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

Their am so many bad grammar every where.

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!

Algorithmic catastrophe: How news feeds reprogram your mind and habits

The most powerful editors in the world? Algorithms.

Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
  • According to a Pew Research poll, 45% of U.S. adults get at least some of their news from Facebook, with half of that amount using Facebook as their only news outlet.
  • Algorithms on social media pick what people read. There's worry that social media algorithms are creating filter bubbles, so that they never have to read something they don't agree with and thus cause tribal thinking and confirmation bias.
  • The Charles Koch Foundation is committed to understanding what drives intolerance and the best ways to cure it. The foundation supports interdisciplinary research to overcome intolerance, new models for peaceful interactions, and experiments that can heal fractured communities. For more information, visit charleskochfoundation.org/courageous-collaborations.
  • The opinions expressed in this video do not necessarily reflect the views of the Charles Koch Foundation, which encourages the expression of diverse viewpoints within a culture of civil discourse and mutual respect.
Keep reading Show less

Psychological gym experiment proves the power of mind over matter

It isn't mind over matter as much as mind properly working with matter.

DENVER, CO - MAY 16: Brian and Monica Folts workout on treadmills at Colorado Athletic Club Tabor Center on May 16, 2018 in Denver, Colorado. The couple runs marathons and compete in Ironman triathlons and train on on treadmills. (Photo by RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
Mind & Brain
  • A new Stanford study finds believing you have genetic predispositions for obesity and low exercise endurance changes your physiology.
  • Participants told they had a protective obesity gene had a better response than those told they did not, even if they did not actually have the gene.
  • Runners performed poorly after learning they did not have the gene for endurance, even if they actually have the gene.
Keep reading Show less

Why this 2015 NASA study is beloved by climate change skeptics

The findings of the controversial study flew in the face of past research on ice gains in Antarctica.

NASA
Politics & Current Affairs
  • A 2015 NASA study caused major controversy by claiming that Antarctica was gaining more ice than it was losing.
  • The study said that ice gains in East Antarctica were effectively canceling out ice losses in the western region of the continent.
  • Since 2015, multiple studies have shown that Antarctica is losing more ice than it's gaining, though the 2015 study remains a favorite of climate change doubters to this day.
Keep reading Show less