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Compounds plural or compound plurals? That is the question …

We were already compiling a few notes about the “art of pluralizing” when we got a rash of input (from TV, Twitter, and email) about the plurals of compound nouns, specifically those compound nouns consisting of a noun plus a modifier.

We’re taking our best shots here, so please feel free to disagree or otherwise comment.

In question:

daddy longlegs – conventional wisdom would lead us to the plural form of: daddies longlegs, however, since that is cumbersome, we suggest: Harvestmen

Attorney General – no question about this one: Attorneys General

gin and tonic – conventional wisdom (gins and tonic) again loses out here (we defer to ironic1.com for this one ): gin and tonics

gin and tonics

notary public – not much question with this one: notaries public

brother-in-law – consistent formation found for this plural: brothers-in-law

maid of honor – 1) for more than one honor: maid of honors; 2) for more than one wedding attendant: maids of honor (please, only one MOH per wedding); for more than one copy of the movie Made of Honor: we suggest DVDs.

made of honor

man-of-war – encounter one and there are likely more on the beach or in the water: men-of-war

Bride of Chucky – ok, so are you talking about the plural of Chucky’s mates or the number of movies … or, even, the possessive? For our purposes here, today: Brides of Chucky

Good, now we’re getting more input. In a recent Twitter conversation:

@NeillShenton to @GrammarCops “ok, what about multiple spoons full of something? Plural* me that – i’d rather rephrase a sentence than type THAT ugly word.” 

* We’re now adding “plural” to our list of Nouns gone bad … Thanks!

@GrammarCops to @NeillShentonGood one … it’s actually one word ‘spoonfuls.'”

spoonfuls

There are likely hundreds of such examples. Please contribute.

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SPAM

(click here to read about SPAM®)

From The Writer’s Almanac 7-5-09

It was on this day in 1937 that SPAM came onto the market. The canned meat product from Hormel Foods Corporation was given its name by a contest winner; the prize for his ingenuity was $100. On one  occasion, a Hormel spokesperson said the name was short for ‘Shoulder of Pork and Ham’; on another, a company official said it was a conflation of the words ‘spice and ham.’ All sorts of parodic acronyms have circulated over the years, including ‘Something Posing As Meat.’ The  original recipe, still sold as the ‘Classic’ flavor, contains pork shoulder and ham meat, salt, water, sugar, and sodium nitrate. There’s a gelatinous glaze on top, which forms like that after the broth cools down.

Spam sold in the Americas is mostly produced in Austin, Minnesota — ‘Spam Town USA’ and home of the SPAM  museum. Hawaii’s residents consume more Spam per capita than the residents of any other state, and the canned meat has been nicknamed ‘The Hawaiian Steak.’ Spam is the main course in the Israeli Defense Force’s combat meal kits, but the pork is replaced by beef so that it’s kosher.

There’s a Monty Python sketch that came out in 1970 where the actors go into a cafe; and try to order breakfast, but almost everything on the menu contains Spam. One woman doesn’t want Spam in her breakfast and gets into an argument with the waitress, who tells her that the menu consists of ‘Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam, baked beans, Spam, Spam, Spam, and Spam.’ It’s from this Monty Python sketch that ‘spam’ acquired the use so familiar today: unwanted or unsolicited e-mail. The first recorded  use of the word in this way is in 1993. It’s also become a verb in the English language, for the action of sending out spam.

And the word ‘spam’ itself, untranslated, is now a noun in French, Portuguese, and Vietnamese. The verb ‘to spam’ in German is ‘spammen’; in Czech the verb is ‘spamovat’;  and in Italian it’s ‘spammare.’ There’s a new Monty Python’s musical, SPAMALOT, currently playing in San Francisco.

And now, for our word of the day:

Spam. noun, verb, spammed, spamming.

1. Trademark. a canned food product consisting esp. of pork formed into a solid block.

–noun 2. (lowercase) a disruptive, esp. commercial message posted on a computer network or sent as e-mail.

–verb (used with object) 3. (lowercase) to send spam to.

–verb (used without object) 4. (lowercase) to send spam.
——————————————————————————–

Origin: (def. 1) sp(iced) + (h)am; 1990–95; referring to a comedy routine on Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Brit. TV series.

Be sure to see our related posts:

Sources: The Writer’s Almanac, dictionary.com

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Rarely do we come across non-original material that we feel compelled to post … here’s something that’s going around in email of-late. We think it’s clever and we want to pass it along. Enjoy!

governmentium

HEAVIEST ELEMENT DISCOVERED

Research has led to discovery of the heaviest element yet known to science. The new element, Governmentium (Gv), has one neutron, 25 assistant neutrons, 88 deputy neutrons and 198 assistant deputy neutrons, giving it an atomic mass of 312.

These 312 particles are held together by forces called morons, which are surrounded by vast quantities of lepton-like particles called peons. Since Governmentium has no electrons, it is inert; however, it can be detected because it impedes every reaction with which it comes into contact. A minute amount of Governmentium can cause a reaction that normally takes less than a second to take as long as 4 years to complete.

Governmentium has a normal half-life of 2-6 years; it does not decay, but instead undergoes a reorganization in which a portion of the assistant neurons and deputy neurons exchange places. In fact, Governmentium’s mass will actually increase over time, since each reorganization causes more morons to become neurons, forming isodopes.

This characteristic of moron promotion leads some scientists to believe that Governmentium is formed whenever morons reach a critical concentration. This hypothetical quantity is referred to as critical morass.

When catalyzed with money, Governmentium becomes Administratium, which has half as many peons but twice the number of morons.

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A few weeks ago, we were copied on an email that had this amusing passage:

“You lovers of the English language might enjoy this.

There is a two-letter word that perhaps has more meanings than any other two-letter word, and that is “up.”

up

It’s easy to understand up, meaning toward the sky or at the top of the list, but when we awaken [sic] in the morning, why do we wake up? At a meeting, why does a topic come up? Why do we speak up and why are the officers up for election and why is it up to the secretary to write up a report?

We call up our friends. And we use it to brighten up a room, polish up the silver; we warm up the leftovers and clean up the kitchen. We lock up the house and some guys fix up the old car …  At other times the little word has real special meaning. People stir up trouble, line up for tickets, work up an appetite, and think up excuses. To be dressed is one thing, but to be dressed up is special.

And this up is confusing: A drain must be opened up because it is stopped up. We open up a store in the morning but we close it up at night.

We seem to be pretty mixed up about up! To be knowledgeable about the proper uses of up, look the word up in the dictionary. In a desk-sized dictionary, it takes up almost 1/4th of the page and can add up to about thirty definitions. If you are up to it, you might try building up a list of the many ways up is used. It will take up a lot of your time, but if you don’t give up, you may wind up with a hundred or more. When it threatens to rain, we say it is clouding up. When the sun comes out we say it is clearing up

When it rains, it wets the earth and often messes things up.  When it doesn’t rain for awhile, things dry up. One could go on and on, but I’ll wrap it up, for now my time is up, so … it is time to shut up! Oh … one more thing:

What is the first thing you do in the morning & the last thing you do at night? U-P.”

As comical as this is, we were curious about the claim re: up, “perhaps has more meanings than any other two-letter word.” For years, we have been under the impression that, in the English language, the word (regardless of the number of letters in the word) with the most definitions is “run.” So, we went digging around …

Here’s what we found out, per the Oxford English Dictionary, about words with the most definitions … the top ten:

  1. set (464 definitions)
  2. run (396 definitions)
  3. go (368 definitions)
  4. take (343 definitions)
  5. stand (334 definitions)
  6. get (289 definitions)
  7. turn (288 definitions)
  8. put (268 definitions)
  9. fall (264 definitions)
  10. strike (250 definitions)

Now we have learned that the word “up” doesn’t even make the top ten, nor does it come close to the two-letter word “go,” which graces the list at position three. However, we also learned that our impression about the word “run” was wrong. Can we even say we were close, being 68 definitions behind the number-one ranked word “set“?

Who really cares? Well, besides those of us who have obsessions with words, grammar, etc., many English language learners care because they want to learn to use our language correctly … bless their hearts. If you are a native English speaker, it’s likely difficult for you to imagine yourself making your way through a language that has almost 500 definitions for a single word, much less navigating its complex set of rules of grammar and usage. Wow!

Here’s one little three-letter versatile powerhouse … Set can be a verb, a noun, an adjective, or an interjection … it can be used with or without an object, and it is the mainstay of many phrases, such as: set about, set against, set ahead, set apart, set aside, set back, set by, set down, set forth, set in, set off, set on, set out, set to, and set up. Set also appears in several idioms, including set forward, set one’s face against, set store by, and get set! (definitions of which you can find at dictionary.com).

We will not list all of the definitions for set, rather, we choose to leave you with this … we’re off to set the table for dinner but we don’t need to set a fire because the 105 degree heat in Austin today set another record. We just watched a set or two of tennis on the TV set before writing this post to set the record straight. We discussed a set of words in our blog after we set the timer on the sprinkler, both of which set our mind at ease. The date is set for our next party at which we hope to set a good example of holiday entertaining. We must set down the pen to type, but we no longer need to set type to print our articles. That beautiful ring we saw the other day is set with gorgeous stones, but it would set us back too much to afford it. We didn’t fall on the stage set, however, once the bone was broken, the doctor had to set it for it to heal properly. Now, having set our minds to it, we’re now going for the set of golf clubs and hit the links … before we set ourselves down and watch the sun set

All set?

 

set

Sources: Oxford English Dictionary, dictionary.com

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Got this spam/phishing email a few weeks ago about unusual bank activity and a possible suspension of a bank account … yeah, right.

Anyway, the email is in need of the Grammar Police and Comma Clout, so here goes …

“Dear Bank Customer_ ,

Because of unusual number of invalid login attempts on your account, we had to believe that, their might be some security problem on your account…”

Comma Clout needed:

  • 1.remove the space before the comma in the greeting: “Dear Bank Customer,”
  • 2.remove the comma before the incorrectly-used “their” in the first sentence: “… we had to believe that …”

Grammar Policing needed:

  • their” should be “there:” “… we had to believe that there might be …”

See the Grammar Police blog post: “There you have it … ” for more on There vs. Their (and They’re).

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When we encounter something funny that has to do with words, we like to pass it along. This is an excerpt from an email going around today. Hope you enjoy it.

“From the diary of a Pre-School Teacher: My five-year old students are learning to read. Yesterday one of them pointed at a picture in a zoo book and said, ‘Look at this! It’s a frickin’ elephant!’ I took a deep breath, then asked …’What did you call it?’ ‘It’s a frickin’ elephant! It says so on the picture!’

african elephant

And so it does …”

Don’t you just love “Hooked on Phonics”?

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Recently, we called out an error in a TV ad and online catalog for Hanes t-shirts. The mistake we pointed out is “… a collar that lays flat…” in the voice over, and Lay Flat Collar” in the product description.

Please see our post: Just wait’ll we get our grammar on you …

We fired off an email to the copywriter (at the ad agency) who wrote the spot for Hanes. We thought you might like to be privy to the response we received from the ad’s author:

“I appreciate the catch. But I have to say that we knew what we were doing when we sent it out the door. The product had already been named. And, honestly, grammar doesn’t mean much in advertising. What sounds better is more important. And the ‘Lie-Flat Collar’ doesn’t sound too hot.”

Now, this is too bad. Even though we have mentioned the incorrect use of lay in our Lost causes? post, it doesn’t mean we’re going to let the subject lie.

We disagree that grammar doesn’t mean much in advertising. We have more faith in consumers than to expect them to tolerate poor grammar. And, while we do agree that what sounds better is important … for all of our fans who think good grammar is “hot,” we disagree with the statement that “… the ‘Lie-Flat Collar’ doesn’t sound too hot.”

We think it’s a shame that there are those who promote poor grammar and perpetuate the nerve-grating sounds of these language rules broken, especially in advertising to a public audience.

What are your thoughts? Take our poll:

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