Done with you

“I am not going to do anymore,” you wrote.

Well, I’m sorry you’ve come to the end of your rope.

But now that you’re writing me about your decision to make a significant change in your life, I’m afraid I have no choice but to point out a wee error.

  • Anymore — a single word — can be used to mean still. (Bartender to wife on phone: “He isn’t here anymore.”)
    • (Obviously, you didn’t intend to say I am not going to do still.)
  • Or, anymore can be used to mean nowadays. (Scientist to climate change denier: “Sorry, that species isn’t here anymore.”)
    • (You also didn’t intend to say I am not going to do nowadays.)
  • Or, anymore can be used to mean from now on. (Scientist to climate change denier: “Sorry, that species isn’t going to be here anymore.”)
    • (You certainly didn’t intend to say I am not going to do from now on.)

If you’re not going to do any more, you have to break anymore into two words: ANY describes it, and MORE is what it is.

I could give you a technical explanation of the nouns, verbs, adverbs, etc., but it would give you a headache, and me too, and let me assure you, it wouldn’t be worth it.

I tried it once, with somebody else, and I’m not going to do it ANY MORE.

Ready, aim…

“Farm organizations gave tens of thousands of dollars to fire sufferers.”

#1, why did it cost so much to fire them?

#2, by what authority did the farmers fire them?

And #3, if they were already suffering, wasn’t it cruel to fire them?

Or, if these were folks who suffered in a fire, how could the sentence be written to guarantee that the meaning isn’t misunderstood?

Especially when a word can be both a noun and a verb, beware.

(Sometimes, it’s not ideal to coin a phrase; better to simply spell it out: victims of the fires, in this case.)

Like many words with multiple meanings, fire can burn ya.

I’ll have the lox in a loafer, please

“He also took me out to dinner, and this morning made breakfast for me in his slippers.”

Well, he was in his slippers; my breakfast wasn’t in them.

Nor was I in his slippers. Let’s keep this blog respectable.

(“Last night I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got in my pajamas I don’t know.” Don’t you miss Groucho?)

Racism comes to the kitchen

I adore Hannah Goldfield, the New Yorker‘s food critic. So I feel badly calling out anything she writes.

But … here we go.

“A pile of chicken-satay skewers, draped in peanut sauce and dusted with kaffir-lime powder—a term, it should be noted, that has fallen out of fashion recently, given that it’s also a racist slur used to refer to black people in South Africa; makrut, the lime’s name in Thai, is now the preferred term—was, one evening, straightforward and satisfying, featuring well-salted, juicy nubs of slightly charred thigh meat.”

I really want to eat what she’s talking about — but I’m not sure about the racism thing.

She says “it’s also a racist slur” — but what IT is IT?

Pronouns are diabolically slippery.

In this case, it could be kaffir-lime powder, or peanut sauce, or skewers, or chicken-satay, or — is it possible? — pile.

She goes on to say that “the lime’s name in Thai” is now the “preferred term,” so now I’m inclined to move away from thinking the pile of chicken thingies is the offensive thingie — but I’m still not sure if makrut is the preferred term for the fruit or the powder.

Better to use more words, in smaller segments:

“A pile of chicken-satay skewers, draped in peanut sauce and dusted with kaffir-lime powder, was, one evening, straightforward and satisfying, featuring well-salted, juicy nubs of slightly charred thigh meat. It should be noted that that the term kaffir has fallen out of fashion recently, given that it’s also a racist slur used to refer to black people in South Africa; makrut, the lime’s name in Thai, is now the preferred term.”

Hannah, forgive me. I still love you.

Calling all lazy comma-omitters

“The Boerne 0.5K is a bite-sized race for under-achievers, procrastinators and the outright lazy.”

Okay, which is this?

Is it a bite-sized race for a list of 3?

  • under-achievers
  • procrastinators
  • and the outright lazy?

Or is it a bite-sized race for under-achievers, who are comprised of procrastinators and the outright lazy?

That missing comma — the “Oxford comma” — leaves us pondering.

When you have a series of 3 nouns, leaving out the Oxford comma suggests that the first item in the series is the category, and the other 2 items in the series are the components of the category.

What this determines for us, then, is this: Those who omit the Oxford comma are outright lazy under-achievers.

Repent, sinner

“When I went to the alter, I was looking around and I was just thinking, ‘This is the time that I want to be with you, God.'”

It would be small of God to say, “Sorry, but you misspelled alter, so go to hell.” God wouldn’t do such a thing.

But I might.

Let’s set straight the age-old question of alter vs. altar.

  • The altar is the religious thing. You go there, you kneel at it. It’s a noun.
  • To alter is an everyday thing. You change something. You alter it. It’s a verb.

If you use the wrong one, it’s a sin.

This will go on your permanent record

Maybe I’m just hyper-sensitive these days about “student records” because my final kid is ramping up to run the college application gauntlet … but it seems to me that this headline invites confusion.

To me, “student records” is a thing.

So a headline that begins with this phrase inclines me to think we’re talking about “student records.”

It’s tricky when you use a word that has two meanings — like “records” — which in fact has not only two meanings but two pronunciations. “WRECK-erds” and “re-CORDS.”

If, in this case, had decided to abandon the old-fashioned newspaper-style headline-writing protocol of stating everything in the present tense, they might have rendered this headline in a form more easily and more quickly understood by the common classes, like me — say, perhaps, something like:

A student recorded months of his teacher’s remarks

Note the simple, straightforward use of the past tense, which is when the thing actually happened.

(Using the damnable adjective alleged is a whole ’nuther issue. Let’s take it up later.)

I’ll stop thrashing you in a year and a half

How long can you beat up on a guy?

“He went back to prison for assaulting a police officer for 18 months.”

Honestly, I would send that sucker to prison for 18 months too.

The fact that he was going back to prison tells me that he was in that “increased risk” category.

Geez, I hope the police officer is gonna be okay….

Take a while and think awhile

Oh, for a letter space.

“I didn’t want to tell him I’d turned it in if you were going to hold it awhile.”

This is perfectly correct.

But how often do we find this same word, awhile, busted into two words, a while? is a fine resource for sorting this out.

  • A while is a noun, meaning “a short time.”
  • Awhile is an adverb, meaning “for a short time.”

When I’m about to write one or the other, and can’t remember which to use, I think of it this way:

  • “Awhile” (one word) means “for a while” (three words).
  • If “for a while” wouldn’t make sense in the sentence I’m writing, then I must need “a while” (two words).

I often have to stop awhile and think for a while about whether to use awhile or a while.


Let’s Segway to the New World!

I’m all for language as a living, constantly evolving organism.

This is how languages are, like it or not. So you may as well enjoy it.

But sometimes, someone who doesn’t know better gets ahead of the game.

“That would be a good Segway into how he wasn’t prepared for how hot it was.”

Now, maybe this was autocorrect.

Or maybe it wasn’t.

But the conventional term would be segue.

We segue from this scene to that.

It’s often deployed in theatrical or musical directions: segue, from the Italian, for “follows.”

Not “Segway,” the “personal transporter” originally unveiled on Good Morning America in 2001, which has failed to transform our vehicular culture as originally envisioned, but which I nonetheless still want one of.

Bad English, I know. But I still want one. And my wife won’t buy me one.

If this blog could only be monetized, somehow!

Until some respected source, like Webster’s, anoints the new spelling, use the old spelling.

(Not sure about what’s “old” and what’s “new”? No worries. Segue on over to the Comments window and contact me.)

Headlines that make you go “Hmmm…”

A disturbing news item. On top of which, the layering of past-tense verbs forces you to figure out the chronology.

Executed (a past-tense verb functioning here as an adjective) is one of those words that just feels pretty final, doesn’t it? So everything that comes after Executed, it seems, must have happened after the executions. In English, we tend to assume that each word builds on the previous word. So by the time we get to claimed, these poor Saudis have already been Executed.

Once we get to the end of the entire statement, we can piece it all together correctly: The Saudis apparently claimed, at some time prior to being executed, that they had been tortured, and just now we’re getting word of the claims.

But the writer hasn’t helped us get there. I won’t say it’s been torture; that would be in poor taste. But it sure did make some of us go “Hmmm….”

A multiplicity of personages

Sad story. And, sad to say, fake news.

Because there is no such thing as a multiple person.

Multiple is often misused this way. You want Many people or Numerous people or Multitudes of people. But multiple means “involving several things.” Each of the things you call multiple is a single thing. This is why you use the adjective multiple — to specify several of the single thing you’re talking about.

In fact, if this isn’t already confusing enough, it is possible to talk about a people — singular — like the American people — but you would have to say Multiple peoples — the Yanks, the Brits, and the French, for example — not Multiple people.

(If there were multiple people — I mean, if a person could be multiple — would they be clones? Or zombies? Or [other]? Attack of the Multiple People — in theatres June 7!)

Man eating punctuation

“The solution, then, was to devise a public-relations strategy to cast the Church ‘as a sensitive, caring entity.'”

Public relations isn’t normally hyphenated. But here it is. And it’s right.

Think of a hyphen as glue. It’s sticky. It keeps two things together. When you want to keep two words together that normally appear separately, a hyphen is what you need.

In this sentence, you need public and relations to hang together as a single adjective, modifying strategy.

If you don’t hyphenate public-relations, the meaning could easily be misconstrued: the sentence might be about a relations strategy that was public, as opposed to private.

Same deal with man-eating shark (ironically the opposite of man eating shark) and the classic dirty movie theatre (which needs cleaned up, but not because of the porn).

And let’s not talk about the father-to-be stabbed in the back, which already happened — as opposed to the father to be stabbed in the back, which is still being planned.

(Hyphens are connectors. Now dashes — dashes are dividers. Hyphens are little, dashes are big. When you want to make a big break between words, phrases, or ideas — well, look here — I’ve just interrupted myself — a dash is the perfect interrupter. Don’t ever use a hyphen as an interrupter-it isn’t appropriate-it connects things you wanted to divide-and makes you look like you don’t understand the difference between little and big. Size matters.)

This is not a hoax

This was a sad story, I think. But I’m not quite sure, because the headline is so confusing.

After much head-scratching, I believe it’s intended not as a sentence but as a title — like “The Silver Lining” — but with a lot of explanatory words added, which turn the title into a kind of thicket.

Is the lining missing the boy’s dad? Is the lining that’s missing the boy’s dad doing the hoping? Is there a word missing? Is this a crash of typos?

  • It can be complicated to use a word that might be a verb or an adjective — like missing.
  • It can be complicated to use a word that might be a verb or a noun — like hopes. (Or, for that matter, lining — although when lining comes right after silver, most of us will probably read silver lining as a noun.)
  • But it can really be complicated to use a number of multi-use words in the same sentence.
  • And even more complicated in a setting where you don’t know if what you’re reading is going to turn out to be a sentence or not. This headline came from, and they go both ways, presenting both sentence-format headlines and title-format headlines, in the same daily string of headlines.

So — stop me if I’m wrong — I think this headline is about a silver lining that a missing boy’s dad is hoping will come after a hoax.

If I’m wrong, please correct me.

If I’m right … Whew!

Similar, but no cigar

“The league will follow a similar structure as the original XFL did in 2001.”

Oh my. Where to begin?

  1. In the context of the article from which I plucked this gem, it’s clear the author did not simply leave out a crucial comma. He did not intend to say, “The league will follow a similar structure, as the original XFL did in 2001.” He did, in fact, intend to say that the league will follow a structure similar to the one followed by the XFL in 2001. But he said it a bit clumsily, didn’t he?
  2. To “follow a similar structure as” is bad English. Why? Because two things can be similar, or they can be similar to each other, but nothing can ever be similar as something else.
  3. Even if the author had written, “The league will follow a similar structure to the original XFL,” I would gripe — because the phrase “similar to” should stick together whenever possible. You get a smoother flow from “The league will follow a structure similar to the original,” etc.
  4. “Did.” By the time we get to “did” in this sentence, we’ve already hit so many potholes, I’m crabby.

Kindly rewrite and get back to me.

Cheap shot

“The cost wasn’t cheap.”

It feels a little odd, doesn’t it?


I think it’s because in English, we want something to be said only once — and this says something twice, sort of.

Cheap means low-cost. So this is like saying The cost wasn’t low-cost.

Cost can be high or low, or minimal, or exorbitant, or any number of other indicators of extent — but we already know it’s a cost, so it’s awkward to restate it.


  • The acquisition wasn’t cheap.


  • The cost wasn’t small.


  • The blogger wasn’t reasonable.

But NOT The cost wasn’t cheap.

What’s not to like?

Here comes the regular morning email from Daily Skimm, and the subject line reads:

I like chardonnay, get better over time

Pretty soon I get a message from the superb book editor Sarah Christine Jones (whose work I highly recommend), a fellow Daily Skimm subscriber; Sarah emails:

GAH! This subject line needs another comma!

True, dear Sarah.

Like is one of those words that goes both ways: it’s a verb (I like chardonnay!) but it can also be a humble conjunction (I’m like chardonnay; I’m pretty much what chardonnay is).

Since like can be read as a verb, you have to make sure your reader doesn’t accidentally think it’s one. It’s awkward to insert a big sign that says NOT A VERB. Use commas. They’re more delicate.

In general, if you stick a describing phrase (like chardonnay) after your subject (I) but before your predicate (get better), it’s often a good idea to set the phrase off with a pair of commas. Not just one comma. Don’t be stingy. Or Sarah Christine Jones will be all in your face by noon.

I exit, then all bets are off

She’s an activist for her cause (which is an uphill climb), and she’s being encouraged to give it up. Here’s what she writes:

“I don’t want the tide to turn after I leave — so I’m not going anywhere.”

Her remark might be misconstrued. I think she would still want the tide to turn after she left.

Would she resent the tide turning if it didn’t happen before her departure?

Actually, she would be happy for the tide to turn anytime — regardless of whether she left or not. Right?

So she hasn’t said what she means.

“If the tide is going to turn, I want to be here for it!” This is what she really means. “So I’m not going anywhere!” (I’ve added the exclamation points. No charge.)


(This is silly! To explore a somewhat more important part of what I do with the rest of my life, visit my humanitarian charity New Thing.)

Maybbe I’m splittting hhairrsss?

Phonetic is a strange word in our language, because it’s not phonetic. If it were phonetic, it would be spelled something like FONETIK.

Sometimes, we switch from literal English to phonetic English. Like when we want to replicate our spoken speech, which tends to be lazier than our written language. Example:

People of a certain age (my age) will immediately recognize the lyrics to the song “Dancin’ in the Moonlight,” by the brilliant Sherman Kelly: “Everybody’s dancin’ in the moonlight / Everybody here is out of sight”

But if you ask the Shazam app to show you the lyrics, it gives you this: “Everybody here is outta sight”

No worries. It communicates. We know what’s meant. But “out of” should not be translated phonetically as “outta.” The correct phoneticization of “out of” is “outa.”

Why? Because the double T is unnecessary. When translating from proper English to phonetic English, it’s appropriate to change only the letters that aren’t phonetic. So “out of” should morph to “out a,” and then mush together as “outa.”

It would only be right to turn “out of” into “outta” if you were starting with “out tof.” Which we aren’t. So there.

My secret: tacky

You’re coarse, of course. It’s just the way you are.

Coarse is an adjective that means rough, indelicate, unrefined. That’s you, of course, right?

Course is a noun — a route, or a sequence, an option, an action, a passage. Or a class in school. Not necessarily coarse, however. Probably seldom, in fact.

They sound the same, coarse and course. They’re just not spelled the same.

So when you’re writing, you have to know the difference.

How to remember the difference? I hesitate to reveal my personal secret trick: Coarse is two-thirds arse.

See? It’s coarse. Which is why I hesitated to reveal it.

Paternity and pronouns

“Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, says she and Trump had an affair in 2006, after he married first lady Melania Trump and she gave birth to their son, Barron.”

Okay, we all know who gave birth to whom, but it’s not great writing.

Why not? Because of the pronouns.

A pronoun is a cheap substitute. You have to watch it (that’s a pronoun; sorry) like a hawk.

First, she refers to Stephanie. So our low-bandwidth English-language brain has assigned to she the identity of Stephanie.

But then, before we even get out of this sentence, there’s another she — so we’re required to switch the identity of this pronoun. Assuming I’ve interpreted the sentence correctly. The fact that I’m not entirely sure is the fault of the pronouns.

This sentence is further complicated by other pronouns: he refers to Trump, their refers to, uh, Trump and Melania, right? I think so.

But in a sentence this long, with so many pieces, connected by whose and after and and … well, it’s hard to manage the meanings. By the time we get to the period at the end of the sentence, it’s possible that a chihuahua got a medical degree in Griffith, Indiana.

Better to write short sentences, and avoid pronouns:

“Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, says she and Trump had an affair in 2006, after he married first lady Melania Trump and Daniels gave birth to their son, Barron.”

Wait, did I get it wrong?

* * *

(P.S. It just occurs to me, you may be interested in even less significant amusements from Doug Brendel. Please visit and click on “Follow” for occasional humorous observations about life in small-town New England.)

The threat of global hyphening

“There’s just a different standard in New England that’s been set by two-decades of generational play.”

Your attention, please: There’s a global shortage of hyphens, so we do not want to use them unnecessarily.

Especially when writing about time periods, follow these simple guidelines:

The adjective form is hyphenated: A two-decade tradition.

The noun form is not hyphenated: Two decades of play.

Think of the brain — I mean the brain of someone who speaks and reads English — limping along, from word to word, urgently needing to be spoon-fed. (Well, that’s a bad metaphor, but whatever.) When you come upon a “time-period word” like two, you expect the next word to be the noun you’re talking about: decades. And in this sentence, you get what you need: set by two decades of generational play.

But let’s say you’re talking about a two-decade tradition. When you get to the word two, the next word isn’t the noun you’re talking about. The next word is decade, but the noun you’re talking about is tradition. The words two and decade are working together, to describe the noun tradition. To make this easy for the narrow-bandwidth brain of the English-speaking reader, you have to glue the descriptor words together: a two-decade tradition. This is a valid use of our ever-diminishing supply of hyphens.

Thus: A two-year-old is two years old.

NOT: A two year old is two-years-old.

(You may have a better way of explaining this rule of English usage, and if so, I hope you will enlighten us all, via the Comment window. Until then, I’m going off to nurse my headache.)

Grad School Hiring: Apply at Once!

It’s a PowerPoint slide, part of a student recruitment pitch.

It seems to say these students were either employed in grad school or enrolled in grad school within 6 months of graduation.

But that’s not what’s intended.

We need a couple commas: “95% of students were employed, or enrolled in graduate school, within 6 months of graduation.”

(I’m uneasy about within, too — because it can mean either before or after. Or can it mean both? Some were hired or enrolled 6 months before graduation? Maybe. We can’t tell for sure. I want to know for sure. Good writing lets you know for sure.)

Commas are underrated. I think you should be able to get an English major with a minor in Commas.

I volunteer to teach the Commas classes.

They isn’t

“I would be happy to talk further about my writing and editing skills and how it translates into copywriting.”

Unfortunately, you’re fired.

The word it refers to my writing and editing skills.

I would say the phrase writing and editing skills is a plural.

So actually, if we want to talk further, we want to talk about how they translate into copywriting. Not it. They.

You might stretch and insist that the phrase my writing and editing skills is singular — a single thing, like macaroni and cheese — but I would disagree.

So yeah, you’re fired.

Just ahead of confusion

“President reverses his earlier statements that he would own the shutdown if border wall funding was not included just ahead of a Senate debate on his plan”

Wow. I am really confused by this very long headline — starting with just ahead of.

  • The President either reverses his earlier statements just ahead of a Senate debate…
  • Or he would own the shutdown just ahead of a Senate debate…
  • Or he wants the funding included just ahead of a Senate debate…

The longer a sentence, the more chances to confuse.

Write short sentences. When you can’t write a short sentence, write a sentence with its pieces clearly delineated by punctuation.

Let’s say what the writer really meant was:Just ahead of a Senate debate on the President’s plan, he reverses his earlier statements — indicating he would own the shutdown if border wall funding was not included

The comma and the dash help us digest the meaning as we go.

As for digesting the politics, I’m not even going there. This is old news anyway. And possibly fake.

Papa, we hardly knew ye

“At the age of six, his father died.”

Complicated, isn’t it?

Six is really young to be a father.

In English (and that’s what we’re dealing with here, after all), a modifying phrase will be understood to modify whatever it’s adjacent to, fore or aft.

So this sentence could have also been written as follows:

“His father, at the age of six, died.”

Or: “His father died, at the age of six.”

Both of which are equally ridiculous.

Beware the sneaky little preposition at. You think it’s communicating, when it’s actually just confusing. You can usually do better. Try an adverb, for example, like when — with a verb, maybe. Even a crummy inactive verb, like is or was:

When he was six, his father died.”

It’s a sad little story anyway, no matter how you write it. I feel sorry for this kid. Left to a struggling single mom, probably no more than five years old….

Tough luck

“Dolphins head coach Adam Gase confirmed on Friday that the quarterback will be out for Week 12 when Miami comes up to Foxboro to face the Patriots due to a concussion.”

You’ve heard the rumors about the NFL getting all sissified? Well, they’re apparently toughening up.

This report seems to suggest that if any player suffers a concussion, the entire team is punished by having to go play New England in the Patriots’ home stadium.

And in this tragic case, it appears the Dolphins will have to do it without their quarterback.

(Who knows why the QB can’t make the trip. Chicken, probably.)

  • Correction: “Dolphins head coach Adam Gase confirmed Friday that the quarterback will be out, due to a concussion, for Week 12, when Miami comes up to Foxboro to face the Patriots.” Whew! That was scary for a while.

Kelly, please: Just go, already

“Kelly is said to be heading for the exits again.”


Is someone saying it again (those darn rumor-mongers!), or is Kelly exiting again (that darn quitter!)?

Gotta be careful putting again at the very end of a sentence. It can glom on to just about any verb.


  • The rumor-monger version: Kelly is again said to be heading for the exits.
  • The quitter version: Kelly is said to be once again heading for the exits.

It just occurs to me that both could be true:

  • The both-are-true version: Kelly is again said to be heading once more for the exits. It’s icky, but it’s accurate. Better to rewrite entirely: Kelly has quit before, and we’re hearing once more, as we have repeatedly, that it might happen again.

In any case, the situation seems unstable. At the very least, let’s write a stable sentence about it.

Headline-whittling 101

This is a tragic story, no question. Setting aside the content, however, I humbly observe that the headline needs to be somewhat carved up.

Whenever you use the word who, there’s a chance you’ve inadvertently spent more words than you need to say what you want to say. (It’s a pronoun, so it’s automatically suspect.) In this example, who restates inmate. The phrase who was just gets you from inmate to stabbed without giving you any additional information.

In this case, also switches headline styles — including the article An to go with inmate and a to go with prison yard, but then omitting the article a when they get to lawsuit. Gotta stick with one approach or the other.

A more direct version of the headline might be: Lawsuit says correctional officers left stabbed inmate to die in prison yard.

12 words, instead of 18.

Think how much more you could get done in a day if all the headlines only took you two-thirds as long to read.

The adverbs are blowin’ in the wind

“Anyway the wind blows.”

Sorry, never correct.

  • Anyway (one word) is an adverb meaning no matter what the situation is. It’s often a shrug-of-the-shoulders term, where you’re dismissing whatever’s just been said. Terrible day. Got picked on in some maniac’s blog. Anyway, what’s for dinner?
  • Any way (two words) is the combination of any, which means one, some, or several, when the quantity, type, or quality is not important — and way, indicating a road, a direction, a style, a custom, a manner (you get the idea). This is often more of a sweeping-gesture term. How shall we get to the restaurant? Any way you say! But let’s get going — I’m starving!

Another reason “Anyway the wind blows” is never correct is: If you start a sentence with Anyway, you need to follow Anyway with a comma: Anyway, the wind blows. I think the comma is there to remind you to shrug your shoulders.

Vote for anyone else!

“Netanyahu fought the election in the face of looming indictments.”

Actually, Netanyahu was running for re-election as Israel’s Prime Minister, and very much wanted to win. So he didn’t fight it at all.

The word election is often misused these days — as if it were synonymous with campaign. They’re not the same. The campaign leads up to the election.

But even switching to “Netanyahu fought the campaign” wouldn’t be ideal, because of the way fought can be construed as opposed. Maybe better to say he “waged his election campaign.”

Imprecisely written news coverage doesn’t seem to have doomed him, however. He won the election. At this writing, the indictments are still looming. But since looming can mean either threatening or impending, we don’t know from this statement whether they’re a sure thing or not.

Between the fighting, the electing, and the looming, this sentence lands a puzzlement score of 30%: three words out of ten need repair or replacement.

Doomed domicile

That historic house on Linebrook Road — will it be moved or demolished?

The answer is yes.

Oh, that’s not what you meant? You wanted me to choose one? Sorry, I misunderstood — because the conjunction or is so lame.

Anytime you use this little item — the word or — double-check its surroundings. It’s possible that some readers will think you’re offering a choice you didn’t intend to offer.

When we speak, the listener hears our tone of voice, which signals which or we mean: a choice between two items, or a listing of two viable possibilities.

Even adding a comma — will it be moved, or demolished? — doesn’t solve the problem. Some readers may still “hear” the question differently than you intended.

How to guarantee that the reader chooses between the two? I don’t know. Help me.

I’m for leaving the house there. But nobody’s asking my opinion.

P.S. It’s Shakespeare’s birthday. He’s the guy who wrote To be, or not to be: that is the question. In other words, choose one — you can’t have it both ways.See? Even Shakespeare was nervous about leaving an or question hanging out there.

Saw this one coming, eh?

So we made it through the Easter season, and I only recoiled in horror once. It was in church, with members of the congregation reading aloud from the Scriptures — the bad guys mistreating Jesus in Luke 22:64:

And when they had blindfolded him, they struck him on the face, and asked him, saying, Prophesy, who is it that smote thee?

But I heard some of our beloved amateur actors say Prophecy instead of Prophesy.

  • A prophecy (final syllable pronounced see) is a prediction. And a noun.
  • To prophesy (final syllable pronounced sigh) is to predict, reveal, or announce, as with divine authority. And it’s a verb.

When you prophesy, you offer a prophecy. Sigh, see. You cannot prophecy (see) — and you can’t offer a prophesy (sigh).

And there is no such word as prophesize.



Whacked out, wrung dry, can’t forget

“She was as whacked out as a towel would be when it was wrung dry by Tommy’s situation.”

I will not poke fun at the person who spoke these words (a public figure), or make any snide references to the situation which gave rise to this comment (a serious medical issue).

Let’s just stick with the language issues here.

I’ll begin by saying: Aaaaaugh!!

Now, a few clear-eyed observations as to what this statement might teach us:

  1. Be careful of your metaphors. Whacked out as a towel, whether wrung out or not, is not exactly an example of an elegantly expressed word-picture. But let’s ignore this detail for the moment.
  2. The phrase when it was wrung dry needs to be in the present tense, not the past: She was as whacked out as a towel would be when it is wrung dry. Better yet (because the appearance of the word it is often a signal that a sentence has been constructed flabbily): She was as whacked out as a towel would be when wrung dry. Even better (because the appearance of the word would is often a signal that … oh, never mind; let’s just say it’s a red flag): She was as whacked out as a towel wrung dry. (Whenever you write it or would, look for a cleaner, sharper way to say what you mean.)
  3. The final phrase, by Tommy’s situation, is floating out there. We don’t know what it modifies. I don’t think the towel was wrung dry by Tommy’s situation, was it? I think the intended meaning is She was as whacked out by Tommy’s situation as a towel wrung dry. Which makes the meaning clearer — but it still doesn’t salvage that awful wrung-dry towel metaphor, does it?

In the speaker’s defense, this comment was spoken, not written. It probably made perfect sense in the moment, in the context of the conversation.

In my own defense, I just couldn’t leave it alone. Because somebody quoted this person in print. And now, I’ll never be able to un-see it.

I may need a hot towel. Or something stronger.

Maybe you’re worth it, maybe not

Indulge me. Please. This will only take 35, possibly 40 seconds of your time. A full minute if you’re a slow reader like me.

My beloved New England Patriots will be paying Stephen Gostkowski $8.5 million over the next two years just to kick the ball. No hitting, no absorbing Hulk-like impacts. Just run up to the ball and kick it, and we’ll give you $8.5 million over the next two years. Awesome. And he’s earned it. He’s one of the best kickers the NFL has ever seen.

My equally beloved favorite sportswriter Tyler Sullivan reported on the Gostkowski deal back on the 10th of April. But there was a typo. At least I hope it was a typo. I can’t imagine this not being a typo:

That equates to $4.25 on an average annual value, which is a slight dip in what the veteran was being paid perviously. 

I don’t want to believe that Gostkowski was being paid perviously. Pervious means “open to argument, or change.” Maybe you’re more acquainted with the term impervious: “He was impervious to any criticism.”

I can’t imagine the Patriots paying their star kicker perviously, can you? I mean, who even uses the term perviously these days?

Nah. Must’ve been a typo.

You can see my sorrow on my face(book)

“She expressed her anger at how the incident was handled on Facebook.”

Did she express it on Facebook? Or did she get riled about a Facebook debacle, and tell a friend face-to-face? (Facebook, or face-look? For what it’s worth: In real life I prefer, when possible, face-look.)

I’m trying to figure out how many different ways this could have been written:

  • On Facebook, she expressed her anger at how the incident was handled.
  • She expressed, on Facebook, her anger at how the incident was handled.
  • She expressed her anger at how the incident on Facebook was handled.
  • She expressed her anger at how the incident was, on Facebook, handled. (This sounds like something from the Revolutionary War era, except for the reference to Facebook.)

Perhaps the only thing left to say is, I’m sorry you had an incident, and I’m sorry about how it was handled, and I’m sorry about Facebook being involved, unless it wasn’t.

I’m just sorry, all right?

Shoot, I dunno

“All that screenshotted direct message proves is that Smith-Schuster did, in fact, look up to Brown and did, in fact, treat him with respect.”

I am all for coining new words. Our language is a living organism, and we contribute to its health and growth by tossing new terms into the gene pool and seeing if they make it.

So I’m not criticizing the use of screenshotted here.

Yes, it’s a brand-new term. At least I’ve never seen it anywhere else. Ask the Internet gods and they mostly just shrug.

But if we’re going to let screenshotted into our everyday ordinary day-to-day lives, should it be governed by the everyday ordinary day-to-day rules of other adjectives?

I’m grasping here….

Screenshot is a (relatively newly coined) noun. So when you “take” a screenshot, and you talk about it later, do you say you screenshot? And if you screenshot something, and you refer to an image that you screenshot, would you say the image you screenshot was screenshot? Or screenshotted? Or (heaven forbid) screenshooted?

Somebody help me, please.

And here’s an extra 10% for your off-ramp

“To run a football league, you need moving trucks, chartered planes, hotels, stadiums, contractors, catering — massive infrastructure that needs to be paid.”

I hate to be picky, but infrastructure needs to be paid for, not paid.

You don’t write a check to the infrastructure. You write a check for the infrastructure.

If you’re paying infrastructure, I’ve got a bridge here I’d like you to hire.

Can you hear me here?

“This isn’t much of a story, but hear you go.”


I’m turning up my hearing aids, but it’s not helping — because I can’t hear you here.

Hear is what you do with your ears. Here where you are (all the time).

So it probably goes without saying, but:

  • A hearing is a meeting where people talk, and other people listen — with their ears.
  • There is no such thing as a hereing (maybe you’re thinking of herring, but that’s a fish, with no visible ears),
  • nor a hering (unless you mean Ewald Hering, the German physiologist; but he studied eyes, not ears).

Also, kindly note: When someone on Facebook says something you agree with, do NOT reply “Here, here!” You’re not calling other readers to visit your location; this is not verbal GPS. The correct response is “Hear, hear!” You’re telling people to listen to what’s being said.

  • By the way, in the British Parliament, where this interjection was apparently born, it was originally “Hear him, hear him!” — and no (says, it didn’t change because they started electing female MPs: It was because men are lazy. They just got tired of all those syllables, apparently, and let the phrase degenerate into “Hear, hear!”
    • (It’s possible that, left to their own masculine sloth, they would have eventually dropped one of the hears also, grunting nothing more than a single Hear! when they agreed with something. But history intervened. For the past several decades, women have also been elected to Parliament. It seems likely that the guys are now much more eager to appear vigorous.)

Sweet crustacean dreams

“Have you ever eaten foie gras on a bed of lobster eggs?”

No. Nor seated at the dining room table, either.

(Have the butler leave the foie gras on the nightstand, and I’ll get to it after my nap.)

A simple preposition like on can create so many problems.

A preposition has the simple task of connecting to a noun. In this case, on connects to bed.

The problem here is, you can’t tell which word on is connecting from:

  • you?
  • eaten?
  • foie gras?

Can you fix it?

And can you help me up off this bed of lobster eggs?

You’re so pos’ses’sive

“Cancer is just a rogue cell doing it’s own thing.”

True, except for that invasive little apostrophe.

One of the most confusing aspects of the English language is its (see that? its, not it’s) no-apostrophe possessives.

If something belongs to Simon & Garfunkel, it’s Simon & Garfunkel’s, not Simon & Garfunkels — but if it belongs to them, it’s theirs, not their’s. Possessive, but no apostrophe.

That boy is hers, not yours — right? You don’t write “her’s, not your’s.”

No apostrophe for whose, either. Nor for ours. Certainly not for his. (That would be silly: “We welcome Hi’s Majesty the King”? Uh, no.)

And the only time you use the apostrophe in it’s is when you mean to say it is or it has. (“It’s been a hard day’s night….”)

Why this aberration in our dear English language? Here’s my theory: It happens with pronouns — and PRONOUNS ARE LAME.

Convince me otherwise.

One way or another, McCain gets slammed

I warned you to beware of pronouns, didn’t I!

“Graham fires back about working with Trump while he slams McCain”

Who’s he here?

  • Does the headline mean Graham has no problem working with Trump while Trump is slamming McCain?
  • Or does it mean Graham manages to fire back while also slamming McCain himself?

Of course, the ambiguity makes you want to click and find out, doesn’t it? Those crafty headline-writers at CNN….

Here, have an impact, my treat

“You can have an impact on young lives.”

Yes, but you can make a greater impact on your readers if you use a strong verb like make instead of a weak verb — especially one of the lamest in the English language.

  • Have and all its forms constitute an evil family of words whose primary function in life is to infect and weaken your writing (and often confuse your readers; more on this some other day).

Especially when you’re commenting on an “impact” — something inherently powerful — it’s outrageous to drain its energy by speaking of it passively. To say you can “have an impact” is to turn the force of the idea around, to make it essentially backwards. Now, instead of delivering a blow, someone is keeping it — owning it — “having” it. You don’t keep an impact. You release it, so it lands somewhere else.

Much stronger, and more sensible to boot, to make an impact.

I urge you to make the following commitment (note that I did not urge you to have the following commitment; it would be technically correct, perhaps, but what a lame way to put it):

From this day forward, whenever you write have or any of its forms, catch yourself — scream in terror — delete the offending word — and replace it with something stronger.

It won’t be hard, because have is almost always the weakest choice you could have made.

Have. Glecch.

You light’n up my life

Watch Joe Thuney solve a Rubik’s Cube with lightening speed.”

Lightning is different from lightening.

Lightning is that crackly stuff that shoots down from the sky.

Lightening is what you do to something that’s darker than you want it to be. Say, your attitude. “Doug is finally lightening up a bit.”

Nah, he isn’t.

Drew Brees demoted?

“He returned to the Saints to backup Drew Brees.”

Not to nitpick, but backup can be a noun (he was stuck being a backup) or an adjective (he was stuck being the backup quarterback) but never a verb.

He returned to back up Drew Brees.

If you see the phrase backup Drew Brees, the world has come to an end, because it means that Drew Brees has become a backup, and that’s just not reality.

I mean, I’m a Patriots fan, but come on. Brees as a backup?

(P.S. You can get your back up, but that’s totally different. You can also back up your hard drive — and you should — but the copy you make is a backup.)

(P.P.S. It’s never, ever hyphenated. There is no back-up in English.)

Of thee I cringe

That famous anonymous op-ed piece that ran last September? The one reportedly penned by someone inside the Trump Administration, and published by the New York Times?

The second-to-last sentence in the editorial reads like this:

“There is a quiet resistance within the administration of people choosing to put country first.”

Forgive me; I’m not exactly clear. “Of” is one of the most inexact, most slippery, most dangerous words in the English language.

This writer surely couldn’t really be describing Trumpworld as an “administration of people choosing to put country first.”

But the alternative would be somewhat odd, too — describing a “resistance of people.” Like the administration is resisting the people who choose to put country first. This doesn’t seem to line up with the thesis of the op-ed piece either.

Maybe the writer means to say: “There is a quiet resistance, within the administration, made up of people choosing to put country first.”

Or: “There is, within the administration, a quiet resistance led by [or conducted by] people choosing to put country first.”

But we can’t be sure — or at best, we may find ourselves having to stop and think about it — because of is such a lame word.

Whenever you write the word of, stop yourself, go back, squint at it, and see if you can’t find a more fully functional, more reliably meaningful word or phrase with which to replace it.

The guy who invented the word of was having a difficult day; he was only halfway through his shift when he got a text from his teenage daughter that she forgot to put her Honors English homework in her backpack, and she was going to flunk if he didn’t bring it to the school right away, and he was like, Okay, whatever, and he just left his vague, only-partially-thought-through invention on the workbench, and somebody came along and packaged it up and shipped it, and now we’re stuck with an inferior product.

Walter Cronkite, Jr.

“Lauren knew she wanted to be a newscaster in the 4th grade.”

She had other ideas for 5th grade, I guess.

Actually, I think Lauren knew in the 4th grade that she wanted to be a newscaster.

English wants each word or phrase to modify the most recent prior word or phrase — at least as much as is feasible.

So it’s dangerous to delay a phrase like “in the 4th grade” all the way to the end of the sentence.

Put “in the 4th grade” immediately after the word it refers to — in this case, “knew.”

All bets are off, however, if Lauren actually had an idea to broadcast a news show from Mrs. Helfin’s room at Franklin Elementary. Which might be awesome.

Preposition Opposition Mission

“You can share the story of God’s love to more than 400 villages.”

No, dang it, you can’t.

If you’re writing in English, you can never “share” anything “to” anybody.

But you have some other lovely options:

  • Share with
  • Provide for
  • Give to

(I know, I know: Prepositions are complicated. Sorry. I didn’t invent this language. I just monitor it.)

Good work if you can get it

“My friend saw a landscaper run over a hen. She was so traumatized, she had to take off work for a week.”

Which begs the question: Where was the hen employed?

(Beware pronouns! A pronoun substitutes for a noun. But for which noun? In English, the pronoun often “feels” like it should refer to the most recently aforementioned noun. In this case, “she” may seem to refer to “hen.” If so, that is a chicken with a darn good job.)

Is this table all right for you, or do you prefer a booth?

I have a daughter who works as a host (in the old days, we would have said hostess) at a restaurant.

She seats people.

But when she comes home at the end of her workday, she tells me she sat people. “I sat a party of four.”

Actually, no. She seated a party of four.

I sit today; I sat yesterday. I seat someone today; I seated someone yesterday.

There’s a difference between sitting and seating. Sitting is what the customer does. Seating is what the host does.

And annoying the daughter by pointing out the difference is what the dad does.

Locate the bomb, PLEASE

“Truman got word of the bombing on board a cruiser.”

The moment you use the word of, you’re at risk.

Everything after of, for the entire balance of the sentence,can be interpreted as one thing, or not.

Of is one of many flimsy words in the English language, words which don’t carry their weight, words which create more problems than they’re worth.

Others: have, it, and that.

More to come regarding these devils.

Who’s whosing whom?

“There were children right on the streets of my hometown who’s cries finally reached my ears.”

I sympathize. With the children, and with the writer who blew the who’s.

It seems right, doesn’t it, to use who’s when you’re talking about something that belongs to the who? If something belongs to Doug, it’s Doug’s. We learned in grade school about the “apostrophe S.”

But in fact, when it comes to who, it’s backwards from how it seems it ought to be. Because English is a complicated language.

The rules about who’s and whose are simple. Memorize them. Memorizing them is the only way to survive, because they’re counter-intuitive.

Rule #1. Whose is the possessive. Always.

If you’re talking about something that belongs to someone — those pitiful little cries belong to those pitiful little children — it’s always whose. Never who’s.

Rule #2. Who’s is a contraction, and only a contraction.

Who’s means either who is or who has:

  • Who’s that knockin’ at my door? (Who is that knocking at my door?)
  • Who’s been messin’ with my baby? (Who has been messing with my baby?)

(There is one other possible point of confusion, which I hesitate to mention, but I will: Dr. Seuss wrote about “the Whos down in Whoville.” This is totally different. Not possessive, not a contraction. Not spelled whose and not spelled who’s. But also not something you have to worry about — unless you’re talking about the Whos down in Whoville. Which, I assume, you usually aren’t.)

Juicy, juicier, juiciest

“He was then taken to a massage room, undressed and lay on a massage bed.”

Let’s set aside for a moment the juicy question of “Who is this?”, and instead look at the even juicier question of “Why does this sentence feel a little awkward?”

The answer is found in the fascinating issue of parallel structure.

For a technical explanation, you can look at this post on

In plain terms, however: Each of the elements in a series (this, that, and the other) needs to be set up the same way.

If the first item in the series is that he “was taken,” then each subsequent item in the series needs to be a “was” type of phrase too:

“He was then taken to a massage room, [was] undressed, and [was] lain on a massage bed.”

You don’t have to include “was” all three times, because it’s understood.

But I think what the writer really meant was: “He was then taken to a massage room, where he undressed and lay on a massage bed.”

It might have been less awkward to say: “He then went to a massage room, undressed, and lay on a massage bed.” (The active voice is often better than the passive.)

What happened next is anybody’s guess. (Active or passive. Ahem.)

Victims indicted: a travesty

The headline reads:

“Kentucky man accused of killing two black victims indicted on federal hate crime charges.”

Probably the victims were not indicted, either before or after they were murdered.

News headlines are tricky. It’s traditional for the editors to leave words out. Why? I don’t know. Maybe by omitting “a” and “the” and “has been” and the like, they save a little space, which enables them to make the headline a bit bigger? I’m speculating here.

Certainly it would be less dramatic for this headline to read: “A Kentucky man, accused of killing two black victims, has been indicted on federal hate crime charges.”

But at least this way, those two black people, already victims, wouldn’t also suffer the indignity of an indictment.

(Alternative headline suggestion: “Accused of killing two black victims, Kentucky man indicted on federal hate crime charges.”)

Mysterious diagonal black lines appear, disappear, confusing millions

Hannah Goldfield, food editor for The New Yorker, is a lovely writer. She hardly ever makes this kind of mistake — and the editors at the magazine hardly ever let this kind of mistake slip through:

“Made with a naturally leavened high-gluten dough, they’re super thin and super flat, though still chewy, pale in color, and, most important, cooked on a hot grill instead of in an oven and branded with diagonal black lines.”

Is this an April Fool’s trick? I’m not sure whether to expect those diagonal black lines or not.

This type of food is either cooked on a hot grill and branded with diagonal black lines, or it’s cooked on a hot grill period — with everything else coming under the “instead of” umbrella.

How to straighten out the dilemma of the diagonals?

A simple comma might help: “…cooked on a hot grill instead of in an oven, and branded with diagonal black lines” — meaning yes, the black lines will be there.

Or maybe a dash: “…cooked on a hot grill — instead of in an oven and branded with diagonal black lines” — in which case, you won’t find the black lines.

Perhaps you’ll review Hannah’s article, recognize the dish she’s describing, and advise via the Comment window. Thank you in advance.

Shortest show in history

“All the episodes are 12 minutes long”?

No, each of the episodes is 12 minutes long.

If all the episodes were 12 minutes long, the entire series would take 12 minutes total.

(If you had 12 episodes, each would only be 1 minute long. What a teeny show!)

Whenever you write the word all, take a second look and see if you wouldn’t be better served by replacing it with each. If the stuff that comes after all the whateverdescribes just one of the group you’re discussing, you probably want the singular form each, not the plural form all.

It’s not a rule, just a suggestion. However, I’ll feel I’ve contributed positively to your life if I’ve managed to make you paranoid about using the word all.

The Rain in Reign stays mainly…

From my beloved Tyler Sullivan on my beloved CBS Sports app:

“The reining Super Bowl champs could simply draft a QB….”

Well, no.

There’s rein, and then there’s reign.

You reign over a kingdom, you rein in a horse.

A king who cries, “A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!” is pleading to exchange his reign for some reins.

Then there’s rain. And the late actor Claude Raines. But let’s not go there. Rein and reign are hard enough to remember.

As my dear Tyler Sullivan proves.

Who? When? Huh?

“He is a Democrat looking to unseat Republican Barbara Comstock, a supporter of President Donald Trump, who was first elected in 2014.”

Problematic English and problematic history. Trump was elected in 2016. This writer must mean something different — along the lines of:

“He is a Democrat looking to unseat Republican Barbara Comstock, a supporter of President Donald Trump. Comstock was first elected in 2014.” (Two shorter sentences often prove to be clearer than one longer sentence.)

Or maybe:

“He is a Democrat looking to unseat Republican Barbara Comstock, elected in 2014, a supporter of President Donald Trump.” (A bit awkward, but passable.)

Or possibly:

“He is a Democrat looking to unseat Republican Barbara Comstock, a Trump supporter first elected in 2014.” (Not quite as respectful in referring to the President, but let’s not get into the issue of respectfulness and the current President.)

English is dangerous. Beware “who” in the middle of a sentence. You know “who” you mean, but does your reader? When you find you’ve planted a “who” in the middle of a sentence, look over its shoulder to see which “who” your “who” might seem to reference.

You can’t make me

You can give a gift, or send one.

You can make a contribution, or a donation.

But when a non-profit organization asks you to “make a gift,” they’re making a mistake.

My daughter made me a gift last week — a lovely mug, painted Van Gogh-style, with swirly colors.

That’s making a gift.

Which isn’t what the non-prof is asking you to do. They don’t want you to make something. They want something you’ve already made: your money.

Perhaps non-profs sank into the habit of talking about “making a gift” in an attempt to warm up their “ask” language — perhaps they wanted to get away from cold, corporate terms like donation and contribution. But when they switched their noun, they needed to switch the verb too.

Non-profit organizations are awesome. I’ve made my living, my entire adult life, writing fundraising appeals for non-profit organizations. Most of them do great work, for great causes.

So make them some donations. Make them some great big fat contributions. But don’t make them gifts. Unless they specifically need hand-crafted items. In which case, I’m really interested in why they’re asking you to “make a gift.” (What kind of project would this be? I’m thinking a “Knitting for Knowledge” college scholarship campaign. Or maybe “Homemade Hooch for the Homeless”? Nah, probably illegal. Also not helpful.)

Lay a lie on me

Snow Patrol’s hit song “Chasing Cars” is well known:

If I lay here
If I just lay here
Would you lie with me and just forget the world?

Of course, song lyrics often disobey the normal rules of English usage. But technically, “If I lay here” is past tense. The opening lines of this song are actually saying If I was lying here, If I was just lying here. But this isn’t what they mean to say. They mean to say If I lie here.

By the time we get to the question, in the third line of the song — Would you lie with me — they get the present tense right. (Why did they change from lay to lie? Is there a rule that says you switch to lie if you add with? Nope.)

English is a complicated language, especially when it comes to lay and lie and all their various forms.

I lie today — meaning I’m lying down. (You can say, for example: “Leave it where it lies.”)

I lay yesterday — meaning I was lying down. (Leave it where it lay. Meaning: It was fine right where it was.)

But you can also lay something down today — although this is a different word, actually. And if you did it yesterday, you didn’t lie it down; you laid it down.

None of which has anything to do with telling a lie. You lie today, you lied yesterday. If you fibbed in bed, you lied as you lay. It sounds wrong, but it’s right.

Then again, if you’re writing a song, you do whatever sounds right, I guess. La la la!


“Hernandez was discovered hanged in his cell by corrections officers at the Center in Shirley, Massachusetts.”

Those corrections officers oughta be ashamed.

In our complicated English language, each phrase is likeliest to be understood to modify the most recent previous phrase. We don’t naturally like holding the meaning of one word (discovered) in a kind of mental limbo as we read through the next phrase (hanged in his cell) until we arrive at the phrase intended to modify the first word (which phrase, in this case, is by corrections officers). We tend to want each phrase to comment on the previous phrase.

It’s a good policy to immediately follow a verb immediately with the phrase that modifies it — although in this sentence, just following the verb immediately with the phrase that modifies it wouldn’t save the day. You would get a different kind of mistake: “Hernandez was discovered by corrections officers hanged in his cell at the Center in Shirley, Massachusetts.” Some kind of gruesome miracle!

Better to start from scratch and write the sentence in the active voice instead of the passive: “Corrections officers discovered Hernandez hanged in his cell at the Center in Shirley, Massachusetts.” My theory is that the passive voice creates a lot of problems that it doesn’t get adequate blame for — like corrections officers hanging inmates.

Hope shackled

From a TV preacher:

“Let my friend Sheila Walsh help you escape the shackles that keep you down by finding grace and hope through Christ.”

Oh, dear. Word order is important, isn’t it? Do the shackles find grace and thereby keep you down? I think not.

Kindly suggest a rewrite in the Comment section, before I lose my religion.

Aw, chute!

My favorite sportswriter, Tyler Sullivan, posting on my favorite sports page,

“The Patriots struggles in that department were on full display right out of the shoot in their blowout loss to the Titans.”

First of all, there’s the minor matter of the missing apostrophe, right there at the end of Patriots. Since the struggles belong to the Patriots, you need to make Patriots possessive by adding an apostrophe at the end: The Patriots’ struggles….

But then there’s the larger matter of that “shoot.” The team’s struggles were on full display right out of the chute, not the shoot.

I’m trying to think of a situation where “right out of the shoot” might work.

I guess if you’re making a movie, and your lead actor gets annoyed, he could stalk right out of the shoot. If it’s the first day of filming, you could say he stalked out of the shoot right out of the chute! (And then roll your eyes and mutter, “Actors!”)

Or if you’re cooking an Asian dish, you might squeeze something out of a bamboo shoot. Although what good this will do for the flavor, I can’t imagine. And doing anything one bamboo shoot at a time seems awfully time-consuming. Whatever you’re squeezing out of the bamboo, I think you want to be squeezing it out of the shoots, not the shoot.

But otherwise, no. It’s a chute. Shoot, Tyler, I’m sorry.


“The chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee called Friday for freshman Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar to apologize after insinuating that pro-Israel groups are pushing ‘allegiance to a foreign country.'”

So did the chairman insinuate, and then call for Omar to apologize? This wouldn’t make sense, would it?

But the possibly illogical content of the sentence doesn’t magically make PERFECT the English-language construction of the sentence.

Because the English language is based on, in part, the sequence in which words appear in sentences (hence my fixation on “word order”), this sentence should have read more or less as follows:

“The chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, after insinuating that pro-Israel groups are pushing ‘allegiance to a foreign country,’ called Friday for freshman Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar to apologize.”

You think this is awkward? You may be right. Kindly suggest a smoother alternative. I am always interested in smoother alternatives.

Who’s drooling?

“They watched him wide-eyed, drooling slightly.”

This is what Leïla Slimani wrote in “The Confession” in the 2/18-25/19 edition of my beloved New Yorker.

I want to believe that “They” are the ones who were wide-eyed and drooling (slightly). But what if they were actually watching him? Him wide-eyed! Him drooling! (Slightly.)

Maybe I’m splitting hairs, but think about it. Someone says to you, “They watched him drooling.” What do you think? Who’s drooling?

Not only God, but his family too

Saw Kinky Boots on Broadway this past weekend (sniff sniff, hope you’re impressed), and here’s something curious that my lovely sharp-eyed wife Kristina noted among the actors’ bios in the playbill:

Seems this wondrously talented actor is thanking God and God’s family, not to mention BYU and some others.

Attention, English-speakers! The first pronoun after any comma is likely to be attached to the last noun before that same comma.

Dear friends! This is English! Word order, punctuation, and pronouns are complicated! I will teach you! Pay attention!