Sunday, December 14, 2008

Breaking News: CNN continues to bring inanimate objects to life

From "New GPS podcast looks at foreign affairs and global policies."

Now, I love Fareed Zakaria as much as the next left leaning news junkie grammar snob--er, I mean Snot. I liked him better in the early days for his gift of explanation to the American public as to why "they" hate us. I guess it was inevitable that the paragon of newsentertainment would get ahold of him.

There is sooooo much to work with on this example. The combination of assumed-to-be widely-understood terms (CNN is trying wayyyy too hard); use of the term "new" applied to a program which is also new. Global policies? I can't. As a bit of introspection has revealed, Cicero can be a bit too literal, and perhaps too Snot-ty. So I'll merely focus on CNN's staggering, stubborn, and stupid ability to attribute human behavior to--not just inanimate, but written and/or recorded--objects. A "podcast looks..."

Personification is cute and charming when used by children who address their stuffed animals. It can be an interesting technique to describe societal shifts or events (e.g. "economic diarrhea"). Message to CNN: your credibility as a serious news outlet **may** be in jeopardy if you can't master basic English. The old Cicero might acuse CNN of contributing to the decline of civilization. Now, that's a little over the top, isn't it? The "new" Cicero will stick to basic judgmental superiority.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

But WHEN, for gods' sake?`

Livia has just returned from a pleasant holiday lunch with her two best friends. No, really. Livia does have friends after all. But she digresses. Charming as the interlude was, Livia must report a somewhat unsettling exchange with the waiter:
Livia: Please, where is the ladies' room?
Waiter: See that mirror over there? It's gonna be right to the left of it.
Pardon? You mean it's not there now? Does it just drop in from time to time? Is there any predictability as to its presence or absence? And "right to the left"? Which is it, for heaven's sake? Inasmuch as her query was not prompted by idle curiosity, dear hearts, imagine Livia's consternation. Exactly when is it "gonna be" there, please?

Please note that rooms within buildings generally have fixed positions, particularly rooms set aside for ladies who wish to retire for a few moments. They stay put, in other words. This sort of intellectual and elocutionary laziness will not be tolerated, loveys. You have been warned.


Tuesday, November 25, 2008

How Bad Was It, David?

In the course of a conversation with Cicero this afternoon, Livia mentioned the alarming trend among soi-disant journalists (and others, following their example) to use words that sound like the ones they want, but aren't. Challenged to produce an example, Livia lost no time in trotting out "enormity." Good gods, it's everywhere.
  • "Well, Wolf, how prepared do you think President-elect Obama is?" "You know, David, I hope he's prepared for the enormity of the task before him."
  • "Let me tell you, Sylvia, the enormity of that slide was almost more than little Flavius could handle."
  • "The enormity of the Pacific struck awe into Alexandra's soul.
Webster's II: "Enormity: 1. Outrageous or heinous character; atrociousness, as the enormity of war crimes. 2. Something outrageous or heinous, as an offense."

Please, please, please, people! Unless that slide is about to devour little Flavius, it does not possess the attribute of "enormity." It's BIG. Huge, maybe. Even enormous. But heinous? Livia doubts it.

The task before Mr. Obama may well be another story, however.


Tuesday, November 18, 2008

I'm OK, Me's OK, Myself's A Bitch

Livia was rudely shocked recently by having had the occasion to read this sentence:

"What came out of John and I's conversation was the decision to have the meeting anyway."

Wait a minute: "John and I's conversation"? WHAT?! Oh gods, where to start.

Unknown to most native speakers, English has declensions. We have three cases: nominative, objective, and dative. No, dear, dative. And, believe it or not, pronouns have to agree with the case! OMG, we are sooo put upon.

case refers to the named subject of the sentence; for example, I.
Objective case refers to the object of the verb. That would be me.
case refers to the object of a preposition, such as "to" or "for"; that would also be me.
And again, a class of pronouns called possessive: that is, my and mine.

Take a break, dear hearts. Livia knows that this sort of thing is taxing. Now. What is wrong with the phrase, "John and I's conversation"? Speak up, dear. Livia can't hear you. "I's conversation" is a grammatical impossibility, yes?

But what pronoun goes in I's place? Not "me," certainly. RIGHT! "John's and my conversation"! And that's leaving aside the obvious edit: "In the conversation I had with John, we decided..." or the stilted (but instructive): "The conversation between John and me resulted in the decision... ."

Just to keep things interesting, we also have a class of pronouns called reflexive: in the first person, that would be myself. (If it helps, take out the x and substitute ct. The pronoun reflects back to the subject of the sentence.) NEVER, NEVER, EVER say or write

"John and myself had a conversation." (nominative)
"The speakers were John and myself." (objective)
"There was a conversation between John and myself." (dative)

Myself may be used only in a supporting role: I did it myself. It may be the object of a verb or a preposition if -- and ONLY if -- the subject of the sentence is I: I embarrassed myself; I sent it to myself.

Are we clear? I nominative; me objective or dative; my/mine possessive; myself reflexive.

That wasn't so hard, was it? Now mind! Or you'll be thrown from the Tarpeian Rock!


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Talking paper

"After the close, a New York Times report said that Morgan Stanley (MS, Fortune 500) was considering a merger with Wachovia (WB, Fortune 500) or another bank." Posted to 9/17/2008 by "Senior Writer" Alexandra Twin.

In my world, only human beings can actually "say" things. To me, it follows logically, therefore, that someone capable of, you know, "saying" things would be described in the past tense as having, you know, "said" something. I'm delighted at the progress modern science has made now that reports can actually speak. And kudos to for harnessing the technology to disseminate the news of the day.

Monday, June 9, 2008


Unlike Cicero, who still must toil for his bread, Livia spends relatively little time on airplanes. Thus, when forced to endure air travel, she is hypersensitive to sources of potential irritation. Who would have imagined that the pilot's announcement of the torment's imminent end should prove to be such?

"We are beginning our final descent into [fill in the blank]."

Now think about that statement for a moment. Our final descent: What, the next time we board the aircraft bound for this particular destination, we will not descend? Like the Flying Dutchman, we'll carom around the clouds forever? No descents for you!

Was there an interim descent of which Livia was unaware? Surely, she would have noticed if the oxygen mask had dropped, yes? Felt the bump?

Maybe all other descents were just practice runs, and this one is the one that counts on the pilot's permanent record. Perhaps he or she wishes to reassure us that after the plane touches the ground and taxis to the terminal, it will not sink beneath the tarmac, pretzels, mini-booze, and all.

Or is it "goodbye, cruel world"? Livia can certainly understand that sentiment--she has helped many a confused soul arrive at that conclusion, though certainly not while that person was operating a conveyance in which she was a passenger.

Livia remembers a time when pilots used the phrase "final approach." While clumsy, it does at least have the virtue of possibility: rush-hour traffic might have required a 50-mile roundabout--more than once, even--thus necessitating more than one approach.

But "final descent?" Scares the shit out of Livia, frankly.


Tuesday, May 6, 2008

It Was A Very Good Year

May 6, 2008, The Washington Post, A Section: "This week, to mark the one-year anniversary of the bag ban, Modbury is planning a big beach cleanup."

Some days, Livia just wants to put her head down and cry. Other days, she wants to get out her little vial of poison... Take out your dictionaries, please.

Anniversary: from the Latin words annum (year) and verso (turn). Commemoration of an event that comes around every time the year turns. Same day every year. "Anniversary" includes "year." See? Come on, come on: make the connection; you can do it.

Bravo! X-year anniversary is redundant! You win the fur-lined bathtub! Amazing what you can find out when you think. What the Post writer should have written was "... to mark the FIRST anniversary..."; that is, the first time that the year has turned since the event happened.

Appearance in printed periodicals, on broadcast media, or in the largely illiterate world of Internet communication does not make this usage correct. Nor does it absolve you for perpetuating it.

Yes, yes, I know--everyone else does it. Well I'm not everybody else's mother-- oh wait, wrong crowd. Anyway, stop it! Don't make me stop this car!


Monday, March 31, 2008

More at SEA

"You still workin'?" (var., You still workin' on that). Gee, and I thought I was enjoying a meal at a fine dining establishment! Who knew there was a deadline?

Similarly: "Can I get that out of your way?" What else am I supposed to be using this space (i.e., the table top) for?

(Yes, I did just end a sentence with a preposition. Wanna make somethin' of it?)


Saturday, February 16, 2008

Pebbles in the Mouth?

Being an occasional list of cringe-inducing pronunciations.
  1. cou'en, wou'en, shou'en: couldn't, wouldn't, shouldn't
  2. winner, et al.: winTer
  3. ax (I axed him might be construed as a confession of murder)
  4. axterick
Livia Drusa

Self-evident Annoyances Continued

7. Can I start you guys off with somethin a drink?
8. Your call is important to us (while you hold for 20 minutes on the 15th level of an automated telephone triage system)
9. Can I get the buffalo wings/Lemme get the beef Wellington

Livia Drusa

Friday, February 15, 2008

Partial List of Self Evident Usage Annoyances

Some things require no explanation. Below is a partial list. I swear to God, these things have been uttered by ADULTS:
  1. Espresso ordered as eXpresso
  2. suppose-UBLY
  3. I bought it with me;
  4. boughtEN, as in, "I had boughten it when I was in the City..";
  5. boughtenED, same example, but far worse because the person who says boughtenED clearly believes boughtenED to be the correct form of boughtEN.
  6. Thank you for taking my call

More to come, I'm sure.

Monday, January 14, 2008


A comment has poured in to GrammarSnot with this provocative question: "What's your call on the use of 'surveil' as a verb?"

Surveil is a big fave among law enforcement and other authoritarian types, who love to sound way cool and no-nonsense. It is a back-formation from the perfectly legitimate surveillance, which comes to us courtesy of la belle francaise, and we should probably give it a fair hearing--we use hundreds of other back-formations daily, without giving them a second thought. Burgle comes to mind, along with enthuse and scavenge.

No less an authority than the Oxford English Dictionary recognizes it, citing 1960 as its date of first use: "1960 Federal Suppl. (U.S.) CLXXXII. 750/1 The plaintiff also stresses that the store as a whole, and the customer exits especially, were closely surveilled."

According to both the Random House Unabridged and Webster's 10th Collegiate (based on Webster's Third, published in 1961 to general approbation), surveil is legit.

That said, we at GrammarSnot are not in favor of surveil. Our reasons are as follows:
  1. It's jargon--i.e., in use in a very specific and limited community and not shared by the wider English-speaking public.
  2. It violates the cardinal principle of good writing and speaking: clarity. Observed, watched, and kept under surveillance are all clearer and the first two are more concise.
  3. It's ridiculous. Anyone using it immediately brands him- or herself as both pompous and of limited imagination.
So there you have it, Grammies: There'll be no surveilling for you tonight!

Sunday, January 13, 2008


Pity the poor apostrophe. It is abused, misplaced, misunderstood, and unloved.

Washington Post, January 13, 2008, furniture ad: Sofa's, dinette's 50% off!
CBS, January 12, 2008, playoff game between Green Bay and Seattle: Favres' Stats
MSNBC, January 5, 2008: Iowa Caucus Voter's Give Obama the Lead

Is it that "sofas" or "dinettes" just doesn't look right ? Is that it, snookie? Well TOO BAD--the plural of sofa is sofas. The plural of dinette is dinettes. Unless I am completely misunderstanding and some copy is missing, i.e., the object that the sofa or the dinette possesses (the sofa's arms, perhaps), the apostrophe has no place in this home.

Now, as to Mr. Favre: although his performance in the game might have led some to think that there are two of him, in point of fact he is singular (in more ways than one) and therefore the apostrophe goes before the "s," not after.

And so to Iowa, where one busy bee apparently voted 82,536 times.

The plural of a singular noun adds just a plain old "s" (sofa/sofas, dinette/dinettes, giraffe/giraffes, voter/voters); singular nouns that end in "s" or "ss" (arras, compass, Adams) take "es" (arrases, compasses, Adamses [NOT, please God, Adam's]). No apostrophes. Ever.

A singular noun takes an apostrophe and "s" to indicate possession: Favre's stats.

A singular noun ending in "s" or "ss" also takes an apostrophe and "s" to indicate possession: arras's, compass's, Adams's (please, please not Adam's).

A plural noun takes an apostrophe after the "s" to indicate possession: voters', Adamses'.

You have not heard the last of this.


Thursday, January 3, 2008

Impactfully Impacting the Impact of the Transitive Verb has a page entitled "Impact Your World." It states under the heading: Take action! When disaster strikes or horrible events unfold, these are opportunities to effect change. Bad things happen in the world every day. But good can result and one person can impact the world.

I'm taking this opportunity to weigh in on the controversy (!) over the use of the word "impact" as a verb. provides definitions for both the verb and noun forms. The American Heritage Dictionary entry reports that the use of the word as a verb constitutes a "Usage Problem." I could not agree more.

While it is reported there that the word has been used as a verb since 1635, this word has colloquially and publicly occupied a perfectly respectable position as a noun. opines that the use of "impact" as a verb is an attempt by public figures to gain intelligence-respect by using the word in new or fresh way. Again, I agree.

My objection to use of impact as a verb is NOT that the use is incorrect grammatically, because esteemed sources list the word as a verb. I object to the ego-centric audacity with which people claim a new use or create a word out of thin air ("impactful," for example, in a recent car commercial). This ego-pumping, acquisitive, and unacceptable trend of colonizing nouns to become verbs started at least ten years ago but proliferated during the dot-com boom/bust ("incent" is another one with a target on his back). I hoped that the bursting bubble exploded this practice, but it has not. Who is CNN to say that I can impose my will on the world? I'm not the target audience but I appreciate the brash, fresh, youthful, hip, enabling message this sends to a bunch of people who already believe they are entitled the spoils of the entire world.