Category Archives: Nit-picking

Glossophilia’s top 21 posts

cropped-cropped-words.jpg

Celebrating its 70,000th visitor earlier today, Glossophilia brings you its 21 most popular posts so far. Subjects include Cockney Rhyming Slang and other quirky Englishisms; contranyms and homophones; when to use which and when to use that; British tea – when is it low and when is it high? and British school – when is it public and when is it private?; some modern words like yolo and like, and a not-so-modern one: dildo. And, of course, some American-British differences that we can never get enough of — this time in the kitchen pantry  …

Enjoy (them)! Continue reading

In the news … (Aug 22)

 

MoS2 Template Master

TGIF. In language, grammar and usage news this week: does how we write tell others how smart we are? Do punctuation and grammar matter when we’re flirting digitally? Does the language of a restaurant’s menu tell us how expensive the restaurant is? Plus some spelling challenges presented to U.S. foreign policy reporters; movie titles that make us cringe; and the Kim Kardashian of punctuation marks …

~~~~

How you write can affect how smart others perceive you to be. According to a piece in the Atlantic, “Typing … in the Comic Sans font … could ruin the whole thing: a Princeton researcher found that a hard-to-read font made an author seem dumber, while a clean, simple typeface (Times New Roman, in the study) made him or her seem more intelligent. The same researcher also looked at how using big words (a classic strategy for impressing others) affects perceived intelligence. Counterintuitively, grandiose vocabulary diminished participants’ impressions of authors’ cerebral capacity. Put another way: simpler writing seems smarter.”

*   *   *

“The dash is the Kim Kardashian of punctuation marks: misplaced, over-exposed, shamelessly self-promoting, always eager to elbow out her jealous sisters the comma, colon, and semicolon.” So Roy Peter Clark maintains on Poynter.

*   *   *

The Huffington Post has identified 18 movies whose titles make every grammar geek cringe. It’s mostly a case of missing hyphens (“40 Year-Old Virgin” has a slightly pedophiliac quality to it) and apostrophes (“Two Weeks Notice” cries out for one); but when it comes to Zach Braff’s new movie, he’s

*   *   *

“Funky or very informal spelling” is the biggest turnoff for both men and women when it comes to digital flirting, according to the results of a digital flirting rules survey done by Omlet, a chat app. …For women, the second biggest turnoff was the lack of punctuation and grammar.” Delaware’s News Journal has the story.

*   *   *

The Hill has published an article on the spelling challenges of U.S. foreign policy. Is it ISIS or ISIL?

*   *   *

Does the language of a restaurant’s menu indicate how expensive it is? Dan Jurafsky has found that it does, as reported in the Atlantic. “Fancy restaurants, not surprisingly, use fancier—and longer—words than cheaper restaurants do (think accompaniments and decaffeinated coffee, not sides and decaf)…. Lower-priced restaurants, meanwhile, rely on “linguistic fillers”: subjective words like deliciousflaky, and fluffy. These are the empty calories of menus, less indicative of flavor than of low prices. Cheaper establishments also use terms like ripe and fresh, which Jurafsky calls “status anxiety” words.” Does that mean I get a bargain when “steak frites” is on the menu?

*   *   *

TGIF: That Gerund Is Funky (July 25)

Pou2

An appropriate name for this type of doctor ... (seen on Manhattan’s Upper West Side)

TGIF. Language and usage in the news this week: a missing comma in a tweet; how to pronounce a footballer’s name; Zach Braff’s bad grammar; and a different typ(o) of freedom …

*   *   *

AP sent the Twittersphere into a frenzy when it left an important comma out of one its tweets:

APtweet

Yes, we do need commas. Even when we’re tweeting …

*   *   *

Zach Braff used bad grammar on purpose in the title of his new movie, Wish I Was Here. Continue reading

Orange Is the New Grammar Nerd

Spoiler Entitlement

Is Piper Chapman — the most famous of Litchfield Federal Penitentiary’s inmates — a grammatical descriptivist or prescriptionist? Well, we got to find out recently during the second season of the Netflix runaway hit, Orange Is the New Black. Who would ever have guessed that we would discover something as important as Piper’s stance on grammar and usage?

Halfway through the seventh episode, during a meeting of Piper’s newly formed newsletter committee, a heated discussion about language usage unfolds (weirdly covering some of the same ground that Weird Al did in his Word Crimes video yesterday).

Flaca starts the nit-picking, identifying Lorna’s phrase “I could care less” in her newsletter contribution as being a grammar fail. “If you could care less, that means you still care. You know what I’m saying? Cause, like, it is possible for you to care less.”

Continue reading

Weird Al gets it

weirdal

It’s weird but true: “Weird Al” Yankovic actually gets grammar.

To promote his new album, Mandatory Fun, Weird Al is releasing a new video every day for each of the tracks on the CD. Today’s video is the song “Word Crimes” — a take-off of Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines”. It’s music to the ears of us grammar nerds.

“I hate these word crimes / Like ‘I could care less’ / That means you DO care”

“I don’t want your drama / If you really wanna / Leave out that Oxford comma”

And if you can’t stop committing these word crimes, then Al suggests that “you should hire / some cunning linguist / who can help you distinguish / what’s proper English …”

Anyone who understands the difference between less and fewer and that irony is not coincidence (yes, he manages to slip both those words crimes in) is a man after my own heart.

Knock yourself out, Glossophiles, and sing along with Al …

Hat-tip to Lil …

TGIF: That Gerund Is Funky (July 11)

soccergrammar

TGIF. In the world of Glosso news this week: singular soccer grammar; rude Somali nicknames; a “Strunk and White for Spies”; and what makes American literature American?

*   *   *

9Gag makes a gag about World Cup teams (or lack thereof) — but the comments underneath the soccer meme address a much more serious issue: football grammar. Germany have a team? Since when is a singular country a plural subject? Since when it comes to footie, it seems. (An earlier Glossophilia post also walked us through this strange anomaly found in soccer language, at least on one side of the pond …)

*   *   * Continue reading

In the news … (June 20)

tiny grass

TGIF: That Gerund Is Funky. Words and language in the news this week include a schoolboy pointing out BMW’s bad grammar; a prime minister’s spelling error and a president’s incorrect pronunciation; the relationship between texting and bad (or good) spelling; and some real Nazis who are also grammar nazis. Continue reading

A-verbing we will go

franklin

Benjamin Franklin called it “awkward and abominable” in a letter to the lexicographer Noah Webster in 1789. He was talking about “verbing”: the hijacking of nouns for use as verbs — a practice that dates back many centuries. Even Shakespeare was doing it back in about 1595 when the Duke of York reacted angrily to his nephew Bolingbroke’s greeting: “Grace me no grace, nor uncle me no uncle!” Continue reading

To publish, or to release, a book?

snoopy

Both my dad and one of my good friends are having their (respective) first books published in the coming weeks* — and the anticipation is killing me. I’ve got them both on pre-order, and amazon reminds me in red letters that “This title has not yet been released.” Released? Why not published?

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the verb to release — in its transitive form — means (among other things) “publish or make available for publication (a document, piece of information, etc.); make available to the public (a film, recording, etc.).” The Oxford American Dictionary is a little more specific: “4. allow information to be generally available. 5. make a movie or recording available to the public.” It’s curious that neither definition offers the book as an example of this verb’s object. We’re long used to the idea of films or CDs making their public debuts in the form of a release — and indeed, movies can also “go on general release”. Both definitions above also make references to “information” being made available — but this to my mind means something quite different from the act of publishing a book or other material. To publish, according to the OED, is “to prepare and issue (a book, journal, piece of music, or other work) for public sale”.

I work in the world of music publicity, where I regularly issue press or news releases and I talk about CDs (and sometimes DVDs) being released. In the former case we’re “releasing” news and information that has, at least implicitly, been kept under wraps and from public knowledge until the appropriate time. I would argue that this sense of the verb release ties in logically with its other meanings: “to set someone free from imprisonment or confinement; free someone from a duty; allow to move freely.” Note that the OAD definition above “allows” information to be made available. It certainly implies that information that was previously restricted is at last being unleashed or revealed.

Granted, you could stretch that idea and claim that a book is being kept under wraps while it passes through the publication process, but it’s really not the same idea. So what accounts for this fairly recent phenomenon (or at least I think it’s fairly recent: please correct me if I’m wrong) of using publish and release interchangeably?

I have a few thoughts; feel free to disagree with me or to suggest other ideas.

First, is it possible that we’ve become so used to the idea of seeing, reading or hearing something the moment it becomes available — whether it’s a piece of news/gossip, a new episode or series on Netflix, or a downloadable track — that just the act of accessing or obtaining it is almost as important as the thing itself? The word release has an immediacy and even a sense of revelation that publish just can’t compete with, and we’re hungry for whatever is brand new.

Or is it something to do with the standard availability of audio and digital versions of a book, whose publication nowadays is technically more akin to a movie or CD release, given that it’s downloadable and delivered directly to your screen or device of choice?

Another related idea is that book publishers and retailers are trying to market their product as an item of leisure and entertainment — aligning it in the consumer’s mind more with movies and music and less as a category in its own right. Especially now that we’re one-stop shopping at online retailers, we want to load all our new releases into our virtual shopping baskets — whether we end up watching, listening to or reading them once they’re in our clutches.

The word publish might just have become too old-fashioned for the modern young reader-slash-consumer. It conjures up dusty images of paper, ink and printing presses, pesky nit-picking editors, and an interminable wait that guarantees it will be out of date before it even lands on the doormat (even if it is a timeless novel). The modern-day book is hip, fresh, immediate and current: it’s ‘released’ instantaneously and accessed with the touch of a button. Why would anyone consider publishing anything any more?

Damian Fowler’s Falling Through Clouds is published by St. Martin’s Press on April 29; Brian Barder’s What Diplomats Do is released on July 16 by Rowman & Littlefield.

In the news (April 11)

harold

An endangered species?

TGIF: That Gerund Is Funky …

The weird word of the week is incarnadine: see definition below. And in the news this week: a grammatical bank robber; a grammatically incorrect and insolent student; no freedom for the Eskimos; some extinct and endangered names; and some bananarama …

*   *   *

An English teacher who received a rude, expletive-filled letter from one of his or her disgruntled students took a red pen and returned it with corrections. The closing comment? “Please use your education appropriately. Proofreading takes five minutes and keeps you from looking stupid.” The Telegraph (and lots of other publications) had the story.

*   *   *

There isn’t an Inuit word for freedom; the closest they come is annakpok which means “not caught”. The BBC included this fact in its freedom season.

*   *   *

Bananas: did you know that a bunch of bananas is called a hand and that individual bananas are called fingers? I didn’t either … But mental_floss did.

*   *   *

Do you know anyone called Fanny, Gertrude, Gladys, Margery, Marjorie, Muriel, Cecil, Rowland, Willie, Bertha or Blodwen? Probably not — at least not in the UK — since they are now all “extinct” in that county. None have been recorded in the latest record of births. Clifford, Horace, Harold, Doris, Norman and Leslie are all endangered, so think about them when you’re next naming a baby, if you want to keep those names alive. The Telegraph reports.

*   *   *

A bank robber in Denver seems to have left his (or her) mark with grammatically immaculate demand notes. Local law enforcement officials have named the suspect (who is still on the lam) the ‘Good Grammar Bandit’.  “It’s well punctuated, there’s proper sentence structure, the spelling is correct,” FBI Denver spokesman Dave Joly told ABC News. “He did a nice job.”

*   *   *

Weird word of the week: incarnadine: adj – 1. flesh-colored; 2. crimson or blood-red.

“Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood
Clean from my  hand? No, this my hand will rather
The multitudinous seas incarnadine,
Making the green one red.”
— Shakespeare, Macbeth Act II