Category Archives: Stylistic Issues

The Soup’s take on How She Move

Reader Lisa sent me this awesome video of The Soup‘s interpretation of the film How She Move:

Love it!

In other news, I bought a new camera today — the Olympus FE-280, which I enjoyed immensely before losing it on New Year’s Eve — and will be trying it out at the Spice Girls concert tomorrow night!  :-) That means that there will be plenty of new pictures of local errors and grammar vandalism!

Thanks, Lisa.

Is this even legal?

Earlier today, I was reading one of my favorite blogs, I Don’t Like You In That Way, and I came across a curiously worded ad for an adult DVD rental service.

Read it closely:


Really?  This was recommended by Oprah magazine?

Well, technically it’s O: The Oprah Magazine.

There’s no way that an ad for this appeared in O.  If it had, we would have heard about it now, with Oprah sending her Mafioso henchmen after the perpetrator.

I’m no legal expert, but are any of you?  Do any of you know if it’s legal for this ad to say it was endorsed by Oprah?  Or does it mean nothing because the magazine, though clearly implied, was technically correct?

Heh.  I know this isn’t exactly grammar, but it’s along the lines of something I think you’d like.

And, just because it made me crack up when I saw it:


ATGV: Defining fruits (and many other things)

I received the following email late last night and thought that it would make a great discussion:

Kate: Could you please enlighten us language teachers about the following sentences- which is/ are correct usage? And why?
1. My favorite fruit is apples.
2. My favorite fruit is an apple
3. My favorite fruit is the apple.
4. My favorite fruit is apple.
I tend to think 1, 3 and 4 are correct. What do you think?
Thanks for your help,
E Trottier

What a great question!  Ordinarily, I would go to look it up in my books and online, but I have no idea even where to start.

If you’ve read the Globe feature on me, you know that I mostly go by instinct.  In this situation, I think that 1 and 3 are correct.  The second option would be correct if you were referring to your one favorite piece of fruit in the world.  (My favorite fruit is an apple that came from a farm in the Berkshires, and it had a red and green swirl on it that kind of looked like Drew Carey when you squinted really hard at it.)

What do you think?


Slightly Unnerving

Ignore the fact that Heather Mills is insane. Focus on the text in these Viva ads.

I know that these are British, and there are different rules and styles in British and American grammar, but both of these don’t look quite right to me.

I’m not saying that these are outright wrong; I’m just saying that something doesn’t seem to be quite right.

Take a look.

What do you think?

On Texting

I’d like to start a discussion.

How grammatically accurate are you when you send text messages? How closely do you pay attention to your spelling?

If you’re running late or pressed for time, does you become u and your become ur? Do you skip the apostrophes? Do you ever drop punctuation completely?

Vertical Lettering

I’m having trouble posting pictures tonight, so I’m going to post about something I was thinking about yesterday.

I was walking down Union Park Street in the South End of Boston (better known as my dream address) and came across Aunt Sadie’s, a lovely little gift shop.

The sign had the letters listed vertically:



There was no apostrophe on the sign, though the apostrophe was used on every other occurence of the store’s name.

That got me thinking. How would it be appropriate to include an apostrophe on a vertical sign like this? I wonder if anyone has ever thought about this before.

There are three options:

  1. Use no apostrophe
  2. Put the apostrophe above the S and below the E
  3. Add the apostrophe to the right of the E

#2 sounds like it would make it look worse, and to strict grammarians, #1 is worst of all.

I think that #3 would be the way to go. If it were me, however, I would have made it a bit different than the other letters — maybe I’d make it a different font; maybe I’d put it at an angle. That’s just what I’d do for aesthetic reasons.

What do you think?

Guest Entry: Winking and Wanking

The following is a Facebook note written by my dear friend Lisa. We discussed the subject of the note a bit over dinner tonight, and I think it would be of interest to you.

For background, Lisa just got her Master’s degree in a writing-related discipline, and she spent some time studying abroad in England (the Cambridge in the entry is for Cambridge University, not Cambridge, Massachusetts). Also, she has absolutely no idea that I am posting this entry verbatim, lifted directly from Facebook.

In other words, she did not write this for my (often brutal) audience. She wrote this for fun — and I’m reposting it because I like it. (And if she wants me to remove it, it will be removed from the blog IMMEDIATELY!)

Here it is:

If the past tense of “drink” is “drank” and the past tense of “sink” is “sank”, does that mean the past tense of “wink” is “wank?” I would argue, wholeheartedly, 100% YES!

The term itself really came about this summer at Cambridge, when a short, sashay-ing Italian man of the waitstaff would consistently and without hesitation “wink” at females and males too (hey, I don’t judge). “He wank at me” was the common expression uttered over elaborate, multiple course dinners in the lavish dining hall (black or white? soup or salad?). The wanking man even received a lovely nickname from us: Winky.

Although his wanking was initially perceived as sketchy and even disturbing, I am just now thinking more deeply about the message of the wink. Usually, it does have some sort of sexual connotation, but in Winky’s case, was it more one of friendship and fellowship (Ciao!).

Done correctly, the wink CAN BE subtle, sexy, and almost mysterious. However, it’s all about the execution. It must be done with the eye ONLY: NO contortions of the face, eyebrow, or any spastic/ADD motions whatsoever. I know my limits. I’m not a wanker. I just can’t do it; my whole face wants to join in the winking fun and thus ruin the subtlety of the wink itself.

But, I don’t mind being a receiver of the wink, or advocating for bringing it back, similar to the way Justin Timberlake brought sexy back (although, that is debatable). When the wink is done right, it’s a memorable experience, not just an eye action.

On Pronouncing "Les Deux"

This next post is not exactly about grammar, nor is it about the English language. However, it falls within the lines of several topics we discuss. (And I can guarantee at least one reader, Lee, is going to love the topic!)

There is a club in Los Angeles called Les Deux. It’s very popular with celebrities. “Les Deux” is French for both, or, literally, “the two.” It is (roughly) pronounced lay DUH.

I got roped into watching The Hills one day with my roommates, and Lauren Conrad pronounced it “la DOO.” That surprised me.

I just chalked it up to her being, well, dumb. The stars of The Hills aren’t exactly future rocket scientists.

A few months later, I had to call the club for work.

I’m always deliberately vague of what, exactly, I do for work, but I can tell you that it involves a lot of VIP access, exclusive offers, nightlife, that kind of thing, mostly in Las Vegas but also in Los Angeles, New York and worldwide. (Going to Vegas? I’ll hook you UP.) I was trying to get a table at Les Deux for one of my clients a few weeks ago.

I dialed the number.

“Hello, la DOO.”

I was thrown through a loop. Apparently, everyone pronounced it this way.

I spoke to the manager and arranged the table for my client. I was dying of curiosity, so I had to ask her:

“Tell me,” I began, “why do all of you pronounce it la DOO?”

She paused. “That’s how it’s pronounced.”

“Well,” I said gingerly, “actually, in French, it’s pronounced lay DUH. It means both.”

“Oh,” she said. “That’s just how it’s always been.”

I didn’t lecture her or anything. I wasn’t about to do that.

Anyway, I have a point to all this.

This is similar to people who insist that “everytime” is a word, that “everyday” is interchangeable with “every day,” that “definately” is the correct spelling. These are very basic errors. People know that they are being incorrect, but they choose to continue to be incorrect rather than to learn how to do the right thing.

Keep in mind that I do not expect people to know how to pronounce French words. That’s not fair. I do, however, expect the staff to pronounce their nightclub’s name correctly. If the staff gets it right, the world will follow. If it’s the cool place to be, everyone will try to outdo each other by pronouncing the word perfectly. Enough of my clients try to pronounce La Esquina or Felidia with ethnic flair, thinking it makes them sound authentic.

One last thing: le DOO is how someone would pronounce le doux, meaning “the sweet.” So maybe that’s another meaning to the club’s name.

Do you have thoughts on this?

This is ridiculous and deserves a post of its own.

Some discussion was had over the response Eric Jay posted on my last entry:

I’ve got several friends (and two immediate family members) who work in advertising and marketing. Most of them went to well-respected universities, and several hold degrees in both fine arts and business.

According to the two I spoke with about this entry, using words outside of their grammatically correct context is part of their art form. They each showed me examples from their own portfolios, pointing out words or punctuation that would have been different if they were writing a letter or article. In each case, there was an explanation of how the “incorrect” usage fit the project at hand.

They suspected whoever designed the LNT sign knows the grammatical difference between “every day” and “everyday,” and made the choice to use the “wrong” word in an effort to utilize both meanings in just 3 words: (1) You can find low prices here every day. (2) At LNT, low prices are an everyday occurrence.

They also both interpreted the Staples piece to be an imperative first, and a clever play on the phrase “picture perfect” second.

This blows my mind.

I’m not mad at Eric Jay — he’s one of my favorite readers. My beef, as usual, is with the marketing people. If this is true, what gives them the right to change the rules of grammar, to fill their signs with errors for the sake of subliminal advertising?

It would be different if it were a homophone with two very different meanings. If an ad for a fragrance said, “Good knight,” and had a sexy knight in shining armor (preferably shirtless and glistening with sweat, and curly hair, kind of wild, and just a bit of stubble, and amazing, well-developed arms….I’m sorry….grammar?), that would be more than okay.

We, grammarians of the world, have too much trying to drag us down — apathy toward the English language, internet-speak, poor grammar education, a quickly evolving language that works against us more often than for us. Now we have something else: marketing executives trying to play educator.




Thanks, Eric Jay, for bringing my attention to this lunacy. (As for the gym teachers’ college comment….yeah, not the best taste. It was a line from Salute Your Shorts. I guess the humor didn’t quite transfer.)


More than one best friend

There is a lot of debate over whether it’s possible to have more than one best friend. After all, the term best is a superlative, and only one entity can hold a superlative.

But do you take the term best literally?

Language evolves — we all know that. I think that this is the reason why it is more common today for people to say that they have multiple best friends. The term has gone beyond meaning one and only and now, to many, means a very close, very important, very significant friend.

Take a group of four girls who spend all of their time together. They have plenty of outside friends from school and drama club and camp, but nobody even comes remotely close to their group.

I should know — I was one of those girls.

My sister will always be my best and closest friend. But beyond that, I’ve always had many best friends. Take the Brood — my three best friends from high school. We’re still very close, even after we’ve flung ourselves to different parts of the country.

Still, there are people who use the term best friend for one person or completely obliterate it altogether, referring to everyone as close friends.

Rachel Robinson did in Judy Blume’s book Just as Long as We’re Together. I haven’t read that book since I was in middle school, but I remember Rachel’s outburst at the end clearly: “How can we all be best friends? Best means best! It’s impossible to have more than one best friend!” In the end, the three girls decide to consider each other “close friends.”

Is it really impossible, though?

I know that opinions greatly differ.

My question to you:

Is it possible to have more than one best friend?

The Brood: my best friends of all time. Here we are in Montreal in 2002, just a few weeks before going off to college.

Another NPR Appearance!

I have been asked to return to NPR! I will be making my first appearance since my interview in July!

The interview will take place tomorrow, Monday, September 23, 2007, around 7:40 AM. It’s for a new program called the Bryant Park Project. It’s a brand new show that is in previews right now. Check it out here.

Tomorrow’s show is about the Oxford English Dictionary’s decision to remove hyphens from several words.

Small object of grammatical desire

It’s small. It’s flat. It’s black. And according to the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, its numbers are shrinking. Welcome to the world of the hyphen.

Having been around since at least the birth of printing, the hyphen is apparently enjoying a difficult time at the moment.

The sixth edition of the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary has knocked the hyphens out of 16,000 words, many of them two-word compound nouns. Fig-leaf is now fig leaf, pot-belly is now pot belly, pigeon-hole has finally achieved one word status as pigeonhole and leap-frog is feeling whole again as leapfrog.

The blame, as is so often the case, has been put at least in part on electronic communication. In our time-poor lifestyles, dominated by the dashed-off [or should that be dashed off or dashedoff] e-mail, we no longer have time to reach over to the hyphen key.

Read the full story here.

What’s my opinion?

Tune in to find out! I think the show is only airing in New York, but you can listen online at

PWNED by T-Shirt Hell!

First of all, their response is fantastic.
Secondly, I recently learned what the phrase pwned means. Apparently, it’s another word for owned, as in beating someone, or calling someone out.
It originated with gamers. The O key is next to the P key, so the phrase owned, which victors typed at the losers, was frequently written as pwned by mistake. However, the gamers embraced it, and it stuck.
Today, the phrase is quite popular, making appearances on apparel and on TV and other forms of entertainment.
What’s interesting is that this phrase began as written, not as spoken. Because of that, it doesn’t have an official pronunciation. Some people say “poned” while others say “pooned,” “punned” or something else entirely.
With the growth of technology, I wouldn’t be surprised if more words, like pwned, are coined over the Internet.

"I couldn’t care less." CORRECT!

It seems like people say I could care less, meaning that they couldn’t care less. This is incorrect. The phrase has become so common, it’s as if people have changed it without realizing exactly what they’re saying.

This handy graph shows exactly why the phrase should be I couldn’t care less, rather than I could care less.
Well said.

I couldn’t care less about a number of things. (Sports, in particular, come to mind.)

I couldn’t care more about spreading the cause of good grammar!
In other news, blogger now allows you to post video, so I plan to put on some video coverage of vandalizing grammar very soon!

Time for some profanity!

This is officially the moment that the blog has become profane.

I had a conversation via AIM last night that discussed the usage of the f-word. Since we’re often debating language and word usage, I thought this might be of good use for the blog.

As I reread the conversation, I’m shocked at how rude I sound. I have a reason for that. To be honest, I rarely go on AIM these days, and that’s because there are people I know who start incessantly IMing me the second I go on — it’s like they all have me on alert. This friend is one of them. I went to high school with him.

He never speaks to me over the phone, ever, and I never see him, but as soon as I go on AIM, it’s BOOM, BOOM, BOOM! IM after IM after IM. It never stops. He also deliberately says vague things so that I have to ask him questions. It’s incredibly annoying, and it never fails — the minute I sign on, it’s nonstop. Most of the time, I just ignore him, but sometimes I speak to him just to say i have to go. He has multiple (changing) screennames, so I can’t just block him. I’m quelling the problem by staying off AIM. My friends can chat with me on Google Chat.

Anyway, here’s the conversation. I’ve taken out the overt swears, changed the names and removed a few irrelevant lines, but I didn’t edit anything within the lines.

Friend: i am F—–
Kate: why is that?
Friend: cuz i went into the city
Kate: okay
Friend: what’s new katelyn mcculley
Kate: so you’re not going to explain why you are, ahem, F—–?
Friend: i just said it
Friend: i went inboston

Kate: okay, what is SO BAD about going into boston?
Friend: nothing, did i hint at the notion of somethin being bad?
Kate: Friend: i am F—–
Kate: generally, that’s not something meant as positive
Friend: as in intoxicated
Kate: oh, I get it now
Kate: as in F—– UP, you mean, then
Friend: ok ok
Friend: i missed a word
Friend: crucitfy me
Friend: so how u been kate
Friend: it’s been awhile

Not nearly long enough.

Have you ever used f—– to mean intoxicated? I never heard that. To me, to be f—– means to be in serious trouble. To be f—— up means to be intoxicated. During my freshman year of college, I was friends with a guy who constantly blasted the song “Get F—– Up” whenever we started drinking, and usually throughout the night.

I have never heard it used otherwise, but it might be different in other areas of the country and with different age groups. What do you think?

I’d like to hear your views on this.

I don’t like this tense.

When reading news articles and other sources of Web journalism, the tense is nearly always the past. The past makes sense because the stories describe events that have already taken place.

I hopped over to after a night at Johnny D’s to grab the last news of the night, and I came across the following story. It describes Usher’s appearance on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. Here is a clip:

Dad-to-Be Usher: ‘I Want a Boy’

“Last time you were here, you were single,” DeGeneres also tells him. “You said you wanted a lady that you could take from the Waffle House to the White House. You found her.”

“I did. I found someone that I’m very, very happy to call my wife,” he tells her. “Tameka Raymond. She’s beautiful.”

Only DeGeneres also wants to know why she wasn’t invited to the wedding, which was originally scheduled for July 28 in the Hamptons but ended up taking place in a civil ceremony in Atlanta.

One thing that complicates the issue is that this show already taped, but it’s set to broadcast this Tuesday. The conversation already happened, obviously, but it hasn’t shown on TV. In a strange way, it’s almost as if it doesn’t exist yet.

I particularly find the third paragraph awkward-sounding. The tenses are all over the place.

I’m trying to imagine why this seems so familiar, and I think I recognize the usage of the present tense from reviews of children’s books and movies. “Mary Anne realizes that it’s true — she, in fact, misses Logan and wants him back.” “Kristy wants to start a softball team, but a little boy named Jackie Rodowsky is completely accident-prone!”

But, now that I think about it, why would that be restricted to children’s works? It shouldn’t be. All reviews are in the present tense.

I’m thinking more, and after reading through the story again, I think it’s more a stylistic issue than anything else. The writer, describing what each person says, seems to do something that is extraneous. We don’t need to be told every line in advance. Doing so makes it seem like we don’t understand it, which is paradoxical, because as celebrity gossip fans, we want to hear every line!

I’m having a hard time explaining this, and I wish I could do it better.

What do you think? Does using the present tense and describing each line each person says make it sound juvenile?

In other news, while having pizza at Mike’s in Davis Square tonight, I noticed a grammatical error on the cocktail menu.

“Do you have a pen?” I asked my sister.

She stared at me coldly. “DON’T.”

I am no longer permitted to vandalize grammar in front of her because it embarrasses her.