Thursday, December 15, 2011


Got a comment from a reader about my misspelling usage as useage. Can only say mea culpa. Thought I ran spellcheck on that post.
      Incidentally, my website is now up and running, so I'll be doing most of my posts there. See

Tuesday, November 29, 2011


       Continuing the theme of lists, here are my picks for the most annoying people:
1. Howard Eskin. For those not in the larger Philadelphia area, he is (was) a sports talk radio host who recently was forced off his afternoon drive show because he was losing the ratings war to a rival. Eskin is the most egotistical, abrasive, crude radio personality I have ever heard.
2. Donald Trump. Another egotist who unfortunately did not run for president, as he threatened to do. I say unfortunately because he would have been eviscerated.
3. Ann Coulter. The conservative talker and columnist who, among other things, claimed that 9/11 widows were trying to profit from their husbands' sacrifice. Describes herself as "a mean-spirited, bigoted conservative." I couldn't agree more. Oh, and she dresses like a hooker.
     Wanna add to my list?

Even More Movies

As promised, here are more favorites, these from Joe M., in no particular order. These include one that has yet to be released (although the European version came out early this year). Again, those I agree with and were not on my list are boldfaced.

1) The Sound of Music

2) Silence of the Lambs

3) Bridge Over the River Kwai

4) Blues Brothers

5) Raiders of the Lost Ark

6) Jaws

7) Witness

8) Steel Magnolias

9) The Magnificent Seven

10) Forrest Gump

11) Godfather

12) Lawrence of Arabia

13) Airplane

14) Dances with Wolves

15) Rocky

16) Lonesome Dove

17) Gone with the Wind

18) Blazing Saddles

19) Pretty Woman

20) Stalag 17

21) Animal House

22) Alien

23) The Great Escape

24) The Shawshank Redemption

25) ET

26) The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (soon to be released)

Monday, November 28, 2011

Movies, Continued

A Matter of Opinion

My list of movies has prompted a couple of responses, all via email since people continue to find it difficult to get into the blog to comment. Son Steven in particular has an extensive list, some of which I agree with (indicated by boldface) and should have included on my list:

1.     Pulp Fiction
2. Rocky (if only the fight scenes had been more realistic. Have never seen a man take such a beating and get back up -- and with such a display of spastic, over-acting energy!)

3. Star Wars or Empire Strikes Back

4. The Hustler

5. Road to Perdition

6. Forrest Gump

7. Scarface

8. Goodfellas

9. Casablanca (how did I overlook this?)

10. The Departed

11. Reservoir Dogs

12. The Green Mile (I know, a lot of Tom Hanks)

13. Full Metal Jacket

14. Independence Day

15. Ocean’s Eleven (the new version) and, I would add, Ocean's 12

16. No Country for Old Men -- definitely; and a great book

17. The Wizard of Oz

18. Kill Bill (Vol. 1 & 2)

19. Million Dollar Baby

20. Westside Story

Only two comedies in your list? How about some great comedies:

21. Office Space

22. Clerks

23. Airplane!

24. Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery

25. Vacation or Christmas Vacation
Steven's beloved spouse, DJ, adds A STAR IS BORN – Barbara Streisand & Kris Kristofferson version, and THE LION KING, and suggests we need a few chick flicks. OK, how about Crazy, Stupid Love?
And I'd like to add another I overlooked: Babel, from about four or five years ago.

A friend promises to send his list later tonight.

Can't do a posting without a language reference. Over at Spark, a Wilmington News Journal publication, the apostrophe fairy was loose, leaving random droppings. One of them wound up at the end of noggin, a synonym for head, as in "keep your noggin' warm . . ." Guess they think the actual word is "nogging." Once again, they would be wrong.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Movies and Turkey Day

       Having listed my favorite Western movies in a previous blog, it seems appropriate to name my favorite movies of all types. With the understanding that those Westerns match up well with those below, and would be interspersed throughout, here's my list, more or less in order:
1. Gone with the Wind
2. The Godfather -- Parts I and II (a tie)
3. It's a Wonderful Life
4. To Kill a Mockingbird
5. Saving Private Ryan
6. Cool Hand Luke
7. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
8. Citizen Kane
9. Schindler's List
10. The Bridge Over the River Kwai
11. Crash
12. The Shawshank Redemption
13. A Chorus Line
14. Annie Hall
15. Chicago
16. Some Like It Hot
17. Raging Bull
18. The Graduate
19. Psycho
20. Lawrence of Arabia
21. The Deer Hunter
22. American Graffiti
23. Jaws
24. Taxi Driver
25. On the Waterfront

Upon re-examination, I might move some of these up or down  the list, and I'm sure others will occur to me later, but this will do for a start. How about you guys -- all six of you? What are your faves?

The Book Cometh -- Really
The War on Words book is almost ready for shipment. Should be here by this time next week. Order your copy now by going to the Out & About website: Price is $9.95 plus $3 shipping. Or contact me. The e-book is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Sony and iBook for just $3.95.

Can't have a blog without a grammar mention. Spark continues to be ignorant of the difference between further and farther, opting for further every time. No doubt they think it sounds more sophisticated. Here's how to decide: If talking actual physical distances, use farther. Otherwise, as in "that couldn't be further from the truth," use further.

Those Republican Candidates -- Again
Really, now, are there any adults among this sorry group? They are so intent on pandering to the lowest common denominator in their party that they have adopted an anti-intellectual attitude. God forbid any of them supports global warming or the remote possibility that he or she might raise taxes. And Hermie Cain continues to implode. Asked if he supported Obama's stance on Libya the other day, he took a long pause, then gave an answer that he was obviously making up as he went along. Last night, he called moderator Wolf Blitzer "Blitz." Guess he was think the guy was Blitz Wolfer.
       This is sad. Looks like it will come down to Romney and Gingrich. Hard to believe, but I think Obama, as bad as he has performed, can beat either one.

It's been a tough year, or a tough two years, or three years -- more so for some of us than others. But I'm sure we all have something to be thankful for, so do that tomorrow. Thank whoever or whatever you find it appropriate to thank, and resolve to do your best in the coming year to deserve whatever good fortune may come to you.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Media Miscues and More

Errant Broadcasters
Sadly, I must report that Todd Blackledge, quarterback of Penn State's 1982 national championship team, committed a miscue during his commentary on the Penn State-Ohio State game Saturday. Speaking of the rush put on the OSU quarterback, he said that Penn State was "trying to force him into an errant mistake." Not really a redundancy; more of a superfluosity. Much like Tim McCarver's comment about "a respite of rest." Proof once again that when these ex-jocks use any out-of-the ordinary word (e.g.,errant, respite), they run the risk of making fools of themselves.
Literallys of the Week
Mika Brezinski, she of "Morning Joe" fame on MSNBC, really needs to back off the literallys. She was literallying all over the broadcast yesterday. Example: "Newt Gingrich is literally on his high horse." Mika, baby, it means "actually, really." I doubt that Newt rides horses, high or otherwise.

Book Banter
Am trying to move up delivery of The War on Words book. It went on press today -- 1,000 copies. Should be here by end of the month. In the meantime, electronic versions are available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Sony and iBooks.
    Speaking of the book, an old friend who has bought the Kindle version sent along these words for "lexiphiles" -- lovers of words:

You can tune a piano, but you can't tuna fish.

To write with a broken pencil is . . . pointless.

When fish are in schools they sometimes . . . take debate.

A thief who stole a calendar . . . got twelve months.

When the smog lifts in Los Angeles  . . . U.C.L.A.

The batteries were given out . . . free of charge.

A dentist and a manicurist married. . . . They fought tooth and nail.

A will is a . . . dead giveaway.

With her marriage, she got a new name . .. . and a dress.

A boiled egg is . . . hard to beat.

When you've seen one shopping center . . . you've seen a mall.

Police were called to a day care where a three-year-old was . . . resisting a rest.

Did you hear about the fellow whose whole left side was cut off? . . . He's all right now.

A bicycle can't stand alone . . . it is two tired.

When a clock is hungry . . .. it goes back four seconds

The guy who fell onto an upholstery machine . . . was fully recovered.

He had a photographic memory . . . which was never developed.

Those who get too big for their britches will be . .. . exposed in the end.

When she saw her first strands of gray hair, . . . she thought she'd dye.

Acupuncture: . . . a jab well done.
OK, so some of these are real groaners, but worth a laugh or two.



Saturday, November 19, 2011

More Media

Movie Marilyn
OK, call me mean (hey, you wouldn't be the first one), but I'm just going to say this: Michelle Williams has neither the face nor the body to portray Marilyn Monroe. I haven't seen My Week with Marilyn, so you may say I'm being unfair, but all one has to do is look at a photo of Michelle and compare it to the other-worldly Marilyn, and you'll see what I mean. Yes, Williams has acting chops, as evidenced by Wendy and Lucy, Blue Valentine, Brokeback Mountain, etc. But please . . .

Alumnus, Alumnae
Anonymous (and we know who it is) sent this comment regarding alumnus as the singular noun for a graduate: "If one follows the Latin, an individual graduate might be an alumnus, if male. A woman would be an alumna. All women graduates are alumnae; however,the combined body of graduates are alumni. This loss of gender distinction not only appears in this Latin word but also in today's English. It seems more politically correct to say actor or host rather than actress or hostess. Why?????"
     Some time ago, we covered this distinction between alumnus and alumna in our War on Words column, but failed to go into here on the blog, since we were speaking of male callers to talk shows. We appreciate anonymous's contribution, and we have no explanation for the androgynization (is that a word?) of certain terms. I have noticed, however, that female actors have embraced that word. Host/hostess is a little trickier. Terms like mail carrier or chair person can overcome the gender difference, but hosting an event defies that neat solution.

More Apostrophes
A reader writes to say that he saw a photo of a Pagan motorcycle gang member wearing a t-shirt with the word "Pagan's" on it. He wanted to know if perhaps the man wanted to indicate that the shirt belonged to the Pagans. I doubt it, but I'm not about to tell one of those guys that their t-shirt is grammatically incorrect.

More on Penn State
So now we find out that JoePa has lung cancer. Hope that makes all the haters happy. Can this story get any more tragic? Unfortunately, I'm afraid it can.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Lists, Political and Otherwise

Sad Sacks
      As Herman Cain self-immolates with repeated foreign policy gaffes and Rick Perry fails the short-term memory test, guess who emerges from the putrid quagmire called Republican presidential candidates? Our old friend, Newt Gingrich. Here's a guy with more baggage, as someone on a morning news show put it, than a Rolling Stones tour. Yet he is now challenging Mitt Romney in the latest poll of Republican voters. Once again, it seems, the GOP electorate is saying, "Anyone but Mitt."
       It's sad. With people like Cain, who becomes more ludicrous every day, and Perry, who is a cowboy posing as a politician, and Gingrich, a slimeball of the first order, making serious runs at the nomination, how does this party hold onto its base? Obama has practically gift-wrapped the election for them, and they can't bring themselves to get behind the one candidate who's capable of winning because he's "too liberal." Amazing. Time for the tea party to break away and nominate its own candidate? Say, where is that Sarah Palin?
     Let's take a break from grammar and go to one of my favorite subjects: movies. Some experts maintain that America has given the world just two art forms: jazz and Western movies. It should come as no surprise, then, that some of the greatest movies ever made were Westerns. Unfortunately, when best movie lists are compiled by "experts," Westerns barely crack the top 10. I think any of the following movies, in no particular order, could qualify for those lists:

1. The Magnificent Seven -- Based on the Japanese classic The Seven Samurai, it's the ultimate comrade-in-arms action flick, with a great cast.
2. The Searchers -- John Wayne ages realistically as he and a nephew spend years searching for his niece, played by Natalie Wood, who was captured by Indians.
3. Shane -- A multi-layered character study of a gunfighter who throws in with homesteaders, this Alan Ladd starer has two of the greatest fist fights in movie history.
4. Red River -- Wayne again, this time as a nasty old man leading a herd of cattle to market who gets crossways of his adopted son, played by Montgomery Clift. It's said that Wayne couldn't stop laughing during filming of the fight scene with the diminutive Clift, who was supposed to best Wayne in the fight.
5. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid -- Almost all the dialogue is either a punchline or a setup for a punchline, and Paul Newman and Robert Redford are pitch perfect in a comedy that ends in tragedy.
6. Lonesome Dove -- A made-for-TV epic, it starts slowly and picks up momentum with each episode. Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones are spot-on as two retired Texas Rangers who drive a herd through a lawless West.
7. True Grit -- Either one -- the John Wayne original or the Jeff Bridges version from last year. The latter is more realistic in terms of costuming and is more true to the book, but Wayne won his only Oscar for his portrayal of Rooster Cogburn, and Bridges couldn't quite match him in delivering the greatest line in movie history, Rooster's admonition to outlaw Red Pepper: "Fill your hands, you son of a bitch!"
       There are many more, which I will get to in a future blog, but these will do for starters. Any thoughts about this list among my six readers?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Further PSU Grammar Fall-Out

Nothing good has come of the scandal at my alma mater -- except perhaps a couple of items for this blog.
        Item 1: I have discovered that, sadly, like other universities, Penn State failed to teach its graduates that each of them is an alumnus, not an alumni. Don't know how many times I've heard callers to radio stations say, "I'm an alumni of Penn State." Sad.
      Item 2: A friend overheard a student talking about the situation and referring to the "alleged allegations" against Sandusky. Talk about redundant redundancies.
Proper Prepositions
      The November War on Words in Out & About Magazine noted the misuse of prepositions in expressions like "I'm bored of this book." Heard a new one in the movie The Change-Up: "Are you embarrassed of me?" The proper preposition is "by." How do these things happen? I never heard such mistaken useage until a few years ago.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

PSU Weekend

Just back from Penn State. Very emotional weekend, very mixed feelings about what it all means. Can only say that the acts Jerry Sandusky committed are beyond heinous, and inexcusable. But the world seems to want every Penn Stater to pay for his sins. While the university has not handled every aspect of the situation perfectly, I think they are getting their act together, and the leadership and culture will undergo profound change in the very near future. It's already started. In the meantime, I hope those in charge will be given the time and consideration needed to effect those changes, and they will not resort to extreme measures, such as shutting down the football program or taking down the statue of Joe Paterno.
     I may have more to say about the weekend -- and the whole scandal -- in a later post.

Your Faithful Servant -- Always on the Alert
     As always, I was on the alert for grammar gremlins during my trip with son and grandsons to Happy Valley. On the way up we saw a sign advertising "Busses for your next excursion." I'm sure the sponsors of that sign didn't mean what it says. Busses, you see, are kisses (buss is the singular). Buses, on the other hand, are large vehicles. 
      Then, on the way home, I heard a Fox radio commentator talk about a running back who carried the  ball many times during a game. He called the player the "bell cow" of his team. Now, he may have actually meant bell cow -- which is the lead cow of a herd and is called that because she has a bell around her neck. But I'm pretty sure what he meant was "workhorse," which of course means a hard worker. This is the second time I've heard the term used by a sportscaster in the last month, so I could be wrong. But these misconceptions have a habit of proliferating among jock commentators, much in the way that "mano a mano" became "mano e mano" for many of them some time ago. Next time I hear the expression, I'm going to try to check with the speaker.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Further on JoePa and Penn State

To say this story has gone ballistic is an understatement. Clearly, it is an ugly situation and Jerry Sandusky is a sick person who needs help. He obviously cannot control himself, and he should have been institutionalized years ago. I have grandsons who are about the age of those involved in this case, and it sickens me to think about the boys who were victimized by this monster.
       But the rhetoric and demagogueing that I am hearing on talk radio is beyond the pale. People are calling for boycotting the game this Saturday, dismantling the football program, and jailing Joe Paterno and Mike McQuery. Can't count how many times I've heard people say, "If I had been there I would've . . ." followed by some statement about beating Sandusky to within an inch of his life. Putting aside the fact that Sandusky is about 6-3 and 240 lbs., such macho posturing is so much wind. NONE of us knows what we would do in McQuery's situation. He was a graduate assistant, the lowest rung on the coaching ladder, and he was accusing one of the icons of Penn State football -- the architect of two championship defenses, the rumored successor to the sainted Joe -- of an unspeakable act. None of us know what we would do until we are in a given situation. Frankly, I think many people would have stolen away and never mentioned the incident to anyone.
      But of course callers and talk show hosts have staked out the moral high ground. I find Angelo Cataldi and his morning crew on WIP particularly reprehensible in their diatribes. This is the group that gave the world the ultimate low-brow event, The Wing Bowl, and they are pillorying a man who gave millions of dollars and a library to an outstanding university and has been the mentor to thousands of young men who have gone on to lead stellar lives, as he himself has. And he's been joined in his efforts by his wife, Sue, who acted as a surrogate mother to many of those players. There has never been a hint of scandal in their personal life. In fact, Joe leads a pretty boring existence.
          Outsiders are shocked  by the support he is receiving from students, calling them young and naive. They forget that for 56 years, Joe has been the face of Penn State. It is natural that his supporters would not allow this incident – which has yet to be fully explained –  destroy their love for the man. He has his faults, and should have resigned several years ago, but his entire body of work needs to be acknowledged before categorizing him as some sort of monster. I want to hear his explanation of what he did and did not do. At the same time, his decision to step down was long overdue.
     It should be noted that not everyone on campus supports him. As I said yesterday, there is talk that the student body won't sing the alma mater on Saturday. And someone taped a note to Joe's statue that quoted a line from the alma mater: "May no act of ours bring shame . . ."
    It does not look good, admittedly, but his body of work must be considered in the final analysis. As I say, I want to hear from Joe.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

JoePa, Illi-NOISE and Hermie Cain

OK, I've been reeling the last few days over the news coming out of my alma mater, Penn State, so the blog has been pushed to the back burner. Here's my take: Joe Paterno will resign, if not today, by Friday, and if not by then, then by the end of the season. He's a stubborn old guy and he loves that job, but I think the decision is no longer his to make. It's a terrible mess, and all due to one man: a sick individual who is bringing down a football program that has a proud, clean tradition while besmirching the reputation of a fine university. There is talk among students and alums about not singing along when the alma mater is played on Saturday at the Nebraska game, the last home game of the year. I will be there and I WILL be singing (despite a distinct lack of ability in that area). I love that song and I love Penn State. Roar, Lions, Roar!!
     Penn State played Illinois two weeks ago and a friend referred to them as Illi-NOISE. Since I am such a good friend, I simply HAD to tell him that the s is silent in that state's name. His excuse: "I was a science major." Not good enough. Plenty of scientific types know how to pronounce Lincoln's homeland.
Raising Cain
     I caught Herman Cain on Jimmy Kimmel last night, and noted that the front-runner among GOP presidential candidates has gone all third-person on us. A sure sign that he's starting to take himself far too seriously. Too bad the rest of the country isn't.
     The Republicans have a real dilemma: looks like their only viable candidate is Mitt Romney, and most of the party seems to hate him. Too "liberal," you know. Obama, as bad as his ratings are, might actually have a chance against Romney. In fact, I don't see any of that sorry bunch of right-wingers as a sure thing against the president.
     Signing off now to go back to ESPN and see if Joe has resigned yet.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Media Watch

Interesting that, on MSNBC they are attacking Republican  Herman Cain for his lack of knowledge about China's nuclear capabilities, while over on Fox, they're attacking Democrat John Corzine for the scandal involving his unfortunately name MF Global. Both networks seem to be totally ignoring the other story.
       John Corzine is old news. He's out of politics and probably will never return. Herman Cain, on the other hand, is one of the sorry group of Republican candidates for president. It would seem to me that knowing China has nuclear capability (and has had it for decades) would be the price of admission to the presidential campaign. Apparently not. Cain continues to lead all contenders in the latest poll among benighted GOP voters.

     Department of Redundancies Dept.:  Heard a garden expert on WDEL (1150 AM) use the term "congregate together."
      WIP sports talker said the Eagles' performance "baffles my mind." It may baffle you, pal, but the expression is "boggles my mind."
      May be more to come later. The day is young.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Good News (and Bad)

The Good: The War on Words book version is live on Amazon! -- at least the Kindle version. Easiest way to find it is to type in my name. That will take you to The War on Words and Sawyer, my other book. The E version of War is selling for $3.95. Print version should be available by end of next week if not sooner. Spread the word -- all four of you.

The Bad: Saw a chart in USA Today showing results of a poll question: For which type of charity or cause would you most like to volunteer? The winner: animals, chosen by 17 percent of respondents. Poverty & hunger came in at 15 percent, sick or ill children got 11, education 9 and homeless 8.
     Don't get me wrong, animals are great. I like my cat a lot (notice I didn't say love), but it seems to me society's values are a bit skewed when people put animals above the welfare of fellow human beings. That's a bit discouraging.
      And finally, under Department of Redundancies, Dept., I got this email from the book's printer today: "I have processed your approval of the text and we are proceeding ahead with printing." (Sorry, couldn't resist.)
Till next time.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Monday Meanderings


Heard about James Carville's comments regarding the Republican candidates? Carville is the former Clinton strategist who is given to stop-you-in-your-tracks statements. Besides urging Rick Perry to go back to Texas because he is incapable of being president, Carville called Mitt Romney, a flip-flopper on almost all issues, "a serial windsock." I find that accurate, but a little wordy. Why add "serial"? Windsocks change with the wind, just like Romney -- no serial involved. Incidentally, how does Carville stay married to that right winger, Mary Matalin? The discussions in that house must need a referee.
      A reader sent me a note today saying she came across a blog from a communications "professional" that used the expression "mute point." Should be moot, of course. Very discouraging.
      Once again, if you have comments but can't make them through this blog, just email me:

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Sunday Ruminations

While watching Penn State eke out another ugly victory yesterday, I was reminded that, contrary to popular belief, and a columnist for Spark, footballs are not made of pigskins. Au contraire, mon frere, they're made of cow skins -- leather. Oh, and the same columnist -- Rob Kalesse, by name -- thinks all right is spelled alright. In his defense, most people make both of those mistakes. But most people aren't columnists.
      And while watching post-game interviews and ceremonies as Joe Paterno celebrated his 409th win(well, celebrated is not exactly the word; others celebrated; he merely nodded and mumbled), it occurred to me once again that it's time for the man to retire. He is showing every one of his 84 years, and it's just selfish of him not to announce his retirement and allow the process of choosing his successor to begin.
       As the holiday season gets underway (call me Scrooge, but I really dread it), here's a game you can play: See how many times you can spot the misuse of the first word in that old standard "Season's Greetings." It should have an apostrophe because it conveys the thought "greetings of the season." Guaranteed you'll see it without the apostrophe or with the apostrophe following the word -- i.e., Seasons'. Pay attention; report back.
        I leave you with a few redundancies to watch out for: gather together, Jewish synagogue, lag behind, manual dexterity, occasional irregularity, outer rim, basic fundamentals, first time ever, rarely ever, personal friend, shrug one's shoulders.
     Till next time.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


Today is simply a collection of mistakes, both recent and from some time in the past. Of recent vintage, I turn to my old friend Spark, the weekly that covers the local entertainment scene; it's always good for one or two miscues. Its last-page photo caption misspelled two simple words in the last two issues: label (spelled lable) and inspiration (insparation). Also, of course, they write "alright" instead of the correct all right. And they still have trouble knowing when to use "then" and "than." 
                  A few years ago, the Brandywine YMCA sponsored a bench press contest. To announce it, they posted signs around the gym and locker rooms that read:  “So you think your strong?  Then take the Bench Press Challange.  See how many repititions you can do.”

            Can you spot two misspellings and an incorrect word?  The word:  Your. It should be you’re.  The misspelled words are challenge (only one a in the word) and repetitions (two e’s and only two i’s, not three).  The signs were created as a word document, so my question is:  Didn’t the writer use spell check?  It would have picked up the two misspellings, at least.

           An invented word I see all the time is ‘nother.  I’m sure you’ve used it.  We all have, in sentences like, “That’s a whole ‘nother subject.”  But it’s not a word.  What we should say is, “That’s a whole other subject.” Or, you can make it “That’s another subject entirely.” The statement doesn’t lose any of its impact, does it?

            Finally, I saw a news report recently that included this statement: “The speaker covered everything from politics to the current business climate.”  Tell me: What is everything between politics to the current business climate?  This phrase, “everything from ___ to ___,” is resorted to by lazy writers and speakers.  About the only time it’s used correctly is this:  “Everything from a to z.”  We know what lies between the first and last letters of the alphabet.  But between politics and the current business climate?  I have no clue.  How about rephrasing and citing a few more examples of what was discussed:  “The speaker covered many subjects, including politics, the current business climate, religion, sports, and macrame.”

            Have questions or comments about anything you’ve seen in the media, or maybe in an office memo?  Let me know.  You can email me at

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


Let's talk dangling modifiers.  Mastering “danglers” is important if you’re going to communicate correctly. 

What, then, is a dangling modifier?  It occurs when a modifying phrase or clause fails to clearly and sensibly modify a word in the sentence.  I know, I know – that’s not real clear.  A few examples should help.

            Reading in the library, the siren of a passing ambulance distracted me.

            There is no word in this sentence that can be sensibly modified by the phrase “reading in the library.”  A siren, which the phrase appears to modify, is not usually found reading in a library.  It can be corrected by adding a word for the phrase to modify:  Reading in the library, I was distracted by the siren of a passing ambulance.

            Here’s another example:

Wrong:  While in the bowling alley, the car was stolen. (The car is not in the bowling alley.)

Right:  While we were in the bowling alley, the car was stolen.

            Here’s one I heard some time ago on a Entertainment Tonight: 

            Twenty-four hours after being crowned TV's darling, we were on the Felicity set with Keri Russell.

Sounds like we had been crowned TV’s darling.  The sentence can be corrected by placing Keri Russell immediately after the modifying phrase and rewording slightly:  Twenty-four hours after being crowned TV’s darling, Keri Russell was on the Felicity set with us.

And finally, I leave you with this classic, which I saw in an autobiography of George Paterno, Joe's brother.  The author was discussing his family’s move into a new house during his youth:

            Having moved to Brooklyn, World War II broke out. (Savor that one a moment.)

            He obviously meant to say, We had just moved to Brooklyn when World War II broke out -- or something to that effect. At any rate, ol' George (God bless his soul) needed an editor.

            Here’s a hint to help you identify “danglers”:  Be on the lookout for sentences that begin with a descriptive phrase, then make sure the next word can logically be described by that phrase. Thus, Mounted on blocks in the garage, the girls admired the car becomes Mounted on blocks in the garage, the car was admired by the girls.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Media Notes

Media Notes

Baseball analyst Tim McCarver, erstwhile designated catcher for Steve Carlton and master of the strained metaphor and simile, is usually good for at least one gaffe per broadcast. Last night, during the World Series game, he said, “It’s a five-letter word: strike.” I was half asleep, so I can’t provide the context, but I was alert enough to know that he was one off on his number of letters. I’m sure a producer got in his ear about it, and one inning later ol’ Tim corrected himself. Just another example of his love-hate relationship with the English language – he loves it, it hates him. Stay tuned for more verbal gymnastics from this consistent contributor to “War.”

Spark continues to be one of the most badly-edited mainstream publications in the Wilmington area. This week, the cover includes this slugline: “Tribute the departed this Halloween with these 5 DIY Costume Ideas.” Note to Spark: tribute is not a verb, it’s a noun. You can pay tribute, but you can’t tribute. You will be seeing this in the War on Words column. (The issue also has label spelled “lable” in a caption and the word “alright” in a column – it’s all right, all right?)

This “tribute” abomination is part of the trend that is turning nouns into verbs. “Gift” is a another recent example. People now “gift” their alma maters with donations. Ugh!

Random Rankings: Whenever lists of top sports movies are put together, they include the usual: Bull Durham, Hoosiers, Major League, Remember the Titans, Field of Dreams, etc. One that is always missing, and I admit it goes back a long way (1951), is Jim Thorpe, All American. It stars Burt Lancaster, who was an excellent athlete (he was the catcher in a trapeze act before going to Hollywood), and unlike most sports movies, it’s based on an actual person – the greatest athlete of the 20th century. It of course takes some liberty with the truth, but it tells a compelling story about a Native American who overcame all kinds of obstacles to become an Olympic champion and a professional football and baseball player. The DVD is available on Amazon and eBay. I have a VHS copy, if anyone would like to borrow it.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Random Notes

Delaware Today: Check out the November issue, which should be on the newsstands any day now. Great cover story on Master Chef Jennifer Behm by Editor-in-Chief Maria Hess. The EIC has an entertaining style that takes the reader effortlessly through a story. Also see Mark Nardone’s piece on Jim Martin, who finds housing for the state’s recovering alcoholics and drug addicts. And check out letters to the editor, where a familiar name appears. Great issue!

Al Mascitti: OK, I’m just gonna say it: Al is the smartest guy in the room. He’s WDEL’s (1150 AM) 9 to noon talk show host. A liberal (I said he was smart, didn’t I?), Al is nonetheless objective in his vituperation. He will call out those on both the left and right, but especially (and justifiably) the latter. A tad cynical, but smart and witty.

Mike Missanelli: Another paisan, Mikey Miss has done us all a favor. The 97.5 The Fanatic talker (2 to 6 p.m. weekdays) hastened the retirement of El Diablo, Beelzebub, He Whose Name Cannot Be Spoken, aka Howard Eskin. After Missanelli got consistently higher Arbitron ratings than Eskin’s competing show, the bearded weasel decided to “pursue other opportunities.” Right. Believe that and I have a bridge in Brooklyn for you. Anyway, check out Mike. A Penn State grad, he’s smart and incisive. Wait . . . that’s redundant, isn’t it?

Speaking of Penn State: While many football teams seem to be adopting uniforms that look like they were rescued from the La Cage aux Folles trash bin (didja see those Maryland numbers, incorporating the state flag design?), Penn State continues the traditional blue and white uni, with no names, no stripes. In fact, this year they even eliminated the white trim around the neck. They did, however, go to white shoelaces on their black shoes. Joe Paterno is obviously weakening in his old age.

And finally: Whatever happened to the verb “lend”? Used to be, back in the Pleistocene era of my youth, loan was the noun and lend was the verb. Now it’s always “Can you loan me a dollar?” Let’s start a campaign, Word Warriors, to restore this fine word to its rightful place.

Until next time, stay literate.


Monday, October 17, 2011

Fun(ny) Words

A few years ago, the Washington Post, that distinguished, award-winning newspaper, sponsored a contest that asked readers to supply alternate meanings for various words.  The Post’s readership proved to be extremely witty and creative.  Following are some of the winning entries: 

- Coffee (n.), a person who is coughed upon.

- Flabbergasted (adj.), appalled over how much weight you have gained.

- Abdicate (v.), to give up all hope of ever having a flat stomach.

- Esplanade (v.), to attempt an explanation while drunk.

- Willy-nilly (adj.), impotent.

- Negligent (adj.), describes a condition in which you absent-mindedly

answer the door in your nightie.

- Lymph (v.), to walk with a lisp.

- Gargoyle (n.), an olive-flavored mouthwash.

- Flatulence (n.) the emergency vehicle that picks you up after you are

run over by a steamroller.

- Balderdash (n.), a rapidly receding hairline.

- Testicle (n.), a humorous question on an exam.

- Rectitude (n.), the formal, dignified demeanor assumed by a

proctologist immediately before he examines you.

- Oyster (n.), a person who sprinkles his conversation with Yiddish


- Circumvent (n.), the opening in the front of boxer shorts.

- Frisbeetarianism (n.), the belief that, when you die, your soul goes up

on the roof and gets stuck there.

- And let's add ... Pokemon (n), a Jamaican proctologist.

            The Washington Post and other publications will be the subject of our next post.  We’ll discuss some of the errors made covering the war against terrorism.  For instance, do you you know what’s wrong with these terms:  last rights; enroute; Afghani?  You’ll find out in the next post..

In the meantime, if you have questions or comments, contact me here (which seems to be impossible) or email me at

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Trouble Signing in?

Readers are reporting difficulties in posting comments. May have to change blog engines. If you can't comment here, and would like to, email
       Penn State wins another. May be one of the weakest 6-1 teams in the country, but we'll take what we can get. On to Northwestern.
      The Merrill Reese-Mike Quick Eagles radio team doing their usual terrible job as I type this. Merrill is most over-rated play-by-play man in Philly, if not the East Coast.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

More Media Notes

Mighty Carla
My girl Carla Guigino stars as Cathy Rush, coach of the Immaculata women's basketball team, in the just-released Mighty Macs, the story of Immaculat's rise to the top of distaff basketball world back in the late '60s, early '70s. Although Carla's physical attributes (which are awesomely depicted in this month's Esquire) aren't on display in this film, her acting chops are. And she's got some. Girl has appeared in Broadway dramas, in addition to myriad movies and TV shows. Unfortunately, the film will appeal to Philly-area roundball fans (maybe) and nuns, but won't have legs beyond that.
       Side note: the hierarchy of feminine allure goes like this: Salma Hayek, Carla, Natalie Portman . . . . everybody else. Take it to the bank.
    Just learned a new word for laughing: cheesin'. Got it, of all places, from Blue White Illustrated, the Penn State sports newsletter, which described how PSU linebackers were cheesin' after they sacked the quarterback. I know, I'm probably way behind in picking up on this.
More Media
      Idris Elba. No, it's not the Latin name of a plant, it's an English actor, black, who will be famous soon. You heard it here first. Being considered for next James Bond -- a black Bond, revolutionary, no? Also, that super-bad dude from No Country for Old Men, Javier Bardem, he who won the heart of the almost-hierarchical-and-Salma-wannabe Penelope Cruz, will play the bad guy. Can't wait.
      Speaking of No Country: Have you seen that commercial with Tommy Lee Jones -- for some financial advice company? How many gallons (pounds?) of pancake makeup do you think it took for that wrinkleless visage ol' Tom presents to the camera.
       And I have finally found a post-'60s song that I like: Into the Deep, by Adele. That girl has some pipes, and soul.
       Finally, the collection of my War on Words columns is in production, and the electronic version should be available next week. Printed copies in a month -- in time for Christmas. Will keep you posted.
     I leave you with these admonitions: never pronounce the t in often and never use the word literally or the phrase "begs the question." Thus endeth the lesson.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Media Alert

As I said, I'll be commenting on more than just grammar and the abuse of the English language. I'll also have some observations on the media, politics, entertainment, etc.
      Here's a media alert: Keep an eye on Erin Burnett. CNN just stole her from MSNBC, where she frequently appeared on Morning Joe. CNN gave her her own show, Out Front, from 7 to 8 every weeknight. In her first week, she has been savaged -- mostly by critics on the left -- for being too chummy with Wall Street, but I predict a bright future for her, no matter whether this show thrives or not. The camera loves her -- note how tight it comes in on her face. Unfortunately, in profile she's not quite as attractive, but she's bright and informed, although maybe a bit too manic at this point.
       Saw a jump head in the Sunday News Journal in a story about Steve Jobs: "Music: Consensus on Influence Is Mixed." Really, a mixed consensus? Also, sign outside Eagles practice facility that tried to cleverly call for the ouster of Andy Reid as head coach was -- of course -- way off grammatically. The sign, playing on Reid's usual comment at press conferences, "Time's yours," meaning it is reporters' time to ask questions, read this way: "Andy Times Yours . . . to go." First, there should be a comma after Andy, and second, the apostrophe in time's (meaning "time is," of course) is missing. But I know that asking the idiots who make these signs to be grammatically accurate is like asking Placido Polanco to hit a long fly ball. Ugh, just got a flashback to last Friday's season-ending loss to the Cardinals.
     Until next time, then, watch your language!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Philly's Sorry Sports Day -- and not just on the field

Phils and Eagles blow big leads, and fans anguish. I, meanwhile, gnashed my teeth at the Philly sports media and their continuing assault on good English.
    Some quick examples:
   Pronouncing last as "lass" or, worse, "lash." Likewise, pronouncing next as "nex." What is it with some sports talkers' inability to pronounce the final t on these words?
     Pronouncing versus "verse." I guess since the word is often abbreviated as "vs.," lazy talkers assume you can pronounce it without the last syllable.
    "Schematically," used by football coaches to as an adverb to describe their game-planning efforts, as in, "Schematically, we were ready for their ground game." It's a bastardization of "scheme" and smacks of "schematic," a term usually used for diagrams, especially of electrical systems. In my view, it's just another effort -- subconscious or conscious -- by these gridiron "gurus" to make their profession even more mysterious and cerebral, when in reality it ain't rocket science -- it's just blocking and tackling.
     "Harbinger of things to come" -- a redundancy (a harbinger is a foreshadowing of future events) uttered by Jody McDonald, newly returned to WIP. McDonald is also a member of the lash/nex tribe, and a man who has a tendency to use big words that he is really not familiar with (much like Tim McCarver).
      I also notice, and not just on sports talk shows, the over-use and misuse of the phrase "throw under the bus."  This was originally meant to apply to someone who is blaming someone else for something that is the first person's fault. Now it seems to be applied whenever simple criticism is involved.
     OK, thus endeth today's lesson. Stay tuned for more later this week.


Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Think Punctuation Doesn't Matter?

As anyone who reads my War on Words column knows, the most misused punctuation mark is the apostrophe. The most prevalent way in which it is abused is to form plurals, as in "Tire's for sale here."
     A friend tells me there is a new delicatessen in his neighborhood that displays a sign advertising the fact that it sells "donut's, bagel's, and muffin's."  My friend says that although the deli is right on his route to work, he will go elsewhere for his morning coffee and muffin just because this sign offends his grammatical sensitivities. Over-reaction, you say? Well, I say he's a Word Warrior. So, yes, punctuation does matter.
     Want to do your part in stopping apostrophe abuse? Next time you go to a home with one of those signs out front that identifies the name of the family living there -- e.g., "The Smith's" -- ask the owner why there is an apostrophe in the sign (and there almost certainly will be an apostrophe). Then explain that plurals are not formed with apostrophes. Of course, you may never be invited back again, but that's the price of being a Word Warrior!

Words -- and their impact

This is my first post and my first blog -- ever. So be gentle with me, gentle reader. The primary focus here will be words and the abuse of same, much like my column, The War on Words, which appears in Out & About Magazine each month. Unlike the column, however, I may venture afield, touching on politics (ain't those Republican candidates fun?), sports (when WILL Joe Paterno retire?) and entertainment (I watch far too much TV).
     Also, I'll be talking about my upcoming book, a compilation of all my columns to this point. Hoping to have it available in time for Christmas shopping. I know, I know-- that has already started for many of you.
     OK, enough for my maiden voyage into the blogosphere. Hope SOMEONE reads this.