Category Archives: Mistakes

Errors, goofs, bloopers, flubs, foul-ups

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How ’Bout That As?

Logo_AsEnglish offers plenty of opportunities for repeating words. A perennial favorite, maxing out at five instances, is “I think that that that that that man used should have been a which.” The sentence cheats a bit, in my view, because like President Clinton’s famous utterance, “It depends what the meaning of is is,” one instance of the word must be set apart as word-qua-word. Still, that that is a common repetition, with is is not far behind. As my colleague Ben Yagoda has pointed out, the repetiti…

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State of ‘Lay’

As Robert Frost might have put it, something there is that doesn’t want to say lie. I refer to the present tense of the verb meaning to assume or be in a recumbent position, figuratively or literally. So: I want to lay down. He had to lay low. Don’t just lay there. And so on. I have weighed in on the topic before, as have my Lingua Franca colleagues Anne Curzan and Geoffrey Pullum. But I feel that a tipping point has been reached.

This Google Ngram Viewer shows that in American books (the sub-da…

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Correct/Incorrect Grammar-Test Items

An English teacher living in Jerusalem wrote to ask me to resolve a dispute about a test question. Someone had set a correct/incorrect test on the preterite (the simple past, e.g. took) vs. the perfect (e.g. have taken). This was the test item (the students were supposed to circle the correct form of the verb inside the parentheses):

I (have just received / received) a message but I haven’t read it yet.

 

Some of the teachers who discussed the quest…

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Let Us Edit Your Article

spam

You have to laugh at some of the spam you get, don’t you? Or maybe weep. Today I received a spam email from a proofreading and academic editing company. “We majorly specialize in proofreading academic documents,” it told me, with a majorly eyebrow-raising adverb (wouldn’t “mostly” have been better?). But before I had finished reading it I decided this one was a laugher, not a weeper.

Bafflingly, the company that sent the email (and I have decided it would be kinder not to name the company here)…

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Never Underestimating

thumbMaybe George W. Bush’s neologism misunderestimate isn’t such a bad candidate for adoption into the lexicon. That’s what I decided shortly after reading the following passage in a New York Times article about the various adaptations of Bret Easton Ellis’s novel American Psycho:

Mr. Bale’s role in Bateman’s liftoff is impossible to underestimate. You can trace the character’s ascent along the arc of the actor’s career. (Bateman, Batman, Bale, baleful — there’s a malevolent linguistic r…

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Being an Antecedent

On the morning of April 1, I heard a BBC newsreader say (without levity, April Fool’s Day though it was) that Sajid Javid, the British government’s secretary of state for business, innovation, and skills, had “assured the steel workers that ministers were doing everything they could to save their jobs.” And for a few misguided milliseconds my brain was saying “Typical: politicians trying to protect themselves!” I had linked the genitive pronoun their to t…

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Being a Subjunctive

buddyHolly

Teaching them who Buddy Holly was would be more valuable than trying to make them shun covertly inflected mandative clauses.

For grammar bullies “the subjunctive” is sacred ground. Reforms proposed for the British national curriculum in 2012 required teaching use of the subjunctive not later than sixth grade. People seem to think the subjunctive is a fragile flower on which civilization depends; without our intervention it will fade and die, and something…

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All the Changes We Do Not Notice

3d47d20b2d9db0e4f86cbab4a5c19fbbI have been thinking a lot about button-down shirts recently. This is after many years of giving them — or at least giving the word for them — very little thought at all.

My mulling was sparked by an email from Dave Carlyon, an astute observer of language, who pointed out that something seems to be afoot with the term button-down shirt. Does the description refer to the collar or the entire shirt? The answer: Originally it was about whether the collar buttoned down, but now for many of us, it is…

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Grown-Ups Deserve Better

grammar4grownups

Square Peg, part of the Random House group, is a publisher located at 20 Vauxhall Bridge Road, London. Kyle Books is another publisher, headquartered at 192-198 Vauxhall Bridge Road, London. The two sets of staff could walk along Vauxhall Bridge Road to have lunch together and discuss upcoming titles. But it looks as if they don’t, because in 2012 they each put out separate books under the same title, Grammar for Grown-Ups.

One was by Craig Shrives, formerly a British military intelligence offi…

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Macbeth, the Novel

Classics Illustrated MacbethWhen is Shakespeare’s play not a play but a novel?

I don’t mean adaptations of Macbeth. There are lots of those — Paul Illidge’s Macbeth: A Prose Translation, the filmscript to Akira Kurosawa’s classic Throne of Blood (or, in Japanese, Spider’s Web Castle)the Classics Illustrated comic-book version, the Norwegian writer Jo Nesbø’s forthcoming noir fictionalization — to name just a few.

That’s already a lot of nonplays. At least one even sounds like it might be a novel.

So let me put the questi…