Monday, December 6, 2010

Based on True Events

This phrase keeps popping up. The most public example is the promotion of the new movie Unstoppable starring Denzel Washington. Thank God it is based on "true" events (is there such a thing as a "false" event). Any movie based on false events would have to be....well...every movie that isn't related to something that actually happened.

The (glaring) problem is use of the word true to modify the word event. My Standard College Dictionary (Harcourt & Brace) defines an event as follows: "event n. 1. Something that takes place; a happening or an incident: the events of that period; especially an occurrence of considerable importance: historical events." This first definition might lead one to conclude that a happening must have been real in order to be considered an "event," as opposed to a fictional (made up) occurrence. But wait! The definition continues: "2. An actual or possible set of circumstances; a real or contingent situation: in the event of failure." Does this mean that the word event may be used to describe fake occurrences???? No. It means that an event can be hypothetical, for, you know, educational purposes.

Can't we go back to the halcyon days of "inspired by a true story?" Even "actual events" is better, because it at least suggests that events may be completely made up. In any event, Denzel can do whatever he likes, but Chris Pine has to stick to the (Grammarsnot) script.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Virulent Virus

The Wall Street Journal, Tuesday November 9, 2010: "When asked to remove the virus form the laptop, Mr. Bedi allegedly told Mr. Davidson that his computer had in fact been attacked with a virus so virulent that it also damaged Datalink's computers, according to prosecutors." This sentence appeared in an otherwise well written, entertaining, and inspiring article entitled "Virus Leads to $20 Million Scam," by Tamer El-Ghobashy.

I propose that we refrain from using adjectives derived from nouns to describe the nouns from which those adjectives are derived. I think we can do better than melodious melodies, oozy ooze, muddy mud, liturgical liturgy, engaged engagement, or wet water. Anyone?

I also have to point out that my 1988 Roget's II The New Thesaurus (Expanded Edition!) offers the following as synonyms for virulent: deadly, malignant, noxious, pernicious, pestilent, pestilential, and poisonous.

In fairness to Mr. El-Ghobashy, it is possible that the statement above is actually a quote. However, this is problematic because it is not attributed to either the alleged criminals or the actual prosecutors (the statement was "..according to prosecutors"). If my supposition is correct, then I and the other WSJ daily subscribers are mere victims of lazy journalists and their educable editors.

Meanwhile, I sincerely hope Mr. Davidson continues to compose, and recovers his losses--or at least that his (Halliburton) family will help support him.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Apostrohe's Alway's S'ignify S'ignificance

The New York Times article written by John Leland on September 5 contained the following, describing low interest loans available to first time home buyers in the wake of the financial crisis: "The loans are the idea of state housing finance agencies, or H.F.A.'s, ...."

There are some confusing aspects to this sentence. This post is an invitation to Mr. Leland to clarify his intentions. These items are confusing:
1. The loans, while an idea, can't be the idea of state housing finance agencies. This is because agencies are not sentient beings.
2. The loans, while an idea, can't be the idea of several state housing agencies can they? Did several state housing agencies have the same idea, at different times, or the same time in their collective agency brain? Have state housing agencies taken the Vulcan mind meld and applied to the lending of money to first time home buyers? Thank you, Gene Roddenberry.
3. Is this simply sloppy editing, in which case it isn't Mr. Leland's fault? It is apparent to anyone who reads a newspaper that reporters are no longer expected to write correctly, so I blame the editors, not the writers. Mr. Leland may have been trying to say that H.F.A.s's ideas are low interest loans to first time buyers, in which case he merely left in the whole first clause of his sentence without editing.

4. Is Mr. Leland advancing a new position on apostrophe usage? Should apostrophes be used at any time when referring generically to more than one (or all) State government agency, an incarnation of which exists in each of the 50 states?

5. Is it possible that Mr. Leland is subliminally advancing a political preference for federal government at the expense of State government? Why, after all, should we have 50 State agencies who all have the same idea? Seems inefficient.

At any rate, I'd like to hear from Mr. Leland to clarify his writing. Unless, of course, this is the fault of his editor.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Impactfully Impacting the Impact of the Transitive Verb HIDEOUS EXAMPLES

In the spirit of the first posting on the irretrievably vapid yet popular use of "impact" as a verb, and because the first posting has received 800% more comments than any other post in Grammarsnot history, I am obligated to further mine the depths of this foolishness. Several FOGSnot (FriendsOfGrammarsnot) have made suggestions or observations of words used in the same obnoxious fashion. I was extremely horrified to discover that this practice has been given a name: to "verb the noun." How prescient that we observed this sheer idiocy in its infancy....

Here are three of the most offensive examples dreamed up by noun pirates (in no order):
1. Parent. Now used as a verb, this is acually a perverse derivation of 'parenting' which has replaced parenthood--thank you citation to American Heritage Dictionary. There's even a whole magazine--awesome.
2. Friend. I had no idea I could simply decide that someone is my friend. To"friend" someone started with that bastion of social isolation, Facebook. In another staggering example of one wrong exponentially exacerbated by another, the use of friend as a verb has perversely spawned the word and pastime of "friending." I guess it is too complicated in computer coding to work in the act of "making a friend."
3. Incent. attributes to the American Heritage Dictionary the analysis that this word is a "back-formation" of the word, incentive. I cannot be so kind. Incent is the result of a person concluding that the suffix "ive" somehow modifies the (prefix?!?) incent. I'm going to credit the boss of the 'incent' dimwit for coming up with the bastard child of incent, incentivise. I guess this means that these are next: adject-, conjunct-, subjunct-, furt-, curs-, vot-, ICKcetera. Adjectivise? Cursivise? Hmmm.

To be continued, I'm quite sure.

Friday, March 12, 2010

A Multiplicity of Multiples

Dear dears, Livia has noticed a trend, which is always disturbing to her peace of mind, implying as it does both intellectual laziness and paucity of imagination. This particular trend is the use of "multiple" to mean "many," "several," or "numerous."
  • "The congressman's behavior included multiple instances of tickle fights." (Wash. Post, 3/11/10)
  • Jimmy's homework consisted of multiple worksheets.
  • You have had multiple opportunities to clean up your act.
These are but a few of the usages Livia decries. Strictly speaking, "multiple" means "many copies of the same thing." So, loveys, you can't use it unless you're talking about repetition of or enlargement upon a single entity. Surely, each of Jimmy's worksheets was different--what would be the point of doing the same sheet over and over? Never mind.

As an appropriate usage, for example, "multiple birth" refers to the phenomenon of more than one child being born at the same time--presumably, several copies of the same kid, but applicable to non-identical womb-sharers as well.

Livia has corrected multiple instances of the misuse of multiple, and she fears that it is multiplying exponentially. Stop already! Plenty of accurate, concise, and descriptive words exist to describe a profusion of (fill in the blank). Use them!