Idioms in Distress

December 11, 2010 at 2:19 pm | Posted in Internet Sleuthiness | Leave a comment
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I’m worried about the idioms.

They’ve been feeling neglected and, really, misunderstood. It’s not that people have stopped using them, no; they’ve been notably present in everyday speech. Rather, the problem is misuse. It is apparent that, as my mom used to say, American idiom use is becoming more and more “culturally illiterate.” Observe:

“Cooking for kids is something that hits very dear to me.”

One of the contestants on Top Chef All Stars uttered this mangled phrase, a dreary combination of “hits close to home” and “is very dear to me.” One idiom or the other, dude: YOU MUST CHOOSE.

“We were deep in the weeds trying to dig our own graves.”

While this example (from another reality show I have  now forgotten) does not Frankenstein two idioms together, it has ignored the common sense one-idiom-per-sentence rule that all speakers would be advised to follow. Again, you must choose: are you “deep in the weeds” OR “trying to dig your own graves”? You can’t be both—not in the same sentence at least.

Finally, a sports metaphor:

“[John Doe] has been a home run hitter for the Dallas Cowboys.”

Now, I’m sure the ESPN announcer who uttered this sentence is aware that the Cowboys play football, not baseball. This is not an example of sports confusion, but rather proof positive that the most potent sports metaphor seems to be a baseball metaphor: applicable anywhere, even when talking about other sports.


::Cries Inside::

August 26, 2010 at 4:48 pm | Posted in Internet Sleuthiness | 1 Comment
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No, it’s fine. Punctuation is not really that important, Kate Spade. It’s not like you’re a major national brand or anything, and it’s not like this is the way your official website appears when searched on Google. I mean, what’s the big deal, right?

Is this phenomenon becoming more pervasive, or am I just becoming more paranoid and alert?

[ image from Google ]

Grammar Rant

August 6, 2010 at 8:53 pm | Posted in Internet Sleuthiness | 1 Comment
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Here’s what I want to know: is it really that hard to figure out the rules for when you should and shouldn’t use an -‘s at the end of a word?!?

This is the grammar error which, more than any other, sends me into a fiery rage of incoherent ranting.

A blog I frequent (not to be named) is a particularly egregious offender, throwing apostrophes hither and thither without much thought or consistancy. I’ve mostly been able to ignore it so far—thus allowing myself to control my RAGE—but today, I’ve had it. The headline of today’s post reads:

Blow Outs | Curly Fro’s and Twist Outs

Three plural nouns: two pluralized correctly and one incorrectly. Can anyone explain why anyone, ever, anywhere, at any point in time, in any situation, ever would think it was appropriate to pluralize one word out of three with a different pattern??

I’m serious about this. It is making me consider removing this blog from my Google Reader—that’s how upset it makes me!

“Smokey, this is not ‘Nam. This is bowling. There are rules!”

August 4, 2010 at 4:46 pm | Posted in Internet Sleuthiness | 1 Comment
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Last year I talked about a trend in slang whereby the prefix un- is added to verbs and nouns where it was previously not allowed (prime example: “unfriend”). Typically, as in the case of the previous example, this occurs on verbs, but while re-watching “The Big Lebowski” today, I heard an awesome example of noun affixation:

“Come on, you’re being very un-dude.”

More than 10 years before the New York Times identified the Facebook-era phenomenon of un- proliferation, Walter was totally on top of his slang!

The English Language: WTF

April 11, 2010 at 1:28 pm | Posted in Internet Sleuthiness | Leave a comment
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It’s not revolutionary for me to say that English spelling and pronunciation are pretty ridiculous. Most people who spend even a brief amount of time in the company of a foreign language (such as Spanish or French) will come to the same conclusion, and begin casting a critical eye on our mother tongue. I was reminded of this fact this morning when I read the following lead-in sentence to a Jezebel blog post: (emphasis mine)

“Of course you read Sassy, and now you can still read editor Christina Kelly — on her own blog.”

Let’s parse this thing: read #1 is the past tense conjugation of the infinitive to read, and is pronounced [rεd] (that is, “reh-d”); read #2 is the present tense conjugation of the same infinitive, and is pronounced [rid] (or “reed”).

So far this is obvious, and any elementary school student could probably explain the different between the two conjugations. What makes this sentence confusing is that when one begins reading the sentence, there is no contextual clue in “Of course you read Sassy” to indicate if this read is past or present tense, thus sending the reader down a pronunciation version of the linguistic garden path. It is only once you read the entire sentence that you can decide the correct pronunciation for read #1 was its past tense version. This demonstrates my point: as a writer, it is not desirable to force your readers to do such inefficient backtracking to understand the meaning of what you have written.

So, you might be asking at this point, what’s the solution? How can writers make their prose more transparent? Unfortunately, for a word like read, it is difficult to find a solution, since there are few (if any) synonyms for the verb to read that a writer could choose to communicate her tense more clearly. I suppose you could do something like this, which, in making the tense clearer, actually changes the meaning of the sentence slightly:

“Of course you subscribed to Sassy, and now you can still read editor Christina Kelly…”

And is that really what you want to say? Perhaps what you really want to say is this: “Curse you, English language, for your opacity!”

The Trouble with Apostrophes

March 14, 2010 at 11:27 am | Posted in Internet Sleuthiness | Leave a comment
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I saw this poster advertising an event on a website earlier today, and immediately this humble sentence jumped out at me:

“Bring your old tee’s and tanks for a Buy Definition screen printed souvenir.”

I mean, I know that the apostrophe can be confusing sometimes—such as the apostrophe in “Joe’s hair” vs. lack of an apostrophe in “its hair”—but come on: CONSISTENCY, PEOPLE! How could anyone think it was correct to include an apostrophe on one plural (“tees”) but not on the other (“tanks”)?!?

So, what’s the trouble with apostrophes? They make people look like idiots.

Taking some liberties with language

March 6, 2010 at 7:32 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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One of my pet peeves is when people misstate or mix-and-match their proverbs and idioms. Although I usually think of myself as inclined towards description rather than prescription, I don’t mess around when it comes to sayings: they are fixed for a reason! For example, David Brooks’s repeated misuse of “throw him under the bus” as “throw him under the truck” evoked some serious anger. Last week I heard the host of “Shear Genius” (Bravo’s Project-Runway-for-hair-stylists show) utter this butchered idiom:

“Slow down your horses!”

Clearly, she meant to say “hold your horses,” and while normally this would piss me off, I’m pretty sure Camila Alves speaks English as a second language, rendering her misuse kind of adorable.

The same ESL cuteness cannot be applied to Tyra Banks, however, and while what I’m about to tell you is by no means an idiomatic mistake, it is so ridiculous and contrived that it warrants mention. Tyra has decided that “plus-size model” is an inaccurate way to describe models larger than a size 2—aside from the negative connotation of the word, her main objection (if I understand correctly) is that it is incongruous with the fact that the average American woman wears a size 14. Tyra’s rebranding for “plus-size”?

Fiercely Real,” or “FR-size.”

I’m serious.

Wiki Vandalism: A Play in Four Acts

February 17, 2010 at 10:57 pm | Posted in Internet Sleuthiness | Leave a comment
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I noticed something a bit odd when I looked at California gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman’s Wikipedia page last week: a sneaky, subtle, nearly-unnoticeable jab at Whitman’s partisan identification: Instead of being listed as Republican, she is a “Republican.”

If you check out the page today (this screenshot was taken on February 9th) you’ll see that her political party is back to normal; like nearly all examples of vandalism on Wikipedia, it was caught and reverted. This is how it all went down:

Step 1: an anonymous user adds the quotations marks.

Step 2: the same user inserts “self-described,” and later decides “claims to be” is more appropriate, and apparently more important than correct grammar: “She is a claims to be a Republican”?

Step 3: a different anonymous user catches “claims to be,” because really, that was a novice move.

Step 4: a third anonymous user removes the quotation marks, and restores the balance in the Wikiverse.

EDIT: I looked a bit more into the kinds of edits this IP address has made in the past, and it seems to be someone hell-bent on changing any mention of the word “fetus” in a Wikipedia article to “unborn baby.” So, there you go.

[ screenshots from Wikipedia ]

Comic Sans as Insult: Nerd Win

February 15, 2010 at 10:12 pm | Posted in Internet Sleuthiness, Me | Leave a comment
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These comments were in response to this awful cartoon called Getting Over Him in 8 Songs or Less, as posted on Jezebel. Bu this post is not about the content of the video—if you really want to (read: if you dig “Cathy” comics) you can watch a clip of the cartoon in the Jezebel post—but the insult delivered by user suddenvalley: “This is like the Comic Sans of animation.” Zing!

I’m not saying that, in order to be a classifiable nerd, you have to hate Comic Sans, but if you’re not at least aware that Comic Sans provokes vitriol in many people, I might just have to come over to your house and take your nerd card away. The campaign against Comic Sans has spawned a website, a Flickr pool, and (I’m sure I’m not alone in this) a strong urge to photograph any egregious use of Comic Sans. Exhibit A:

I took this photo in Barcelona last July. I actually made my friends stop and wait for me while I captured a travel agency not simply using Comic Sans as signage, but using it IN ALL CAPS. WHY. Seriously, why?

Whether you love Comic Sans or you hate Comic Sans (or you love to hate Comic Sans), I hope you can appreciate the metaphorical spark of nerd wit that suddenvalley dished out. Wins for everyone!

[ screenshot from Jezebel ]


February 15, 2010 at 9:26 pm | Posted in Internet Sleuthiness | 1 Comment
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I guess he used so much punctuation in the post’s title that there wasn’t any left over for the post itself!

[ screenshot from Yahoo Answers ]

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