About Me
The Manifesto

Previous Posts

The Further Adventures of Hiatus
This hiatus just got REAL
Meh declared cromulent
The usual post-election vocab lesson
Contest FAIL
A National Punctuation Day Contest
No one will ever pick up on this hyperbole
A spirited defense of good grammar
Good Stuff: 8/29/08
Montreal: phonetics, purists, and even some terror...

Back to Main


My del.ic.ious site feed


Common Errors in English
Netvibes RSS Reader
Online Etymology Dictionary
Research and Documentation
The Phrase Finder
The Trouble with EM 'n EN

A Capital Idea
Arrant Pedantry
Bradshaw of the Future
Bremer Sprachblog
Dictionary Evangelist
Double-Tongued Dictionary
English, Jack
Futility Closet - Language
Language Hat
Language Log
Mighty Red Pen
Motivated Grammar
OUPblog - Lexicography
Style & Substance
The Editor's Desk
The Engine Room
Tenser, said the Tensor
Watch Yer Language
Word Spy
You Don't Say

Dan's Webpage

Website XML feed

Wundergrammar: A North Carolina rule
Monday, July 14, 2008   7:21 PM

Work has been crazy lately. Here's an extremely odd bit of... let's call it prescriptivism... from a customizable flyer on the internal product creation website of one of our major clients:

I'm guessing that this prescription has more to do with financial and/or legal considerations than with matters grammatical, but I'm still baffled.

Why not lunch? Or dinner, for that matter? Do the good people of North Carolina not deserve a proper meal?

Labels: ,

Leave a Comment

Wundergrammar: Spaceless
Sunday, January 20, 2008   9:56 PM

How do you break a proofreader?

Asked this weekend if I could spot the error in a leaflet for Columbus' North Market, I opened it up and was faced with this:

That's right: no spaces. It's not an error, of course, since this is obviously intentional, but... wow.

Now that I've gotten over my initial stupefaction, I'm quite charmed by this display of orthographic derring-do.

Labels: ,

Shouldn't it be 'NORTHMARKETMERCHANTS'? To my mind they've wussed out but not removing *all* the spaces...

Yes (and I agree with JD actually) but whatever did they mean by doing it this way?

Now that's an excellent question. Hopefully it's an attempt to be hip (spaces being old hat) and not some weird ideological or philosophical decision. In any case, I'm amazed that whoever thought this up was able to get the approval.

Leave a Comment

Wundergrammar: "Brand strong"
Tuesday, November 27, 2007   4:26 PM

This just in from one of our clients: the description copy for their new promotional notecards. The client in question is one of the biggest realty companies in America.

This striking, brand strong card is great for quick, friendly communication. 5 1/2" x 4 1/4" folded. Envelopes included.

Labels: , ,

Leave a Comment

Wundergrammar: Extreme Ellipses
Thursday, November 15, 2007   8:48 AM

I've met plenty of semicolon and em dash fans, but I've never seen anyone so enamored of the ellipsis. Here's how this shopper punctuates quotes:

Juliette passed me, made eye contact, smiled and said..." are you there something I can help you with?"

Lisa said "thanks for stopping by...good luck to you today...have a nice day".

Patti made eye contact, and said, "Hi...what can I do for you today"

Kathleen approached me, smiled, made eye contact and said " are you today?...can I get you a beverage?"

As I was leaving, Bruce said..."thanks...have a good day...let me know if you need anything else".

Labels: , ,

Leave a Comment

Wundergrammar: Auxilaration!
Thursday, August 23, 2007   9:06 PM

A doozie of a usage quirk, this time from a mystery shopper in California. With only a few exceptions, this writer forms all past tense sentences thusly:

[Actor] was [adjective] to [action] .

I spotted three variations of this pattern. The most common was able to:

When we first arrived at the table, Cari was able to smile and make eye contact.

Followed closely by sure to:

Nicolai was sure to initiate our interaction with a friendly "Sir, I can help you over here if you are ready."

Finally, about once per page, this writer used kind enough to. This particular example is a double-whammy:

After Teresa was sure to answer my question, she was kind enough to ask if there was anything else that we needed before we ended our encounter.

While this is probably the most extreme case that I've seen, about once a week I edit a mystery shopper who overuses did to form the past tense. (Which adds an odd, contrarian emphasis to sentences like "He did thank me.")

I'm starting to dislike did.

Proper linguistics terminology notwithstanding, I've decided to call this profusion of over-verbed sentences auxilaration. Or possibly auxilaration!, with an exclamation mark like Jenny! from Wayside School.

From the editing side it looks lazy, like the writer just couldn't be bothered to conjugate those other verbs. Really though, it was more work for the writer to do things this way — and since the entire narrative has to be written in the past tense, it's considerably more work for me. Although most of these sentences are grammatical, when you have so many of them together it quickly becomes ridiculous. And the able to variation has its own problems.

So why do this? The auxilarated shoppers tend to be fairly competent as amateur writers go, and they don't seem to have any problems correctly conjugating the verbs that do slip through. Nor is this one of those cases where the structure of the survey question is influencing the structure of the answer.

What then? Overcorrection? Some sort of folk grammar? Perverse stylistic preferences? Bad advice from an ill-informed pedant? I have no way to know.

Labels: ,

Leave a Comment

Wundergrammar: Colon-Break Quotes
Tuesday, August 7, 2007   9:27 PM

Less exciting than my discovery of semicolon quotes, but still notable: this writer introduces all direct quotations as if they were block quotations. That is to say, with a colon, no quotation marks, and a break in the text:

Cordilia said:
Thank you and good luck.

When I got to her station she said:
How can I help you?

Though I suppose that even for block quotes these are unusual, since most people would probably add a blank line before the quote. And indent!

In any case, it's pretty safe to say that we're all a bit confused about quotations. For my part, last summer I went through a phase where I was refused to add in a comma when using said to introduce a quotation — now I have to coach writers who ignore this convention that it's our company style.

While most college-educated people (or at least, most English majors) probably agree on the basic mechanics of quotations, there are still sticking points out there — dark, warm places where prescriptivism can fester.

For example, from what I've seen, I'm at odds with much of America in my belief that the verb state can introduce only indirect quotations, not direct quotations. It also looks very weird when people introduce a paraphrase with stated instead of stated that. Such are my correctness conditions.

More than once, I've edited writers who broke both these 'rules' and used stated rather than said. Exclusively.

(It would be interesting to know what speaking verbs can introduce a paraphrase without that for most people. I'd guess that more than 90% of English speakers, whatever their preference, would have no problem with He said the dog was brown.)

Labels: , ,

Leave a Comment

The Wundergrammar: Semicolon Quotes
Wednesday, July 25, 2007   2:35 PM

A curiosity: I just finished editing a writer who did not punctuate quotes in the usual style. Instead of using quotation marks, she availed herself of the semicolon. Some examples:

As I left, Ramona said; good luck.

Daniel approached as I sat at the bar, smiled and said; hi, what can I get you?

Julietta smiled and said; hello, my name is Julietta. I will be bringing you to your table.

A good friend of mine advocates abandoning the semicolon altogether — in favor of the em dash — and he's not alone in his disregard for the mark. It may be a sign of the times that someone could even think of using the semicolon like my writer did. As if it has nothing better to do!

At the very least, this usage represents a woeful misreading of the semicolon charter.

Labels: , ,

Leave a Comment

Think reactive, not reactionary