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3 Fun (and Horrifying) Reasons to Be a Grammar Snob

July 30, 2013, 2:48 PM

Me fail Engish? That unpossible!

-Ralph Wiggum

Their am so many bad grammar every where.

The reason that I started The Proverbial Skeptic in the first place is that I get annoyed at the undue credulity with which people regard well-phrased sayings. But even more irksome are attempts at well-phrased sayings, particularly in ads, which do not even meet the basic confines of grammar.

We have all heard examples of why precision in grammar is important. Consider the classics: Let's eat grandma/Let's eat, grandma. Eats shoots and leaves/Eats, shoots, and leaves.

For whatever reason, I find words fascinating. (Did you know that 'dyslexia' anagrams to 'daily sex'? Did you know that 'facetious' is the only word in the English language with all of the vowels in order?) 

So today I am going to really indulge my inner pedant by mentioning some especially bad phrasing failures I have seen. I feel a little less bad for nitpicking because the people who wrote these have business cards that say "copywriter" on them. 

1) On the New York City subway there are posters warning against going down onto the tracks if you drop something. (If I can address my fellow New Yorkers privately for a moment: has there not been an insane rise in the number of PSA's offering weirdly minor advice? Nanny state indeed.)

If you do drop something onto the track, the ad offers this advice: "Tell a police officer, train, or station personnel."

Tell a train?!

The rules of grammar demand parallelism, for just this reason. There is nothing to indicate that I am meant to apply "personnel" to train, but not to police officer.

I would be more bashful about ridiculing this, except the advice is repeated in several other languages below (Spanish, Mandarin, Japanese, and Russian, I believe). I know that I am not asking too much of copywriters, because whoever translated it into Spanish had the presence of mind to edit it so that it reads grammatically there.

MTA, please take note: "Tell a police officer, a member of the train crew, or a member of station personnel."

2) The next one is a bit dark.

There is a family fun center (read: arcade/mini-golf/laser tag) in Florida called Boomers. Outside, there is a sign advertising having a Boomers birthday party for your kids. It reads: "Perfect for your child's ultimate birthday party."

If you don't see what's wrong with that, allow me to fill you in. Ultimate means last. As in final.

"Ultimate birthday"? It might be a good tagline for the make-a-wish foundation.

3) This last one stands out for the sheer syntactic awkwardness. On the TVs on the backs of every seat on Irish airline Aer Lingus, there is a well-wishing inscription (I might have this a word or two off):

"Hoping you enjoy your flight and it is a pleasant one." 

They manage to get redundancy, misplaced modifiers, and faulty parallelism into one sentence. Impressive.

Hooray for pedants!


3 Fun (and Horrifying) Reas...

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