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.

Thursday, January 06, 2011


The arts and culture blog Jewcy has posted its list of the ten best podcasts of 2010. The only reason I know this (I admit I've never heard of Jewcy before) is because the Slate Culture Gabfest linked to the list on their Facebook page. I really enjoy the Gabfest--it's my favorite listening while making curry chicken casserole--so I checked out the link, and at the top of the list...well, what a coincidence:

1. Slate Culture Gabfest
Three articulate and seasoned writers from Slate’s roster discuss news stories, TV/films, and books with enough wit to keep it entertaining, while holding back enough on the pretension just enough to keep it palatable.  At the end of every episode, each host, “endorses” a cultural artifact about which they are enthusiastic, be it a book about a TV series, article, or perhaps, an apple pie.  Whether or not you read Slate, The Gabfest hosts make for great company during your walk to work and Dana Steven’s tastes in film and TV tend to be right on the money.  The Slate Culture Gabfest is the perfect podcast for the modern discerning culture-phile.
Always nice to have one's tastes validated by an arbitrary list. The problem here is that the name of Slate's astute and insightful film critic, the one with the winsome podcast charm, is Dana Stevens. And that means the possessive should be Dana Stevens' or Dana Stevens's, depending on which faction of the language police nerdocracy you wish to annoy.

Another apostrophe violation occurs in the blurb for the third entry on the list:
The New Yorker Fiction Podcast gives contemporary fiction writers the opportunity to read some of their favorite short stories that have been published in The New Yorker and then discuss them with the magazines fiction editor.
 I'm sure said editor, Deborah Treisman, would recoil at the missing apostrophe in "magazines." She is, after all, a valuable possession of The New Yorker.

And while we're on the subject of possessives, let's not forget how to apostrophize a plural possessive, as demonstrated by this tweet today from the reliably goofy Andy Borowitz:
"Twilight" sweeps Virgins' Choice Awards

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Go Ahead, You Deserve It

I can't say I love the Groupon editorial "voice" (the development and nurturing of which was recently explored in this Atlantic article)--it's a little too self-satisfied and cheeky, even for my sensibilities. But I do like the offers, like the 50% off coupon for one of my favorite local pubs that I greedily seized as soon as it popped into my inbox, or this one for ice-skating sessions at a nearby rink.
Ice is nothing more than water that won't let people swim in it. Such stubbornness deserves comeuppance in the form of sharp metallic blades that merrily crisscross to and fro across the frozen surface. Give ice its just desserts with today's Groupon: for $25, you get a punch-card good for five skate and helmet rentals, five public skate passes, and $10 worth of grill fare (a $65 total value) at Canlan Ice Sports...
I find this miscue interesting*. All careful writers learn to be vigilant about the distinction in spelling between dessert (the after-dinner treat) and desert (the sand-and-camels landscape). But there's another trap here, and the writer of this blurb has become ensnared in it. The term is, in fact, just deserts. In this usage, the word desert is pronounced the same as dessert, but it has nothing to do with toothsome confections. Rather, it derives from Latin (Dessert comes from the French) and it means, appropriately enough, "something that is deserved or merited."

Which means, I suppose, that if you have been exceptionally good, eating just dessert could be your just desert.

*Your results may vary.