Wednesday, December 30, 2009

T-shirt of the Day, III

It's true, I do this all day long. It's very tiring but strangely satisfying. 

Happy new year to all!

T-shirt is available from

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

T-shirt of the Day, II

Who could resist such a fun pun? 

It's available from One Horse Shy, whose tagline line is, "We ponder to everyone!"

Monday, December 28, 2009

T-shirt of the Day, I

Save the kittens; use good grammar.

Bonus: The back of this shirt reads, "I judge you when you use poor grammar." 

It's available at

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Word of the Year: Craptastic

I hereby second John McIntyre's "another damn word of the year, word of the decade": craptastic.

( also lists craptasticularific. How craptastic is that?)

Here's wishing everyone a decidedly uncraptastic holiday season!

(T-shirt pictured from, there's a website--is available here.)

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A Word on

Since William Safire's passing this year, there's been a gaping hole in the New York Times Magazine's language column. Ben Zimmer has been the most frequent contributor, and his columns range from zany to real zingers. 

A new voice was introduced on Sunday: Erin McKean, the noted lexicographer and Dictionary Evangelist blogger. 

If you want to learn how to not annoy lexicographers, her "Redefining Definition" column is a must-read. You'll also get some insight into her latest project, the online dictionary It's worth checking out, and even signing up for the Word of the Day: frumenty--"noun, hulled wheat boiled in milk and flavored with sugar and spices"--is today's tasty treat. 

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Jerrican vs Jerry Can

Did you know that "Jerry" is offensive? 

(Apologies to my friends named Jerry, but I couldn't resist that lead.)

OK, so Jerry isn't offensive. But the word "jerry," derogatory British slang for German soldiers, is considered offensive. Jerry was coined during World War I and used throughout WWII as well. That's so last century; haven't we moved on? 

Plenty of folks still consider Jerry a slur and avoid such terms as jerry-built (meaning hastily constructed, but the word apparently pre-dates British slang for German soldiers) and jerry can (a narrow, flat-sided container for liquids, especially gasoline; etymology is Jerry + can, due to German design). That makes me wonder what the Jerrys, er, Germans call these containers. 

The commonly accepted spelling is jerrican. Less colorful, alas. And so 21st century.

(Modern "jerry can"--their spelling, not mine--pictured available at

Monday, December 21, 2009

Voodoo vs Vodou

It was OK for Cole Porter in "You Do Something to Me" to write: "You do that voodoo that you do so well."

That was in 1929; in 2009 "voodoo" is considered offensive.

That's the party line. But Porter's use of voodoo is a clever rhyming device. (How else to explain the rather silly sentence?) Offense is taken when "voodoo" is used to describe the African-derived religious practices and beliefs. Voodoo as a derogatory word derived from the time of U.S. occupation of Haiti from 1915 to 1934.

As Harold Courlander has noted, "Properly used [the word 'voodoo'] specifies the black magic, witchcraft, mojos, greegrees, love potions, hate potions, etc. that once existed (and possibly to some extent still do) in the American South among blacks and whites alike."

That is in contrast to the religion Vodou (also spelled Vodoun, Vodun, or Vodu) practiced today--mostly in Haiti and in parts of the U.S. (The Washington Examiner ran a recent Q&A, "How the Voodoo Do It," with a Vodoun mambo. Note the offensive voodoo in the title; old practices and words are hard to give up.)

So go ahead and do that voodoo that you do so well, just don't confuse it with the religion.

Dec. 23 Addendum

The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage makes an interesting distinction: "voodoo is a religion with many followers in Africa and the West Indies, not to mention the United States. They are offended by disparaging uses of voodoo to mean irrational beliefs."

It's not the spelling of voodoo. It's the disparaging use of the word denoting the religion that's considered offensive. Consider the difference with Gypsy versus Roma. They are two distinct words, the first considered offensive, the second the accepted for the itinerant peoples mostly in southern Europe. Voodoo is a corruption of vodou, but is it really offensive? I'm not convinced.

("Déja Voodoo" T-shirt is available at

Thursday, December 17, 2009

No Regrets

And so, the Correction of the Year, proclaimed by Regret the Error, in this horrible one for print media (which is hemorrhaging jobs at an alarming rate), was perpetrated by the Washington Post:
A Nov. 26 article in the District edition of Local Living incorrectly said a Public Enemy song declared 9/11 a joke. The song refers to 911, the emergency phone number.

Enough digital ink has been spilled on this reported error by a culturally ignorant copy editor, who seemingly didn't know Public Enemy's 911 song, and the paper's two-week stonewalling. Yeah, well, whatever.

This morning I met with a wonderful coterie of copy editors, current and retired, who have upheld the highest standards in print, online, and even in broadcast television and films. We discussed the pros and cons of jerrican versus jerry can, if you can believe that.

Also this morning, Garrison Keillor on NPR spoke about this year's regretful passing of William Safire, and his advice "to never split infinitives" and "in the end, avoid clichés like the plague."

Language is a splendiferous thing. I'm delighted to spend my days parsing language, and sharing with you.

(T-shirt pictured available at

Annus Erroneous

I feel for Morrissey. The folks at New Music Tipsheet have turned the singer's disastrous year into an unfortunate error. Make that "Annus Horribilis."

Thanks to keen-eyed, and well-heeled and made up, Apocalyspstick Now for the postus hilarious!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Cleanup Efforts at the NYT

The blogosphere is a wonderfully wily world. From today's After Deadline column comes this cleanup effort of a recent New York Times blog post: 

Oil Sands Clean-Up Efforts Criticized

Pembina oil sands analyst Simon Dyer said in a release that it is “troubling” that most producers don’t appear to be moving towards compliance.

Many style errors in this blog post. “Cleanup” should not have a hyphen. “Pembina oil sands analyst” is a false title (make it “Simon Dyer, a Pembina oil sands analyst”). Proper sequence of tenses calls for “was” and “did not” after the past-tense “said.” And it should be “toward,” not “towards.”

It's probably a losing battle to impose high standards online, but I applaud the editors for their valiant efforts. 

See also the discussion at the top of the column about plural verbs with the phrase "one of those," as in: "He is one of those bloggers who refuse to accept grammatical mistakes."

Colloquially, one wants to use a singular verb with "He is one," e.g., refuses. Grammatically, the plural verb is correct. Turn the phrase around and it becomes clear: Of those bloggers who refuse to accept grammatical mistakes, he is one.

(Pictured T-shirt available at