The New York Times:

That means no pennants baring sports team logos, no Jolly Rogers, no rainbow banners celebrating gay pride and no historic flags showing a coiled rattlesnake bearing its fangs.

Indeed, I'm sure that were rattlesnakes capable of written language, they'd have written themselves a constitution granting the right to bear fangs, especially since fangs are an inherent trait of their species and all, but I do believe the copyeditor over at the old Grey Lady somehow managed to interchange "baring" (uncovering or showing, often in a display of aggression) and "bearing" (bringing or carrying) in this sentence.

(The article has since been fixed.)

posted on 31 August 2010 at 19530 commentstrackback

Memo to the BBC

"Australia in sex-tourism campaign" does not in any way mean the same thing as "Australia launches a nation-wide advertising campaign to accompany tough new laws against sex tourism."

posted on 07 June 2010 at 11240 commentstrackback

Constitution and Editor Fail

From The New York Times:

Orly Taitz, a California dentist and lawyer who is among the leading voices in the anti-Obama movement, made her case in a combative interview on MSNBC.

Obama is completely illegitimate as a U.S. president for two reasons not only because he did not provide the place of his birth, but also because both parents have to be U.S. citizens, Ms. Taitz said.

Ms. -- and I use that term loosely -- Taitz is, of course, completely wrong. Not only was Mr. Obama born in Hawaii, but parentage has nothing to do with it (and if it did, a large number of our Presidents would have been ineligible!).

The Constitution states, in Article II, Section 1:

No person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President; neither shall any Person be eligible to that Office who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty-five Years, and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States.

"Natural-born citizen" introduces (possibly deliberately) some ambiguity that was clarified by the Fourteenth Amendment:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.

It's quite clear, then, that one's parentage has absolutely nothing to do with one's eligibility for either United States citizenship or for the office of President of the United States. So why would the Times dignify Taitz's completely specious argument by using the entire quote?

While I understand that the ellipsis can be -- and often is -- deliberately intended to mislead (see any number of movie review snippets used by studios desperate for some sort of positive spin on a terrible film), and given the requirement that at least some of Taitz's remarks be used, I probably would have edited it to read as follows:

"Obama is completely illegitimate as a U.S. president ... because he did not provide the place of his birth, Ms. Taitz said. His father was never a U.S. citizen. He was in the United States on a student visa.

Everything after the first sentence could be dropped if the Times editors were concerned about making Taitz "look bad" (although, really, including the entire quote made her look much kookier) without simultaneously dragging down the credibility of the newspaper by dignifying such a ridiculous argument.

posted on 04 August 2009 at 12590 commentstrackback

And The Award Goes To...

This year's winner for Best Use of "Ziggurat" In A Real Headline: the Knoxville (TN) News-Sentinel.

posted on 20 March 2009 at 07110 commentstrackback

"Between One and Three"

Ticks on a Plane:

A United spokeswoman says between one and three ticks were discovered.

So does that mean two ticks were discovered; or that they found three things that might have been ticks, but they're not entirely sure; or something else entirely? Inquiring minds (and editors everywhere) want to know.

posted on 09 July 2008 at 16540 commentstrackback

Headlines of the Day

World's tallest man saves plastic eating dolphins

How anyone can save plastic by eating dolphins is beyond me, but sure. Someone hand CNN's editorial staff a hyphen, please.

MIT Scientists Create One-Sided Mobius Pizza

That's just awesome. It's fake, of course, but it's still awesome.

posted on 18 December 2006 at 16002 commentstrackback

Apostrophe Usage 101

The apostrophe isn't a complicated entity. It is used to indicate two things in English: a possessive or a contraction. For example, in the preceding sentence, "isn't" has an apostrophe in it because it is a contraction for "is not", and the apostrophe indicates the missing "O".

The apostrophe should never be used to indicate plurals. (The only possible exception to this rule is a purely stylistic one which I utterly loathe, and that is in the case of reference to a decade; e.g. "The 1970's". That usage grates on my brain something awful.)

The apostrophe should also never be randomly inserted into words that, by pure coincidence, end in "S", especially not when you're writing a story about education. Hint to Dan Bewley: in the following sentence, not only should an apostrophe not be used to pluralize a word (a very common and disgusting error), but "guarantees" isn't even plural! It's the third-person present indicative tense of the verb "to guarantee".

Organizers of J.O.N.A.H., Joint-religious Organizing Network for Action and Hope, are hoping to expand the city's legacy scholarship program that guarantee's tuition to Kellogg Community College for Battle Creek or Lakeview school graduates.


posted on 15 October 2006 at 19221 commentstrackback

Something to Ponder

Eric pointed me to an article about some renovations Ball State is doing to one of their dining halls next year, and it mentioned something about a "gas-fired woodstove oven".

I hate emo appliances, don't you?

posted on 05 May 2006 at 22290 commentstrackback

Verbing Weirds Language

Because I'm such a fan of sites like The Slot and columns like Dave Barry's Mister Language Person, it should come as no surprise that the current Slashdot poll, "Favorite Fictional Word," caught my eye. Among the better missing options:

  • "misunderestimated"
  • "w00t," of course, along with "pron"
  • "irregardless," that timeless ear-grater
  • "burninate"
posted on 05 October 2004 at 23130 commentstrackback

Grammar Nazi Strike's Again


Rover uncovers clues to Mar's origins

Mar. The Other Red Planet. With all those rover's on it's s'urface...

posted on 24 February 2004 at 00140 commentstrackback

Why Punctuation (Still) Matters

Last July, I pointed out a very funny article on The Slot about the so-called "comma of direct address."

This time, it's a complete lack of punctuation that leads to a very amusing Freudian slip. A local martial-arts academy is (apparently) running a special on tuition. Their marquee, posted along a major traffic artery in town, says:


I have no desire whatsoever to give a 65-year-old Asian guy a hot beef injection, no matter what the price. For that matter, I don't have any desire to "COME IN" anyone of the male persuasion. Will someone please fix this sign? It's disgusting!

posted on 20 February 2004 at 00290 commentstrackback

Commas Are Your Friends

Bill Walsh has a great bit on The Slot about why the comma of direct address (you know, like "Hi, Bob!") is absolutely necessary.

posted on 12 July 2003 at 13570 commentstrackback

When "You're Wrong" Just Isn't Enough

This one comes to you tonight courtesy of a 1970s article in Tetrahedron Letters, wherein the author of the paper refutes a claim made by an earlier author by saying:

We find these assertions to be incompatible with reality.

Yeah, really. Hey, I was pretty impressed.

posted on 07 July 2003 at 23440 commentstrackback

<Poke> <Poke>

Seen recently on Low End Mac:

Although earlier models had less hard drive bays...

"Less," much like "amount," is used in comparatives that cannot be quantified. For example, "Geroge W. Bush has less intelligence than your typical ironing board" or "George W. Bush's average speech exhibits a miniscule amount of public speaking ability."

"Fewer," like "number," is used to make quantifiable comparisons. "George W. Bush has fewer brain cells than your typical head of cabbage, and he only uses a small number of those, particularly when making speeches."

See also Grammar Slammer's explanation.

posted on 25 June 2003 at 01320 commentstrackback

There's No Such Thing as Bad Publicity

Unless you're trying to defend a trademark, that is, in which case any publicity generally makes matters difficult. And you'd better believe that Google is doing their best to defend the trademark they have on their own misspelled name, which is quickly becoming a generic term for searching the Internet.

posted on 25 June 2003 at 01150 commentstrackback

Lo ho conosciuto dovrei imparare l'inglese

That's "I knew I should have learned English" in Italian. Because if I had, I wouldn't have done anything as stupid as registering "powergenitalia" as a domain name for the company that employs me.

posted on 22 June 2003 at 17240 commentstrackback

How to Sound Incredibly Pretentious in One Easy Lesson

As a practising organic chemist, I do a lot of literature reading in scientific journals that 99% of the population would probably rather shoot themselves than read, such as the Journal of Organic Chemistry (JOC), the Journal of the American Chemical Society (JACS), and Organic Letters (Org Lett). Sometimes it seems like the folks writing the papers are trying to sound as pretentious as possible without conveying any useful meaning.

I present the following quote from an Org Lett paper I was reading today:

[Polyaromatic hydrocarbons] have found use as, inter alia, semiconductors in electronic devices, components of electronic energy transfer systems, and fluorescent sensors of various environmental changes.

Now I ask you: wouldn't that have been far more comprehensible if, rather than the pretentious Latin "inter alia," the author had used the far more common "among other things?"

I give my fellows the Knife of David Hamilton to assist in cutting through the binding ropes of obfuscation placed around such texts.

posted on 16 June 2003 at 21110 commentstrackback

Bad Workshop Titles

And in other news, the University of Michigan is offering, well, here...

Subject: FW: Online Tutorial Available

Dear Graduate Students:

As students and also because of your duties as GSI's and GSRA's, I thought you might find the following information useful. Please take advantage of the tutorial. It is very informative.


Sexual Harassment Tutorial Available to all U-M Staff, Faculty and Students

So would that be a tutorial on how to commit better sexual harrassment? Or is quantity more important than quality, and they want us to do it more...

posted on 11 June 2003 at 23500 commentstrackback

Say G'day to Jesus

Sometimes I'm just not sure what to think of people. Especially in this case, because Australians, for the most part, are some of the most agnostic people on the face of the earth.

I have to get a copy of this Aussie Bible. Does Amazon have it yet...?

posted on 05 June 2003 at 20060 commentstrackback

Say What?

Today's blog entry is brought to you by the number 5 and the letters C-E-N-S-O-R-S-H-I-P.

The P.C. police have struck again. And that's the "politically correct" ... uhmmm ... "culturally aware" police, by the way.

Birth defects, blindness, barbarians, and busboys have all been banned from the latest round of United States school texts. How, then, do you describe someone who's blind from birth? "Lacking visual acuity due to a developmental abnormality?"

Some of you will probably remember the last time political correctness cultural awareness was in the news. It gave us such ridiculous (and late-night talk show joke-worthy) terms as "horizontally gifted" (formerly "fat," "overweight," or "obese"), "mentally challenged" (formerly "retarded" or "mentally handicapped"), "vertically challenged" (formerly "short," which makes me think the rapper 2Short really wouldn't have had nearly the one-hit-wonder career that he did had his named been "2VerticallyChallenged"), and "metabolically endowed" (formerly "thin" or "skinny").

It's no wonder kids today can't write a sentence shorter than 25 words. We're teaching them never to say in five words what can be effectively said in 30. Call a spade a spade, people. This madness has to stop somewhere.

posted on 28 May 2003 at 22420 commentstrackback


This has to be the best example of a completely worthless solution to a problem that I've ever heard of. Does anyone really think renaming South Central to simply "South Los Angeles" will change anything about the neighbourhood at all? C'mon. It's like someone suddenly decided the Tigers were a crap team because they were named the Tigers. Changing the name to the Detroit Asskickers isn't going to make them any better...

posted on 23 April 2003 at 23410 commentstrackback

Remember To Never Split Infinitives

Saw this on CNN tonight:

EDITOR'S NOTE: CNN's policy is to not report information that puts operational security at risk.

Apparently, it's also CNN's policy for the editor not to edit editor's notes.

posted on 19 March 2003 at 23170 commentstrackback


Three days ago, I commented on palindromes very briefly. Well, I was working on today's LA Times crossword (as published in the Michigan Daily) and one of the solutions was "deities." I realised that "deified" is also a palindrome, and off the top of my head, it takes the prize for Most Obscure Palindromic Word in Everyday Usage.

posted on 12 March 2003 at 18330 commentstrackback