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No one will ever pick up on this hyperbole
Monday, September 22, 2008   1:29 PM

Speaking of signs, remember those guys who were fined for correcting a sign at the Desert View Watchtower in Grand Canyon National Park?

Well, the promised "Statement on the signage of our National Parks and public lands" is up at the old Typo Eradication Advancement League website, and... does anyone else think it's a little snotty?

Sample quotes:

"It is absolutely egotistical for one to think that one can tell others how to spell."

"The act of vandalizing or damaging signs on the National Parks and public lands has a historic and archaeological impact that one cannot underestimate."

"Certain of the signs may have been put into place at the birth of the park, thus representing as intrinsic a part of its identity as any tree or canyon [sic!] within the park."

Moreover, the statement points out twice that "Altering signs without the permission of the owner is a crime!!" Without reading too much into it, I'll just observe that the old TEAL posts that I've seen always only used a single exclamation mark. So this is a little odd.

(I've been offline for a few days, and I see now that friend-of-the-blog Mighty Red Pen already wrote about this a few days ago. She too found TEAL's sudden embrace of orthographic radicalism more than a little surprising.)

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It was almost like they'd been taken over by anti-grammar vigilante zombies: "We.will.not.vandalize.National.Park.signs" gahhhhhhh.

I posit hidden government-run descriptivist re-education camps in unmapped areas of the American Southwest. Or in a secret base within Pikes Peak, the obvious headquarters for any organization that doesn't think spelling matters.

Sounds like a lost X-Files episode. Where are Mulder and Scully when we need them?

Not so much snotty as something that they had to write but don't for a minute believe (except maybe the crime part).

love is not Classic Short Ugg Boots easy thing.if they want to be together forever they Classic Cardy Ugg Boots should adopt each other.noone is perfect Classic Tall Ugg Boots.everyone have his own defect .
can't understand

movado watches
omega watches
oris watches
Panerai watches
Patek Philippe watches
Piaget watches
Rado watches
Tag Heuer watches
Tudor watches
U-boat watches
Vacheron Constantin watches
Rolex watches
Rolex Air-King watches
Rolex Datejust II watches

posted by Anonymous Anonymous at November 15, 2009 8:54 AM  

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Doing my part to fight the word staycation
Friday, August 8, 2008   3:59 PM

I'm going to Wisconsin this weekend, and then I'll be in Montreal all next week. So there won't be any posts until the 18th.

In the meantime, enjoy this soul-crushing Stet of the Week, reproduced with only slight alterations from an actual message board transcript:

Our Bold Hero: On the image for [this product], soffit is spelled incorrectly, as sofit.

Project Coordinator: Checking with client.

Project Coordinator: Correct spelling for Sofit is Sofit. On the items listed below, can you correct Soffit to be Sofit? I've bolded the spots in the long description and name.

Our Bold Hero: Are you sure? Soffit is the spelling for the word meaning "A material which covers the underside of an overhang," according to everything I looked at (newspapers, Wikipedia, and dictionaries).

Apologies in advance if Sofit is some word I've never heard of that means something else...

Project Coordinator: Client wants it spelled w/one ''f'': sofit

I know it's wrong, but...

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This is something I've just never understood. Why, client? Why do you want to be wrong? Especially when it's something as silly and pointless as this.

I'm w/ Jon Boy--Why do you want to look silly?

If it's a BRAND name, and you've dropped an "f" in order to differetiate your product, OK.

Frankly, the fault lies w/ Project Coordinator, who should be protecting the client from him/herself.

Of course the P.C. has to ultimately answer to the client, but stuff like this, why even check w/ the client? You don't give non-word people an opportunity to contradict the dictionary. You don't do ANYTHING to imply they have that sort of power.

I had to use "Staycation" in a web page I was creating for a client at work (it was at the client's request, of course, and I wasn't allowed to "forget" to include the phrase...sigh). It made me want to hurl--that pseudo-word sounds soooooo cheesy!

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DNC beers and legislative acronyms
Wednesday, July 30, 2008   12:42 PM

A post today at Beer (& More) In Food pointed me to an interesting roundup of Democratic National Convention beers, including the well-named Obamanator Maibock ("German tradition has it that any beer named with an '-ator' suffix indicates bock extra strength beer") from Wynkoop.

There's also mention of a Political Ale from Rock Bottom. Lame. Personally, I think that would have been better as PoliticAle, in the manner of our local Surly CynicAle.

(Speaking of, I can't find anything on RNC beers for us Minnesotans. Town Hall will probably do something though. And Flat Earth will continue making Black Helicopter, as always. Oh, beer names.)

(The government's strange approach to beer labels is also worth pondering. There are rumors that this somehow explains why there's no Black Helicopter in bottles.)

Related: apparently the Tomnibus has stalled, which is completely fine with those of us who only liked it because it had the best nickname of any legislation ever. (Alternative candidates welcome.)

I've just discovered, however, that the Tomnibus just happened to contain the MOTHERS Act. Let's look at section 1 of the MOTHERS Act:

This Act may be cited as the 'Mom's Opportunity to Access Health, Education, Research, and Support for Postpartum Depression Act' or the 'MOTHERS Act'.

As several political commentators have already noted, there's no consistent rule you can apply that would give you MOTHERS from that name: the most logical acronym would have been MOAHERSPD.

Over at Reason, Jacob Sullum has a post on poorly contrived legislative acronyms. It concludes with this excellent observation:

Still, at least their staffers made a half-assed attempt at a memorably demagogic name. Not so Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), whose REAL ID Act includes a completely bogus "acronym" that does not stand for anything except his desire to trick people into believing he came up with a ridiculously contrived name that generates an evocative acronym. REAL is a fake.

The NYT doesn't all-caps acronyms longer than four letters, so it managed to sidestep the whole MOTHERS issue... but I see that it went with Real ID in numerous articles, when of course the official name is written REAL ID.

A strange case of eschewing accuracy for the sake of... accuracy.

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I think Surly CynicAle is like the best beer name ever.

Then there's the Protecting Records, Optimizing Treatment, and Easing Communication through Healthcare Technology Act of 2008.... of course known as: the ‘PRO(TECH)T Act of 2008.

The IT geeks will be the death of us all.

posted by Anonymous Julie at July 31, 2008 4:31 PM  

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Wednesday, May 28, 2008   10:49 AM

From a coworker:

Chuck Norris noticed your correct spelling, made an error in it, and dared you to say some shit.

Labels: , Funniest thing I've read all week.

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My favorite prescriptivist is a talking dinosaur
Tuesday, May 13, 2008   3:27 PM

After downloading the Firefox add-on Long Titles 1.3 a few weeks ago, I've been re-reading through the Dinosaur Comics to see all the hilarious alt text I missed. I'm done with that now, but I brought you back a souvenir: five years' worth of language comics.

Loosely categorized! Whoo!

Words we hate comics

It's a disaster!

You heard me!

Men stereotypically leave the toilet seat up!

There are other words than "bitches"! Daaamn!

It is not a generic intensifier!

Words we love comics

For instance: the word "awful" (really bad) and the word "offal" (butchered entrails)!

Sorry, other word classes! I have a NEW girlfriend now!

Prescriptivism comics

So dumb!

Well, yeah!

And guys I wasn't even trying that hard!

FOR EXAMPLE: T-Rex is a pretty sweet dude because he's always so friggin' awesome!

RESOLUTION ONE: eat less chickens!

Man! I'll never have kids at this rate!

Okay! Our first letter comes from Jenn!

Cowboy hat dude got DECIMATED!

Guys! I am not alone in this!

(Pleonasm is the use of redundant, unnecessary words to express an idea!)

Etymology comics

However, this is not the case!

I also left a big tip, so as not to appear NIGGARDLY!



First: snake oil salesmen!

Linguistics-ish comics

This source says: DEFINITELY YES!

It's the coolest!

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"However, this is not the case" seems to imply that "man" is derived from Latin "humanus."

"Maybe ADJECTIVES wouldn't force us to have such conversations!" hehe he

Oh, how I love Dinosaur Comics. And I've realized that I never finished going through all the archives.

Also, I really like this Scrabble comic.

Hah. When I was in college "playing Scrabble" was often employed as a euphemism for "having sex."

nenu shudda shaakaahaarini - Telugu for "I am a pure vegetarian" heheh

Thanks for posting this. I forgot how much I like Dinosaur Comics.

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Prescriptivism's Greatest Assholes vol. 1
Wednesday, March 26, 2008   12:07 PM

Like all of God's children, prescriptivists can be assholes. Generally the worst offenders are also the worst-informed, but even they should know better than to correct someone's grammar in casual conversation or use [sic] for the purposes of evil. All the book-learnin' and mock-outrage in the world doesn't exempt you from common courtesy.

Today's prescriptivist asshole comes to us from Best Pic Ever:

Hey, do you want to be happy? Then stop being a dick. It really does work.

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National Grammar Day:
No Time for Diatribes Edition

Tuesday, March 4, 2008   2:40 PM

Work has picked up, miracle of miracles. But Achewood had a great strip about spelling years and years ago. Too big to post here, or I would.

(If you find yourself liking the comic, please go back and start at the beginning.)

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I could read Achewood all day, in fact I have.

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The Macrobrew Styleguide
Thursday, February 28, 2008   12:56 PM

While I don't agree that the criterion of "correctness" has the sort of wide-ranging applicability that some prescriptivists attribute to it, like most copy editors I think that being correct is its own reward.

And so two or three times a week, I find myself checking the beer names in our mystery shoppers' beverage server interactions. It's not only that I believe you should always, always check names; it's that I refuse to leave something unfixed that is objectively, clearly wrong — even if nobody else would care.

First off, on a regional note: the plural is Leinie's, short for Leinenkugel's. Though personally, I always just say "Honey Weiss" — that's my fallback beer when the waitress is standing there and I'm panicking because I haven't made a decision.

The import beer in the notorious green bottles is spelled Heineken, but I've seen some rather creative guesses.

The light beers are usually spelled wrong. Light should be capitalized when it's part of a proper name: it's Bud Light, Coors Light, Sam Adams Light, Amstel Light, Keystone Light, Busch Light, Michelob Light, etc.

The only lite spelling you're likely to encounter is Miller Lite. Note that one of my brother's favorite beers, Miller High Life Light, does not use the funky spelling, nor does MGD Light.

Miller isn't the only company to use litethey lost a lawsuit about this — but except for Labatt it's the only company selling lite beer that I've actually ever heard of.

(Possibly because lite has an extra negative connotation: a few years back New York Times Magazine had a tidy essay on the use of lite.)

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You'd think so, but no
Wednesday, January 30, 2008   1:40 PM

Earlier this week Errata pointed me to a New York Times article on what he called "the official New York State misspelling of pot" — that is to say, the state's preference for marihuana over marijuana.

(The Online Etymology Dictionary, not citing any sources as usual, informs me that marijuana is "1918, alt. by influence of Sp. proper name Maria Juana 'Mary Jane' from mariguan (1894), from Mex.Sp. marihuana, of uncertain origin." So the crazy spelling is older, but I'm hip enough to know that these days, marijuana has supplanted marihuana in most contexts.)

You usually see marihuana only in statutory and legal writing. Here's my favorite example:

An indictment charging defendant with possession of marihuana was not defective because it spelled the narcotic with the letter "j" while statute denouncing possession of marihuana spelled the narcotic with an "h," since the two methods of spelling the drug sounds the same and are "idem sonans."

(Aside: I've already defended the technically/supposedly improper use of narcotic seen above. Basically, that ship has sailed.)

For copy editors, the marihuana spelling probably won't come up unless you're talking about legislation — it's the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937, Lancaster Intelligencer (how embarrassing!) — but it's another reminder that with names, all bets are off.

Another good example: for my first month editing casino mystery shopper reports, I repeatedly and mistakenly spelled it Caesar's Palace, not realizing that the omitted apostrophe is deliberate: we're all Caesars at Caesars Palace. It's a very good place to find Caesars.

(See also: Jucy Lucy, Johns Hopkins, and the countless places forced to take a side in the ever-present theater vs. theatre controversy. The world isn't always spelled the way we'd like it to be.)

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or Schieks strip club.

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Ella Minnow Pea
Wednesday, January 9, 2008   1:25 PM

Even prescriptivists get it right sometimes. On the recommendation of a grammar peeveblogger — one who, to voice my own peeve, doesn't link to similar error-spotting sites like Mighty Red Pen and GrammarBlog — I read and enjoyed Ella Minnow Pea, "a progressively lipogrammatic epistolary fable."

If you can parse that description, bravo: that's prettymuch the gist of the book.

The story takes place on a hyper-literate island (stuffy cacozelia abounds!) where the fictional Nevin Nollop is revered for having invented the pangram the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.

(As I had to remind one confused client, that pangram is now used to test fonts; it's not a substitute for Lorem ipsum, no matter how many times you cut and paste.)

The sentence is immortalized on a monument to Nollop, but when one of the letter tiles (z) falls off, the Island Council decrees that the corresponding letter should be banished from all writing and speech, a ruling they enforce with harsh penalties. Unfortunately, it turns out that z wasn't the only loose tile...

(Incidentally, the letter Z has met this cruel fate before: it was officially banished from Icelandic first in 1918, then again, decisively, in 1974.)

The story that unfolds is told entirely through the letters characters send each other, letters that become progressively more constrained as more of the letter-letters are taken away. I think that the author cops out a little at the end, but the effort is nevertheless impressive.

However, that's prettymuch all there is to this book: it's a nice little nothing with an amusing conceit, equivalent to one of those books where the author lives in a weird way for a year. Still, was it worth a couple hours of reading time? Definitely.

(I'm a sucker for the almost non-existent "hyper-literate alternate universe" subgenre. The Eyre Affair is a must-read for any English major, although you should stay away from the other Thursday Next novels.)

With its strange, diminishing alphabet, Ella Minnow Pea reminded me of a sci-fi short story I'd just recently read, Kim Newman's "Tomorrow Town." In the Tomorrow Town alphabet:

Q and X are replaced by KW and KS; the vestigial C exists only in CH and is otherwise replaced by K or S. E.g.: "The kwik brown foks jumped over the layzee dog."

So forget z; apparently it's the letter C that doesn't get any respect. Benjamin Franklin wanted to get rid of it too (along with j, q, w, x, and y) and a quick Google search turns up some present-day haters.

None of that for me. If it does anything, Ella Minnow Pea will make you appreciate the awesomeness of every single one of our letters.

(And book title puns involving eye dialect, if I'm indeed using the term correctly. In any case: that looks hard.)

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I mourn for the letters we've lost - ash and thorn spring to mind. Man, they even had cool names.

On the plus side, we might gain some additional letters in the future. It's more of a symbol, but just look at the way '@' has come on in recent years...

Glad you liked the book!

I haven't read it since college -- maybe it's time for another read! And I'll take your linking advice to heart.

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Reactive spelling
Thursday, December 6, 2007   4:23 PM

I cringe whenever I see the phrase "common misspelling." Not because I'm an orthographic radical (though I suppose I am, in comparison to the general public), but because the misspelling in question is usually a perfectly acceptable-looking variant.

Last week Blogslot spotted a "very common misspelling" in USA Today: an article titled "Typos can lead you to imposter credit sites."

The preferred spelling is (of course?) impostor. And personally, I do prefer impostor, just as I prefer advisor to the uglier, less common, utterly abominable adviser. (Curse you AP!)

While I was able to find some good guidelines for telling -er words from -or words, there's no overriding logic at work here, just memorization and educated guesswork.

In this case we're talking about a very common misspelling indeed: imposter gets about 3/4 of the Google hits that impostor does. The Columbia Guide to Standard American English says, "Impostor is the more common spelling, but imposter is also acceptable." And while my dictionary doesn't acknowledge imposter as a variant spelling, it does use this spelling in one of its entries.

Even if you think that the spelling imposter is "wrong," it's not obviously wrong.

The imposter spelling is less common, but it's nevertheless reasonable and well-attested. There are plenty of variant spellings that are, at worst, credible guesses. Contrast these with a more creative misspelling like impaustor: I don't think Joe Greengrocer should be ridiculed for using it, but it's WTF for me. Not because it's not in the original OED that Moses brought down from the mountain, but because it's so unfamiliar.

However, just to be clear: imposter is an error in that headline. A copy editor has a responsibility to catch nonstandard spellings, for conformity's sake if for no other reason, and the sin here is even greater if it was the copy editor who introduced this error. It's the idea that this is a matter of correct vs. incorrect spelling, rather than preferences and style, that I take issue with.

Regret the Error recently posted a correction that incorporated this irksome One Spelling To Rule Them All mindset. From the Chicago Tribune:

In the editorial "Spelling, 21st-Century style" on Tuesday, the wrong phrases were used to demonstrate how the Oxford University Press updated its dictionary. The phrases should have been "free rein" and the new entry "free reign" — not "rein in" and "reign in." Also, the dictionary includes some misspelled or misused words because they are so common or have a historical precedent, not because they are correct.

I'm no lexicographer, but I'm pretty sure that dictionaries don't include any words because they're correct. Though it'd be interesting to know what the prescriptivist source of objective Correct Spelling is, if even their dictionaries can betray them.

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Ich esse einen Berliner
Wednesday, October 3, 2007   3:01 PM

Or preferably, a Long John. (A minor controversy among donut lovers: is the eclair a type of Long John, or are they separate donut species?)

More spelling stuff today. I overheard this from the non-proofreaders early this morning:

Speaker 1: Wait, how do you spell doughnut?
Speaker 2: It's just D-O-U-G-H-N-U-T.
Speaker 1: Huh.
Speaker 3: How did you live this long without learning how to spell doughnut!?

To my credit, I refrained from butting in with a "language belongs to the people!" The Columbia Guide to Standard American English has this to say about doughnut:

Doughnut is the conventional spelling, donut a variant used in advertising or signs and as eye dialect.

That was back in 1993, mind you. Also: eye dialect, really?

Doughnut or donut is an especially tricky word because, from where I'm sitting, donut (a word we've had since at least 1929) is either Standard American English or just on the cusp of becoming so.

In terms of its acceptability, donut has lagged behind hiccup (for hiccough) and outpaced thru (for through). And if tho (for though) is ever going to become Standard, it's not going to happen this century. The chapter "Simplified Spelling" from H.L. Mencken's 1921 book The American Language covers these and other spelling changes in more detail.

If you'd asked me to spell it, I probably would have come up with donut before I thought of doughnut. Both spellings are completely standard for me, although I have a preference for doughnut in edited English.

A funny thing about doughnut, via Wikipedia:

The earliest known recorded usage of the term dates an 1808 short story [2] describing a spread of "fire-cakes and dough-nuts." Washington Irving's reference to "doughnuts" in 1809 in his History of New York is more commonly cited as the first written recording of the term. Irving described "balls of sweetened dough, fried in hog's fat, and called doughnuts, or olykoeks."

As the entry goes on to note, the original recipes used balls of dough (hence nuts), but the now-archetypal ring donut was so successful that it produced the retronym donut holes.


I think the more common a word, and the easier it is to spell, the more slowly its spelling will change when in transition. This might explain why "donut has lagged behind hiccup and outpaced thru" as you say.

Incidentally, the spelling 'doughnut' is still more common than 'donut' here in the UK – the latter seems an Americanism, although I am seeing it more frequently (especially since Krispy Kreme has started popping up everywhere).

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Videogame vs. video game
Monday, October 1, 2007   11:15 AM

I just finished slogging through a mediocre misconceived New York Times op-ed on the high-art status of videogames. One sentence in the first paragraph completely derailed me:

I am in a Halo haze, brought on by three days of marathon sessions with Halo 3, the video-game phenomenon of the year.

Is that hyphenation WTF for you?

At first, I didn't get what was going on: I was flabbergasted that the NYT would spell videogame with a hyphen.

Then I realized that they were spelling it video game. Like the AP, the NYT sometimes hyphenates compound modifiers before nouns to avoid potential confusion. This is the video-game phenomenon of the year, not just the year's biggest game phenomenon to make use of video.

For me, that awkward, ugly hyphen is probably the strongest case you can make for using videogame over video game. I'm also put off by sentences that start with Video game — with the space there, I'm expecting a verb after Video; it takes a split second to grasp that the subject of the sentence has changed.

(I prefer boardgame to board game, for the same aesthetic reasons.)

A quick Google search shows that the videogame vs. video game debate has been raging for some time, with the recent publication of the Videogame Style Guide adding considerable fuel to the fire.

Styleguides lend authority and consistency to your writing, but with one crucial caveat: you prettymuch have to follow the entire guide. So it's probably pretty frustrating to see a guide with so much good, necessary videogame style advice advocating a variant, less popular spelling of video game.

I'd imagine that proponents of video game are just as irked by videogame as I was (and still am) by the AP's preference for adviser over the much more common advisor.

The arguments used by the International Game Journalists Association — the group behind the Videogame Style Guide — don't help matters much. In their Videogame Style Guide FAQ, we're asked to accept two falsehoods: first, that exocentric compounds (i.e. "compound words where the meaning is not specified by any of the parts," like butterfly) get pushed together in American English, and second, that video game is an exocentric compound.

The first claim may be a general trend, but it's hardly a rule: Bradshaw of the Future supplies Maple Leaf, still life, and high brow. Off the top of my head, there's also Range Rover, pack rat, and Jucy Lucy [sic!].

As for the second claim... dudes, I'm looking right at it: video is modifying game.

The first article I found about this style choice was so contrary to my grammatico-political beliefs that I considered running it verbatim as an April Fool's Day gag. Sample:

In the introduction, there is a colon followed by a capital letter, for no apparent reason. I looked up the usage of colons in Strunk & White, just in case I was having some kind of memory lapse. I wasn't. It's not correct to use an uppercase letter there.

Much better was the response over at GameSetWatch, where Benj Edwards gives these and other spurious arguments a thorough fisking. There are some contentions, however, that I don't think he manages to refute: for example, the notion that we should follow the AP styleguide habit of writing most video words as runtogethers has a quirky sort of logic to it. Editors love eliminating exceptions, unless those exceptions can themselves be made into a rule.

Moreover, I remain sympathetic to the contention that 45 percent of Joystiq readers prefer videogame. It may be the less popular spelling variant, but it's a variant that emerged from within the gamer community, and it's there that it has most of its support. This styleguide is originating within that community, so while the IGJA might have been well-advised to wait until videogame was more widely accepted among gamers, they have no reason to follow the usage of the masses.

The masses, as readers of a certain age may recall, once referred to all videogame consoles as Nintendos.

(Video-game consoles, NYT?)

Edwards closes with some standard prescriptivist arguments, e.g. "any arbitrary change against the standard introduces unnecessary confusion" and "video games have been called 'video games' since the early 1970s, and there's no good reason to stop that trend."

He also asks — and to be fair, the IGJA kinda invited this question in their FAQ — "What are you trying to prove?"

I'm going to go ahead and say that most people are probably choosing the spelling that looks better, not trying to "prove" anything. My own preference is largely an aesthetic one. However, after reading through all the commentary on this, I think it's also clear that people on both sides can and will see an agenda in the presence or absence of a single space.

The writers behind the Videogame Style Guide no doubt knew the various connotations that people attach to these different spellings, and they probably anticipated many of the arguments against their unlikely choice. Nevertheless, for this styleguide they had to mandate one of the two options. I think they chose the right one, but I believe them when they say that they didn't make this decision lightly.

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Hi Dan,

1. Nice blog. I'm glad that I found you.

2. Doesn't Blogger do TrackBacks? Anyway, your post inspired me to author a response.

Thanks and take care,

Thanks Tim, your language enthusiasm remains "the tits." I've commented over at your blog, essentially just rehashing.

Trackbacks... long, boring explanation. But my language RSS feed collection is practically an all-seeing eye.

The NYT dictionary of choice is Webster's New World, which shows video game for the noun. Presumably the NYT stylemeisters do not feel a need to supersede that.

posted by Anonymous Anonymous at October 3, 2007 11:15 AM  

I take language seriously and I don't appreciate being painted as an "April Fool's Day gag." I stand by my comments, and I don't see why you or anyone would disagree anyway. We really don't have cardgames or boardgames and videogames would be just as silly. It's been spelled "video game" for decades and there's no need to change it.


Sirlin - that April Fool's Day thing was an expression of the apparently extreme divide between our grammatico-political stances. For example, I would rarely if ever go to my copy of the Elements of Style to find out if something is "correct."

Your apparent attitude towards language reflects the mindset of most Americans, and I don't consider that position or the fact that you hold it ridiculous. As with "video game," many (even most) intelligent people agree with you.

However, given everything I've written here (especially the "Manifesto," which you're welcome to read if you care about grammar politics), my pretending to espouse such a view would be patently absurd.

I'm still very confused here. I'm American and America sucks, but neither of those things have much to do with anything here. I can go along with your manifesto, but I don't see what that has to do with this either.

I'm deep within the video game industry. I'm part of many different gaming circles, and I run the Evolution Fighting Game Championships, the biggest fighting game series anywhere in the world except for Japan's Super Battle Opera. I write for Game Developer Magazine and I wrote a book about competitive gaming. I have never seen any gamer in any of my circles ever use "videogame" even one time. It's also inconsistent with "card game" and "board game" as I said before. When I weigh these two possible spellings, I have nothing at all on the one hand, and everything I've ever seen on the other. So...why would we invent a new spelling? I must be missing something. Or is the claim that all the gamers I interact with are not representative and that a huge number of real people actually use "videogame"? If that's the claim, at least I'd know what the debate is, but I don't yet see any reason in favor of that spelling. That book with "videogame" in the title is the subject of many jokes because of it, further demonstrating the silliness of it.

Of course "video-game" would be even more jarring, so at least that's off the table (unless you're a writer for the New York Times).


I was responding to your concern about my earlier "April Fool's Day gag" comment. The point there wasn't your opinion on "video game" but instead the way you talked about grammar in making your case. I've changed the excerpt I used to better reflect the essence of my gripe. (In this case, contra Strunk, many people capitalize the first letter of a full sentence when it appears after a colon. It's AP style, for example.)

But on "video game": the argument that it's the most popular version is a good one, probably the best argument in its favor — but if you're actually claiming that a lot of gamers and gaming magazines don't use "videogame," then I suggest you go to Google, or any gaming website, and search the articles for "videogame." There are millions of results for "videogame" on Google, and thousands on IGN, Gamespot, and Gamespy. The Videogame Style Guide FAQ claims that 45 percent of respondents to a Joystiq poll support "videogame." It's still not the most common spelling, but it's quite common within any metric of "the community" that you want to use.

As my post makes clear, I'm not really persuaded by a lot of IGJA's arguments. My argument is two-fold:

1. This spelling variant is already in common usage.

2. I prefer the way "videogame" looks, especially since it will never acquire an ugly hyphen when modifying another noun. This could happen to "video game" in both AP and NYT style, and while I have very little against "video game," I hate "video-game."

Of course "video-game advantage" has to be hyphenated, just like "first-mover advantage". Are you going to tell us that all instances of "first mover" should become "firstmover" just so people won't use that "awkward, ugly" (but standard) hyphen? That's silly.

That would indeed be a silly thing to think. Obviously I'm not for turning all compound nouns into runtogethers, but videogame already has wide currency and — as the version that avoids the hyphen issue — I think it's aesthetically preferable to video game.

Wired Style put it nicely: "When in Doubt, Close It Up."

I had a debate with my copy editor for a book I am writing precisely on this issue. Very nice that to have found this blog entry. I am indeed going with videogames.

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Hoisted by someone else's pike
Monday, August 20, 2007   8:47 AM

As a reminder that most people interpret any interest in their word choice as either approval or criticism — and not, not harmless curiousity — here's an email incident I had to apologize for last week.

Apropos of an argument over whisky vs. whiskey:

Female coworker: Pike down! No harm, no foul here!

Male coworker: You just called me a PIKE!

Female coworker: I didn't call you PIKE, I requested that you pike down!!!! Don't make me have Dan look up and explain the meaning on this one too!!!!

Our Bold Hero: A common error per Google, but apparently not the original expression...

On sailing ships signals were given to the crew by sounding the boatswain's (bo'sun's) pipe. One such was 'piping down the hammocks' which was the signal to go below decks and retire for the night. When an officer wanted a sailor to be dismissed below he would have him 'piped down'. This usage is recorded in Royal Navy workbooks from the 18th century.

Female coworker: Ok - now Dan caught me... PIPE down dang it!!!!

Our Bold Hero (to male coworker): I pissed her off methinks, but this whole pipe/pike thing is fascinating. The technical term (which I was just reading about last week!) for her error is 'pineapple' -- it's a species of malapropism. Whoo! Words!

Male coworker (forwards my message to everyone): HA ha!

Female coworker: Be fascinated with somebody else's words!!! Peaceout!!!!

There goes my chance to ask if peaceout was an intentional runtogether...

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In the future they have no spaces
Wednesday, July 11, 2007   9:32 PM

I just finished reading Alex Robinson's Box Office Poison. Apparently it's a work of some note; all I know is that it was pretty cool, much better than the other graphic novels I checked out. A nice surprise, since I thought it would suck.

Equally surprising was my discovery that the phrase box office poison is fairly old, an apparent Americanism dating back at least to the 1920s and probably decades earlier.

One of the main characters in Box Office Poison is an English major who works at a bookstore, and the book features a number of stupid customer stories. For my part, I think that Robinson is a bit hard on people who mispronounce titles and authors' names: there are a lot of people out there who can't pronounce Don Quixote. In high school I was fairly well-read for my age, but I wouldn't have known to say "kee-HO-tee" if not for an episode of The Simpsons.

The adjective quixotic did not help matters: I was often unjustly accused of mangling it.

But whatever. The stupid customer stories help establish the Robinson's authority, and so we know that his decision to write alot is a conscious one, and that characters using alot aren't ignorant. It's an interesting choice.

Despite widespread public usage (as any editor could attest), alot has few defenders among the usage mavens. I have the "A Lot Is Two Words" comic up in my cubicle now and I'm fairly certain that my coworkers aren't laughing at the same joke.

It's nice to see someone standing up for the silent (but alas, inconsistent) majority and using alot in situations where we're not meant to think the character is uneducated.

(The decision to decaptalize Croesus, if indeed it was, is more troubling. Also, has anyone tracked Rich as Croesus vs. Richer than Croesus? I'm curious.)

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On mispelling
Monday, April 23, 2007   9:20 AM

Just finished changing a dozen instances of posotive to positive. Such is life in the trenches.

I'm not the greatest of spellers. In fact, there are some words (e.g. pronunciation, complimentary, separate) that I consistently spell incorrectly.

Often my misspelling is a result of a pronunciation spelling, itself usually based on a nonstandard pronunciation (or should I say "pronounciation?"). This makes it hard to tell where the pronunciation spelling stops and the spelling pronunciation begins.

(A friend of mine, the zine guy, makes a habit of pointing out the standard pronunciation when I slip up. Unfortunately, he always frames his observations as the "correct" way to pronounce something — the IPA notation from Moses' tablets, I guess — which leads to an excessive amount of protestation on my part. I should probably try to learn enough about my Minnesotan accent to separate my local color from my ignorance.)

My solution to the spelling issue is straightforward and boring: I've long since fell into the habit of looking up a word if I'm at all unsure about its spelling. To Bartleby!

Of course, there is another way: I could throw myself into the fight for a free and democratic orthography. Unfortunately, I'm not that h.c.

Also, there's the whole "edits for a living" thing.

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The case for prescriptivism
Saturday, April 14, 2007   1:52 PM

I posted this on my personal blog a while back, but it's too good not to x-post here. I hereby present "The Case for Prescriptivism," from Alan Moore's Swamp Thing comic (June 1984).

Swamp Thing presents the Spelling Monkey

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and they say Watchmen is his best work.

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Think reactive, not reactionary