Category Archives: Mistakes

Errors, goofs, bloopers, flubs, foul-ups


Final Madness

We’ve finally come to the end of Language Madness, and not a moment too soon. Just as Kentucky and Connecticut, two storied programs, will face off tonight in the NCAA men’s basketball finals (finals  instead of final  being another instance of rampant pluralizing), the LM tournament closes out with a classic matchup.

To recap, we started out with 16 “sins against the language.” As many have noted, they were a mixed bowl of wrongs. Some were mistakes or “mistakes” people love to hate, such as th…


Get Me the Concierge


Image via Wikimedia Commons

“My husband used to be the concierge,” announces the woman in the window, “but he’s dead. Now I’m the concierge.” Movie fans will recognize the moment in Mel Brooks’s The Producers when our hapless protagonists approach the residence of the furtive ex-Nazi and pigeon fancier Franz Liebkind, author of the soon-to-be immortal musical “Springtime for Hitler.”

Liebkind’s apartment building is nothing special. It doesn’t have anything as glamorous as a concierge, just an u…


Are You Feeling It?

I’ve never been a huge McDonald’s fan (my loyalties lie with Wendy’s), but lately the Golden Arches have become a particular bugbear. Many of you will recognize the chain’s slogan of almost a decade, “I’m lovin’ it,” and some will find its grammar grating. Traditionally, after all, English stative verbs—those that describe a state of being, what we think or how we feel—are not conjugated in the present continuous form. Before the lovin’ it campaign, a tasty Filet-O-Fish would have prompted most …


Communicating With the Public

The last time I dared to look at Tom Chivers’s article about my work and my views online (published inSeven, the Sunday Telegraph magazine, March 16, 2014, 16–17), the number of comments had risen to more than  1,400. And they formed a sorry spectacle. I couldn’t bear to do much more than skim a small quantity of the discussion. Even if the average comment length is no more than 50 words, the whole thing must be approaching monograph length. But not monograph quality.

If I had ever thought that …


March Madness Madness!

Everybody wants to get into the actI think we can all agree that March Madness has jumped the shark. In addition to the actual brackets to the NCAA men’s and women’s basketball tournaments, one can find mock-brackets for such things as public broadcasting hosts, ESPN personalities, and, courtesy of Jezebel, intoxicants. (In early-round action, Champagne topped Smirnoff Ice, weed blew away crack, Margaritas got the better of rubbing alcohol, and caffeine narrowly edged glue.)

I was actually around for the beginning of this trend. …


Concerning Developments

c5293830c1eebb26389a5f5edb715a7be7120556Not too long ago in this winter of discontent, my Facebook friend David Edelstein posted this status update:

This was in The New York Times.

“New York City public schools are open—to the chagrin of many parents—but field trips are canceled.”

Ben and others who care, when did “chagrin” come to mean annoyance, irritation, displeasure? It means embarrassment. It’s another GREAT word I fear we can’t use anymore because people think it means what it doesn’t. This does NOT fill me with chagrin. It mak…


The Lesser Kudos


Ammelaphus imberbis, formerly Tragelaphus imberbis, the lesser kudu
(Image via Wikimedia)

Kudos: the Greek word κδος means, according to the OED, “praise or renown,”  implying  that the person who possesses that quality has done something to merit it.

On the rare occasion when I have to say it out loud, I find myself taking pains to pronounce the second syllable so that it rhymes not with nose but with MS-DOS. That reference gives you an idea how long it’s been since I’ve said it aloud.

The word…


Politeness in Refereeing Favor Requests


Dog walker
by revolution cycle via Wikimedia Commons

Early one weekday morning you are at work in your study when the front doorbell interrupts you. On the doorstep you find a total stranger who hands you two dog leashes, a small container of kibble, and some keys. He states brusquely that you’ll need these later. You stare blankly as he walks away.

Five minutes later the phone rings, and someone from down the street whom you barely know explains that her dog-walker has canceled at short notice. …


Spot the Captain


Nemanja Vidic playing for Manchester United
(via Wikimedia Commons)

The sports section of the The Guardian last week carried an article by Jamie Jackson about developments in the Manchester United soccer team, where a number of players are apparently not sure they will stay. The article cited the opinions of one player who is probably not coming back from Fiorentina, where he is currently on loan; and then it continued with this shockingly uninformative sentence:

The futures of several senior pla…


Not Cricket

Game of Cricket
(by Dave Pearson via flickr)

It is a slow and tedious game of men slowly walking about in long white trousers, and a metaphor for British fair play. As a spectator sport, cricket seems to me about as interesting as watching paint dry, only without the same sense of achievement. Yet Lynne Truss is a smart and funny writer even on that unpromising subject. Some of her essays on the game have had me not just chuckling aloud but actually grasping a few things about the sport.