Category Archives: Spelling

Forensic linguists play part in 20-year-old murder case

29043308 - magnifying glass on an old handwritten letter

Magnifying glass on an old handwritten letter / 123RF

What exactly is — or are — “forensic linguistics”? It’s the application of linguistic knowledge, methods and insights to the forensic context of law, language, crime investigation, trial, and judicial procedure. Here’s an example of it.

Retired FBI agent James Fitzgerald is one of the U.S.’s most prominent forensic linguists: as well as advising on some of TV’s popular fictional crime and forensics shows, he was on the investigative teams of two high-profile criminal cases of the last couple of decades: the Unabomber, and the murder of JonBenét Ramsey in 1996. The Ramsey case was recently back in the news, with a new TV documentary detailing a new, independent investigation of that 20-year-old crime. As part of the new investigative team, Fitzgerald returned to the scene of the crime to analyze in detail the notorious ransom note that became such a mysterious and vital part of the unsolved homicide. He talked to Yahoo TV about the significance of that 370-word document, and the various things it revealed about the person who wrote it. Here are a couple of excerpts from that interview: Continue reading

A short proofreading quiz on National Proofreading Day

From Wikimedia Commons

Fancy trying your hand at a bit of proofreading, on National Proofreading Day? See if you can catch all the spelling, punctuation and grammatical errors in the five sentences below. A clean copy will be posted tomorrow. (Clue: you should be able to spot at least 10 errors, and a few more.) Good luck! Continue reading

An unpresidented spelling quiz on World Spelling Day

On World Spelling Day, Glossophilia hear by presents an unpresidented spelling quiz on the subject of America’s 45th precident of the United States of America — “one of the dummer people on television” (Donald Trump — not about himself — in a June 2015 pre-presidenshal tweet). How many spelling errors can you count in the President’s tweets illustrated below? Continue reading

The spelling (& Jerkish) of the President: update

IMG_3905We are humbeled, Mr President.

UPDATE:

As the great American novelist Philip Roth has recently commented to the New Yorker: “Whatever I may have seen as their limitations of character or intellect, neither [Richard Nixon nor George W. Bush] was anything like as humanly impoverished as Trump is: ignorant of government, of history, of science, of philosophy, of art, incapable of expressing or recognizing subtlety or nuance, destitute of all decency, and wielding a vocabulary of seventy-seven words that is better called Jerkish than English.”

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In the news … (Friday, Oct 21)

Portrait of Cod; Wikimedia Commons

Portrait of Cod; Wikimedia Commons

In grammatical and usage news this past month: a political email scandal involving risotto and apostrophes; some fishy regional accents, literally; how we’ll all be talking in 50 years’ time; Trump gets it wrong yet again; a British supermarket with a name that’s already been taken (by Iceland, for itself); a dictionary goes online; and those familiar experiences and concepts that desperately need a word or name to describe them  … Continue reading

Proper adjectives: to Capitalize or not to capitalize?

Miniature of the "Alexander Romance", a 14th-century book, late Byzantine period / Wikimedia Commons

Miniature of the “Alexander Romance”, a 14th-century book, late Byzantine period / Wikimedia Commons

We use them all the time: adjectives that originally came from real or proper names. In its simplest form — a French kiss, a Shakespearean turn-of-phrase, a Freudian slip — it seems only fair that a proper name should retain its proper capitalized status when it steps out as an adjective. However, a word can lose its initial luster when an adjective starts to assert its own “improper” identity and emancipate itself from its lofty namesake. “In August, a teenager from Iowa cooked dozens of similarly Lilliputian pancakes for her chickens,” reported New York magazine yesterday. Here, the miniaturizing adjective named after Jonathan Swift’s fictional island was allowed to keep its proper L. “Toronto tries to simplify byzantine PATH map,” the Toronto Star said in a headline on Monday, with the Canadian paper’s editors denying byzantine its capital B despite the adjective taking its name from a real but ancient empire. Why is there a difference in treatment between the two? Continue reading

Spot the curious mistake

image

Can you see the curious mistake* in this tag on a popular lunch bag? (And I’m not referring to the headline-case caps; you can read more about cap styling at this earlier Glosso post.)

At the risk of giving away the answer, Glosso finds it slightly strange that it looks like the error of a non-native English-speaker who is spelling phonetically a word pair (and a curious choice of words at that), and the phonetic translation only works if it’s pronounced with a British accent — but the company that produces the lunch bag is U.S.-based. Go figger.

Answers on a postcard please

* Well, Glosso assumes it’s a mistake

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In the news … (June 10)

trump

TGIF: That Gerund Is Funky. In usage and grammar news this month: Trump is unaware of the hottest portmanteau of the year; a very sinister punctuation trend; Roald Dahl’s weird words get their own dictionary; a grammar mistake on a London Transport ad (can you spot it?); Texan Republicans either believe that most Texans are gay, or they just can’t string a sentence together; the name of a famous bridge has been spelled wrong for more than five decades; a comedian lands herself in trouble with a mispronunciation; and some awesome Bachelorette malapropisms. (And if you’re not sure what a portmanteau or malapropism is, check out Glosso’s earlier post here.)

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As became apparent in a Hollywood Reporter piece at the beginning of the month, presidential wannabe Donald Trump seemed to be unaware of the most famous political portmanteau of 2016, which is on the lips of most Brits — especially during this month of the EU nation’s historic referendum. At one point during a lengthy interview with Michael Wolff, the Donald was asked what he thought about the two-syllable word that’s currently dividing the UK into warring factions: “And Brexit?” Woff asked. “Your position?” … Trump: “Huh?” … Wolff: “Brexit”. Trump: “Hmmm.”

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“Over the past few days, Twitter users may have noticed an increase in the number of fellow users who have surrounded their names with ((( ))). The symbols appear harmless enough but have become controversial after an investigation revealed that they were being used by a small minority of white supremacists to target Jewish writers with anti-Semitic abuse.” The BBC reports on this disturbing punctuation trend.

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“It’s an error that has loomed over New York Harbor for more than 50 years: The name of the majestic Verrazano-Narrows Bridge is spelled wrong. Despite a new petition drive to make it right — the bridge is named for 16th-century Italian explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano (two Z’s) — the state authority that controls the span has stubbornly held to the one Z position it’s taken for years: We know it’s wrong, but we’re not changing it.” New York’s Daily News has the full story.

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Can you spot the grammatical error in this TfL (London’s public transport) advertisement?

tfl ad

Clue: it’s a singular mistake. The Evening Standard has the full story.

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“A Texas-based LGBT advocacy helped spark a grammar debate … over whether an errant comma in the stridently anti-homosexual Republican Party of Texas platform can be read as saying the majority of Texans are gay. … “Homosexuality is a chosen behavior that is contrary to the fundamental unchanging truths that has been ordained by God in the Bible, recognized by our nations founders, and shared by the majority of Texans.” I’m not so sure it’s an errant comma that causes the confusion, as Reuters reports; isn’t it those two “that”s and those plural “truths” with a singular “has” that make the whole statement incomprehensible?

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According to the UK’s Independent, a woman from Georgia is suing Ellen DeGeneres after the comedian and chat show host mispronounced the litigant’s name on daytime TV. “Titty Pierce” was the name DeGeneres sounded out as she poked fun at the estate agent’s advertisement in her segment “What’s Wong With These Ads…. and These Signs?”. Pierce, 35, insisted in the lawsuit that her name is pronounced “Tee Tee … as grammar dictates”. Maybe she means spelling. Either way, it’s a shame she wasn’t just called Mildred.

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“Roald Dahl was the master wordsmith who wrote some of the nation’s most memorable children’s books. To mark 100 years since his birth, almost 8,000 of the phrases he used in his novels are going to be published in a special dictionary. The BBC asked some of his biggest fans in Manchester what they thought of his language.” See the video here.

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And finally, 10 awesome malapropisms from the season premiere of ABC’s The Bachelorette, courtesy of Mashable.

 

 

 

TGIF (That Gerund Is Funky): March25

nypl

TGIF: That Gerund Is Funky. In this month’s language usage news, we have a high-profile hold-out on the use of the singular “their”; the word okay and its origins; a list of horrid words; a vulgar word finds its way into the OED; a spelling mistake that thwarted a bank heist; bad spelling used for effect in an ad campaign; Donald Trump’s 6th-grade linguistic skills; and a spelling quiz from a fine New York institution. (Warning: explicit vocabulary ahead.) Continue reading