Friday, March 25, 2011

Maybe it's Time to Invest in Some Apostrophes

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Hitting Where it Hurts

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

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Playing in the Margins

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

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

That's Just Sic

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

Saturday, March 12, 2011

A Prepositionalist Incongruousness

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

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

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Still Better than the Jell-O and Preparation H

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

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

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Piers Review

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

Friday, March 04, 2011

For Better or Wurse

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

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

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

Damn kids today.