Mighty Red Pen

November 15, 2011

That’s a man, baby

Filed under: Overseen,Wordsworthy — mighty red pen @ 7:35 pm
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Word nerds are everywhere.

Spotted by one of MRP’s overseas correspondents.

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.

August 7, 2011

Crazy, stupid, punctuation

Filed under: Perilous punctuation,Pop culture — mighty red pen @ 6:55 pm
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So I have been disposed to find the title of the new Steve Carell/Julianne Moore vehicle (the one with the words crazy stupid and love in it), I don’t know, lame at best. A little been there, Eat, Pray, Loved that.

And also, I’d like you to note, without commas in the ad. So I definitely did a doubletake when I saw the title referred to in text as Crazy, Stupid, Love. I mean, what’s with all the commas? (And oh yeah, that’s a period at the end of the title, too.)

That there were any commas at all came as kind of a surprise to me after seeing the ads, but that there were two commas seems, I don’t know, odd. It’s not like Eat, Pray, Love, in which a series of like things is divided by commas. With two adjectives and a noun (or a verb), it doesn’t stand up as a series. Are we not meant to think that crazy and stupid are adjectives that modify the noun love (in which case Crazy, Stupid Love would suffice)? Or are crazy, stupid, and love three nouns, as in, she is bringing the crazy, she is bringing the love, and she is bringing the stupid?

And I’m not alone. A quick search brings up many questions, but few answers. These guys don’t have any problems with it, but Nathan Heller at Slate refers to it as “the hair raising savagery of the second comma” (yowzers). Oh, what does it mean?

February 18, 2011

Parenthetically speaking

Filed under: Perilous punctuation — mighty red pen @ 4:33 pm

From xkcd:

Reminds me of the E. E. Cummings poem:

since feeling is first
who pays any attention
to the syntax of things
will never wholly kiss you;

wholly to be a fool
while Spring is in the world

my blood approves,
and kisses are a better fate
than wisdom
lady i swear by all flowers. Don’t cry
– the best gesture of my brain is less than
your eyelids’ flutter which says

we are for each other; then
laugh, leaning back in my arms
for life’s not a paragraph

And death i think is no parenthesis

H/t @copycurmudgeon


Bonus MRP moment: Are you getting ready for National Grammar Day on March 4? It’s a word nerd’s first sign of spring.

September 24, 2010


Filed under: Perilous punctuation — mighty red pen @ 4:51 pm

Did you have fun celebrating National Punctuation Day? Good, me, too! Here’s a little something-something to remember the day by until next year:

How awesome is the Godzilla Mark? I can picture many ways it could be useful. For instance, when I was in elementary school, I had this teacher who I loved but who was also a little scary. And nothing was scarier than when you got some worksheet back with nothing written on it but SEE ME in big red letters. You knew instantly you had screwed up. But wouldn’t it be even more awesomely scary with a Godzilla Mark? SEE ME <GODZILLA MARK>? I’m scared just thinking about it.

Also, I could see it coming in handy in my work as an editor. I’m thinking, for example, that no one would be tempted to ask you questions such as “Are these real edits or just your personal preference?” (true story) if they got their articles back with INSERT COMMA <GODZILLA MARK> and PLEASE LEARN THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ITS AND IT’S <GODZILLA MARK>. Oh, the places we could go with this.

Hat tip Savage Chickens and also @rantyeditor.

Happy National Punctuation Day!

Filed under: Perilous punctuation — mighty red pen @ 9:03 am

It’s National Punctuation Day (9/24)! Go to the official website for more information. Also, the topic is trending on Twitter, so check that out to see how others are celebrating!

September 1, 2010

If you want to sing out, sing out

Filed under: Apostrophe catastrophe,Perilous punctuation — mighty red pen @ 6:50 pm
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Because you need a new earworm, here’s a catchy little ditty: “The Apostrophe Song,” brought to you by coolrules.com.

H/t to word_czar.

May 26, 2010

Semicolon: Learn it, live it, love it

Filed under: Perilous punctuation — mighty red pen @ 7:53 pm
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There’s a handy new guide from the Oatmeal, “How to use a semicolon: The most feared punctuation on Earth.” Here’s a taste:

In true Oatmeal fashion, the explanations are sensible and straightforward, if just a wee bit quirky. But what did you expect?

However, there is a joke about unicorn meat that once read, cannot be unread. Just sayin’.

February 23, 2010

Amazing apostrophes

Filed under: Lit review,Perilous punctuation — mighty red pen @ 8:04 pm
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So you remember the Scholastic Books you could order through your school? Well, S. (age 6 1/2) got a Scholastic order form the other week, and while he selected a volume from the Magic Tree House series, I could not pass up the opportunity to order a little somethin’ somethin’ for myself. There’s nothing wrong with that now, is there?

I was actually kind of excited when his order, which included my copy of  Alfie the Apostrophe by Moira Rose Donohue, arrived the other day:

It’s talent show day at Alfie the apostrophe’s school, and he’s nervous as he gets ready to perform his magic show in front of everyone. As the other punctuation marks show off their talents (the question marks tell jokes, the exclamation points show off their cheerleading chops, and the periods and hyphens tap out SOS in Morse Code), Alfie sweats the idea of showing the audience what he can do.

In the end, his amazing ability to make letters disappear and to form new words earns him the top prize of the show!

If you like Alfie the Apostrophe, you can also check out Donohue’s other homage to punctuation, Penny and the Punctuation Bee.

February 19, 2010

What a GREAT idea

Filed under: Perilous punctuation — mighty red pen @ 8:29 pm
Tags: ,

I’ve been meaning to write about the SarcMark since I read about it in Erin McKean’s column the other week. What’s the SarcMark you ask? It’s a bit of punctuation meant to signal that what you’ve just read is meant to be sarcastic. It looks like this:

Now how do you get your own keyboard to make the SarcMark, you ask? Well, you download it for $1.99 from Sarcasm, Inc., the creators and marketers of the SarcMark. According to their website:

The official, easy-to-use punctuation mark to emphasize a sarcastic phrase, sentence or message.  Once downloaded to your computer or cell phone, it’s a quick key-stroke or two to insert the ® where you want, when you want, in your communications with the world.  Never again be misunderstood!  Never again waste a good sarcastic line on someone who doesn’t get it!

The idea of having to pay to use the SarcMark seems a little weird to me and also antithetical to promoting its widespread use. But I’m just an editor, what do I know about marketing? There’s also a part of me that bristles at the idea of introducing new punctuation, but I want to be open-minded, as McKean urges:

This kind of novel punctuation tends to be sniffed at by purists, but history isn’t on the purists’ side. All punctuation marks were once new inventions to make writing clearer. Periods (or full stops) were used first to separate words, which previouslyallrantogetherlikethis, with other marks following as needed: the comma to indicate where to take a breath, the exclamation point to indicate emphasis, and so on. Ancient manuscripts sometimes included marks to convey the copyists’ opinions about the text itself, such as the obelus ( -or ÷) used to indicate a “doubtful or spurious” passage.

Mainly, I’m just not sure we have a real use for it. I mean, for example, I’m comfortable with the idea of the interrobang, but I think that’s partly because it just formalizes an idea (the joined question mark/exclamation point) that is already effectively and organically in use. Having said that, I don’t actually use the interrobang. The SarcMark seems superfluous, sort of antithetical to the idea of sarcasm. If a person doesn’t already get that what you are saying is sarcastic, do you really want to point it out to them? As McKean comments, “One of the reasons to employ sarcasm is enjoying the possibility—often, the probability—that your sarcastic remark will sail right over the target’s head.”

The folks at Open Sarcasm, on the other hand, have a real problem with the SarcMark. They have a whole website, with a manifesto and so on, decrying the concept of a licensed punctuation mark for identifying sarcasm:

Of late, certain capitalist forces have brought forth onto the internet the idea that sarcasmists everywhere must license and download their proprietary new “punctuation”—called the “SarcMark”®—in order to clarify sarcasm in their writing.

A growing chorus of voices has joined together to decry this idea. It is high time that Open Sarcasmists should openly, in the face of the whole world, publish their views, their aims, their tendencies, and meet this nursery tale of the Spectre of Open Sarcasm with a manifesto of the punctuation itself.

For additional comments, check out the Sarcasmist’s World Peace Can’t Be Far Behind Now That the Sarcasm Mark Has Been Created.

So what do you think? Is the SarcMark some kind of elaborate joke on punctuation peevologists? Is there room is this town for another punctuation mark?

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