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?

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       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.