Mighty Red Pen

October 6, 2014

Dont feed the animal’s

Filed under: Apostrophe catastrophe,Overseen,Perilous punctuation — mighty red pen @ 7:54 pm

My eye’s! My eye’s!

It might hurt the tummies of the livestock if you feed them. It certainly hurts word nerds to see this unwanted apostrophe in Tummy’s (to say nothing of the mysterious capitalization).

hurts our tummy's






Overseen at the Topsfield Fair in Massachusetts.


March 4, 2014

It’s beginning to look a lot like National Grammar Day

Filed under: Grammar goddess,Perilous punctuation,Spellbound,Word nerds — mighty red pen @ 7:00 am

My wordies — how time has flown! If it’s March 4, it’s National Grammar Day once again, and here’s MRP with some goodies. Just. For. You.

First, h/t to one of my roving reporters for this little tidbit, spotted in Minneapolis. Oh dear, will no one think of the childrens and add an apostrophe to Children’s Center? Please?


Next, you could do no better than to head over to the official National Grammar Day site (put together by the one and only Grammar Girl) for t-shirts, contests, free wallpaper, and other Grammar Day swag. While you’re there, you’ll want to check out this year’s installment of John E. McIntyre‘s Grammarnoir serial: “Grammar Never Takes a Holiday” (and read Grammarnoirs of years past) and get the results of Editor Mark‘s grammar haiku contest. And for real-live Grammar Day fun, check out #grammarday on Twitter.

And there’s more. More! Because you’ve been so good this year, here’s the late, great Pete Seeger with his rendition of “English is Crazy” (more like English is curaaaaayzee!). You know that’s true.

And if you’ve never seen this piece by poet Taylor Mali, then you’ll want to check out “The The Impotence of Proofreading,” like, now. H/t to David for that.

And finally, wordies, please remember what MRP has always told you on this most special of word nerd days: You have been given a great power and with it comes great responsibility. Have mercy — do not use your ability to write grammatically correct, well-punctuated, and perfectly spelled sentences to put down and insult those who struggle mightily. Go forth and be kind to others who have made mistakes. Peeve no more — next time, the red pen may be pointed at you. Happy National Grammar Day!

May 10, 2012

Romney hunts, shoots, and leaves

Filed under: Grammar goddess,Perilous punctuation — mighty red pen @ 8:09 pm
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We got a Mitt Romney twofer here tonight, people!

1. First up, h/t to Laura from Terribly Write for this little tidbit (spotted here) about Romney and Papa John’s Pizza founder John Schnatter:

Okay, here’s the deal: if you want to say that Schnatter is the guy who made a lot of money making pizza, then he’s a pizza magnate (a magnate being “a person of rank, power, influence, or distinction often in a specified area” (M-W). If you want to say that Schnatter seems to be a little soft around the edges from all the pizza he’s been throwing back, then he may very well in fact be a pizza magnet.

2. And here’s some more Romney-related fun, courtesy of Romney’s statement on the Second Amendment from his own website:

“Mitt will work to expand and enhance access and opportunities for Americans to hunt, shoot, and protect their families“? Isn’t that all the American people really want—to be able to protect their families but also have the option to hunt and shoot them if they desire?

Whoever proofread this awkward sentence should definitely get a vote of no confidence from the Republican candidate. They should have elected to undertake a rewrite of some kind that separated the notions of “hunt and shoot” from “protect their families.” And, finally, if Romney does make it to the White House, perhaps he should consider adding a Secretary of Copy Editing to his cabinet.

April 30, 2012

Hot diggity hyphen

Filed under: Perilous punctuation — mighty red pen @ 6:52 pm
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This teachable moment is brought to you by Snooki, who recently tweeted: “I never dissed Jessica Simpson you weirdo tabloids , get over it with your ‘pregnant war’ articles. I love the girl and her hot ass bump.”

Leaving aside the other irregularities in this tweet, as I don’t usually think it’s worth pointing out most Twitter-related typos, I’d like to direct your attention to the term hot ass bump to point out that this is a perfect example of the difference a tiny bit of punctuation can make. In this case, I’m referring to a well-placed hyphen.

Okay, here’s the deal: There is a difference between Jessica Simpson’s hot ass bump (is that even a thing?) and her hot-ass bump (note the hyphen in the compound modifier).

As Grammar Girl writes, “Sometimes it is especially important to hyphenate the compound modifier because words can mean different things depending on the hyphenation. When you hyphenate the words, you are applying them as a single unit to the noun.” And Grammarphobia  instructs, “In general, two-word descriptions are hyphenated before a noun (“powder-blue dress,” “red-haired cousin,” “well-done hamburger”). But if the description comes after the noun, no hyphen is used (“a dress of powder blue,” “a cousin who’s red haired,” “a hamburger well done”).”

If Snooki had been talking about Jessica’s rear end, hot ass bump would have been correct. But since Snooki is referring to Jessica’s baby bump (a word which, incidentally, I could never hear again and be perfectly happy), which she meant to complement compliment using the adjective hot ass, what she wanted was hot-ass bump.

January 3, 2012

Britney Against the Comma

Filed under: Perilous punctuation,Pop culture — mighty red pen @ 7:32 pm
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There’s a couple of classic examples out there of the importance of a well-placed comma (Let’s eat Grandma vs. Let’s eat, Grandma, for one, and To my parents, Ayn Rand and God, for another). Here’s my new favorite one:

Okay, here’s the deal: There’s a difference between It’s Britney Bitch! and It’s Britney, Bitch! And I’m assuming that what she intends to do is to address Bitch with the news that It’s Britney, in which case a comma is called for.

But let’s not be hasty. Perhaps she meant that she’s Britney Bitch. Who knows?

October 27, 2011

To a tee

Filed under: Perilous punctuation,Spellbound,Wordsworthy — mighty red pen @ 6:54 pm

Okay, so they’re talking about snow (!) here in the Northeast, so it’s a little hard for me to imagine when it’ll be warm enough to sport one of these awesome word nerd t-shirts, but maybe it’s something to look forward to, right?

There’s this one:

Or this one:

H/t to Emily and MysticalYeti. Of course, if neither of these shirts appeal to you, you can always visit the Arrant Pedantry t-shirt store.

October 26, 2011

Principal vs. principle

Filed under: Grammar goddess,Perilous punctuation,Spellbound — mighty red pen @ 6:36 pm
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This little tidbit was spotted on BuzzFeed.

Okay, here’s the deal. When you mean “a comprehensive and fundamental law, doctrine, or assumption,” “a primary source,” or “an underlying faculty or endowment” (M-W), then the word you want is principle. When you mean “a person who has controlling authority or is in a leading position” (M-W), such as the person who has the power to put you in detention until the day you graduate from high school, then the word you want is principal. In this case, although Allen Gregory may very well love his principles, what they meant to show was that Allen Gregory loves his principal.

In principle, the proofreader of this article might want to make checking for spelling of principal importance.


Bonus MRP moment: In addition to this delicious typo, BuzzFeed also brings us “14 Punctuation Marks That You Never Knew Existed.” Impress your friends and scare your enemies with your new knowledge of guillemets, sheffer strokes, and asterisms.

September 26, 2011

There’s a party goin’ on right here

Filed under: Lit review,Perilous punctuation,Wordsworthy — mighty red pen @ 6:42 pm
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Well, hello there! Did everyone have an enjoyable National Punctuation Day on Saturday?

Saturday also marked the start of Banned Books Week, and I’m honoring the week by reading Lord of the Flies, a book I haven’t read since I was in high school.  I quizzed Mister MRP (an English teacher) about the value of teaching this book to our high school students nowadays. Among other things, he said it’s an appealing book for teachers because the symbolism is so accessible to students. What do you think? Is there still a place for this book in the current high school curriculum?

I don’t often re-read books because there are so many great ones I can barely find the time to read once, let alone twice. But I was compelled to read Lord of the Flies after reading Stephen King’s foreword to the most recent edition.

“Imagine my surprise (shock might be closer) when, half a century after that visit to the Bookmobile parked in the dusty dooryard of the Methodist Corners School, I downloaded the audio version of Lord of the Flies and heard William Golding articulating, in the charmingly casual introduction to his brilliant reading, exactly what had been troubling me. ‘One day I was sitting one side of the fireplace, and my wife was sitting on the other, and I suddenly said to her, “Wouldn’t it be a good idea to write a story about some boys on an island, showing how they would really behave, being boys and not little saints as they usually are in children’s books.” And she said, “That’s a first-class idea! You write it!” So I went ahead and wrote it.’


Bonus MRP moment: September 27 is MRP’s fifth blogoversary! Show some birthday love and please vote for MRP in the Grammar.net Best Grammar Blog of 2011 contest!

September 16, 2011

Mark your calendars

Filed under: Lit review,Perilous punctuation — mighty red pen @ 5:48 pm
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September 24 is right around the corner, and it’s going to be a big day.

1. September 24 is National Punctuation Day, in which we celebrate;  punctuation? in its many forms!!! So don’t hesitate, just punctuate! (For handy tips on using the exclamation point, visit here.)

2. It’s also the start of Banned Books Week, the week during which we celebrate “the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment” (so says the American Library Association). It takes place this year from September 24 to October 1. Many people like to celebrate by reading a frequently challenged book. For me, this coincides nicely with my plan to revisit The Lord of the Flies, which has been challenged in the past for excessive violence and for racist language, among other things.


September 9, 2011

A proofreader’s call to arms

Filed under: Perilous punctuation — mighty red pen @ 5:07 pm
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H/t to reader Christopher for sharing this little tidbit he spotted on the New Yorker’s website:

The title of the article awkwardly refers to another piece called “A Christian Manifesto.” So what we have here is a possessive tacked on to the end of a quotation mark. As I was saying, awkward, no? At least for print, it is—at first glance, it looked like a typo to me. If I were editing this headline, I’d probably suggest a rewrite—for instance, A Call to Arms in “A Christian Manifesto” (or something like that)—where the possessive could be avoided. It’s a readability issue more than a correctness issue, I think.

My eye also went immediately to the typo in the protest sign in the picture (it’s that old its/it’s problem to which even MRP falls victim). Protest signs seem so prone to errors and other kookiness that it can seem laughable (just Google “protest sign errors” and you’ll see what I mean). Christopher commented, “For some reason protest signs are my favorite place to find language mistakes.  Protesting with a sign seems to represent such confidence; It increases the irony factor when basic errors are overlooked.”

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