finished building a new Boeing 747-8?

You take it out for a sandwich run.

AOL travel blogger Kate Auletta has posted a story about a Seattle test crew that made a 2500-mile flight to Pittsburgh last week to sample some legendary Primanti Brothers sandwiches. She says flight test director Paul Shank told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that the sandwiches were a hit with the crew. But they're not stopping there. Apparently, the aircraft needs a little more "testing":
In the future, Shank told the paper, he and his crew will take the plane to try out some pasties in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and lobster rolls in Maine.
I'm going to go ahead and assume that should read pastries. Pasties are...well, if you're not familiar with the term you can click here for an eyeful.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

When Grammar Meets Math

Men aren't wearing ties as much as they used to! So goes the premise of a story in this week's Maclean's--a premise supported mostly by anecdotal evidence (and photos) of politicians favoring open collars. The piece veers toward "bogus trend" territory when it seems to contradict that premise with this line: "Sales [of ties] in Canada are up a modest six percent between 2009 and 2010..." But the author posits that the increase can be chalked up to the purchases of job interviewees, "Mad Men" wannabes, and ironic hipsters. The more telling stat, apparently, comes in this pull-quoted sentence:

Fewer than six percent of American men wear ties to work. In Britain, less than 20 percent of men wear them.

When we last visited the fewer vs. less debate, we found that the old "fewer grains of sand vs. less sand" shortcut didn't always apply, and that the most comprehensive rule to follow was "fewer for plural, less for singular." But this is a new twist. Is "six percent" a single quantity or a plural?

Luckily, a quick Google search shows that someone has sent this specimen off to the lab for analysis and the guys in the white lab coats at the Chicago Manual of Style have come back with the results. They start by quoting an American Heritage Dictionary ruling that "Less than is used before a plural noun that denotes a measure of time, amount, or distance"--thereby muddying the waters of our singular/plural guideline pool. They go on to opine that a percentage should qualify as such a plural noun, on the grounds that...well, you can read it yourself if you're still awake at this point.

In any case, the editors of Maclean's seem to have found their own non-solution by going with fewer in the first sentence of that pull quote and less in the second, ensuring that they get it right no less than fifty percent of the time. 

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Life of Brian

Brian Johnson, whom I know better as that guy in the hat from the band AC/DC, did an interview with the online rag PopEater to push his new memoir.  He comes across as more charming and engaging than I would have expected (although why I should have expectations about a man I know nothing about can only be chalked up to my aversion to people who wear "trademark" hats). Anyway, he relates with rogueish charm the story of how he came to be "that guy in the hat," and he shares some of his thoughts on religion and his personal philosophy of life:
I believe all religions are bad. I think they're a waste of time. Jesus was a clever man. He wasn't the son of God. We all know that he was a very clever, wonderful man and he said, 'Church is in here meaning you are your own church.' If you're a good man you become contended, if you're a good person your dying breath is one of contentment that lasts for eternity and if you're a bad man and you've lived a bad life, you've done some wicked and evil things just for the heck of it, well that will hit you on your last breath of life, that's hell. Now, listen, this is the universe according to Brian and I'm probably as wrong as anybody but I'm as right as anybody else. All religions make money and cause troubles and war and death and I'm tired of it. Stop now! Enjoy your life!
From the mouths of screeching heavy metal rock stars. But I think the interviewer had a couple of hiccups while transcribing the oracle's words. First of all, I'm pretty sure that should be contented rather than contended (although, of course, content would do as well). But more importantly, look at those quotation marks. There seems to be some confusion about when Jesus stops talking and Brian resumes. "Church is in here" are the words of Jesus--the rest is Brian's helpful exegesis of those words. So those closing quotation marks need to slide leftward to keep Brian from putting words in the late Mr. Christ's mouth, which I'm sure is some kind of sin.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Land of the Free, Home of the Bravado

Yesterday in Slate, the ponderous and verbose Ron Rosenbaum burned through his customary three bushels of pixels (I confess I didn't get past the first few paragraphs) to question the wisdom behind Condé Nast's decision to move their high-profile magazine offices from their current Times Square crib. He says, with his customary measured understatement, that their plan to migrate to "the never-ending security nightmare known as 'Freedom Tower' at Ground Zero, may be one of the single most questionable corporate decisions in New York City history." 
Oh, forgive me, right, did I say "Freedom Tower"? Sorry, the 1776-foot tall (take that, al-Qaida! 1776 in yo' face!) replacement for the Twin Towers has been renamed! The false bravado of "Freedom Tower"—especially for a building whose security precautions will make it more like a supermax prison tower—has been replaced (in 2009) by the dignified, nonprovocative reticence of "One World Trade Center."
First of all, I can see it being "one of the most questionable corporate decisions," or "the single most questionable corporate decision." But "one of the single most questionable corporate decisions" seems to me a marble-cheese-type blend of singular and plural--and I hate marble cheese.

Then there is the matter of that "false bravado." Many people (like me) will argue that the term is redundant because the word bravado itself is usually deployed to mean "a false show of bravery." There are others who have no problem with this construction, because they find the definition of bravado to be more flexible, but we can discount their opinions on the grounds that they probably enjoy marble cheese. Either way, though, there is no denying that "false bravado" has the stale odor of cliché about it, and that alone is good enough reason to reject it.

Speaking of Condé Nast publications and clichés, Calvin Trillin wrote a wry little piece in the Globe and Mail awhile back (which I just discovered thanks to the editors of Arts & Letters Daily) called "How I got dirty words into the New Yorker". Trillin is an imaginative, keen-witted writer so I was surprised to find this festival of leaden phrases in one sentence:
I said I felt I had to talk to Mr. Shawn about the quote, which was vital to my story, although I knew he had a lot on his plate and I wasn’t going to get on my high horse if he said no.
"A lot on his plate"? "Get on my high horse"?  I guess even imaginative, keen-witted New Yorker writers can have an off day.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Booby Trapped

Several months ago, my wife, Kim, was motoring down the expressway behind the wheel of our sexy Saturn Ion, bopping her head along to "Dancing Queen," when a fellow driver attempting a maneuver that should only be performed by a professional driver on a closed course rear-ended her. The resulting impact catapulted her directly into the office of a shyster lawyer, who is promising to make the disagreeable incident reasonably lucrative for her...and himself.

Today he sent Kim a draft of his proposed settlement letter to the insurance company, and it includes this line:
We note that the CL 19 completed by Dr. Russell indicates that Ms. Weber was breastfeeding at the time of the accident and was therefore restricted in the type and amount of pain medication she could take.
Hang on there, Matlock. You're saying that at the time of the accident, while motoring down a public expressway and listening to a wretched Abba tune, your client was also giving suck to a small child?

Never mind getting a juicy settlement. If this letter goes out as is, Kim will be lucky to avoid jail time.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Maybe Jesus is Just Not That Into You

Broadcaster silent as "Judgment Day" hours tick by
So goes the Reuters headline about religious wackjob Harold Camping who, after months--nay, years--of strenuous bloviating about mankind's presumed day of reckoning today, seems to be at a loss for words. But this isn't the first time the Lord has stood him up. According to the report:
Camping previously made a failed prediction Jesus Christ would return to Earth in 1994.
I think that sentence could ready simply, "Camping previously made a prediction Jesus Christ would return to Earth in 1994." We can do the "failed" math ourselves.

By the way, isn't the appearance of "false prophets" supposed to be one of the signs of the apocalypse? Uh-oh.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Is Our Children's IQs Learning?

Yesternight, while searching for a half-remembered epigram, I found myself leafing through a recent favorite: Death Sentences: How clichés, weasel words, and management-speak are strangling public language. It's all about how clichés*, weasel words, and management-speak are--how shall I put this?--strangling public language.

My languid leafing brought me to this passage:
The most dramatic example so far appears to be the news that in some parts of the United States parents have started legal proceedings against their obstetricians when, on reaching high school, their children's IQs do not meet expectations.
But of course it's the children who are reaching high school, not their IQs. Well, presumably their IQs go along with them, but you know what I mean.

*When I type the word clichés in Word, it automatically adds the accent over the e. No such intuitiveness in Bloggerworld, I see.  I actually had to type the word in Word, then copy it into the text here (3 times!)--a tedious operation that gives me new appreciation for those old-time typesetters who had to painstakingly create each line of text with calloused, greasy fingers. I have to lie down for awhile now.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Comma Chameleon

A story in the weekend edition of The Vancouver Sun (yes, I'm just getting to it now--it was maggoty with mothers here on the weekend) offers up some compelling background on the city's premier specialty video store, Videomatica, which--say it ain't so!--is closing its doors after 28 years as a 4th Avenue fixture. Damn you, cheap and efficient movie downloads!

Deep into the obit, the piece reveals that the cinephile's boutique-of-choice celebrated its 25th anniversary by compiling a list of their all-time top rentals. The chart-topper was the quirky British comedy Withnail and I. After that...
The top 10 was rounded out by Wings of Desire, Down by Law, Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Betty Blue, Blood Simple, The Decameron and Baraka.
As countless movie nerds with hot-butter-stained t-shirts will attest, the title of the Russ Meyer schlock classic is Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! And when you have a series that contains an item like this with its own internal comma you need to separate said items with semi-colons to avoid confusion. As it stands, it reads like these are two movies: Faster (which sounds like one of those execrable Vin Diesel car chase pornfests) and Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (which sounds like a command given to a homicidal housecat).

A little detective work (ie: counting) tells me that the author of the piece did in fact think these were two movies, because only by cleaving the title into two films can you get the nine titles you need to round out the top ten.

Speaking of movie title missteps, the Huffington Post is reporting that Philip Seymour Hoffman is set to star in a big-screen jab at L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology. The movie, which should be a doozy, is the work of Paul Thomas Anderson, who, we're told, is
an Oscar-nominated writer/director, whose biggest hits include "Boogie Nights," "Punch, Drunk, Love" and "There Will Be Blood."
That should be Punch-Drunk Love. Although I must admit that Punch, Drunk, Love sounds like a sequel to Eat, Pray, Love that I would actually want to see.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Pro-Nouns and Anti-Semantic

Over at Slate today, the estimable Dana Stevens gave an almost begrudging thumbs-most-of-the-way-up to the new Mel Gibson movie, The Beaver. The film's release, you may recall, was delayed to provide some breathing room between us, the movie-going public, and the stink of Gibson's latest odious transgressions.

In any case, the movie is directed by Jodie Foster, who also performs in the film, and about whom Steven writes:
It's notoriously hard for an actor to direct his or herself on-screen, which may account for the lack of warmth in Foster's scenes with Gibson.
The problem here is that, while his and hers go together like Mel Gibson and raging misogynist anti-Semite, the reflexive pronouns are, of course, himself and herself. (True, hisself is a variant in some dialects, particularly those featured in movies where Jackie Gleason plays a sheriff, but not in Standard Written English.)

So how do we solve this? Some people--those with a sense of panache and derring-do--see an opportunity here to deploy a sexy suspended hyphen, like so: "him- or herself." But if that seems too risqué, we can also go with the stodgy but serviceable "himself or herself." Or, we can simply avoid the whole pickle by recasting the sentence: "It's notoriously hard for actors to direct themselves on-screen...especially when playing opposite a volatile misogynist anti-Semite."

Monday, April 25, 2011


If the world were merely seductive, that would be easy. If it were merely challenging, that would be no problem. But I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve (or save) the world and a desire to enjoy (or savor) the world. This makes it hard to plan the day. 
I've always admired those lines from E.B. White--so much so that I captured them and preserved them in my collection of lines I admire, which I will one day bequeath to an auction house of fine standing. But not long after cataloging those words and arranging them in their display case, I began to see other versions, including this grotesque mash-up:
"I wake up every morning determined to both change the world and have one hell of a good time. Sometimes this makes planning the day a little difficult."
E.B White was a writer, after all (and one notorious for the precision of his word choices) so there should be a definitive written record of where the passage in question comes from and in what exact form it appeared. Indeed, the blogmeister at Ishbadiddle did some wiki-sourcing on this very question and determined that that first version is the real thing and it comes from a 1969 New York Times interview. Case closed.

But then yesterday, I sat at my wife's computer to enjoy some idle surfing while munching my bagel, and her home page quotation-generator spit this out:
Analyzing humor is like dissecting a frog. Few people are interested and the frog dies of it. --E.B. White
This time, I happened to know precisely the source, and I knew this was murderously off-key. I only had to step over to the bookcase and pull down my copy of A Subtreasury of American Humor, edited by White and his wife, Katherine, to find these lines in the preface:
Humor can be dissected, as a frog can, but the thing dies in the process and the innards are discouraging to any but the pure scientific mind.
First of all, I submit this as a rebuttal to all those Strunk and White fundamentalists who insist that the briefer, plainer composition is always better. The real quotation sings; the bastardized version is a feeble croak. Even E.B. White was not an Elements of Style purist. He understood that while there may be rules for grammar, there are only guidelines for writing, and they are mutable. What matters is choosing the right words for the right effect.

Which is what makes these misquotations so irksome. I suppose it's flattering to White, in a way, that his epigrams are passed around so enthusiastically that they become fodder for an undeclared game of Chinese Whispers. But considering the care this legendary literary craftsman put into his work, it is dispiriting to see his sentences vandalized by thoughtless thugs.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Going Gaga

According to a HuffPo story, Lady Gaga is in trouble with God. I'm not familiar with Ms. Gaga's work, but I understand she is a provocative performer, and this story seems to follow a pattern that started with Elvis shaking his hips and worked its way through Alice Cooper and his snake, Ozzie Osbourne and the headless bat, Sinead O'Conner and the pope pic incident, the guy who did the "Piss Christ" photo of a crucifix in urine, and countless others: Provocative performer says or does something deliberately provocative. Intended provokees are suitably provoked by said provocateur. Minutes of intense outrage ensue from people who claim these stunts are debasing their sacred beliefs. Outraged people become distracted by an image of the Virgin Mary in a grilled cheese sandwich and life moves on.

The hullabaloo now is about Gaga's newest musical offering. As the story reveals:
"Judas," the latest single from Grammy-winner and fashion icon has leaked onto the internet early, adding to the already heated debate about the song, and accompanying video's, alleged sacrilege.
Yes, we're missing a the before "Grammy-winner," but the real transgression, grammatically-speaking, comes later in the sentence. If we are to believe that both the song and the video are (allegedly) sacrilegious and that that is what the debate is about, we should be looking at a compound possessive and the first possessive should be song's. If these are two separate issues, though--the debate about the song, and the (alleged) sacrilege in the video--we need to lose the parenthetical clause by dropping the final comma and making it: "heated debate about the song, and the accompanying video's alleged sacrilege." That's what Jesus would do.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Teed Off in Kelowna

Day Three of our Okanagan odyssey saw us going for a family mini-golf excursion, and what a predictably hapless foursome we present. Kim is about as deftly-coordinated as an arthritic moose. Young Abby's approach to golf is to stickhandle toward the hole like Phil Esposito on a breakaway. As for me, I am by turns astonishingly lucky (hole-in-one on the 17th thanks to a five-foot rebound off a curb) and pathetically inept (my approach on this hole

saw me suffering the effects of more strokes than Dick Clark).

Two-year-old Sam, pictured here sitting smugly by the Deadwood-inspired facade on the 16th green,

carried the day by scoring a consistent two strokes on every single hole, owing to his strategy of picking up his ball after each tee-off, walking it to the cup and dropping it in. I'm actually kind of proud of him for figuring out so swiftly the pointless futility of golf.

Oh, right...the point of this blog entry? It was this sign, introducing us to the 6th hole:

Speaking of hit-and-miss (or, I suppose, miss-and-miss in this case), we have here both absent and superfluous punctuation. There should, of course, be an apostrophe in NATURES to indicate who that gardener is in service to. And when will sign-writers learn that quotation marks are not for slapping around a phrase to give emphasis? In fact, because the scare claws are often employed to indicate irony, the play can backfire like a florescent green golf ball ricocheting off a windmill fan. Although now that I look at that mangy patch of moonscape depicted here, perhaps the claim of "quality service" is indeed meant to be ironic.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Give Us Your Poor...and We'll Give You Our Huddled Masses

It's election season again, which means more of those voiceover-of-doom, black-and-white commercials showing unflattering photographs of the other guy--the kind that got Vancouver Sun columnist Pete McMartin to sputter:
Must we? The adolescent attack ads? The constant dispiriting insult to our intelligence and national sense of decorum? When did Karl Rove immigrate to Canada?
Should that be immigrate or is it emigrate in this context? I always get those two mixed up, the same way I'm continually confusing Bill Paxton with Bill Pullman. So I looked it up yet again (the immigrate/emigrate thing, not the Paxton/Pullman thing--I've given up on the latter).

The distinction is most often described along the lines of "to emigrate is to leave a country, while to immigrate is to come to a country"--an explanation I find less than satisfying because of course one does both at the same time. But it is a matter of perspective: the person you are seeing off is emigrating and the person you are welcoming (or, in the hypothetical case of Karl Rove, rebuffing at the point of a pitchfork) is immigrating--even if it's the same person.

So McMartin has it right. But the atheists are wrong. At least the atheists who wrote up the promotional material for their upcoming convention. They've posted a biographical snapshot of featured speaker Christopher Hitchens (who is attending via Skype, owing to ill health, alas) that says "In 1981, he emigrated to the United States." As anyone who has heard Hitchens's buttery English accent knows, the man is a product of the UK, meaning he immigrated to the United States, land of the Rovian attack ad.

Friday, April 01, 2011

I Never Thought of Selling It...

As someone who has changed (more than) his share of diapers, I am well aware of the assorted colours and patterns.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Maybe it's Time to Invest in Some Apostrophes

I seem to have developed an inexplicable fetish for the TV show Dragon's Den--you know, the one where wannabe or fledgling entrepreneurs pitch their ideas to a panel of venture capitalists who tell them that their valuations are "insane." Now that repeats are airing daily and we've got this space-age PVR recording device, it's all too easy to score along at home while watching pitches into the wee hours.

Last night I screened a couple more eps, including one that featured a "mom-preneur" who designs punk-themed clothes for toddlers, such as this t-shirt:

Punk may not be dead, but her pitch was. The Dragons withdrew their offer of one million dollars for 10% of the company when they realized she had left out the apostrophe in what is clearly supposed to be a contraction of "Punk is." Okay, not really--they just told her they didn't see the big-time potential. But if they had taken her to task on the missing punctuation, it might have served as a warning to future businesspeople who take the language into their own hands.

Like this woman in the following episode, who was trying to get funding for her line of plus-sized clothes:

There is no such word as womens. When something is attached to a confederacy of women--women's rights, women's fashions, women's unseemly tendency to gush and swoon over the "dreaminess" of Denzel Washington while their squat, pale husbands are sitting right there--the word required is the possessive, and it is the apostrophe that is essential.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Hitting Where it Hurts

Headline on an AP wire story today:
GM Cuts Unnecessary Spending After Japan Disaster
When the crisis is over they will resume regular levels of unnecessary spending.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Playing in the Margins

In a future (and a present) where books are delivered by Kindle and iPad, what is to become of those manic scribblers who like to graffiti the pages of their books with marginalia? The gabfesters at Slate podcasted about this very topic awhile back, and today I see this Atlantic piece about the (possible) demise of obsessive literary back-chat. The blogster in question, Kevin Charles Redmon (and since when do you need three names to write a blog post?), spends some time examining the merits of --and the vituperative scorn heaped upon--the Kindle's collective annotating feature, "popular highlights."
And if you don't trust the wiki of would-be English lit professors—191 of who, I see, have highlighted Franzen's thesis in Freedom, "The personality susceptible to the dream of limitless freedom is a personality also prone, should the dream ever sour, to misanthropy and rage"—well, turn the feature off. 
There's that pesky who/whom problem again. This seems like a case of hyper-correction, with the author figuring that since the stripped-down sentence would read "professors who have highlighted Franzen's thesis" he is probably on solid ground to stay with the subjective who. But if we use the handy substitution test and try other subjective/objective pairings, the miscue surfaces like a tell-tale blue line on a home pregnancy test pee-stick. For although it's fine to write, "they have highlighted Franzen's thesis," you would never say "191 of they have highlighted Franzen's thesis"--unless of course you suffered from a debilitating neurological impairment. We know without a doubt that it should be the objective them--our ears tell us so. The objective case it is, then, which means whom is the pronoun of choice.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

That's Just Sic

Timothy Noah is having a conniption today on Slate ---something about how the internet-phone pioneers at Skype are holding certain clients' voice mails hostage unless they pony up some coin. He quotes a disgruntled user (and an amusingly semi-literate response to the disgruntled user) before paraphrasing a conversation he had with a Skype spokeshole: 
When I spoke with O'Shaughnessy today he said that neither he, nor a Skype customer-service expert he contacted in London, nor a Skype product manager he contacted in London, had ever heard of this problem before, which makes the Skype email's pledge that "we will definitely look in to [sic.] this" ring a bit hollow. 
Noah is using the parenthetical "[sic.]" to point out, correctly, that "in to" should read "into." But he errs in throwing a period in before that closing bracket. To quote the infallible Wikipedia:
The adverb sic—meaning "intentionally so written"—first appeared in English circa 1856. It is derived from the Latin adverb sīc, which contains a long vowel and means "so," "thus," "as such," or "in such a manner."
and also...
Because sic is not an abbreviation, it is unnecessary to include a period inside the brackets after the word sic.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

A Prepositionalist Incongruousness

If you read only one print excerpt of a recap of a series of blog posts on the discussions of a book club about the novel The Sentimentalists, it should be today's piece in The Vancouver Sun. In it you will find one of the panelists quoting a passage from the book that includes this sentence:
When I questioned Parada about the incongruencies between my father's stories and the documents to which I was later able to compare them to, he had little to offer by way of explanation.
You won't find the word incongruency in any major dictionary (at least I didn't) but a cursory Googling and a quick visit to Wordnik shows that it's getting a lot of lexicographical traction. I like it. In the example above, the word suggests that the differences between the father's stories and the documents are not just inconsistent, but oddly so. So rather than "incongruent inconsistencies" we get "incongruencies." Cool.

Not so cool, however, is the doubling down on prepositions in the phrase "to which I was later able to compare them to," which will hereafter be referred to simply as "The Paul McCartney Error."

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Still Better than the Jell-O and Preparation H

This just wife, the wily and parsimonious Kim, has poked her head in to say that she's off to the market to, and I quote: "Pick up some cat food and broccoli for dinner."

This is why we need commas in speech as well as writing.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Piers Review

In the latest Vanity Fair, master baiter James Wolcott delivers a sustained beating to the credibility of Piers Morgan, CNN's comically over-hyped replacement for Larry "the Crypt Keeper" King. Wolcott blames Morgan himself for the flow of  P.R. balloon juice that preceded the Brit's debut, in a passage that ends:
Morgan also reveled in Twitter slap-fights, boasting that he would mop the floor with doubters and detractors such as John Schiumo, the 24-hour cable news channel NY1’s prime-time news host, whom he warned, “You’re like Stephen Baldwin and Vinny Pastore—they thought they were big shots in NY too until I wiped them in Celeb Apprentice.” Yes, those were quite a pair of titans he toppled.
That last sentence contains a fairly common grammatical misstep. Baldwin and Pastore may constitute two (ironic) titans, but the word "pair" is (ironically) singular, and that's the word that governs the verb choice. So the sentence should read: "Yes, that was quite a pair of titans..."

Friday, March 04, 2011

For Better or Wurse

It is with a heavy heart that I present today's befouling of the language, as it comes from my daughter's weekly spelling quiz.

What pains me is that she had the presence of mind to realize she had left out the vowel in Number 9, but then she doubled back and inserted the wrong one. It fell to me, as a loving and involved father, to carefully explain to her that she had brought ineradicable shame on the family, and that from now on I would have to burn her hand with a cigarette for each error she made.

This is almost as bad as the time our two-year-old, Sam, used the word "sententious" when he clearly meant "tendentious." And no, I couldn't just chalk it up to a slip of the tongue; it was in a written communication. 

Damn kids today.

Friday, February 25, 2011

The Not-So-Secret Service

The latest issue of The Atlantic features an "unprecedented access" look into the Secret Service that, frankly, offers little in the way of revelation or insight--although it was fun to read that the New York office keeps a stash of disguises and fake grass for undercover operations. Presumably that's where they keep the ACME-brand rocket skates, too.

The piece centers around security coordination for the United Nations General Assembly meeting in 2010, and early on we get a glimpse into Iranian president Mahmoud Multisyllable's security detail:
During his stay, the Iranian president was ensconced in the smallish, 20-floor Hilton Manhattan East. The hotel remained open to regular guests, and tourists wandered freely through the lobby. No demonstrators were outside when I visited (a somewhat surprising absence, given that the day’s newspapers had disclosed the location of the hotel), but a couple dozen plainclothes police officers were stationed around the building just in case.
Just to be picky here, the newspapers didn't disclose the location of the hotel--Google Maps, or for that matter, the local Yellow Pages, will give you that. What the papers had disclosed was the location of Captain Windbreaker at said hotel.

Monday, February 21, 2011

And Then I Go and Spoil it All by Saying Something Stupid...

It might be churlish of me to say so, but while reading How to Write a Sentence...And How to Read One by the critic and columnist Stanley Fish, I can't help thinking that the book, as pleasantly pedantic as it is, might be more engaging if its sentences were written by someone more boisterously creative than Stanley Fish. It's a good book. I like it. But if it were written by, say, Martin Amis or, in an alternate universe, David Foster Wallace, I would probably love it. But there is no point blaming a book for its author.

I can, however, blame the author for this passage, where he compares "bad" sentences that create good effects to bad cover songs that produce ironic pleasure:
There's an NPR program called  The Annoying Music Show, and when the remastered set of Beatles albums came out in 2009, an episode was built around it. The cuts played included Tiny Tim singing "Hey Jude" and Telly (Kojak) Savalas singing "Something in the Way She Walks." These performances were truly bad and they were truly good.
The line, as George Harrison wrote it, is, of course, "Something in the way she moves." And the song, for that matter, is titled, simply, "Something".

I tried to find YouTube evidence of this cover song atrocity but came up dry. But in searching, I did come across this half-forgotten Telly Savalas sketch on the old Carol Burnett show. Cheesy, but still funny, if you ask me.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Death Be Not Proud

I've just retrieved the latest issue of MacLean's from the mailbox, which means I've just engaged in my weekly morbid ritual of flipping to the back page first to get right to the obituary profile of this week's unfortunate soul. First, I note the dates at the top and make the quick narcissistic calculation that Roz Chast so deftly captured in this cartoon:

Then, my eye shoots down to the last paragraph for the satisfyingly depressing details surrounding the circumstances of death. This week's profile ends thusly:
Last year, Peter survived a double-bypass surgery, and quickly recovered, eager to enjoy the summer. On Dec. 31, he retired. By mid-January, he and Lydia set off on another big adventure: a three-month road trip through the U.S., from California to Florida, which they had been planning for months. Four days in, on Jan. 19, 2011, they stopped on a Washington state highway so Peter could take a photo of a farmhouse. The sun was in his eyes, and he didn't see the truck that hit him. He was 66.
Damn. You spend decades building a life and this is how it ends--you stop for a bucolic Ansel Adams moment and end up a road pizza with a Peterbilt logo tattooed on your stunned face.

Anyway, I summoned the Google gods and found that the fully-capitalized designation, "Washington State," is indeed the preferred way to go here (although some cautioned against it if it could be confused with the university of that name). After all, we're talking about a highway in Washington State, not a state highway in what could be Washington, D.C.

As for why he was going from California to Florida by way of Washington State--alas, that's something we'll never get to ask poor Peter.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Greenhouse Blueberries, or Blue Berries in a Green House?

Want to know which organic foods are worth the extra shekels? Then you need to check out this iVillage slideshow, where you will find the following counsel on the advisability of buying blue-ribbon berries:
I only buy berries when they’re in season and sold at the farmer's market or at my local retailer. And I don’t do it to cut green house gases! I buy them in season, because they are much cheaper and so much better tasting.
Sound advice. Except that the difference between a "green house" and a "greenhouse" is worth bearing in mind, as we are reminded in this classic clip--which, coincidentally, is about berries:

Monday, February 07, 2011

The Dumb-Downed Theory of Hyphenation

According to the Hollywood Reporter (hey, I just happened to hit on it through a series of links; I don't have to explain myself to you) the word on the Beverly Hills street is that they're going to make a major motion picture adaption of Stephen King's post-apocalyptic epic, The Stand. I haven't read the novel, but I'm led to believe it is a post-apocalyptic epic worthy of major motion picture adaption. And apparently this isn't the first time the tale has been bound for the screen:
George Romero and Warners separately tried in vain to launch a movie adaptation in the 1980s, and a tone-downed version was produced as a six-hour miniseries by ABC in 1994. 
I'm sorry--a what version? Sure, you can make a case that a hyphenated compound should be treated as a single word for the purposes of past-tensifying--a "mutton-chopped" Civil War general, for instance--but "tone-downed" is an offense to the ear; it sounds like something a child who has been deprived of a Baby Einstein upbringing would say. "Toned-down version" would be the way to go. For that matter, I think you can even forgo the hyphen in this case and opt for the simple, austere "toned down version."

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Say That Again

I've added Charles Pierce's Idiot America to the bedtime reading rotation, because nothing is more conducive to restful slumber than having one's sputtering indignation aroused. As the inflammatory title suggests, it's about idiots--snake-oil-selling charlatans, conspiracy theorist nutjobs, young earth creationists, talk radio gasbags, Sarah Palin--and how they have infiltrated mainstream culture.

Pierce (you may remember him from such NPR panel shows as Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me) builds his thesis on what he calls the "Three Great Premises" of Idiot America, which are helpfully outlined on the back cover and referenced repeatedly throughout the book:
Any theory is valid if it sells books, soaks up ratings, or otherwise moves units.
Fact is that which enough people believe. Truth is determined by how fervently they believe it.
Anything can be true if someone says it loudly enough.
Succinctly aphoristic, no doubt about that. But perhaps a trifle repetitive. The second premise, for instance talks about fact in the first sentence and truth in the second--but aren't all facts truthful, by virtue of their very factness? Still, it has a nice balance and cadence. The final premise, however, is really just a restatement of the previous sentence with slightly different flavoring.

It seems Pierce himself gets tangled up in the interchangeability of these ideas on Page 161, where he develops his "America as library" metaphor:
Idiot America is a strange, disordered place. Everything is on the wrong shelves. The truth of something is defined by how many people will attest to it, and facts are determined by those people's fervency.
If we go by the wording of the second great premise, the truth and the facts are transposed here. No matter, really, because it reads just as well this way. Which means that the two thoughts contained in the premise are pretty much describing a distinction without a difference. Again, no big crime and the premise as written has a pleasing musicality. I just expected the lyrics of the refrain to be consistent throughout the song.

Monday, January 31, 2011

The End of the "All You Can Byte" Buffet?

Folks in Canadian cyberland are all atwitter (get it?) about the new CRTC regulations that will allow internet providers to charge a premium to large-bandwith internet users. I know I'm supposed to have a strong opinion on this, but the fact is I can't decide whether to fall in with the "equality of access" egalitarians or the "you gets what you pay for" (or "you pays for what you gets") capitalists.

But I do know I have an opinion on this sentence from a CP story on the brouhaha:
An opposition MP will address the rising cost of accessing rich online data like live sportscasts and movies at a town hall meeting...
The problem here is the separation of town hall and politician. As it stands, the sentence seems to suggest that the topic under discussion is the accessing of sportscasts and movies at town hall meetings. "An opposition MP will address at a town hall meeting..." or, even better, "At a town hall meeting, an opposition MP will address..." would clear up the confusion.

It may not seem like a big deal in this example, but sometimes separations like this can result in unintentionally risible effects. Take, for example, this similar sentence from a U.S. news report:

The congressman stayed after the town meeting and discussed the high cost of living with several women.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Pilfered Puck Leads to Possessive Puzzle

According to a brief Vancouver Sun filler piece this morning, Philadelphia Flyer defenceman/big meanie Chris Pronger has put a bee in the bonnet of Chicago Black Hawk fans. He scooped up the puck at the end of Game 2 during last year's Stanley Cup finals and he won't give it back. Why the Game 2 puck means so much to Hawk fans (a local restaurant is offering $50,000 for its safe repatriation to Chi-town) is not explained. In any case, Pronger is unmoved, saying:
"It's tucked away somewhere. It'll wind up on eBay at some point. All proceeds will go to the person who buys its charity."
This is a real noodle-scratcher of a conundrum because I don't think there is a clear right answer for how to render that quotation. If Pronger had said, "All proceeds will go to the charity of the person who buys it" things would be simple. But he didn't, so we have to work with what he did say.

As all people who have uncrossed eyes and eat with utensils know, it's is a contraction and its is the possessive, so at first glance that its would seem to be properly deployed; we're talking about the charity of the person who buys it, so we need a possessive. But I would plead extenuating circumstances and argue that "the person who buys its charity" is confusing, because it sounds like the person is buying the charity of "it" ("it" presumably being the puck) instead of buying the puck.

I would further argue that "the person who buys it" is acting as one semantical unit here, like a name, and so we are justified in treating it like a name and tacking an 's at the end to indicate possessiveness. So that would give us something like "All proceeds will go to the-person-who-buys-it's charity." Better, perhaps, but now there is the chance the it's can be misconstrued as a contraction. Let's try this: "All proceeds will go to 'the person who buys it' 's charity." My god, that's hideous.

No, it seems that in grammar, as in hockey, sometimes there just isn't an elegant play to be made. Sometimes you just have to dump it in off the boards and hope for the best.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Surely You Can't be Serious

An AP headline this headline this morning reads:
Fumes at L.A. plant leave 1 dead, 2 serious
Fumes that can either kill you or turn you into Sean Penn? Weird.

Monday, January 17, 2011

"Bad news, Mrs. Lincoln. There is a new complication."

I extracted a salmon-colored special bulletin from Abby's backpack today, warning us that there may be a case of pertussis, or whooping cough, at the school. In it, we are rather alarmingly advised that:
Petrussis can cause complications such as pneumonia, convulsions, brain damage or even death.
Now I'm no doctor, but somehow I imagine that when you are dead your condition ceases to be complicated.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Let Me Just Say This About That

Is there anything more inane and banal than the chatter of TV newspuppets desperately trying to fill time during wall-to-wall coverage of a breaking story? (Favorite line from CNN yesterday: "It's usually a pretty a bad thing to get shot in the head, is it not?")

Yes, there is: the inevitable released "statements" of politicians who want to remind us that they are strongly opposed to bad things and that they are not afraid to tell us in the gassiest verbiage possible. Let's parse this example, from Senator Diane Feinsten, although you could do this with just about any of the statements that were being dispensed yesterday in the aftermath of the massacre in Arizona--they're all pretty much interchangeable:
My heart sank when I heard the news of the tragedy in Tucson [at least she didn't say she was "shocked and saddened]. My thoughts and prayers are with Representative Giffords and her family, the family of Judge Roll and all the other victims and their loved ones. ["Thoughts and prayers" always come as package in these statements--they are the very currency of concern.] Representative Giffords is a beacon of courage and hope [Hope is often exemplified in beacons. And you seldom see a "beacon of disappointment] in our nation right now. She bravely pursued her duties as a member of Congress, despite having been the target of vitriolic political rhetoric in the past. [Who in your game hasn't been? And the phrase "vitriolic political rhetoric" manages to be both noxiously trendy and tediously shopworn.]
This senseless violence [as opposed to the sensible kind] has no place in a free society [thanks for telling us]. She and the other victims were engaged in the very essence of democracy, an elected representative meeting face-to-face with her constituents.
I have seen firsthand the effects of assassination ["let's talk about me"], and there is no place for this kind of violence in our political discourse [Once again, if you're wondering if there is a place for "this kind" of violence, the answer is no]. It must be universally condemned [condemnation is perhaps the strongest word a politician can use and it's usually only deployed against killers and countries we're about to go to war against]. We do not yet know the gunman’s motivations, but I am convinced that we must reject extremism and violent rhetoric. 
That last sentence is downright confusing, because it could be taken to mean that we must reject extremism and violent rhetoric as the gunman's motivations. Which is pretty much the opposite of what she means, I'm sure.

What the heck, let's look at a few more.  I've italicized the high notes. Feel free to sing along.

From President Obama:
We do not yet have all the answers. What we do know is that such a senseless and terrible act of violence has no place in a free society. I ask all Americans to join me and Michelle in keeping Representative Giffords, the victims of this tragedy, and their families in our prayers.
From Speaker Boehner:
The thoughts and prayers of the House and the nation are with Congressman Giffords and her family.  We're also praying for the families of Judge Roll, and all of those who were taken from us yesterday so senselessly. An attack on one who serves is an attack on all who serves...Such acts of violence have no place in our society

From Rep. Edward Markey of Massachusetts:
Today’s news of the shooting of my colleague Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, members of her staff and her constituents is shocking and horrifying, and my deepest condolences go out to the families of those who lost their lives today in such a senseless and tragic event...Gabby was doing today what she loved best and what all of us in Congress consider a great responsibility and a true honor - to meet with and listen to our constituents. My thoughts and prayers are with her and her family, and with all of those wounded today in the hopes for a full and speedy recovery.
And what about John McCain?
U.S. Senator John McCain issued a statement condemning the shooting attack of Arizona U.S. Rep. Gabriella Giffords, Judge John Roll and several others.
“I’m deeply saddened and shocked [he's confused--he means "shocked and saddened] at the tragedy that has taken place in my home state of Arizona. The shooting of Congresswoman Giffords and the deaths of other individuals is a terrible tragedy and one that has shocked me and our nation,’ Mr. McCain said in a statement...
The Arizona Republican also noted that he is “deeply saddened” to hear of Mr. Roll’s death. The Arizona Republican termed the incident a "senseless act of violence."
Mr. McCain noted that his thoughts and his prayers are with the Giffords and Roll family. 
 Of course he did. We expect nothing less.