Booker? Here. Booker? Here. Booker?

  • When Washington attended school for the first time, he was puzzled by the fact that all of the children had at least two or three names called during the school roll call, having grown up only being called “Booker.” 

Yes, very puzzling that all the children had grown up only being called “Booker.”

Very confusing roll calls in that classroom.


Makes me sick

  • “They will have to do so without the safety net of a broad testing program — that President Donald Trump says is not necessary — to allow authorities to trace and isolate Covid-19 outbreaks that the White House has failed to build.”

This is just like those left-wingers at — suggesting that the White House should be building Covid-19 outbreaks.


Someone finally comes out in favor of COVID-19


I am unspeakably confused.

Either the leader of North Carolina is protesting something … or the leader of NC protests is against something … or someone is against stay-at-home tests … or someone is not necessarily against stay-at-home tests, but absolutely against stay-at-home tests that are positive

Or (this is the unlikeliest of all) the leader of North Carolina Protests Against Stay-at-Home “Tests Positive” IS ACTUALLY FOR Coronavirus!

Who could be for coronavirus?

Well, I guess if you’re against stay-at-home “tests positive” — if you want the people who test at home to turn up positive for coronavirus — and you’re the leader of North Carolina’s protests, then yeah, I can see how you’d support coronavirus … uh … I guess.

It’s also possible that COVID-19 makes you write incomprehensible headlines.

In which case: Editors, beware. Wear your mask.

Chew your capitals, Dougie

  • The soup kitchen at the Church of the Holy Apostles, the largest in the city, still feeds lunch to many of the hungriest among us….

If I only want to donate to the largest New York City soup kitchen, or if I only want to donate to the largest New York City church, this Talk of the Town item in The New Yorker doesn’t quite tell me what I need to know.

Maybe all those capital letters, on Church and Holy and Apostles, slows me down and fools me into thinking that the subsequent descriptor refers to The Very Important Noun I Just Read.

(Correct answer: largest soup kitchen. I’m proud to be a donor.)

This team needs to draft a participle

  • Eight teams have showed interest in Tom Brady

Old news, I know, but this March 13 post is still annoying me, long after Tom first defiled himself by donning a Tampa Bay jersey.

In English, we say have shown, not have showed.

(Which of course makes speakers of most other languages absolutely crazy. Because what’s the past participle for, anyway?)

To be fair, writer Sam Marsdale doesn’t control his own headlines. In the digital world, as in the old-fashioned newspaper biz, some editor decides how an article will be headlined.

So some editor at has showed that he or she needs to learn about the past participle.

Note to other editorial teams: Don’t trade for this editor.

In my day, people got the flu going to school barefoot, uphill, both directions

  • Trump said he didn’t know people died of the flu. His grandfather did….

His grandfather knew people died of the flu, but then, ironically, got hit by a bus on Fifth Avenue.

OK, just kidding. Pandemic humor. Some days, it’s the only way to cope.

Ding dong! Delivery bug!

  • Davey and Leah were hurting. More importantly, open lesions are a strong attraction for deadly disease-carrying insects. It’s a miracle they made it to our doors.

I hope you were able to care for the insects.

Or at least take the diseases off their weary backs.

(Still not sure if the insects were deadly, or just the diseases they were carrying. Not that it matters, if they’re dropping their burdens at your door. Assuming they wear a mask and gloves. Good luck!)

(P.S. Pronouns are the open lesions on the skin of our language. Beware.)

Troubling symptoms

  • The issue is not having a secure uplink.

Sorry, I’m confused.

You don’t have a secure uplink, and that’s your problem?
Or you have a secure uplink, but that’s not your problem?

Tell me clearly what your problem is, and maybe I can help you.

For example:

  • The issue is I don’t have adequate command of my negatives and gerunds.

In which case, I sympathize.

Every time I lose command of my gerunds, I regret it.

Upgrade or we break your knees

The perceptive Kevin Z. sends this gem of a headline from Ohio:

  • Akron teen arrested for robbing woman selling him an iPhone at gunpoint

Imagine her surprise.

She was all “Buy this iPhone or you’re dead,” and then he turns the tables and takes her money!

What a strange new world we live in.

I understand Apple’s pandemic-era sales may be weak, but let’s not arm the salespeople, please.

Jesus is not my vaccine, nor is He my Editor

  • “Shutdown the shutdown,” another sign in Maryland read.

Well, it’s probably not a matter of life or death, but let me offer this bit of advice to refugees from the Maryland public schools:

Shutdown is the noun form. Shut down is the verb form.

You can shut down (two words) the shutdown (one word), but it doesn’t make quite as elegant a sign at the protest.

Of course, it doesn’t seem that elegant is what you’re going for.

On the other hand, if you’re going for an agonizing premature death, which you’ve accidentally inflicted on yourself — or others in your home or community because you were a symptom-free carrier of the virus without realizing it — and either way, you decided to help shut down the shutdown, then yeah, you’re right on target.

In which case, forget the English lesson. Rest in peace.

So it was all that revelry that wrecked the partnership

  • Although Messina would find only limited popularity following the breakup, Loggins went on to further success in the 1980s. In 2005 and again in 2009, Loggins and Messina have reformed for tours in the United States.

You have to change your ways, if you’re gonna tour.

Either that, or you have to hyphenate.

No, Jimmy cannot come out and play

From the insightful Rebecca B. in Virginia:

  • Vulnerable communities—those without access to healthcare, seniors, children, working families and more—are feeling the brunt of the pandemic.

Rebecca’s compassionate response:

“How sad not to have access to children!”

I would also miss the seniors.

Come to think of it, I’ve known quite a number of very entertaining working families, too. Especially after a few weeks cooped up together in quarantine, they get all goofy.

On a more serious note, check out the humanitarian work I’m involved in, at

Bonjour! Où es-tu?

  • Paul seems quite content, writing beautiful letters to his son, Antoine, studying in France, raising his vegetables, and phoning friends.

I get that Paul is content, and that his son is named Antoine. But which of them is studying in France? And who’s phoning whose friends? And will they deliver fresh veggies curbside if I wear a mask?

If you get a call from either Paul or Antoine, please ask, and please report back.

I’m reading my novel, Pleasure and Power, a chapter or two at a time, on Facebook Live every evening at 5 p.m. EDT. Join me, or check the video later. Thanks!

I’ll take two Queen Marys and a Titanic, extra dry — and make it snappy

English was complicated, even before coronavirus.

Carry-out is complicated now, too. Because we’re doing more of it, and we’re using our complicated language to do it.

In Essex, Mass., you can order steamers. But what this actually means depends on your understanding of two words.

Order can mean demand (as in I order you to bring me steamed clams), or it can mean using your credit card to request (as in One large order of steamed clams, please).

Meanwhile, a steamer is a clam that has been steamed, or at least could be steamed. ( has never been to New England, I guess; they think this term only applies to soft-shell clams. Utterly untrue.)

But a steamer can also be the pot you do the steaming in, or the person who does the steaming. (Not to mention: a steamship.)

So, on the phone with my favorite seafood restaurant, do I intend to request some pots? Or perhaps bark commands to some worker in the kitchen?

To be safe, I can say like or request, rather than order.

But to make sure I get what I’m hungry for … well, they really need to change the word to steamees.

I’ll read you my novel, a chapter or two at a time. Join me on Facebook Live at 5 pm EDT today, or check the video later.

My kingdom for a conjunction

  • Your logical mind can’t grasp it, but yet we know this concept is true.

These are times of scarcity. You can’t find coffee-flavored ice cream. There are no more frozen TV dinners. All the toilet paper in the world is being held by the 17 people who first believed COVID-19 was a thing.

So don’t waste words. No telling when you’ll run low on them.

Use but, or use yet. Don’t use both. It’s like using six squares, when three squares would do.

I’m reading my novel aloud, bit by bit, on camera every day at 5 pm on Facebook. Tune in live, or watch the video(s) anytime. See you there.

And the Adverb Oscar goes to…

  • He was a great player here, one that hopefully will be recognized into the Patriots Hall of Fame.

Recognition happens.

You can be recognized in a place, or as a thing, or for an action. You can be recognized behind a mask, despite your embarrassment, while you’re hoarding toilet paper. All sorts of prepositions go with recognize.

But not into. You can’t be recognized into anything.

I take that back. If there’s a Bad Writing Hall of Fame, that’s something you might could be recognized into of it.

I’m reading my novel aloud, bit by bit, on camera every day at 5 pm on Facebook. Tune in live, or watch the video(s) anytime. See you there.

And wear gloves

  • He found three more small craters with tektites in them, which he sectioned and photographed. 

Did he section and photograph the craters, or the tektites?

It doesn’t matter all that much, I guess. You can probably photograph your crater as easily as you can section your tektite.

But what if it’s directions for a life-or-death procedure? Next you’ll locate the gland with the tumor in it, which must be cut out completely.

The moment you write which, stop and look back at all the words in the sentence so far, and ask yourself this simple question:

Which of those words does which refer to?

It’s a pandemic, folks. We’re in lockdown. People are reading more than ever. Don’t torture them. Write better.

As a lockdown diversion, I’ll read you my novel on Facebook Live, a chapter or two a day, every evening at 5 pm EDT, beginning today, Monday, April 13th. If you miss it, no worries; the video will be posted on the same page. See you there.

Here's what I've been working on…

Honor and donor should rhyme, but they don’t.

Honor rhymes with, uh, just about nothing.

I have a friend named Conor, and another friend named Connor, but if Connor rhymes with honor, then it seems Conor should rhyme with boner.

(There’s a website that helps you find words that rhyme, and it says honor rhymes with yawner, but the way I learned to talk, in Chicago, those are different sounds. It’s the difference between don and dawn … yon and yawn. Even some folks here in New England, where I now live — people who say Dawn when they’re talking about Don — differentiate by pressing down really hard on the word dawn, so it comes out sounding to me like dwawn.)

So anyway, honor and donor should rhyme, but they don’t. It’s an honor to be a donor. You’re doing a good deed. And if you’re raising funds, it’s an honor to have a donor.

All of that to say this: I’m raising funds, and it would be an honor for me if you were to be a donor.

This Wednesday evening, March 25th, at 7 p.m. EDT, I’m throwing a lighthearted virtual party on Facebook Live to launch my funny new book, Ipswich in Stitches, and raise funds for humanitarian work in the former Soviet Union.

You’re invited.

Tune in on the “New Thing, Inc.” Facebook page, and join the revelry.

I’ll read some funny bits from my funny new cartoon-illustrated book, Ipswich in Stitches, which we’re launching at the party.

And anyone who donates $30 or more to the cause — helping orphans, the homeless, the disabled, and others in need in Belarus, the country that got slammed by Chernobyl — automatically pre-orders an autographed copy of the book.

Questions, comments, complaints? Email me via


Rhett! I’ll nevah be quarantined again!

Well, I’m not sure this was the last decade of blockbusters from Disney and Marvel. D&M may have some blockbusters in decades ahead.

Maybe we’re talking about the past decade, not the last decade?

Last can be most recent … or … THE END. The final. Finito.

Like, will we look back on coronavirus as a past pandemic, or actually the last?

Last, I hope.

My real-life workload is heavy. I’ll take a break now. While I’m gone, sneeze into your elbow. Visit Do good things. Aloha.

Good-bye, GOAT?

  • “The Patriots remain the favorite to resign Brady this month….”

I wouldn’t quit the GOAT.

It’s odd, anyway, for the employer to resign the employee. Usually we think in terms of the worker quitting the boss.

Maybe instead of losing Brady, the Patriots could trade a draft choice to acquire a hyphen, and re-sign the star.

Your data, madame

“Mueller learned this after publicly saying he hoped Russia would find Hillary Clinton’s deleted emails from her private server.”

Russia would get the stuff from her private server?

(I would like to meet her private server. A well dressed butler, perhaps?)

I think what Mueller actually hoped was that Russia would find emails deleted from her private server.

Because Hillary, for all her faults, never really had a private server.

Unless you count Bill. And his service, over the years, has been spotty.

(When you write a verb-preposition combination like deleted from, make sure the verb stays really cozy with the preposition. Once the preposition goes wandering off, there’s no telling what trouble it will get into.)

Bombs away

  • “The notice must be sent within 48 hours of US forces entering into hostilities….”

48 before? Or 48 hours after?

It’s important, General. We don’t know whether to have our troops march or take a couple days off.

Within doesn’t tell you before or after. It just tells you within. So bracketing within with of — “within 48 hours of” — doesn’t tell you what you need to know.

“Within — of”: Ready, aim, fire.

Here we are

  • “By late June, more than 2,500 children, including 102 under the age of 5, had been separated from their parents, many of whom didn’t know where the government had taken them.”

Where did the government take the parents? The parents didn’t know. They looked around and said to themselves, Where are we?

They were understandably rattled, perhaps, because the government had just separated them from their children.

[This from a New Yorker magazine article revealing that President Trump’s immigration guru, Stephen Miller, deliberately structured U.S. policy to treat children badly in order to keep immigrants from coming to our country. (“Miller made clear to us that, if you start to treat children badly enough, you’ll be able to convince other parents to stop trying to come with theirs.”) Can we Americans take pride in this? I’m not sure we really know where our government is taking us.]

Mushroom madness

From a terrific New Yorker story about composting and other stuff:

  • “Each fungus looked spookier than the next: the shiitake, the golden oyster, the deer horn, the lion’s mane.”

So shiitake was spookier than golden oyster … and way, way spookier than the lion’s mane.

(lion’s mane)

Decide for yourself.

And while you’re at it, decide to avoid this classic error: Each is more than the last, not the next.

The New Yorker has such brilliant editors and proofreaders, every mistake they make is more shocking than the next … er, uh … the last.

Mark your calendar and join me for my book launch party, in person or on Facebook Live: 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 25. Details on Facebook here.

I’d like to wear Tom Brady’s jersey, too, if you don’t mind

Will Teddy Bridgewater go to the Patriots?

How Teddy became so familiar with Brees’s cleats is a disturbing question. What’s going on in that locker room?

But honestly, if Bridgewater goes to the Patriots, you know they’re going to let him wear whoever’s cleats he wants. They have no morals.

It does strike me as kind of creepy, though.

Birthday wish: I want to be younger

  • Rikelman … has a ten-year-old and an eleven-year-old, who will turn twelve just before the abortion case begins.

How the ten-year-old catches up to the eleven-year-old and they both turn twelve together is a fantastic trick.

Does the former ten-year-old keep going faster, and turn thirteen first?

Birthday parties must be so confusing in this family….

Moving that comma would simplify everything:

  • Rikelman … has a ten-year-old, and an eleven-year-old who will turn twelve just before the abortion case begins.

Speaking of birthday parties, you’re invited to one, sort of.

Please ignore tyops

I love Ian Frazier.

I don’t mean that way. It’s not like we plan to be married in the spring.

But I have adored his writing ever since it began appearing in the pages of the New Yorker.

And his essay last week about typos made me yelp with joy.

So I’m sharing it with you here, today. It will take you maybe 2 minutes to read, and I predict they’ll be the funnest 2 minutes of your day.

Timing is everything

  • “Almost 24 hours to the moment when President Donald Trump was impeached by the House…”

When was this again?

  • 24 hours before impeachment?
  • 24 hours after impeachment?

Someone at doesn’t seem to understand the concept of the word when.

It’s a question.

When doesn’t tell you whether it’s before or after. It asks whether it’s before or after.

Next, we’ll review who, what, where, why, and how … because obviously, you were out sick that day in middle school.

(Not snarky enough for ya? Follow

Does a bear squander in the woods?

  • “The Bears had their chances to win Sunday’s game but squandered them away.”

You can squander your chances.
Or you can throw away your chances.

But if you squander away your chances, you’re in a league of your own. Like, beyond English.

(This sportswriter might have confused two common English-language words: squandered and pissed. I make this mistake all the time.)

And the winner of the White Glove Award is…

  • Paula, who suffers from severe medical issues, quickly noticed how clean the clinic is. She is not alone. About 84% of homeless adults in the region report having medical issues.

For a moment there, I thought practically everybody noticed how clean the clinic is.

And I was like, Awesome janitors!

Loose lips

November 30th
1126 Hill Circle-Kissing Camels Estates

What exactly is circle-kissing?

Whatever it is, camels do it. Imagine what that looks like.

And they named some estates after those circle-kissing camels!

(The short HYPHEN attaches one word to another, like this: Circle-kissing is not recommended, except for camels, and only when they’re really, really committed to each other. The long DASH separates one word or phrase from another, like this: Camels — in spite of wanting to — don’t kiss.)

For another variety of grins, visit

Obviously Photoshopped

  • “Boeing’s Starliner space vehicle is seen on a launchpad at Cape Canaveral, Fla., the day before its uncrewed mission in December to reach the International Space Station. It did not arrive.”

If it’s seen, but it didn’t arrive, this is fake news.

(Thanks to a faithful reader whose birthday is today! Happy birthday, DGB!)

(Going on a little vacation. Back soon! Visit in the meantime.)

Potato War!

Writer/editor Sarah C. Jones confesses that she had to read this a few times before she realized the headline was missing a word.

Fortunately she figured it out before she hurled that spud at her unsuspecting husband.

Put the tuber down, ma’am, and nobody gets hurt.

Happy Valentine’s Day, America! For a dose of real love, check out

And in conclusion…

  • “…should the Palestinians decide to engage after having refused to talk for more than two years.”

The opposition was unreasonable, demanding that they talk for more than two years.

Who could possibly have the energy to engage after talking for more than two years?

Ninety minutes, tops; that’s what I say. I talked for 90 minutes once. It can be done.

Of course, right afterward, that church fired me.

And “www” takes longer to say than “World Wide Web”

English is not only a complicated language.

It’s also irrational.

As my personal trainer, the brilliant Jen T., has astutely observed:

  • It’s quicker to say quicker than to say more quickly.

This is particularly important when someone is screaming at you to pick up the pace of your reps.

Dept. of Redundancy Dept., revisited again

  • Also, the 49ers could potentially set the record for…

Let’s stop right here.

Could means will potentially.

So you never need both could and potentially.

  • The 49ers could set the record for…
  • The 49ers have the potential to set the record for…
  • The 49ers potentially… Aw, nuts to this. They lost. Good riddance.

Best little warehouse in Texas

  • bridalandpromwharehouse

Please, please make sure your Instagram handle isn’t misspelled.

You can have a warehouse — or you can have a whorehouse — but you can’t have a wharehouse.

And you absolutely can’t have a worehouse.

Instagram! This reminds me: Follow my humanitarian charity on Instagram: It’s NewThingNet

You’re really good (except for that mistake)

  • Organizers said space is limited and advanced reservations are strongly recommended. 

An “advance reservation” is a reservation you make beforehand. (Which is redundant, since the definition of a reservation is something that’s arranged in advance. But whatever.)

But if something is advanced, it’s exceptional. My kid is doing great in Advanced Statistics.

So what would an “advanced reservation” be? A reservation that’s doing really well in school? Nah. Maybe just a really intelligent way of booking a table for dinner….

  • Welcome, Mr. Brendel. That was an ultra-sophisticated reservation you placed with us — we loved the part about
F(n) = \frac{(\varphi)^n - (-\frac{1}{\varphi})^n}{\sqrt{5}} sorts this out really well. Check it out.

Follow the fun at and you’ll soon get an invitation to my book launch party. No reservations, advance OR advanced, required.

Don’t do as I do, do as I wanted to say

  • “Giuliani said wanted US ambassador to Ukraine ‘out of the way'”

Headline writers, striving for brevity, can only eliminate so many words before their meaning becomes unfathomable.

Consider all the ways this headline could be interpreted:

  • Giuliani said he wanted the US ambassador to Ukraine ‘out of the way’
  • Giuliani said that the wanted US ambassador to Ukraine is now ‘out of the way’
  • Giuliani is said to have wanted the US ambassador to Ukraine ‘out of the way’

Or make up your own interpretation. Like Rudy does.

Follow our humanitarian work in the former USSR on Instagram @NewThingNet!


You don’t write President, Donald Trump.
You write President Donald Trump.
Title followed by name. It’s a natural progression. It’s how we normally talk. No comma needed.

You don’t write Donald Trump President.
You write Donald Trump, President.
Name, title. Not the way we normally talk. Comma needed.

If you’re going to make this mistake, at least keep the font small, so people don’t notice.

Let the sign say:

Renowned Architect
Guy Lowell
designer of
The Community House

And a fine Community House it is. Except for the damn commas.

Way more important than commas … and often just as much fun! … Follow

It’s a girl(s)

  • “Brian leaves behind his wife Valerie and three daughters: Nadine, Breanna, and Kayla – born in June.”

He may have died of shock when the June childbirth turned out to be triplets.

  • “Brian leaves behind his wife Valerie and three daughters: Nadine, Breanna — and Kayla, born in June.”

Gentlemen, be careful where you stick your dash. Triplets happen.

Can the ball be touched by the receiving team?

  • “The Niners are going to have their hands fun [with the Kansas City offense]….”

Okay, I know what it is to have fun when dealing with someone.

And I know what it is to have my hands full when dealing with someone.

But I’m not sure what it is to “have my hands fun” when dealing with someone.

We might want to watch really, really carefully during the big game today, just to see who’s having “hands fun.”

(In particular, keep an eye out for “quarterback under center.” I think this may be an ideal opportunity for hands fun.)

The Eurohyphean Union, busted

  • “After three-and-a-half years, Brexit will finally happen today”

Britain took three and a half years, plus bloomin’ gave them three bloody bonus hyphens — to use at a later date, wot?

Warning: Wrongly hyphenated terms will now be inspected at the border. Ten shillings per hyphen. Hyphenate at your own risk.

For you, dear, anything

  • A couple, preparing to host a dinner party.
  • Husband: “Darling, is there anything I can do besides bring in firewood?”
  • Wife: “What, you’ll do anything other than that? You swine! Leaving all the heavy work to me!”

I love the trick words in our language. 

Besides  can mean other than  OR in addition to  — which are opposites-ish, right?

No wonder learning English is such a pain for people from other language groups.

Tomorrow I’ll head to Belarus for 10 days or so of humanitarian volunteer work with, where I’ll make my Russian-speaking friends a little bit crazy, because as you know, English is a complicated language.

Join the adventure by choosing one or more of these channels today:

Next time I talk to you, Я буду в Минске!

Giants can’t hide

  • Regarding Matt Rhule: “…the Giants job would have a particular cache with him.”

Well, a cache (pronounced the same as cash) is a hiding place, or a storage area on a computer system…

…while cachet (usually pronounced cash-AY) refers to superior status (among other meanings — none of which have anything to do with a cache).

Rhule didn’t end up taking the Giants job, by the way.

Maybe they didn’t offer him enough cache.

You have the right to remain absent…

  • “Schakowsky indicated interest in replacing Barack Obama in the United States Senate. Before his arrest, Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich had reportedly been considering Schakowsky….”

I didn’t know Obama had ever been arrested. Somebody finally got their wish, I guess.

Oh wait, maybe it was Schakowsky who got arrested.

Oh wait, maybe it was Blagojevich?

Somebody check the prison cell, please, and let us know who’s actually in there.

(In the meantime, avoid those mysterious possessive pronouns. Every time you see his in your first draft, place it under arrest, replace it with whose, and re-read. You’ll probably find that you want to change whose to somebody’s name.)

Love you more

  • The two first met when Wally was 21 and Connie was 15, but he was not interested in her so much as her friend Amanda. 


Wally kind of liked Amanda?

Or Amanda kind of liked Connie?

Be careful with the phrase so much as. It can get you into bed with the wrong person.

  • (Put as before interested and don’t stint on your verbs between there and the end of the sentence, and you can get this threesome back to a place of domestic tranquility.)

And the winner is…

  • The nationwide campaign was wonderful. We had students around the cities that had been chosen, and they were ecstatic.

Great campaign. But remind me, please … Which cities did you choose for it?

Huh? Oh, no, sorry, I didn’t mean we chose the cities. We chose the students. And they were ecstatic!

Good. And I’m overjoyed by the clarity of your writing.

  • If you had slavishly obeyed the Brendel rule which requires you to global-search your first draft for any form of have (has, had) and any form of that (which), you would have choked on your two hads and your clumsy that, and perhaps accidentally realized that your sentence was awkward and your meaning unclear.

Rewrite, please, and let me see this again.

Get the lead out

  • The bank lead the field of donors, followed by shareholders.  

It’s so complicated.

It’s not just about what you see on the page or screen, but also what you hear in your head.

  • Whenever you hear leed — whether the verb (the president will lead us into glorious battle) or the noun (we are like a dog on a lead, helpless to object) — it’s spelled lead.
  • But whenever you hear led — well, it might be the past tense of lead (he led us into war, and look where that got us), OR it might be that heavy, toxic element they once used to make bullets and paint.

When I mean to write led, the past tense of lead, I think “LEAD” — I hear the toxic element in my head.

(There may be a poem there, I’m not sure. I was ahead; I thought I lead. But it was toxic, left me dead. Nah. Never mind. No poem there.)

Trying Trump

“…McGahn tried Trump to take out the part about the three times….”

This has to be a typo, right? There’s a missing word or phrase?

  • McGahn tried to get Trump to take out the part about the three times.
  • Or McGahn tried to force Trump …

Or tried is just the wrong word, mistakenly used?

  • McGahn urged Trump …
  • Or McGahn advised Trump …

Can’t anybody deal with this man?

You’re not under investigation! Just enjoy it! Life is good! Until the impeachment trial, anyway!

Member, moron — they’re practically interchangeable

  • “I have a membership to the Ipswich Y.”

Is this just a cultural/geographical thing?

When I was growing up in the Chicago area, we never said we were members to something.

During that long, hot quarter-century I spent in the Sonoran Desert (that’s you, Scottsdale, AZ), I never once took a membership to something.

But here in New England, these past 10 years or so, it seems to be:

I have a membership to…

It’s like “I have an attraction to…” “I have an attachment to…” But weirder.

Maybe when you sign up for the Ipswich Y, they do something weirdly biological to you?

Oh, wait. I just Googled it. That was me, back in 2013.

Sorry. Never mind.

Put your left foot in, put your left foot out

  • Regarding that campaign, it will be curious to see how much emphasis the coaches will be putting in that effort. 

I will be curious, not it will be curious. Or it will be interesting.

OK, technically you can use “curious” to mean “interesting” or “unusual” (he used a curious term); but who actually says it will be curious to see? I guess sportswriters, mostly.

And this I’m sure of:

  • They’ll put emphasis on that effort, not in.

You can put emphasis on an effort, or put energy into an effort, or demonstrate any number of qualities in an effort; but you can’t put emphasis in an effort.

Not in American English, anyway. (Brits, kindly advise.)

Martini, very dry

  • “In contemplating the project, and pouring over the research, I kept remembering what brought us here.”

Depending on what you pour over your research, you may be at risk of a fire. Or a cocktail. Or both.

On the other hand, you could pore over your research, and avoid the conflagration.

And the hangover.

Which woman kills which woman?

  • “My wife was already angry; then my mother walked in. I feared for her.”

Another reason to love Benjamin Dreyer’s very fun book Dreyer’s English: He is almost as skeptical of pronouns as I am.

(He talks about pronouns in his chapter on fiction, but the pronoun epidemic is way beyond such borders.)

Avoid referring to two people by the same pronoun in the same paragraph.

He, she, him, her, they, their, it … they’re all evil, and need to be expunged.

Get that wife to go after them. Or that mother. Whichever is meaner.

And don’t come back

  • “He … expelled 21 Conservative M.P.s who voted for it from the Party.”

Not the kind of party you’d want to hang around at. Voting? From a party? Really? How about dancing? Drinking, maybe? Was there no hanky-panky? Not even any panky?

Or maybe this New Yorker writer intended to say:

  • “He … expelled from the Party 21 Conservative M.P.s who voted for it.”

To me, it all still sounds politics-wise, party-foolish. Sort of British, actually, if you want to sink to stereotypes.

Am I wrong? Or Wright?

Let us begin the New Year with Frank Lloyd Wright.

Last week I visited his fascinating “Kentuck Knob” house in southwestern Pennsylvania.

The (very good) tour guide, as we entered the residence, pointed out the bronze plaque affixed to the outer wall adjacent to the front door.

The house has received a National Historic distinction,” she said.

Actually, I think she meant that the house has received a National Historic designation.

You receive a designation because you have some kind of distinction.


Or will I have the distinction of being wrong on the very first day of the year?

An affront to all two of us

  • While many expected either the Cranes, Bergdorfs, or Dormands, it didn’t fall that way. In fact, neither of these families even got an invitation.

Either references two. Neither is about two, too.

If you’re talking about three, you can’t use either or neither.

You can say any. Or you can say none. But you can’t say either or neither.

Maybe these families got shunned for having inferior writers?

Dr. Squid, could you take a look at this gill slime sample, please?

  • When I saw his data with the paddlefish, sturgeon, and ammonite, I think he’s right on the money.

This marine biologist has an awesome career.

He’s not just studying ocean life; he’s got exotic creatures reviewing his findings alongside him!

(Let’s not even bother him by pointing out that he’s switched from the past tense to the present tense in the middle of his sentence, and it’s given us whiplash. Whiplash is nothing when you have a paddlefish doing your data with you.)

Don’t worry, the doctor said, we’ll figure it out

  • Jerry came into our hospital after hearing about us from one of our neglected clubfoot patients, Lonnie. Jerry, like Lonnie, has neglected clubfoot.

Clubfoot is nothing to laugh about. But the medical condition known as “neglected clubfoot” really needs a new name — or at least a hyphen … so at least the hospitals caring for these patients don’t get a reputation for ignoring their patients.

Imagine being a forgotten Alzheimer’s patient. See? Not funny.

If I can gallop there, I can gallop anywhere

  • “In New York City, 250,000 reportedly marched in Battery Park….”

Some observers perhaps characterized it as “sauntering”?

Time magazine might have been better off saying “In New York City, a reported 250,000 marched in Battery Park.” It was the number, not the manner of movement, that wasn’t absolutely confirmed.

Come to think of it, I like the idea of alternative protest styles; 250,000 people somersaulting, for example, would be interesting to see. Or jitterbugging.

Santa Clauses are coming to town

  • “An elderly couple … buried in the snow … was found dead….”

(Please note that I’ve abbreviated this grim story for you, as my Christmas gift to you.)

A couple was found dead? Or were found dead?

You decide.

Yes, really. It’s your choice.

(Another Christmas gift. You’re welcome.)

As long as you maintain a consistent standard throughout the piece you’re writing, you get to make this rule yourself.

Peace on earth, good will toward writers.

It’s hot in here

  • “…Beth Irving, 17, who came from Wales to demonstrate for sweeping changes on climate policy outside the U.N. summit.”

But the problem was climate policy inside the U.N. summit.

Missed opportunity, I say.

Oh, wait. You mean she came from Wales to demonstrate outside the U.N. summit for sweeping changes on climate policy?

Now I get it.

1972, a very good year

  • “…I watched a teen-age bacchanal unfold with fear and fascination.”

I’ve never known teens to unfold a bacchanal with anything like fear and fascination.

Lust and infatuation, maybe, but never fear and fascination. (It was a bacchanal, after all.)

Unless you’re talking about those secret emotions they never reveal till they’re my age and writing their memoirs.

No, I think what this writer meant was:

  • “…I watched with fear and fascination as a teen-age bacchanal unfolded.”

I know the feeling.

And yeah, I remember those other feelings too.

And the Tribune was a nickel!

  • Money used to make us richer is gone in the end, but money used for this cause has an enduring power. Money used to buy possessions — which we often watch depreciate — can instead be used to change lives over the long term.

I used to think things were simple.

“Used to” is a tricky little phrase in American English.

When I read “Money used to make us richer,” I think I’m about to read something clever about how money no longer makes us richer.

But no. The phrase used to can go two ways.

The paragraph in question confuses me not just once but twice. The second sentence starts out Money used to buy possessions — but it’s not talking about something that happened in the good ol’ days. Turns out, it’s talking about Money which is used to buy possessions.

Both sentences are technically correct — but accidentally confusing.

(And yes, money did make us richer in the good ol’ days. Remember penny candy? No? Well, enjoy your youth. I’d kill to be your age.)

There once was a liberal writer…

Do you think I’ve been beating up on The Writer’s Almanac too much lately?

Do you think Garrison Keillor will phone me and complain?

Or write me a limerick, maybe? (I’m LOVING his new limerick-based memoir.)

Well, anyway, this is from TWA 11/10/19:

  • Austin had a 13-year love affair with Mabel Loomis Todd, the wife of an Amherst astronomy professor, a talented and charismatic young woman. 

So Mabel was quite liberal — she was the wife of a young woman.

No problem. Garrison Keillor is a liberal too.

Love ya, Garrison!

Eat up

  • “Edwards, 53, is the only statewide elected Democrat in Louisiana.”

All the other elected Democrats in Louisiana are thinner.

To be statewide is to be really wide.

(And you thought Mississippi was our fattest state.)

Oh, wait, they meant Edwards is the only statewide-elected Democrat.

Okay, now it begins to make sense.

See what a handy little tool the properly used hyphen is?

(And see how invisible the hyphen becomes after the adverb properly?)

Spawk? From Stah Trek? Good enough fah me

English is not just complicated when you write it down and/or read it.

It’s also complicated when you speak it and/or listen to it.

And in Boston, even maw so.

If you come visit me, ya prolly gonna need dis infamaysh’n.

(Happy Friday the thuh-teenth.)

I’m not old, just crazy

  • “Agronin, described perhaps confusingly as ‘a geriatric psychiatrist’ (he’s in his mid-fifties)…”

Thank you, New Yorker, for pointing this out.

Yeah, a geriatric psychiatrist would be an elderly medical professional.

I think those folks you’re quoting needed to come up with a different description:

  • a geriatric-specializing psychiatrist?
  • a psychiatrist of geriatrics?
  • a senior-serving shrink?

English is a complicated language. And the older you get, the complicateder.

What more can you say?

From the November 16, 2019 edition of The Writer’s Almanac:

  • There are 25 Native American languages that are spoken in Oklahoma, which is more than any other state in America.

English, meanwhile, can be challenging to deploy efficiently.

Anytime you start a sentence with There are, you’ve probably already wasted two words.

And anytime you find that are embedded in a sentence, you’ve probably wasted another word, maybe two.

Then look for which is.

There and that and which are technically English-language words, but they are largely comprised of shredded cardboard. They are filler. Avoid them.

  • 25 Native American languages are spoken in Oklahoma, more than any other state.

Nuff said. In English, anyway.

Thou shalt not

Maybe this is what comes from growing up in Sunday school and learning all those “Thou shalt nots” and “Fear nots”…

But when I see “Love not,” I automatically assume that whatever follows is what I’m not supposed to love.

In this case, “Not Your Average Joe’s” is the name of the restaurant (and a very fine restaurant it is, if you ask me).

But their sign-up handout headline is a problem for me.

I guess it’s not your average restaurant name.

Quotation marks around “Not Your Average Joe’s” might help, eh?

I’d like to deposit $3,000,000 to your account

Honestly, please: If you’re going to scam me, at least use proper English.

Dear doug, (No, sorry, in English we capitalize people’s names)

Your email address might be temporarily closed due to the non recent (you need a hyphen between non and recent) upgrade of your account and failure to upgrade your email will lead to permanent closure of your email. (Sorry, this isn’t how we refer to email programs, but whatever.)

Please kindly  UPGRADE HERE your records (I think you mean upgrade your records here, because the person you’re trying to scam speaks American English)

Once the information provided matches what is on our record, your (oops, you’ve got a phantom hard return there, after your and before email)

email will work normal. (normally — adverb)

Sincerely, Godaddy (oh yeah, you should probably configure correctly the name of the company you’re posing as: it’s GoDaddy, with a capital D in the middle there) Service Team. (Eh, here in America, we don’t put a period at the end of the sign-off)

I could help these people. I could become a language consultant to online scammers. I bet I could make a reasonable living at it. Sheesh.

I cannot tell a…

  • “…Trump’s anticipation of the release of stolen Democratic emails in 2016 by WikiLeaks.”

For a second there, I thought WikiLeaks wrote the stolen Democratic emails.

Which would be a pretty weird new storyline, wouldn’t it.

(Honestly, there are so many prepositional phrases in this sentence — (1) on Friday, (2) of lying (3) to Congress (4) in a case, (5) on President Donald Trump’s anticipation, (6) of the release, (7) of stolen Democratic emails, (8) in 2016, (9) by WikiLeaks … I almost suspect that some CNN writer is getting a per-prepositional-phrase commission. Would that be legal?)

  • “…Trump’s anticipation of the release of Democratic emails stolen in 2016 by WikiLeaks.”

There. All better now.

One of my only complaints

Is it just me?

Or is this just wrong? tells me that only means “without others or anything further; alone; solely; exclusively.”

So how can you be one of the only?

  • I think he took one of the few jobs he could find; he was one of the few honest employees.

Maybe I’m one of the only people who doesn’t have a government job?

Dakota double entendre … Touché!

From faithful follower Lauren O., a report about the South Dakota publicity campaign which either accidentally or tongue-in-cheekily suggests … uh … well, you decide for yourself:

(Lauren O.’s sister-in-law is from South Dakota, so Lauren’s family is having quite the laugh about this one.)

OK, so, if you follow the link and watch the governor’s video, you get it. Good cause. Lots of buzz. Mission accomplished.

You’re fired

  • I am trying to ensure as many current employees stay on.

Watch your as.

After as many, you need an as possible to go with it, somewhere there.

I know it can be a long journey, from the beginning of a sentence all the way to the end — easy to lose track of where you’ve been, what you’ve said, where you’re going, what-all you need to pack….

  • I am trying to ensure as many current employees as possible stay on.

This isn’t an editorial business you’re talking about, is it? Because it might be better to cut your losses.

Show me the money

  • His entire contract is essentially a $17 million deal that has the potential to raise up to $24 million. 

I’m confused. Is this a contract that somehow pays the guy $17 million but then could raise as much as $24 million from other sources? Is this a fundraising thing?

Sure, if you have the potential to raise $24 million, then yeah, I’d be inclined to pay you $17 million. If I had $17 million to spend. Which I don’t.

Of course, if you’ve simply misused the term “raise up,” and what you really meant was that the contract has the potential to increase the guy’s pay to $24 million, then heck no. All bets are off.

Detour ahead

You know how some articles are broken up with subheads? It’s not very often that writers write the subheads as they’re crafting the text. Typically, subheads are added later — and maybe not even by the writer. Sometimes it’s an editor who adds the subheads.

In any case, the subheads need to make sense in the flow of the text. Because that’s how the reader is going to consume them.

So don’t stick a subhead into the middle of a thought. For example:

…Less than $30,000 was reportedly used for MBTA tickets over that same time period.

Employers have to strongly incentivize
transit over driving to change habits

However, the report suggests the private sector could be doing more, too. Experts in transportation and psychology said that commuters need to be given strong incentives to change their habits….

When you get to “However,” it seems the subsequent paragraph is contradicting the subhead. Then, by the end of the sentence, you realize, no: The subhead has jerked you around. Your brain has to pull the steering wheel to get back onto the road.

If a sentence starts with However, But, On the contrary, or any change-of-direction indicator, you probably shouldn’t put a subhead before it. Relocate the subhead after the change-of-direction indicator:

…Less than $30,000 was reportedly used for MBTA tickets over that same time period.

However, the report suggests the private sector could be doing more, too.

Employers have to strongly incentivize
transit over driving to change habits

Experts in transportation and psychology said that commuters need to be given strong incentives to change their habits….

Do not jerk your readers around. Do not force their brains to grab the wheel. In such a moment, a driver is apt to curse, and worse.

Time’s up, Joe

Save your breath. Keep extra words tucked away for use later. After means when it’s over, so you don’t need is over. Saying after it’s over is sort of like saying when it’s over is over.

In Biden’s case, who knows? Perhaps when it’s over actually IS over. We’ll see.

Not eggsactly

From a missionary’s biography:

  • When the family returned home, Tina decided she preferred life in the West. Laying in bed one night as a teenager, she vowed never to return to a life overseas.

One hopes she was actually lying in bed, and not doing what chickens do when they’re laying.

Or — ahem — anything else that might be inappropriate for a teenager.

Gimme a hand here, will ya?

  • “Trump had initially been resistant to the suggestion that he hire additional attorneys, believing he was well positioned to combat Democrats as they advanced their impeachment probe without outside help.”

Some would say the Democrats actually had plenty of outside help. Like from Trump himself, for example.

But we don’t get into politics here.

Click here for spellcheck. Or don’t

  • “…or it’s just not completly setup yet.”

I don’t think I’ll be going with this website company, but I haven’t ruled it out completely — even though they don’t seem to know how to spell completely.

Nor do they seem to understand that setup is a noun.

But otherwise, I’m sure they’re a fine company.

Just, you know … if you use them to build your website … check their spelling before you go live.


For a website where (I think) everything is spelled right, take a look at, my humanitarian charity. Click on BLOG and then follow our adventures in the former USSR!

And Bingo is whose name-O?

Sorry to deepen your crisis of self-doubt, buddy, but it’s eight-year-old, not eight year old. You need the hyphens if you use it as a noun.

Don’t give up on yourself, my friend. There is hope for you. Hyphens can be learned.

Pronouns, maybe not. But hyphens, probably.

Practice makes, uh…

  • “The men who wrote and ratified the Constitution had left women, sex, marriage out of it. ‘Remember the ladies,’ Abigail Adams had warned her husband in 1776…. That the framers of the Constitution had not resolved the question of slavery had led to a civil war…. Women had often written themselves into the Constitution by way of analogy.”

I revere history writer Jill Lepore, but she loves the past perfect tense and nobody has the nerve to stop her.

The past perfect routinely gums up her otherwise crisp writing.

I humbly suggest that in this paragraph, you can change most or all of the past perfect to simple past tense and the reader will glide through the text more easily:

  • “The men who wrote and ratified the Constitution left women, sex, marriage out of it. ‘Remember the ladies,’ Abigail Adams warned her husband in 1776…. That the framers of the Constitution didn’t resolve the question of slavery led to a civil war…. Women often wrote themselves into the Constitution by way of analogy.”

Simple, straightforward, not perfect.

Why do they call it perfect, anyway? It’s the one and only thing that makes Jill im.

In a paragraph far, far away…

  • “When I graduated from college, like most folks, I was trying to figure out what the hell to do with my life.”

I wasn’t aware that the number of college graduates had surged so dramatically. Just a few years ago, the figure was under 7%.

Carrie Fisher’s daughter, who wrote this piece about her mother for Time, must have access to more recent information.

Or maybe it’s just that a rogue comma escaped the Death Star and tried to hide out there in her prose, between like most folks and I was trying.

Send in Skywalker and some starfighters to get that rogue comma out of there, and billions of non-graduates will breathe a sigh of relief to know that they’re still a huge majority in the universe.

Makes me sic

A car plows into the front of a house. John Muldoon, newspaperman extraordinaire, is on the scene. He files his report, complete with verbatim testimony:

Since cohesive means unified, we can assume the guy wasn’t broken into pieces by the crash.

Thank goodness there was a witness on the scene to report the details accurately. If only he could have spoken proper English. You know what I mean: coherent English.

OK, yes, sorry, I know: That was insensitive of me. A man has been taken to the hospital. I should show some respect.

[bowing my head]

(To his credit, John Muldoon inserted a [sic] after cohesive in his report. When you’re sic, you go to the hospital, right?)

Walmart Miracle!

  • “…noting that Walmart still brings in more revenue than it does.”

Well, Walmart does bring in a lot of revenue, but I’m not quite sure how it can possibly bring in “more revenue than it does.”

I may bring in more revenue than I deserve, but that’s different. (Because I’m not Walmart.)

Dear friend, kindly take notice. It would have been so easy for the writer to specify:

“…noting that Walmart still brings in more revenue than Amazon does.”

But in our buy-it-online culture today, you can get a cheap pronoun delivered to your keyboard in a third as many strokes.

Which is how our language dies.

[Hanging head, mourning.]

And to be safe, let’s schedule you for a semi-colonoscopy

From the delightful Lauren O. in northeastern Ohio, who seems to while away the hours, as she stands in traffic on her daily work commute, by reading everything on the vehicles ahead of her:

  • Brick Block & Chimney Repair’s


Am I really gonna trust you with my chimney if you can’t fix your own punctuation?

Pull that punctuation into port

As recently as November 5th, we addressed this issue. Yet here is some poster designer, whose work is on display in the Community House in Hamilton, Mass., who not only defies me, but does so in 428-point Bodoni bold.

You are either renowned architect Guy Lowell OR you are Guy Lowell, renowned architect.

You are either President Donald Trump OR you are Donald Trump, ex-president.

(You only get to use those commas if you’re towing the title behind you, like a stranded boat — I guess because in that case you need the commas to serve as hooks.)

R.I.P., death and taxes

A New Yorker article about Amazon includes this statement:

So Amazon does or doesn’t avoid taxes?

So many negative concepts in this one sentence — unlike, doesn’t, avoiding — even the New Yorker‘s traditional scattering of commas like birdseed doesn’t seem to sort out the meaning for us.

Just guessing here: Yeah, Amazon avoids taxes.

But maybe not by transfering profits to foreign countries.

Just a bunch of other ways.

Just guessing here.

This lawsuit free of charge

If called to testify in court, please do not confess that you saw this image here. Thank you.

I think it may be illegal for me to show you the delightful Seth Fleishman cartoon in the 10/21 issue of The New Yorker, so I’ll just describe it to you.

A guy is sitting at a table in a restaurant. The bread in the basket is speaking to him:

“You are so smart.”
“You look amazing.”
“You inspire me.”

And the caption under the cartoon says…


I love it. The cartoonist used complimentary correctly!

(Did you mean free? Or flattering? Both complimentary.
Forming part of a related pair? That’s complementary.)

(How would the cartoon have to be drawn differently if the caption read COMPLEMENTARY BREAD? Hmm….)

Push your luck with a new bank

I heard about a group called the Chainsmokers, and their supposedly cool song entitled “Push My Luck,” and I looked them up on YouTube, and in the middle of the “read the lyrics” video, I got this ad from Avidia Bank, which proclaims:

  • We have an unlimted amount of checking and savings accounts.

Would you trust a bank that can’t spell?

If they miss the letter i in unlimited, might they miss the numeral 1 in your $1,794.68 deposit?

And even if you would trust a bank that can’t spell unlimited, would you trust a bank that uses amount where it’s supposed to be number?

Maybe this is just somebody posing as “Avidia Bank” and playing a little joke on the Complicated English guy.

Oh, no, wait. I looked them up. They seem to be real. Sheesh.

Anyway, I’m sticking with Institution for Savings. They’re awesome.


For issues of real-life significance, check out Doug’s humanitarian work in the former USSR. Thanks!

No more football. Please.

  • The All-Pro has yet to officially make a decision about his NFL future, which would only put greater emphasis on the Patriots to go out and get a reliable pass catching option if they lose him as well. 


Not the same thing.

  • You can put emphasis on a need … like the need to get a new wide receiver.
  • You can put pressure on the team … to get a new wide receiver.

And, come to think of it, you can put guilt on a sportswriter … for not knowing the difference.

(But then, to tell you the truth, this early 2019 pre-season item is so stale, the Patriots have already blown this moment. So, what can I say? Go, 49ers?)

  • (OK, honestly, I swear every day I won’t use any more football examples. But sportswriters just offer up so much delicious material! SORRY!)

When it does that thing, it pours

Can we settle this once and for all, please?

  • Rein is what you put on a horse, so you’re reining someone in.
  • Reign is what a king does, so he’s the reigning monarch.
  • Rain is that wet stuff that falls from the sky, so it’s raining cats and dogs.
  • And yes, Claude Rains was awesome in Casablanca.

And only God can make a tree

  • “Similarities were made by the press between the career and personalities of Callas and Dunaway as both were seen as perfectionists whose run-ins with directors had them castigated as prima donnas.”

Yes, here in America, we believe in the power of the press.

But even the press can’t create similarities between great stars.

The similarities were noted by the press, perhaps, or suggested by the press, maybe even fabricated by the press, but not made by the press.

(Please understand: The press can indeed make certain things. Like a mess, for example. Or a mistake. Like here.)

Fun With I and E

It’s a headline on the site:

  • Recieve Email Notifications for Comments

In the old days, we learned this as kids: “I before E, except after C…”

I guess they’re not teaching this anymore?

WPBeginner, by the way, stands for WordPress Beginner. So maybe they’re only hiring Spelling Beginners?

See Dick spell.
Spell, Dick, spell.
Spell well, Dick.
Spell, spell, spell.
Good, Dick.

The governor creeps me out a little

This is from Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s statement to CNN:

He makes a frequently observed error which does not confuse the meaning but simply leaves the reader with that creepy what’s wrong here? feeling.

In English, our brains are trained to ask certain questions as we’re reading along:

  • Actions have (what?)
  • and actions continue to (what?)

We want to see that actions have included and that actions continue to include.

But Gov. Inslee has given us only one verb (include) of the two we need (have included and continue to include).

What the honorable governor intended to say was:

  • Actions have included and continue to include habitat protection, etc.

This, clearly, is why his otherwise honorable presidential campaign went nowhere. It was the verbs that did him in.

May he have and continue to succeed. No, wait, that’s wrong….

Everyone is sick

The next time you receive an invitation to a party with a thoughtful request like this…

  • If anyone has any allergies or dietary restrictions, let us know here! We’ll be sure to have options for all. 

I suggest you respond like this:

  • Thank you so much for asking. Yes, anyone does. According to the World Health Organization, approximately 235 million have allergies. Here in the United States, there are only 114 people left who don’t claim some sort of dietary restriction. I’m especially grateful for your offer of “options for all”: I require goat brain reduction on celery sticks. Please trim the leaves because they give me a faux-gluten headache thanks to my recently diagnosed Osborne’s Prazniosciosis syndrome. (Fortunately they caught it in time.) Thank you again! Looking forward to the party!

Phil did not pay me for this, I promise

  • Ipswich resident, Phil Thompson, portrays Judge William Stoughton….

This local newspaper has commas to burn.

If the designation comes before the name, there’s no need for commas:

  • Ipswich resident Phil Thompson portrays…

If the designation comes after the name, use the commas:

  • Phil Thompson, Ipswich resident, portrays…

Of course, once you set off a descriptor, it’s tempting to make the most of it:

  • Phil Thompson, the brilliant stage actor and longtime Ipswich resident enormously beloved by grateful North Shore audiences, portrays…

Commas have their advantages, see? Just don’t waste them.

Congratulations, boys!

I like The Skimm — in fact, I subscribe — but I’m disappointed when they don’t observe the basics of English language usage:

  • What do schools have to say? They’re worried about less resources and opportunities for their athletes, and how this could negatively affect female athletes.

We’ve been over this before, so it’s clear that The Skimm isn’t following this blog and taking notes scrupulously.

  • Less is for things you can’t count.
  • Fewer is for things you can count.
  • 12 resources, 14 opportunities — fewer.
  • 1,124 resources, 7,927,433 opportunities — male athletes.

Right! Many didn’t take part in the drills! It woulda killed ’em!

  • Despite not taking part in individual drills at the combine, many saw Murray’s draft stock improve….

I have to chuckle.

How many NFL scouts took part in drills at the combine?

Uh, none.

Some took part in drills at the bar. That’s about as close as they came.

If you start a sentence and find yourself coming to a comma, make sure that what comes after the comma is properly connected to what came before the comma.

Okay, play ball.

May I suggest a Monterotondo Malvasia Sasso Grosso 1947?

This makes my friend (Lauren O., in northeastern Ohio) crazy, and me too.

  • FRUIT: $1.00 or complementary w/lunch sandwich

Let’s just sort this out here and now, once and for all:

  • complimentary — free, gratis (or even admiring! — you receive a complimentary note from a fan)
  • complementary — balancing, making whole, interdependent. (If you’re enjoying an Italian meal, red wine is complementary. In fact, it’s complementary even if you’re not enjoying the meal. Because red wine is more or less… eh, never mind.)

(Yes, you may now send an admiring note from a fan.)

Just what do you mean?

A local online headline (thank you, Stoney):

”Ipswich schools just one of 25 national Green Ribbon winners“

Stoney’s insightful observation:

  • “I would think that being one of just 25 would be more prestigious.”

Word order is important.

  • ”Ipswich schools one of just 25 national Green Ribbon winners“


Where you put your just changes its meaning.

  • “I just kissed her.” As opposed to what? Or do you mean just now?
  • “I kissed just her.” As opposed to whom? Who else is accusing you?

(The word just is so deadly in English, it deserves a blog of its own.)


Just for Halloween — an unsettling item from Ohio-based Friend-of-Complicated-English Amy B.:

Amy B.’s rewrite:

  • “Body of missing Medina fisherman found in Lake Erie”

Amy B.’s advice: “Make it sound less strange (or eerie).”

Good advice for writers, even when you’re not writing about a dead body.

P.S.: Erie, eerie. I get it.

Enough already

Write less. Live longer.

Here’s a two-word phrase you never need to write again — which could extend your life by several months, depending on how often you use this dreadful filler:

  • Interestingly enough…

This phrase sends a signal that what follows only barely made the cut before being considered too boring for words.

Unplug Interestingly enough and plug in something else. Perhaps:

  • Incredibly,
  • Remarkably,
  • Curiously,

or, in a pinch:

  • Interestingly,

But never, ever add the energy-draining qualifier enough.

Adding enough after an adverb is like subtracting — but just so you get back almost all the way to zero.

Revised agreement-pact-partnership thingy abandoned by editor

From Time magazine’s 10/7/19 story on Canada’s Mr. Trudeau:

  • He’s proud that his government has reached important trade deals, including the revised NAFTA agreement known as USMCA, a pact with the European Union, and the updated Trans-Pacific Partnership abandoned by Trump as soon as he took office.

Is this a list of three things (USMCA, pact, and Partnership)?

Or is USMCA a pact with the European Union?

No way to be sure, unless you happen to know that NAFTA has nothing to do with the E.U.

Sure, you know that. But the editor shouldn’t have assumed you know that. Because what if you didn’t?

(In honor of Teddy Roosevelt‘s birthday today, we’ll ignore the “Trans-Pacific Partnership abandoned by Trump” detail.)

Without Reasonable Justification or Bust

From coverage of the ongoing mess in jolly old England:

  • The suspension was unlawful, the 11 justices said, because it frustrated “the ability of Parliament to carry out its constitutional functions without reasonable justification.”

See, this is the problem.

If you can’t carry out your functions without justification, why bother carrying them out at all?