Mighty Red Pen

September 30, 2014

A hoax upon both your houses!

Filed under: Grammar goddess,Pop culture — mighty red pen @ 7:08 pm
Tags: ,

So there was a bit of a kerfuffle (oh, how I love that word!) the other week when the article “Actress Betty White, 92, Dyes Peacefully In Her Los Angeles Home” hit the airwaves. I first spotted the headline when a friend posted the article on Facebook with the comment “RIP.”

’Cause I’m a word nerd like that, the first thing I noticed was the word dyes (“changes the color of something using a dye,” M-W) where dies (“to stop living,” M-W) would have been correct — if it was really an article announcing the death of Betty White. It couldn’t be, I thought, that Betty White had passed away and some news outlet had mixed up the spelling of this garden-variety homophone, could it? In that context, it made for a so-bad-it’s-good typo.

When I clicked through the link, I found the joke was on us.

Betty White Dyes Dies






News of the story traveled fast, as it does, and people began to cry “Hoax!” I started to wonder: Hoax means “to trick or deceive (someone)” (M-W), but in this case, the article never said that Betty White was actually dead. In fact, it was quite clear she was not. The only people who thought she was deceased were the people who fell for the dyes vs. dies ruse. A tricksy headline, yes, but in my opinion, not a hoax. What do you think?


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.

March 26, 2012

Into the breeches: breach vs. breech

Filed under: Spellbound — mighty red pen @ 6:35 pm
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This breach of proper spelling was spotted here.

Okay, here’s the deal. When you want to say an agreement has been violated or broken, it’s a breach of contract (M-W “1. infraction or violation of a law, obligation, tie, or standard”). When you sashay about in your new pants, you’re showing off the latest fashion in breeches (M-W “1a. short pants covering the hips and thighs and fitting snugly at the lower edges at or just below the knee. 1b. Pants.”).

Breech also means ” the hind end of the body, (M-W) and if you look it up, you’ll find a trove of synonyms for buttocks that would have the average six-year-old boy screaming with laughter. You know, if that’s your thing.

Well-documented we find Brians’ Common Errors in English Usage a particularly useful website, and on this matter, not only is it useful, it’s amusingly instructive. Citing the famous line from Shakespeare’s Henry V, Brians lets us know: ““Once more unto the breach, dear friends,” means “let’s charge into the gap in the enemy’s defenses,” not “let’s reach into our pants again.”” Good way to remember, don’t you agree?

And, well, if you have a a breach in your breeches, then you have a whole other set of problems that’s beyond the scope of this blog. So good luck with that.

September 19, 2011

Let it rein, let it reign: rein vs. reign

Filed under: Grammar goddess — mighty red pen @ 5:05 pm

A recent query raised the specter of rein vs. reign under the guise of the question: Which is correct, free rein or free reign?

Okay, so here’s the deal: Reins are used to curb horses, reign refers to the term of a monarch. So when you are talking about giving someone or something unlimited scope, the correct answer is you are giving them free rein. Think of it this way: when you pull on the reins, the horse slows down or stops. When you loosen them, the horse goes. So it is with rein in and free rein.

As Bryan Garner writes, “The allusion is to horses, not kings. But some writers have apparently forgotten the allusion.” To illustrate, a Google search for free reign yields more than two million results, and reign in yields an astonishing six million plus results. Which raises the question: why shouldn’t free reign be correct? If a king reigns, and a king can pretty much do whatever he wants (I’m thinking, right?), then wouldn’t free reign be a plausible way of expressing that a person has unlimited scope?

This reminds me of the comments I have gotten over the years to a post I wrote about adieu vs. ado, in which I responded to the question: Which is correct, without further ado or without further adieu? Strictly speaking, without further ado is correct, but those supporters of without further adieu have borderline plausability on their side, so it’s hard to dissuade them of their perspective. So it is, I think, with free reign. Unfortunately, plausability doesn’t make it right, although there’s always the question of whether common usage will make something correct over time: is free reign a losing battle?

In the meantime, h/t to Kory Stamper of Merriam Webster for sharing her video response to the question. Be sure to watch it all the way through, there’s a dramatic twist (gasp!) at the end.

July 18, 2010

Where oh wear?

Filed under: Overseen,Pop culture,Spellbound — mighty red pen @ 6:57 pm

This little tidbit was spotted on eonline.com (where they love to refer to bride Carrie Underwood as a “country cutie”):

Where is she honeymooning after her wedding? Well, that’s Tahiti (and I’m not ashamed to admit that after the heat wave we’ve been having here in the Northeast, I’m more than a teensy bit jealous of anyone who is relaxing by the water right now). What did she wear during the ceremony? Well, that’s the Monique Lhuillier lace and silk confection (I love when that word is used to describe fashion, don’t you?) described in this article.

July 4, 2010

The shaming of the threw

Filed under: Uncategorized — mighty red pen @ 6:58 pm
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H/t to Gopher, who spotted this little tidbit:

Okay, so here’s the deal. If you want a clear plastic bag, you want one that’s see-through (although I’m thinking that if it’s clear, it’s probably also see through).  If you want the past tense of throw, which is what I’d be tempted to do if someone handed me a bag with a gun in it, then you want threw.

June 14, 2010

The well-mannered meerkat

Filed under: At home with MRP,Kidspeak — mighty red pen @ 8:05 pm

A conversation about manners, in which D. (age 4), learns about homophones:

D.: Do meerkats’ mommies teach them manners?
MRP: No, meerkats are animals. Animals don’t really have manners.
D.: But meerkats have manners, right?
MRP: No, not really. No manners.
D.: Meerkats have manners!
MRP: No . . . [a light dawns] . . . oh. Meerkats live in Meerkat Manor, but they don’t have manners.

March 18, 2010

How to build a better apostrophe: It’s vs its

Filed under: Perilous punctuation,Spellbound — mighty red pen @ 5:41 pm
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This headline spotted on wickedlocal.com:

MRP is in absolute agreement that it’s time to build a new high school, and hopefully it will be one where the difference between its (possessive pronoun) and it’s (contraction of it is or it has) is taught.


Bonus MRP moment: If you did not catch this lulu from @CopyCurmudgeon, be sure to check out the case for serial comma, if ever there was one.

September 13, 2009

On the wrong track: personal vs personnel

Filed under: Grammar goddess,Overseen,Uncategorized — mighty red pen @ 12:08 pm
Tags: , ,

While waiting at New York’s Penn Station for the train back to Boston, I spotted this little tidbit. It made me really regret not bringing my camera along for the day so that you could also experience the total awesomeness of this wrong word choice:

Passengers and their personnel items may be randomly selected for screening and inspection. Please be aware of the gap between the train and stations.

Okay, here’s the deal: use personnel if you mean the folks who work for an organization, and use personal if you mean something that belongs or relates to a person. Bonus points to any readers out there who make it their personal mission to get a photo of this sign.

July 27, 2009

HOE down

Filed under: Word wars — mighty red pen @ 7:53 pm
Tags: , ,

A court in Nevada ruled in favor of a man who wanted a license plate that said ‘HOE’ for his Chevy Tahoe (he was told ‘TAHOE’ was not available).  The Nevada DMV tried to block the license plate on the grounds that hoe is slang for prostitute.

I always thought that spelling was ho and it was slang for whore, but no one in Nevada consulted MRP. Their loss.

In an amusing development, Urban Dictionary was cited as a source for the definition of hoe/ho by the DMV. This, of course, led to a debate of the merits of Urban Dictionary. The Nevada court was having none of that. According to an article:

The high court said the DMV based its opposition to William Junge’s plate on definitions found in the Web-based Urban Dictionary, which includes user contributions. Justices ruled that the contributed definitions “do not always reflect generally accepted definitions for words.”

. . .

The high court said Urban Dictionary “allows, if not encourages, users to invent new words or attribute new, not generally accepted meanings to existing words.”

But “a reasonable mind would not accept the Urban Dictionary entries alone as adequate to support a conclusion that the word ‘HOE’ is offensive or inappropriate,” the justices wrote.

Said 62-year-old Junge of the DMV’s efforts to put the kibosh on his tribute to his SUV: “It’s nonsense. . . .That was their interpretation. Shame on them.”

I checked out the Urban Dictionary situation on hoe just to see what the DMV was citing as back-up and was interested to find this entry (among the dozens of others):

4. Misspelling of ‘ho’ (short for ‘whore’), confused with a tool for gardening.
Guy #1: Look she’s a hoe!
Guy #2: No dude, she’s a ho.
For comparison’s sake, here is Urban Dictionary on ho.

My own informal research finds the word ho in Merriam Webster, just as I thought:  slang: whore and hoe: 1: any of various implements for tilling, mixing, or raking ; especially : an implement with a thin flat blade on a long handle used especially for cultivating, weeding, or loosening the earth around plants 2: backhoe. Here is a visual guide, opinions on ho versus hoe welcome.

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