[this is not a sentence]

Correcting the world, one sentence at a time.

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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

[political soup]

SENTENCE: Tomorrow, with a single stroke of his cruel veto pen, President Bush will dash the hopes of millions of Americans seeking cures through the miracle of stem cell research.

WHERE: Mass email from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

CORRECTION: Tomorrow, with one cruel stroke of his veto pen, President Bush will dash the hopes of millions of Americans seeking cures through the promise of stem cell research.

CRITIQUE: Okay, so this one isn't about grammar, but about egregiously silly rhetoric.

I'm fine with the idea that an inanimate object can be invested with metaphoric intentionality. Where would the whole fantasy genre be without "cruel sword"? And I will admit that Dubya has used his veto power exclusively for idiotic reasons that smack of callousness. But somehow I have a hard time with "cruel veto pen." First of all, it's not like Bush does all his vetoing with the same evil pen. Secondly, while a sword is an essential player in the cruelty it inflicts, the role of the veto pen seems to me somehow smaller — less vorpal, perhaps? — and I think the focus of the cruelty really ought to be on the signer, not his poor, abused Bic.

Next, I'd rather not see the word "miracle" anywhere in the rhetoric of those who think scientific research should go ahead despite the supposed objections of someone's God. Furthermore, considering that stem cell research hasn't cured anything yet, "miracle" seems like a strong word. Pelosi's side is supposed to be against faith-based healing.

Pelosi's odd sentence is a good reminder that you can make all your grammar line up just fine and still say silly things.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

[but they do wear cute uniformlies]

SENTENCE: First-Class Mail Package rates apply to Large Envelopes that are rigid, nonrectangular, or not uniformly.

WHERE: United States Postal Service Postage Rate Calculator online.

CORRECTION: First-Class Mail Ppackage rates apply to Llarge Eenvelopes that are rigid, nonrectangular, or not uniformly shaped(?).

GRAMMAR: The United States Postal Service has long had a reputation as a refuge for the incompetent, sociopathic and psychotic, and the sentence above does nothing to change that image.

Let's start with the capitalization, which I can at least wrap my head around. I will give the Postal Service the right to declare First-Class Mail a proper noun — one could consider it something like a product name — but Large Envelope? I'm sorry, Postal Service, but you just don't get to own that phrase. Not in my world. And you guys agree with me (on a page that explains that large envelopes "exceed any one of the maximum dimensions of a letter," but fails to mention what those dimensions might be). And I don't see any reason to capitalize package either.

So that's the capitalization. As for ending a sentence with uniformly, well, I'm assuming something important got cut off. Either that, or they apply special rates to packages that do not have uniformle characteristics. As for what's been cut off, it's hard to guess. Like so much else about the Postal Service, this message remains cryptic, leaving just enough doubt in the mind of the customer that she is left wondering whether it's somehow her own fault when her mail goes undelivered.

I love it: plausible deniability from the Postal Service!

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

[articles, definitely]

SENTENCE: This is NAME WITHHELD, calling from Korean Mission.

WHERE: Overheard in the next office.

CORRECTION: This is NAME WITHHELD, calling from the Korean Mission.

GRAMMAR: Ah, articles! Is there any part of speech more vexing for non-native speakers whose native languages don't use them? Prepositions, maybe — try explaining why we get in an airplane but on a bus — but prepositions at least have the decency to be vexing to native speakers as well. (Are you waiting for a friend who's on line, or on a friend who's in line?) With articles, any native speaker knows what goes where, but just try explaining why.

A good rule is that you need the if both parties know which one you mean — the post office, the beach — or if there is only one around — the sun, the United Nations.

In this case, both of these factors are true of the noun Korean Mission, but it's particularly the latter factor that counts: there's only one South Korean Mission to the UN, and both parties know the phrase Korean Mission is an abbreviation of that longer term. As such, a definite article is needed.

BONUS: Why is it a definite article is needed rather than the definite article is needed in the preceding sentence? You could probably go either way, but which you choose depends on how many definite articles you think there are. In this case, I'm counting each instance of the as another definite article, so a specifies that definite article is one of many. But you could just as easily count definite article as a singular categorical noun, in which case it would take the because there's only one around. (We're not like those profligate Spaniards, with their varieties of singular and plural articles in various genders!)

Friday, June 1, 2007



WHERE: Subject line of a spam email.


GRAMMAR: Look, if you're gonna spam me with fake banking messages, at least have the decency to spell the subject line right. I mean, APYMENT? That's not like spelling it CIALI$ to get past the spam filters. APYMENT is just dumb. It's a waste of bandwidth even from the perspective of the spammer, and that's saying something.

What happened to all those spams I was getting with extended quotes from conspiracy literature? Or was that the spammer guy they caught? I miss you, creative spam!
Previous Posts

[is that a pillar in your cornerstone, or are you ...
[seize the day rate, karl]
[trod and true]
[new york reviewed]
[political soup]
[but they do wear cute uniformlies]
[articles, definitely]
[a typographical typo]


May 2007
June 2007
October 2007
November 2007


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