Please ignore tyops

I love Ian Frazier.

I don’t mean that way. It’s not like we plan to be married in the spring.

But I have adored his writing ever since it began appearing in the pages of the New Yorker.

And his essay last week about typos made me yelp with joy.

So I’m sharing it with you here, today. It will take you maybe 2 minutes to read, and I predict they’ll be the funnest 2 minutes of your day.

Timing is everything

  • “Almost 24 hours to the moment when President Donald Trump was impeached by the House…”

When was this again?

  • 24 hours before impeachment?
  • 24 hours after impeachment?

Someone at CNN.com doesn’t seem to understand the concept of the word when.

It’s a question.

When doesn’t tell you whether it’s before or after. It asks whether it’s before or after.

Next, we’ll review who, what, where, why, and how … because obviously, you were out sick that day in middle school.


(Not snarky enough for ya? Follow Outsidah.com.)

Does a bear squander in the woods?

  • “The Bears had their chances to win Sunday’s game but squandered them away.”

You can squander your chances.
Or you can throw away your chances.

But if you squander away your chances, you’re in a league of your own. Like, beyond English.

(This sportswriter might have confused two common English-language words: squandered and pissed. I make this mistake all the time.)

And the winner of the White Glove Award is…

  • Paula, who suffers from severe medical issues, quickly noticed how clean the clinic is. She is not alone. About 84% of homeless adults in the region report having medical issues.

For a moment there, I thought practically everybody noticed how clean the clinic is.

And I was like, Awesome janitors!

Loose lips

November 30th
1:30pm
1126 Hill Circle-Kissing Camels Estates

What exactly is circle-kissing?

Whatever it is, camels do it. Imagine what that looks like.

And they named some estates after those circle-kissing camels!

(The short HYPHEN attaches one word to another, like this: Circle-kissing is not recommended, except for camels, and only when they’re really, really committed to each other. The long DASH separates one word or phrase from another, like this: Camels — in spite of wanting to — don’t kiss.)


For another variety of grins, visit Outsidah.com

Obviously Photoshopped

  • “Boeing’s Starliner space vehicle is seen on a launchpad at Cape Canaveral, Fla., the day before its uncrewed mission in December to reach the International Space Station. It did not arrive.”

If it’s seen, but it didn’t arrive, this is fake news.

(Thanks to a faithful ComplicatedEnglish.com reader whose birthday is today! Happy birthday, DGB!)


(Going on a little vacation. Back soon! Visit Outsidah.com in the meantime.)

Potato War!

Writer/editor Sarah C. Jones confesses that she had to read this a few times before she realized the headline was missing a word.

Fortunately she figured it out before she hurled that spud at her unsuspecting husband.

Put the tuber down, ma’am, and nobody gets hurt.


Happy Valentine’s Day, America! For a dose of real love, check out NewThing.net

And in conclusion…

  • “…should the Palestinians decide to engage after having refused to talk for more than two years.”

The opposition was unreasonable, demanding that they talk for more than two years.

Who could possibly have the energy to engage after talking for more than two years?

Ninety minutes, tops; that’s what I say. I talked for 90 minutes once. It can be done.

Of course, right afterward, that church fired me.

And "www" takes longer to say than "World Wide Web"

English is not only a complicated language.

It’s also irrational.

As my personal trainer, the brilliant Jen T., has astutely observed:

  • It’s quicker to say quicker than to say more quickly.

This is particularly important when someone is screaming at you to pick up the pace of your reps.

Dept. of Redundancy Dept., revisited again

  • Also, the 49ers could potentially set the record for…

Let’s stop right here.

Could means will potentially.

So you never need both could and potentially.

  • The 49ers could set the record for…
  • The 49ers have the potential to set the record for…
  • The 49ers potentially… Aw, nuts to this. They lost. Good riddance.

Best little warehouse in Texas

  • bridalandpromwharehouse

Please, please make sure your Instagram handle isn’t misspelled.

You can have a warehouse — or you can have a whorehouse — but you can’t have a wharehouse.

And you absolutely can’t have a worehouse.


Instagram! This reminds me: Follow my humanitarian charity on Instagram: It’s NewThingNet

You're really good (except for that mistake)

  • Organizers said space is limited and advanced reservations are strongly recommended. 

An “advance reservation” is a reservation you make beforehand. (Which is redundant, since the definition of a reservation is something that’s arranged in advance. But whatever.)

But if something is advanced, it’s exceptional. My kid is doing great in Advanced Statistics.

So what would an “advanced reservation” be? A reservation that’s doing really well in school? Nah. Maybe just a really intelligent way of booking a table for dinner….

  • Welcome, Mr. Brendel. That was an ultra-sophisticated reservation you placed with us — we loved the part about
F(n) = \frac{(\varphi)^n - (-\frac{1}{\varphi})^n}{\sqrt{5}}

Grammarist.com sorts this out really well. Check it out.


Follow the fun at Outsidah.com and you’ll soon get an invitation to my book launch party. No reservations, advance OR advanced, required.

Don't do as I do, do as I wanted to say

  • “Giuliani said wanted US ambassador to Ukraine ‘out of the way'”

Headline writers, striving for brevity, can only eliminate so many words before their meaning becomes unfathomable.

Consider all the ways this headline could be interpreted:

  • Giuliani said he wanted the US ambassador to Ukraine ‘out of the way’
  • Giuliani said that the wanted US ambassador to Ukraine is now ‘out of the way’
  • Giuliani is said to have wanted the US ambassador to Ukraine ‘out of the way’

Or make up your own interpretation. Like Rudy does.


Follow our humanitarian work in the former USSR on Instagram @NewThingNet!

Commatose

You don’t write President, Donald Trump.
You write President Donald Trump.
Title followed by name. It’s a natural progression. It’s how we normally talk. No comma needed.

You don’t write Donald Trump President.
You write Donald Trump, President.
Name, title. Not the way we normally talk. Comma needed.

If you’re going to make this mistake, at least keep the font small, so people don’t notice.
DON’T SET IT UP IN 480-POINT TYPE, WITH MISPLACED COMMAS AS BIG AS BELUGAS.

Let the sign say:

Renowned Architect
Guy Lowell
designer of
The Community House

And a fine Community House it is. Except for the damn commas.


Way more important than commas … and often just as much fun! … Follow NewThing.net.

It's a girl(s)

  • “Brian leaves behind his wife Valerie and three daughters: Nadine, Breanna, and Kayla – born in June.”

He may have died of shock when the June childbirth turned out to be triplets.

  • “Brian leaves behind his wife Valerie and three daughters: Nadine, Breanna — and Kayla, born in June.”

Gentlemen, be careful where you stick your dash. Triplets happen.

Can the ball be touched by the receiving team?

  • “The Niners are going to have their hands fun [with the Kansas City offense]….”

Okay, I know what it is to have fun when dealing with someone.

And I know what it is to have my hands full when dealing with someone.

But I’m not sure what it is to “have my hands fun” when dealing with someone.

We might want to watch really, really carefully during the big game today, just to see who’s having “hands fun.”

(In particular, keep an eye out for “quarterback under center.” I think this may be an ideal opportunity for hands fun.)

The Eurohyphean Union, busted

  • “After three-and-a-half years, Brexit will finally happen today”

Britain took three and a half years, plus bloomin’ CNN.com gave them three bloody bonus hyphens — to use at a later date, wot?

Warning: Wrongly hyphenated terms will now be inspected at the border. Ten shillings per hyphen. Hyphenate at your own risk.

For you, dear, anything

  • A couple, preparing to host a dinner party.
  • Husband: “Darling, is there anything I can do besides bring in firewood?”
  • Wife: “What, you’ll do anything other than that? You swine! Leaving all the heavy work to me!”

I love the trick words in our language. 

Besides  can mean other than  OR in addition to  — which are opposites-ish, right?

No wonder learning English is such a pain for people from other language groups.

Tomorrow I’ll head to Belarus for 10 days or so of humanitarian volunteer work with NewThing.net, where I’ll make my Russian-speaking friends a little bit crazy, because as you know, English is a complicated language.

Join the adventure by choosing one or more of these channels today:

Next time I talk to you, Я буду в Минске!

Giants can’t hide

  • Regarding Matt Rhule: “…the Giants job would have a particular cache with him.”

Well, a cache (pronounced the same as cash) is a hiding place, or a storage area on a computer system…

…while cachet (usually pronounced cash-AY) refers to superior status (among other meanings — none of which have anything to do with a cache).

Rhule didn’t end up taking the Giants job, by the way.

Maybe they didn’t offer him enough cache.

You have the right to remain absent…

  • “Schakowsky indicated interest in replacing Barack Obama in the United States Senate. Before his arrest, Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich had reportedly been considering Schakowsky….”

I didn’t know Obama had ever been arrested. Somebody finally got their wish, I guess.

Oh wait, maybe it was Schakowsky who got arrested.

Oh wait, maybe it was Blagojevich?

Somebody check the prison cell, please, and let us know who’s actually in there.

(In the meantime, avoid those mysterious possessive pronouns. Every time you see his in your first draft, place it under arrest, replace it with whose, and re-read. You’ll probably find that you want to change whose to somebody’s name.)

Love you more

  • The two first met when Wally was 21 and Connie was 15, but he was not interested in her so much as her friend Amanda. 

Intriguing.

Wally kind of liked Amanda?

Or Amanda kind of liked Connie?

Be careful with the phrase so much as. It can get you into bed with the wrong person.

  • (Put as before interested and don’t stint on your verbs between there and the end of the sentence, and you can get this threesome back to a place of domestic tranquility.)

And the winner is…

  • The nationwide campaign was wonderful. We had students around the cities that had been chosen, and they were ecstatic.

Great campaign. But remind me, please … Which cities did you choose for it?

Huh? Oh, no, sorry, I didn’t mean we chose the cities. We chose the students. And they were ecstatic!

Good. And I’m overjoyed by the clarity of your writing.

  • If you had slavishly obeyed the Brendel rule which requires you to global-search your first draft for any form of have (has, had) and any form of that (which), you would have choked on your two hads and your clumsy that, and perhaps accidentally realized that your sentence was awkward and your meaning unclear.

Rewrite, please, and let me see this again.

Get the lead out

  • The bank lead the field of donors, followed by shareholders.  

It’s so complicated.

It’s not just about what you see on the page or screen, but also what you hear in your head.

  • Whenever you hear leed — whether the verb (the president will lead us into glorious battle) or the noun (we are like a dog on a lead, helpless to object) — it’s spelled lead.
  • But whenever you hear led — well, it might be the past tense of lead (he led us into war, and look where that got us), OR it might be that heavy, toxic element they once used to make bullets and paint.

When I mean to write led, the past tense of lead, I think “LEAD” — I hear the toxic element in my head.

(There may be a poem there, I’m not sure. I was ahead; I thought I lead. But it was toxic, left me dead. Nah. Never mind. No poem there.)

Trying Trump

“…McGahn tried Trump to take out the part about the three times….”

This has to be a typo, right? There’s a missing word or phrase?

  • McGahn tried to get Trump to take out the part about the three times.
  • Or McGahn tried to force Trump …

Or tried is just the wrong word, mistakenly used?

  • McGahn urged Trump …
  • Or McGahn advised Trump …

Can’t anybody deal with this man?

You’re not under investigation! Just enjoy it! Life is good! Until the impeachment trial, anyway!

Member, moron — they're practically interchangeable

  • “I have a membership to the Ipswich Y.”

Is this just a cultural/geographical thing?

When I was growing up in the Chicago area, we never said we were members to something.

During that long, hot quarter-century I spent in the Sonoran Desert (that’s you, Scottsdale, AZ), I never once took a membership to something.

But here in New England, these past 10 years or so, it seems to be:

I have a membership to…

It’s like “I have an attraction to…” “I have an attachment to…” But weirder.

Maybe when you sign up for the Ipswich Y, they do something weirdly biological to you?

Oh, wait. I just Googled it. That was me, back in 2013.

Sorry. Never mind.

Put your left foot in, put your left foot out

  • Regarding that campaign, it will be curious to see how much emphasis the coaches will be putting in that effort. 

I will be curious, not it will be curious. Or it will be interesting.

OK, technically you can use “curious” to mean “interesting” or “unusual” (he used a curious term); but who actually says it will be curious to see? I guess sportswriters, mostly.

And this I’m sure of:

  • They’ll put emphasis on that effort, not in.

You can put emphasis on an effort, or put energy into an effort, or demonstrate any number of qualities in an effort; but you can’t put emphasis in an effort.

Not in American English, anyway. (Brits, kindly advise.)

Martini, very dry

  • “In contemplating the project, and pouring over the research, I kept remembering what brought us here.”

Depending on what you pour over your research, you may be at risk of a fire. Or a cocktail. Or both.

On the other hand, you could pore over your research, and avoid the conflagration.

And the hangover.

Which woman kills which woman?

  • “My wife was already angry; then my mother walked in. I feared for her.”

Another reason to love Benjamin Dreyer’s very fun book Dreyer’s English: He is almost as skeptical of pronouns as I am.

(He talks about pronouns in his chapter on fiction, but the pronoun epidemic is way beyond such borders.)

Avoid referring to two people by the same pronoun in the same paragraph.

He, she, him, her, they, their, it … they’re all evil, and need to be expunged.

Get that wife to go after them. Or that mother. Whichever is meaner.

And don’t come back

  • “He … expelled 21 Conservative M.P.s who voted for it from the Party.”

Not the kind of party you’d want to hang around at. Voting? From a party? Really? How about dancing? Drinking, maybe? Was there no hanky-panky? Not even any panky?

Or maybe this New Yorker writer intended to say:

  • “He … expelled from the Party 21 Conservative M.P.s who voted for it.”

To me, it all still sounds politics-wise, party-foolish. Sort of British, actually, if you want to sink to stereotypes.

Am I wrong? Or Wright?

Let us begin the New Year with Frank Lloyd Wright.

Last week I visited his fascinating “Kentuck Knob” house in southwestern Pennsylvania.

The (very good) tour guide, as we entered the residence, pointed out the bronze plaque affixed to the outer wall adjacent to the front door.

The house has received a National Historic distinction,” she said.

Actually, I think she meant that the house has received a National Historic designation.

You receive a designation because you have some kind of distinction.

Right?

Or will I have the distinction of being wrong on the very first day of the year?

An affront to all two of us

  • While many expected either the Cranes, Bergdorfs, or Dormands, it didn’t fall that way. In fact, neither of these families even got an invitation.

Either references two. Neither is about two, too.

If you’re talking about three, you can’t use either or neither.

You can say any. Or you can say none. But you can’t say either or neither.

Maybe these families got shunned for having inferior writers?

Dr. Squid, could you take a look at this gill slime sample, please?

  • When I saw his data with the paddlefish, sturgeon, and ammonite, I think he’s right on the money.

This marine biologist has an awesome career.

He’s not just studying ocean life; he’s got exotic creatures reviewing his findings alongside him!

(Let’s not even bother him by pointing out that he’s switched from the past tense to the present tense in the middle of his sentence, and it’s given us whiplash. Whiplash is nothing when you have a paddlefish doing your data with you.)

Don’t worry, the doctor said, we’ll figure it out

  • Jerry came into our hospital after hearing about us from one of our neglected clubfoot patients, Lonnie. Jerry, like Lonnie, has neglected clubfoot.

Clubfoot is nothing to laugh about. But the medical condition known as “neglected clubfoot” really needs a new name — or at least a hyphen … so at least the hospitals caring for these patients don’t get a reputation for ignoring their patients.

Imagine being a forgotten Alzheimer’s patient. See? Not funny.

If I can gallop there, I can gallop anywhere

  • “In New York City, 250,000 reportedly marched in Battery Park….”

Some observers perhaps characterized it as “sauntering”?

Time magazine might have been better off saying “In New York City, a reported 250,000 marched in Battery Park.” It was the number, not the manner of movement, that wasn’t absolutely confirmed.

Come to think of it, I like the idea of alternative protest styles; 250,000 people somersaulting, for example, would be interesting to see. Or jitterbugging.

Santa Clauses are coming to town

  • “An elderly couple … buried in the snow … was found dead….”

(Please note that I’ve abbreviated this grim story for you, as my Christmas gift to you.)

A couple was found dead? Or were found dead?

You decide.

Yes, really. It’s your choice.

(Another Christmas gift. You’re welcome.)

As long as you maintain a consistent standard throughout the piece you’re writing, you get to make this rule yourself.

Peace on earth, good will toward writers.

It’s hot in here

  • “…Beth Irving, 17, who came from Wales to demonstrate for sweeping changes on climate policy outside the U.N. summit.”

But the problem was climate policy inside the U.N. summit.

Missed opportunity, I say.

Oh, wait. You mean she came from Wales to demonstrate outside the U.N. summit for sweeping changes on climate policy?

Now I get it.

1972, a very good year

  • “…I watched a teen-age bacchanal unfold with fear and fascination.”

I’ve never known teens to unfold a bacchanal with anything like fear and fascination.

Lust and infatuation, maybe, but never fear and fascination. (It was a bacchanal, after all.)

Unless you’re talking about those secret emotions they never reveal till they’re my age and writing their memoirs.

No, I think what this writer meant was:

  • “…I watched with fear and fascination as a teen-age bacchanal unfolded.”

I know the feeling.

And yeah, I remember those other feelings too.

And the Tribune was a nickel!

  • Money used to make us richer is gone in the end, but money used for this cause has an enduring power. Money used to buy possessions — which we often watch depreciate — can instead be used to change lives over the long term.

I used to think things were simple.

“Used to” is a tricky little phrase in American English.

When I read “Money used to make us richer,” I think I’m about to read something clever about how money no longer makes us richer.

But no. The phrase used to can go two ways.

The paragraph in question confuses me not just once but twice. The second sentence starts out Money used to buy possessions — but it’s not talking about something that happened in the good ol’ days. Turns out, it’s talking about Money which is used to buy possessions.

Both sentences are technically correct — but accidentally confusing.

(And yes, money did make us richer in the good ol’ days. Remember penny candy? No? Well, enjoy your youth. I’d kill to be your age.)

There once was a liberal writer…

Do you think I’ve been beating up on The Writer’s Almanac too much lately?

Do you think Garrison Keillor will phone me and complain?

Or write me a limerick, maybe? (I’m LOVING his new limerick-based memoir.)

Well, anyway, this is from TWA 11/10/19:

  • Austin had a 13-year love affair with Mabel Loomis Todd, the wife of an Amherst astronomy professor, a talented and charismatic young woman. 

So Mabel was quite liberal — she was the wife of a young woman.

No problem. Garrison Keillor is a liberal too.

Love ya, Garrison!

Eat up

  • “Edwards, 53, is the only statewide elected Democrat in Louisiana.”

All the other elected Democrats in Louisiana are thinner.

To be statewide is to be really wide.

(And you thought Mississippi was our fattest state.)

Oh, wait, they meant Edwards is the only statewide-elected Democrat.

Okay, now it begins to make sense.

See what a handy little tool the properly used hyphen is?

(And see how invisible the hyphen becomes after the adverb properly?)

Spawk? From Stah Trek? Good enough fah me

English is not just complicated when you write it down and/or read it.

It’s also complicated when you speak it and/or listen to it.

And in Boston, even maw so.

If you come visit me, ya prolly gonna need dis infamaysh’n.

(Happy Friday the thuh-teenth.)

I’m not old, just crazy

  • “Agronin, described perhaps confusingly as ‘a geriatric psychiatrist’ (he’s in his mid-fifties)…”

Thank you, New Yorker, for pointing this out.

Yeah, a geriatric psychiatrist would be an elderly medical professional.

I think those folks you’re quoting needed to come up with a different description:

  • a geriatric-specializing psychiatrist?
  • a psychiatrist of geriatrics?
  • a senior-serving shrink?

English is a complicated language. And the older you get, the complicateder.

What more can you say?

From the November 16, 2019 edition of The Writer’s Almanac:

  • There are 25 Native American languages that are spoken in Oklahoma, which is more than any other state in America.

English, meanwhile, can be challenging to deploy efficiently.

Anytime you start a sentence with There are, you’ve probably already wasted two words.

And anytime you find that are embedded in a sentence, you’ve probably wasted another word, maybe two.

Then look for which is.

There and that and which are technically English-language words, but they are largely comprised of shredded cardboard. They are filler. Avoid them.

  • 25 Native American languages are spoken in Oklahoma, more than any other state.

Nuff said. In English, anyway.

Thou shalt not

Maybe this is what comes from growing up in Sunday school and learning all those “Thou shalt nots” and “Fear nots”…

But when I see “Love not,” I automatically assume that whatever follows is what I’m not supposed to love.

In this case, “Not Your Average Joe’s” is the name of the restaurant (and a very fine restaurant it is, if you ask me).

But their sign-up handout headline is a problem for me.

I guess it’s not your average restaurant name.

Quotation marks around “Not Your Average Joe’s” might help, eh?

I’d like to deposit $3,000,000 to your account

Honestly, please: If you’re going to scam me, at least use proper English.

Dear doug, (No, sorry, in English we capitalize people’s names)

Your email address might be temporarily closed due to the non recent (you need a hyphen between non and recent) upgrade of your account and failure to upgrade your email will lead to permanent closure of your email. (Sorry, this isn’t how we refer to email programs, but whatever.)

Please kindly  UPGRADE HERE your records (I think you mean upgrade your records here, because the person you’re trying to scam speaks American English)

Once the information provided matches what is on our record, your (oops, you’ve got a phantom hard return there, after your and before email)

email will work normal. (normally — adverb)

Sincerely, Godaddy (oh yeah, you should probably configure correctly the name of the company you’re posing as: it’s GoDaddy, with a capital D in the middle there) Service Team. (Eh, here in America, we don’t put a period at the end of the sign-off)

I could help these people. I could become a language consultant to online scammers. I bet I could make a reasonable living at it. Sheesh.

I cannot tell a…

  • “…Trump’s anticipation of the release of stolen Democratic emails in 2016 by WikiLeaks.”

For a second there, I thought WikiLeaks wrote the stolen Democratic emails.

Which would be a pretty weird new storyline, wouldn’t it.

(Honestly, there are so many prepositional phrases in this sentence — (1) on Friday, (2) of lying (3) to Congress (4) in a case, (5) on President Donald Trump’s anticipation, (6) of the release, (7) of stolen Democratic emails, (8) in 2016, (9) by WikiLeaks … I almost suspect that some CNN writer is getting a per-prepositional-phrase commission. Would that be legal?)

  • “…Trump’s anticipation of the release of Democratic emails stolen in 2016 by WikiLeaks.”

There. All better now.

One of my only complaints

Is it just me?

Or is this just wrong?

Dictionary.com tells me that only means “without others or anything further; alone; solely; exclusively.”

So how can you be one of the only?

  • I think he took one of the few jobs he could find; he was one of the few honest employees.

Maybe I’m one of the only people who doesn’t have a government job?

Dakota double entendre … Touché!

From faithful ComplicatedEnglish.com follower Lauren O., a report about the South Dakota publicity campaign which either accidentally or tongue-in-cheekily suggests … uh … well, you decide for yourself:

(Lauren O.’s sister-in-law is from South Dakota, so Lauren’s family is having quite the laugh about this one.)

OK, so, if you follow the link and watch the governor’s video, you get it. Good cause. Lots of buzz. Mission accomplished.

You’re fired

  • I am trying to ensure as many current employees stay on.

Watch your as.

After as many, you need an as possible to go with it, somewhere there.

I know it can be a long journey, from the beginning of a sentence all the way to the end — easy to lose track of where you’ve been, what you’ve said, where you’re going, what-all you need to pack….

  • I am trying to ensure as many current employees as possible stay on.

This isn’t an editorial business you’re talking about, is it? Because it might be better to cut your losses.

Show me the money

  • His entire contract is essentially a $17 million deal that has the potential to raise up to $24 million. 

I’m confused. Is this a contract that somehow pays the guy $17 million but then could raise as much as $24 million from other sources? Is this a fundraising thing?

Sure, if you have the potential to raise $24 million, then yeah, I’d be inclined to pay you $17 million. If I had $17 million to spend. Which I don’t.

Of course, if you’ve simply misused the term “raise up,” and what you really meant was that the contract has the potential to increase the guy’s pay to $24 million, then heck no. All bets are off.

Detour ahead

You know how some articles are broken up with subheads? It’s not very often that writers write the subheads as they’re crafting the text. Typically, subheads are added later — and maybe not even by the writer. Sometimes it’s an editor who adds the subheads.

In any case, the subheads need to make sense in the flow of the text. Because that’s how the reader is going to consume them.

So don’t stick a subhead into the middle of a thought. For example:

…Less than $30,000 was reportedly used for MBTA tickets over that same time period.

Employers have to strongly incentivize
transit over driving to change habits

However, the report suggests the private sector could be doing more, too. Experts in transportation and psychology said that commuters need to be given strong incentives to change their habits….

When you get to “However,” it seems the subsequent paragraph is contradicting the subhead. Then, by the end of the sentence, you realize, no: The subhead has jerked you around. Your brain has to pull the steering wheel to get back onto the road.

If a sentence starts with However, But, On the contrary, or any change-of-direction indicator, you probably shouldn’t put a subhead before it. Relocate the subhead after the change-of-direction indicator:

…Less than $30,000 was reportedly used for MBTA tickets over that same time period.

However, the report suggests the private sector could be doing more, too.

Employers have to strongly incentivize
transit over driving to change habits

Experts in transportation and psychology said that commuters need to be given strong incentives to change their habits….

Do not jerk your readers around. Do not force their brains to grab the wheel. In such a moment, a driver is apt to curse, and worse.

Time’s up, Joe

Save your breath. Keep extra words tucked away for use later. After means when it’s over, so you don’t need is over. Saying after it’s over is sort of like saying when it’s over is over.

In Biden’s case, who knows? Perhaps when it’s over actually IS over. We’ll see.

Not eggsactly

From a missionary’s biography:

  • When the family returned home, Tina decided she preferred life in the West. Laying in bed one night as a teenager, she vowed never to return to a life overseas.

One hopes she was actually lying in bed, and not doing what chickens do when they’re laying.

Or — ahem — anything else that might be inappropriate for a teenager.

Gimme a hand here, will ya?

  • “Trump had initially been resistant to the suggestion that he hire additional attorneys, believing he was well positioned to combat Democrats as they advanced their impeachment probe without outside help.”

Some would say the Democrats actually had plenty of outside help. Like from Trump himself, for example.

But we don’t get into politics here.

Click here for spellcheck. Or don’t

  • “…or it’s just not completly setup yet.”

I don’t think I’ll be going with this website company, but I haven’t ruled it out completely — even though they don’t seem to know how to spell completely.

Nor do they seem to understand that setup is a noun.

But otherwise, I’m sure they’re a fine company.

Just, you know … if you use them to build your website … check their spelling before you go live.

_______________

For a website where (I think) everything is spelled right, take a look at NewThing.net, my humanitarian charity. Click on BLOG and then follow our adventures in the former USSR!

And Bingo is whose name-O?

Sorry to deepen your crisis of self-doubt, buddy, but it’s eight-year-old, not eight year old. You need the hyphens if you use it as a noun.

Don’t give up on yourself, my friend. There is hope for you. Hyphens can be learned.

Pronouns, maybe not. But hyphens, probably.

Practice makes, uh…

  • “The men who wrote and ratified the Constitution had left women, sex, marriage out of it. ‘Remember the ladies,’ Abigail Adams had warned her husband in 1776…. That the framers of the Constitution had not resolved the question of slavery had led to a civil war…. Women had often written themselves into the Constitution by way of analogy.”

I revere history writer Jill Lepore, but she loves the past perfect tense and nobody has the nerve to stop her.

The past perfect routinely gums up her otherwise crisp writing.

I humbly suggest that in this paragraph, you can change most or all of the past perfect to simple past tense and the reader will glide through the text more easily:

  • “The men who wrote and ratified the Constitution left women, sex, marriage out of it. ‘Remember the ladies,’ Abigail Adams warned her husband in 1776…. That the framers of the Constitution didn’t resolve the question of slavery led to a civil war…. Women often wrote themselves into the Constitution by way of analogy.”

Simple, straightforward, not perfect.

Why do they call it perfect, anyway? It’s the one and only thing that makes Jill im.

In a paragraph far, far away…

  • “When I graduated from college, like most folks, I was trying to figure out what the hell to do with my life.”

I wasn’t aware that the number of college graduates had surged so dramatically. Just a few years ago, the figure was under 7%.

Carrie Fisher’s daughter, who wrote this piece about her mother for Time, must have access to more recent information.

Or maybe it’s just that a rogue comma escaped the Death Star and tried to hide out there in her prose, between like most folks and I was trying.

Send in Skywalker and some starfighters to get that rogue comma out of there, and billions of non-graduates will breathe a sigh of relief to know that they’re still a huge majority in the universe.

Makes me sic

A car plows into the front of a house. John Muldoon, newspaperman extraordinaire, is on the scene. He files his report, complete with verbatim testimony:

Since cohesive means unified, we can assume the guy wasn’t broken into pieces by the crash.

Thank goodness there was a witness on the scene to report the details accurately. If only he could have spoken proper English. You know what I mean: coherent English.

OK, yes, sorry, I know: That was insensitive of me. A man has been taken to the hospital. I should show some respect.

[bowing my head]

(To his credit, John Muldoon inserted a [sic] after cohesive in his report. When you’re sic, you go to the hospital, right?)

Walmart Miracle!

  • “…noting that Walmart still brings in more revenue than it does.”

Well, Walmart does bring in a lot of revenue, but I’m not quite sure how it can possibly bring in “more revenue than it does.”

I may bring in more revenue than I deserve, but that’s different. (Because I’m not Walmart.)

Dear friend, kindly take notice. It would have been so easy for the writer to specify:

“…noting that Walmart still brings in more revenue than Amazon does.”

But in our buy-it-online culture today, you can get a cheap pronoun delivered to your keyboard in a third as many strokes.

Which is how our language dies.

[Hanging head, mourning.]

And to be safe, let’s schedule you for a semi-colonoscopy

From the delightful Lauren O. in northeastern Ohio, who seems to while away the hours, as she stands in traffic on her daily work commute, by reading everything on the vehicles ahead of her:

  • Brick Block & Chimney Repair’s

Yeah.

Am I really gonna trust you with my chimney if you can’t fix your own punctuation?

Pull that punctuation into port

As recently as November 5th, we addressed this issue. Yet here is some poster designer, whose work is on display in the Community House in Hamilton, Mass., who not only defies me, but does so in 428-point Bodoni bold.

You are either renowned architect Guy Lowell OR you are Guy Lowell, renowned architect.

You are either President Donald Trump OR you are Donald Trump, ex-president.

(You only get to use those commas if you’re towing the title behind you, like a stranded boat — I guess because in that case you need the commas to serve as hooks.)

R.I.P., death and taxes

A New Yorker article about Amazon includes this statement:

So Amazon does or doesn’t avoid taxes?

So many negative concepts in this one sentence — unlike, doesn’t, avoiding — even the New Yorker‘s traditional scattering of commas like birdseed doesn’t seem to sort out the meaning for us.

Just guessing here: Yeah, Amazon avoids taxes.

But maybe not by transfering profits to foreign countries.

Just a bunch of other ways.

Just guessing here.

This lawsuit free of charge

If called to testify in court, please do not confess that you saw this image here. Thank you.

I think it may be illegal for me to show you the delightful Seth Fleishman cartoon in the 10/21 issue of The New Yorker, so I’ll just describe it to you.

A guy is sitting at a table in a restaurant. The bread in the basket is speaking to him:

“You are so smart.”
“You look amazing.”
“You inspire me.”

And the caption under the cartoon says…

COMPLIMENTARY BREAD

I love it. The cartoonist used complimentary correctly!

(Did you mean free? Or flattering? Both complimentary.
Forming part of a related pair? That’s complementary.)

(How would the cartoon have to be drawn differently if the caption read COMPLEMENTARY BREAD? Hmm….)

Push your luck with a new bank

I heard about a group called the Chainsmokers, and their supposedly cool song entitled “Push My Luck,” and I looked them up on YouTube, and in the middle of the “read the lyrics” video, I got this ad from Avidia Bank, which proclaims:

  • We have an unlimted amount of checking and savings accounts.

Would you trust a bank that can’t spell?

If they miss the letter i in unlimited, might they miss the numeral 1 in your $1,794.68 deposit?

And even if you would trust a bank that can’t spell unlimited, would you trust a bank that uses amount where it’s supposed to be number?

Maybe this is just somebody posing as “Avidia Bank” and playing a little joke on the Complicated English guy.

Oh, no, wait. I looked them up. They seem to be real. Sheesh.

Anyway, I’m sticking with Institution for Savings. They’re awesome.

_______________

For issues of real-life significance, check out Doug’s humanitarian work in the former USSR. Thanks!

No more football. Please.

  • The All-Pro has yet to officially make a decision about his NFL future, which would only put greater emphasis on the Patriots to go out and get a reliable pass catching option if they lose him as well. 

Emphasis.
Pressure.

Not the same thing.

  • You can put emphasis on a need … like the need to get a new wide receiver.
  • You can put pressure on the team … to get a new wide receiver.

And, come to think of it, you can put guilt on a sportswriter … for not knowing the difference.

(But then, to tell you the truth, this early 2019 pre-season item is so stale, the Patriots have already blown this moment. So, what can I say? Go, 49ers?)

  • (OK, honestly, I swear every day I won’t use any more football examples. But sportswriters just offer up so much delicious material! SORRY!)

When it does that thing, it pours

Can we settle this once and for all, please?

  • Rein is what you put on a horse, so you’re reining someone in.
  • Reign is what a king does, so he’s the reigning monarch.
  • Rain is that wet stuff that falls from the sky, so it’s raining cats and dogs.
  • And yes, Claude Rains was awesome in Casablanca.

And only God can make a tree

  • “Similarities were made by the press between the career and personalities of Callas and Dunaway as both were seen as perfectionists whose run-ins with directors had them castigated as prima donnas.”

Yes, here in America, we believe in the power of the press.

But even the press can’t create similarities between great stars.

The similarities were noted by the press, perhaps, or suggested by the press, maybe even fabricated by the press, but not made by the press.

(Please understand: The press can indeed make certain things. Like a mess, for example. Or a mistake. Like here.)

Fun With I and E

It’s a headline on the WPBeginner.com site:

  • Recieve Email Notifications for Comments

In the old days, we learned this as kids: “I before E, except after C…”

I guess they’re not teaching this anymore?

WPBeginner, by the way, stands for WordPress Beginner. So maybe they’re only hiring Spelling Beginners?

See Dick spell.
Spell, Dick, spell.
Spell well, Dick.
Spell, spell, spell.
Good, Dick.

The governor creeps me out a little

This is from Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s statement to CNN:

He makes a frequently observed error which does not confuse the meaning but simply leaves the reader with that creepy what’s wrong here? feeling.

In English, our brains are trained to ask certain questions as we’re reading along:

  • Actions have (what?)
  • and actions continue to (what?)

We want to see that actions have included and that actions continue to include.

But Gov. Inslee has given us only one verb (include) of the two we need (have included and continue to include).

What the honorable governor intended to say was:

  • Actions have included and continue to include habitat protection, etc.

This, clearly, is why his otherwise honorable presidential campaign went nowhere. It was the verbs that did him in.

May he have and continue to succeed. No, wait, that’s wrong….

Everyone is sick

The next time you receive an invitation to a party with a thoughtful request like this…

  • If anyone has any allergies or dietary restrictions, let us know here! We’ll be sure to have options for all. 

I suggest you respond like this:

  • Thank you so much for asking. Yes, anyone does. According to the World Health Organization, approximately 235 million have allergies. Here in the United States, there are only 114 people left who don’t claim some sort of dietary restriction. I’m especially grateful for your offer of “options for all”: I require goat brain reduction on celery sticks. Please trim the leaves because they give me a faux-gluten headache thanks to my recently diagnosed Osborne’s Prazniosciosis syndrome. (Fortunately they caught it in time.) Thank you again! Looking forward to the party!

Phil did not pay me for this, I promise

  • Ipswich resident, Phil Thompson, portrays Judge William Stoughton….

This local newspaper has commas to burn.

If the designation comes before the name, there’s no need for commas:

  • Ipswich resident Phil Thompson portrays…

If the designation comes after the name, use the commas:

  • Phil Thompson, Ipswich resident, portrays…

Of course, once you set off a descriptor, it’s tempting to make the most of it:

  • Phil Thompson, the brilliant stage actor and longtime Ipswich resident enormously beloved by grateful North Shore audiences, portrays…

Commas have their advantages, see? Just don’t waste them.

Congratulations, boys!

I like The Skimm — in fact, I subscribe — but I’m disappointed when they don’t observe the basics of English language usage:

  • What do schools have to say? They’re worried about less resources and opportunities for their athletes, and how this could negatively affect female athletes.

We’ve been over this before, so it’s clear that The Skimm isn’t following this blog and taking notes scrupulously.

  • Less is for things you can’t count.
  • Fewer is for things you can count.
  • 12 resources, 14 opportunities — fewer.
  • 1,124 resources, 7,927,433 opportunities — male athletes.

Right! Many didn’t take part in the drills! It woulda killed ’em!

  • Despite not taking part in individual drills at the combine, many saw Murray’s draft stock improve….

I have to chuckle.

How many NFL scouts took part in drills at the combine?

Uh, none.

Some took part in drills at the bar. That’s about as close as they came.

If you start a sentence and find yourself coming to a comma, make sure that what comes after the comma is properly connected to what came before the comma.

Okay, play ball.

May I suggest a Monterotondo Malvasia Sasso Grosso 1947?

This makes my friend (Lauren O., in northeastern Ohio) crazy, and me too.

  • FRUIT: $1.00 or complementary w/lunch sandwich

Let’s just sort this out here and now, once and for all:

  • complimentary — free, gratis (or even admiring! — you receive a complimentary note from a fan)
  • complementary — balancing, making whole, interdependent. (If you’re enjoying an Italian meal, red wine is complementary. In fact, it’s complementary even if you’re not enjoying the meal. Because red wine is more or less… eh, never mind.)

(Yes, you may now send an admiring note from a fan.)

Just what do you mean?

A local online headline (thank you, Stoney):

”Ipswich schools just one of 25 national Green Ribbon winners“

Stoney’s insightful observation:

  • “I would think that being one of just 25 would be more prestigious.”

Word order is important.

  • ”Ipswich schools one of just 25 national Green Ribbon winners“

Impressive!

Where you put your just changes its meaning.

  • “I just kissed her.” As opposed to what? Or do you mean just now?
  • “I kissed just her.” As opposed to whom? Who else is accusing you?

(The word just is so deadly in English, it deserves a blog of its own.)

Spooky

Just for Halloween — an unsettling item from Ohio-based Friend-of-Complicated-English Amy B.:

Amy B.’s rewrite:

  • “Body of missing Medina fisherman found in Lake Erie”

Amy B.’s advice: “Make it sound less strange (or eerie).”

Good advice for writers, even when you’re not writing about a dead body.

P.S.: Erie, eerie. I get it.

Enough already

Write less. Live longer.

Here’s a two-word phrase you never need to write again — which could extend your life by several months, depending on how often you use this dreadful filler:

  • Interestingly enough…

This phrase sends a signal that what follows only barely made the cut before being considered too boring for words.

Unplug Interestingly enough and plug in something else. Perhaps:

  • Incredibly,
  • Remarkably,
  • Curiously,

or, in a pinch:

  • Interestingly,

But never, ever add the energy-draining qualifier enough.

Adding enough after an adverb is like subtracting — but just so you get back almost all the way to zero.

Revised agreement-pact-partnership thingy abandoned by editor

From Time magazine’s 10/7/19 story on Canada’s Mr. Trudeau:

  • He’s proud that his government has reached important trade deals, including the revised NAFTA agreement known as USMCA, a pact with the European Union, and the updated Trans-Pacific Partnership abandoned by Trump as soon as he took office.

Is this a list of three things (USMCA, pact, and Partnership)?

Or is USMCA a pact with the European Union?

No way to be sure, unless you happen to know that NAFTA has nothing to do with the E.U.

Sure, you know that. But the editor shouldn’t have assumed you know that. Because what if you didn’t?

(In honor of Teddy Roosevelt‘s birthday today, we’ll ignore the “Trans-Pacific Partnership abandoned by Trump” detail.)

Without Reasonable Justification or Bust

From coverage of the ongoing mess in jolly old England:

  • The suspension was unlawful, the 11 justices said, because it frustrated “the ability of Parliament to carry out its constitutional functions without reasonable justification.”

See, this is the problem.

If you can’t carry out your functions without justification, why bother carrying them out at all?

Who did it? Fess up

This from Susan B. Glasser’s New Yorker  story on the Secretary of State:

as.jpg

  • This gets at a central challenge of Pompeo’s tenure: turning Trump’s tweets and “instincts” into a coherent foreign policy, as his policy-planning chief often put it.

Those darn possessive pronouns.

I don’t know whose “his” is.

Whose policy-planning chief are we talking about? Pompeo’s? Trump’s? I’m lost.

I’ve tried scanning back to the beginning of the paragraph, and then reading on to the end of the paragraph, but I still can’t figure it out.

This gets at a central challenge of our complicated English language: turning possessive pronouns into coherent communication.

When it comes to pronouns, go isolationist: Avoid, avoid, avoid.

 

 

Lucky strike

Will Brinson of CBSSports.com writes:

beget.jpeg

  • 100 sacks over three seasons beget a 2015 shoulder injury….

Growing up in Sunday school the way I did, you learned your “begats”:

  • “And Enoch lived sixty and five years, and begat Methuselah…” (Genesis 5:21).

Here’s how this old-fashioned verb works:

  • You beget  today. (You bring something into existence.)
  • You begat or begot  yesterday.
  • (And you’ve begotten  in the past participle.)

So those sacks begot  an injury for Luck, and report on it begat  a post from me, all of which has begotten  this Lucky little teaching moment. Sort of like Sunday school, but with shoulder pads.

 

This just in: Punctuation Spill in Ipswich

IMG_6178.jpg

  • “High Street main break show’s system’s age”

Let’s be clear: The writer of a newspaper article does not write the headline. Headlines are dropped in by an editor, further up the food chain.

So clearly, some editor happened to have a Dixie cup full of apostrophes, probably as a mid-morning snack, and they accidentally spilled all over page A4, and they tried to clean them all up, but they missed one.

 

“Of cabbages and kings”

Image-1 16.jpg

  • A walrus attacked and sunk a Russian Navy landing boat…

The walrus sank the boat. (Recruit that pinniped, Marines!) Sunk is the participle.

  • I sink, I sank, I have sunk.
  • I drink, I drank, I have drunk.
  • I shrink, I shrank, I have shrunk.

These are the only words I can think of that work this way. It’s not:

  • It’s not: I think, I thank, I have thunk.
  • It’s not: I clink, I clank, I have clunk.
  • And it’s certainly not: I fink on you, I fank on you, I have funk on you.

Also avoid:

  • I kink the hose, I kank the hose, I have kunk the hose.
  • I link the clues, I lank the clues, I have lunk the clues.

And if you want to delight that attractive person at the bar, absolutely stay clear of I wink at you, I wank at you, I have wunk at you. They will never, ever go home with you. Trust me on this, you’re sunk.

 

I think you’re going to love our new 67

R.J. Wright reports for CBSSports.com:

Image-1 11.jpg

  • “For those unaware, the Westgate puts out a 12-day number every Tuesday….”

For those of us who are  aware, the Westgate puts out a totally different number. Often, something in a lovely prime. Occasionally an attractive fraction.

 

 

Where does it hurt?

Image-1.jpg

  • “…US spends twice as much on health care than any other country”

OK, so yeah, maybe Bernie was wrong. But CNN’s headline writer made a boo-boo too. Another case of misusing “than.”

It’s twice as much as … or twice more than. (Actually, twice more than might not mean the same thing mathematically. I’ll leave that up to the GAO to figure out.)

Think of as  and than  as a Republican and a Democrat. They don’t work together. At least not in the same comparative statement.

If things change in Congress and this analogy becomes obsolete, I’ll revise this post.

And eat my hat.

(And need medical attention. Really, really expensive medical attention.)

Dress codes save lives

Image-1 10.jpg

“…players were prohibited to wear hard objects during games.”

  • Required to — or prohibited from.
  • Never required from — nor prohibited to.

Hey, don’t wear even a cheap Timex when you’re playing football. And no chain mail, please. Avoid steel-toed shoes. Buttons can hurt somebody. Get that Bluetooth out of your ear. And breastplates are out.

Safety first.

Abe, honestly

Image-1 14.jpg

  • “He’s striking a similar pose to Abraham Lincoln….”

The phrase is similar to. Whenever possible, keep a phrase together:

  • “He’s striking a pose similar to Abraham Lincoln….”

This smooths out the sentence.

To be even more precise and, I think, elegant:

  • “He’s striking a pose similar to Abraham Lincoln’s….”

Next we can debate whether he was really striking  the pose (consciously going for the photo op) or merely adopting  the pose, or perhaps just caught in a pose.

And then we talk about the politics of the moment. And then we can have a huge fight.

Or, we can just remember to preserve the phrase similar to, and leave it at that. Yeah, probably a better idea.

Take that silly thing off right now

Jeff Kerr of CBSSports.com writes, of an NFL player’s helmet visor:

Image-1 copy 2.jpg

“Beckham’s appeared to not fall in compliance with the league rules. Clearly Beckham feels different about the rule.”

I’m not sure about “falling in compliance with” a rule. I thought you could “be in compliance with” a rule, or “comply with” a rule, or “fall within” the rules, but is this phrasing English? All the individual words are English, yes. But the combination is something I’ve never seen.

And then there’s Beckham feeling “different” about the rule. Some days I wake up feeling different, but that’s generally because of what I ate the night before. I think Jeff means Beckham feels “differently” about the rule — because feels  is a verb, and he wants to modify it, which means he needs an adverb, and the adverb would be differently.

All of this is moot, of course, if, unbeknownst to me, the NFL has started to allow writers to wear lightly tinted adverbs, without the requisite ly  at the end.

In which case, ignore everything I just said.

 

The Thats down in Thatville

  • “The former resident … contacted a current resident that lives adjacent from the submerged object.”

Nothing is adjacent from anything. You can be adjacent to it. No other adjacencies allowed.

Also: I vote for every human to be a “who.”

A human is not “that.”

“That” is for objects, and situations, and a grade-schooler’s cussing. (“That is unacceptable, young lady!”)

Stand up for your right to be a Who.

Stats says Dolphins loses

From Hannah Fry’s fascinating story in the 9/19/19 issue of The New Yorker:

IMG_6167.jpg

  • “Statistics, for all its limitations, has a profound role to play in the social realm.”

Hannah and/or her copy editors at the magazine have decided to treat statistics as a singular noun.

I don’t know. It would be different, I think, if there were no such thing as a single statistic. But you can indeed deal with a single statistic. So it seems to me we should say statistics have a role.

The Brits do sort of the opposite thing when they talk football.

  • Arsenal have won the league!

In the U.S., we don’t say Miami have won the game! (Well, there’s another reason we never say this, but let’s not descend into the quagmire of partisanship.)

I guess if you’re talking about statistics as a realm, a body of work, a concept, then it makes sense to treat it as a singular.

But I confesses, such a concept bother me.

 

One are the loneliest number

  • One in four kids are malnourished.

This is a sad fact in our world today.

It’s infinitely less important, but also somewhat interesting, that more than 160 websites (according to Google) use these exact words to describe the tragedy.

“One in four” is a big number: hundreds of millions of kids.

But in our complicated language, “one” is the noun in this sentence, and it’s singular.

So it should be: One in four kids is malnourished.

Actually, this error is so common, I believe the rules will change in our lifetime, and a number expressed in this way — a plural expressed as a singular — will come to be officially accepted.

At which point, one in four English-language bloggers are out of work.

Roughing the writer, 15 yards

Image-1 9.jpg

  • “…due to the amount of penalties being thrown…”

Flag on the play!

We’ve run afoul of that old “countable items” vs. “glop” rule.

  • We use amount  in conjunction with glop — or, to be precise, singular mass nouns. Like wrongdoing. You turn off the game due to the amount of wrongdoing by the officials.
  • We use number to talk about countable items — like penalties, and errors, and stupid misguided over-zealous holding calls.

Either way, we turn off the game.

 

 

What’s so hard?

Facebook offers me this advice:

  • Complete your About section so people can find your page easier.

I offer Facebook this advice:

We’re communicating in English here. Verbs are modified by adverbs. People can find your page more easily.

If you really mean they might find my page easier, you have to tell me the rest of the story: Easier than what?

(I can only imagine. If I complete my About section, people will find my page easier than calculus. Okay, that’s probably a good goal.)

Friends don’t let friends drive plural

  • “…and there’s even Central Perk replica cafes in Beijing and Shanghai.”

I know it’s exciting to think about sipping coffee with Jenifer Aniston, but let’s keep our heads and use proper English.

  • There are even Central Perk replica cafes in Beijing and Shanghai.

“There’s cafes” — a contraction of “There is cafes” — is the kind of phrasing that Jenifer would dump you for, I feel certain.

As if you ever had a chance with her. Sheesh.

(Be sure to see comments and replies to yesterday’s post to catch up on the big error I made.)

How much to Tijuana?

Immigration enforcers doing their thing, politicians cheering them on, reported by CNN.com:

  • Authorities haled the sweep at food processing plants in six cities as a record-setting operation.

These authorities probably actually hailed the sweep. Cheered for it, approved it enthusiastically.

There are four kinds of hale in our English-speaking world:

  • You can hale a cab — which is to yell at the driver.
  • You can be hale and hearty — healthy and robust.
  • You can live in a Hawaiian hale, a simple thatched-roof dwelling — although you pronounce it HAH-lee.
  • Or you can be Nathan Hale (1755–76) — and be hanged by the redcoats for spying.

Only one of these four is a verb. So if you hale the sweep at food processing plants, it’s like asking the sweep for a ride to Times Square. Not gonna happen. Unless, possibly, you’re Caucasian and documented.

You want gruel with that?

  • “…a game that was played in front of less than 9,000 fans.”

In English, we distinguish between countable things and, uh, glop.

Well, glop isn’t the official term. Technically, it’s singular mass nouns.

For example:

  • The game is attended by fewer than 9,000 fans.
  • But you have less than 9,000 gallons of beer at the game.

Depending on your tastes, yeah, glop.

Opposites a-tracked

Jared Dubin writes, at CBSSports.com:

  • I know that I’m on the opposite end of it than my colleague….

You don’t know any such thing, Jared. You must be hallucinating. I’m not picking on you because you’re a lifelong Dallas Cowboys fan. I’m just picking on you because nobody can be opposite than anybody or anything.

  • You can be something other than, or rather than.
  • Something can be easier said than done — like keeping all those tricky conjunctions straight.
  • Something can be more good than bad — like Jared Dubin’s sportswriting.

Jared, here’s your consolation prize: You can be on the opposite end from your colleague.

By the way, Jared, I totally agree with you about paying Ezekiel Elliott. Big mistake. The very opposite than what they oughta do. (Joke — get it?)

Kittens become cats

From an NFL statement:

  • “Both NFL Media and the AP do not ordinarily name the alleged victims….”

Let’s not talk about football. Let’s talk about kittens.

Say there are two kittens. How many will you take home?

With two kittens, you have three choices:

Both. Either. Or neither.

  • If you answer “Both” OR you answer “Either,” you’re answering in the positive. In other words, you’ll go home with at least one kitten.
  • If you answer “Neither,” you’re answering in the negative. You’ll go home without any kittens. Which is to say, you’ll be happy in the morning.

In English, we use positive descriptors with positive verbs, and negatives with negatives.

So you can say Both ordinarily name victims or Neither ordinarily names victims. But you can’t say Both do not ordinarily name victims.

What’s really sad about this is that the NFL needs to say ordinarily when talking about naming victims.

Quoth the Raven, “Uniquermore!”

  • “The Ravens were maybe the most unique team in football a season ago once they made the switch from Joe Flacco to Lamar Jackson under center.”

So began Sean Wagner-McGough’s CBS Sports story on quarterback Robert Griffin III.

His claim can’t be true — because nothing can be “the most unique.”

Unique is exclusive. One of a kind. If it’s unique, it’s the only. You can’t be the most unique, you can’t be more unique, you can’t be uniquer, nor can you be the uniquest.

If you’re comparing, try special, uncommon, or rare.

As for the even more important question — about how good those Ravens might be: We’ll see. Baltimore is 2-1 on the season, hosting the 1-2 Browns today.

Go Cleveland!

Tom Brady needs your financial support

Here’s a headline for the Grand Opening of the new Pro Shop at North Station, sent by the clever photographic artist Stoney:

  • Executives & players will join fans and get 20% off your purchase

Stoney astutely inquires:

Why are they getting 20% off of my purchase?

I guess because executives and players are always exploiting us poor fans, eh?

Now serving pollo asado in a parallel universe

This from a Mexican restaurant’s website:

  • There’s currently a location in Ipswich MA and Beverly MA…

Unless you’re doing that multi-dimensional thing, it’s not possible to have one location in two locations simultaneously.

Maybe you mean:
There are currently two locations: in Ipswich MA and Beverly MA.
Or:
There’s currently a location in Ipswich MA, and another in Beverly MA.

Or, if you really are doing that multi-dimensional thing, awesome!

Welcome to Speedwriting 101

Far be it from me to criticize Garrison Keillor, but a recent Writer’s Almanac entry featured this statement about Stephen King:

  • His latest novel out this month is The Institute….

King is known as a prodigious writer, forcing himself to write at least 2,000 words of fiction a day, whether he feels like it or not. And good for him: he’s one of the top-earning writers in the world.

But nobody, not even Stephen King, produces more than one novel in a single month.

Keillor is suffering here from a comma shortage.

  • His latest novel, out this month, is The Institute….

As I do not have Stephen King’s discipline, I’m not writing 2,000 words of fiction a day. So you’ll have to keep waiting for my next novel. (While you’re waiting, you may read the previous one, here.)

I have, however, collected a plethora of commas, which I’ll be happy to share with anyone who needs them.

_____

(It’s my birthday. Don’t buy me anything. Instead, as a gift to me, go to NewThing.net and check out my humanitarian work. Thank you!)

Back to the future, past perfect, in a pronounmobile

I keep puzzling over this “Talk of the Town” piece from The New Yorker.

  • It starts out describing “the first time Grant met Barbra Streisand.”
  • Then it says “He recently recalled the encounter, which took place at a house party … in 1991.” So we’ve gone back in time.
  • “She was wearing a black lace dress and a floppy hat.” OK, so we’re at the party in ’91.
  • “He had arrived in a ‘cheap rental car.'” So now the past perfect tense is telling us about something that happened even earlier.
  • “In order to reach Streisand…” uh … brings us back to the party?
  • Soon we’re jerked back to the present: “Grant — who is now 61 … doesn’t drink.”
  • Then, I’m sorry to say, a new paragraph begins: “It was a frigid morning….”

All the zigzagging through time and space has exhausted me, and arriving at the damnable pronoun It just makes me want to sit down and cry. Where and when are we now? At the party in 1991? Or at the moment Grant is describing the encounter for us?

By the time we learn we’re in the back seat of an S.U.V. zooming through Flatbush, it seems we’re back in the present. Even Marty McFly would be nauseous.

I vote for writers to tell stories in chronological order whenever possible. If you have to flash back to keep things interesting, flash back carefully.

Or distribute Dramamine.

As a freak, I avoid you

I call it a “misconnect.”

I don’t think that’s the technical term for it.

But the concept is: You set the reader up to think you’re talking about one thing, and then you talk about something entirely different.

  • As a valued friend of the Mission, I am writing to ask for your prayers and financial support.

“As” tells you that you’re going to get an equivalent, after the comma.

So when you get to “I,” you think back to “As.”

That word, after all — “As” — was the warning signal, like a light that flashes as you approach the train tracks, telling you that the identity of the person who’s being described is the person who’s about to be more fully described.

But in this case, the writer (“I am writing to ask”) isn’t the “valued friend” previewed at the beginning of the sentence.

Alternatives?

  • As you are a valued friend of the Mission, I am writing to ask….
  • As a valued friend of the Mission, you are someone I feel comfortable asking….

As you are a valued friend of EnglishIsAComplicatedLanguage.com, I feel comfortable whining to you this way.

(P.S. Totally unrelated: Check out my charity in the former USSR; we’re doing good work and we need your help.)

It’s an effect, but…

Sometimes, you read something, and you can only shake your head. Or your booty.

The headline says:

Tom Brady refuses to tolerate sweaty butts, has established tradition of shoving towels down his center’s pants

  • By Pete Blackburn
  • Sep 12, 2019 at 3:26 pm ET • 2 min read

The article begins:

  • It’s not an issue that’s exclusive to Brady of course, as other QBs have also discussed how it can effect the way they play. Just last month, Kirk Cousins talked at length about the very damp caboose of his new rookie center.

So I’m just here to remind us all … I mean those of us who speak and write American English, or who pretend to … that effect is usually a noun, and affect is usually a verb, and if you need to use either word, it’s wise to check out Grammarly.com first.

Because no, sweaty butts don’t effect the way quarterbacks play.

Whether they actually affect the way a quarterback plays is another question entirely.

(My apologies to Ben Roethlisberger, Drew Brees, Sam Darnold, Cam Newton, Eli Manning, and any other QBs who can’t play this week. I’m not suggesting, in any way, that sweaty butts had anything to do with the fact that you’re sidelined this week. Except, possibly, Eli, because I’m a Pats fan.)

Chill, Dad! Bounce flashing is so dope now

I thought my friend Stoney, the brilliant photographic artist, might be making it up.

But no.

The headline of the online Shutter magazine article actually reads:

  • How to Effectively Bounce Flash at an Event with Vanessa Joy

Stoney shrewdly asks:

  • Would these techniques work if Vanessa weren’t there?

I can’t help but be reminded of Paul Simon’s Graceland lyric:

  • There’s a girl in New York City, who calls herself the Human Trampoline….

(When Oprah asked Simon if there really is such a girl, he said no. But how could he really know? He clearly hadn’t interviewed all the girls in New York City.)

And don’t get me started on the implications of “bounce flashing.”

Allies: your attention, please

  • “…officials disagreed … but sought to manage him rather than confront him, as Mattis did, while enlisting other allies, such as the Israelis and members of Congress, to lobby Trump for a reversal.”

Wait. Who enlisted other allies? Officials? Him? Mattis?

The commas before and after “as Mattis did” … what do they tell us?

They tell us the writer was on a roll, and just kept adding phrases, assuming we were rolling too. But a reader isn’t on the writer’s roll. The reader is absorbing all this detail cold. We need each phrase to inform the previous phrase.

“As.” “While.” I officially disagree with the order to use these slippery words.

Russia buys Treasury Dept.

Is IT just me, or is IT a problem-pronoun?

  • “Rusal was tailor-made to join forces on the project. But it was under sanctions” — Rusal was under sanctions? Or the project was under sanctions? —
  • “imposed by the U.S. Treasury Department. Its billionaire owner, Oleg Deripaska, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s” — whose billionaire owner? Rusal? The project? The Treasury Department?
  • “was being investigated by special counsel Robert Mueller for his potential involvement…” — whose potential involvement? Oleg’s? Putin’s? Mueller’s? Nah, Mueller wasn’t investigating himself. But that’s just about all we can be sure of, thanks to the IT factor.

“Rusal’s billionaire owner” would be clearer.

And actually leaving IT out“being investigated by Mueller for potential involvement” instead of “his potential involvement” — would be clearer too.

IT‘s a heartache.

Throw your hat into the, uh, grass

  • “A dozen mustard-colored bunkhouses ringed a patchy sloping lawn.”

Yes, The New Yorker got it right, in Nick Paumgarten’s article about measles.

The bunkhouses ringed the lawn.

NOT: The bunkhouses rang the lawn.

NOT: The bunkhouses rung the lawn.

  • When you use ring as a verb, to mean making a ring around something, the past tense is indeed ringed.
  • When you use ring to mean making the sound of a bell, the past tense is rang. (They rang the bell.)
  • Rung is rong. It’s never the past tense. It only gets to be the participle. (“They have rung the bell.” “They had rung the bell.” “They were exhausted, having rung the bell throughout this entire post.”)