Word Crimes: Weird Al gets it. Why don’t the grammar police?

Weird Al Yankovic has been releasing videos for his new album this week, and the one for “Word Crimes” (based on Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines”) has gotten a lot of attention in the news and chat circles I follow — which as you might suspect are overpopulated by writers, editors, English teachers, and similar types.

I hadn’t planned to blog about the video, except to stress that “Weird Al has a new album out!” But then I watched as not one, not two, but three different language blogs posted pieces on (ahem) ‘what Al got “right” and what he got “wrong.”‘ This stream of hypercorrection has continued, which prompted me to write a few words to try, in my own small way, to set them back on the path of sanity.

Caution: If you’re a grammar cop, clicking here may cause severe stress!

Posted in Culture, Film or Book Review, Grammar, Language, Punctuation, Things you should know, Words, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

What is an epicenter? Maybe not what you think.

There are a lot of words and phrases that get overused (or used incorrectly) especially in the media or in casual conversation. One that catches my attention every time isĀ epicenter.

You’ve heard it or read it: when something is momentous, it’s not just at the center. It’s the epicenter. It’s difficult to not encounter this word. A quick and sloppy search on the web uncovers phrases like these:

“Manhattan was the epicenter of car culture”
“California is the epicenter of climate change”
“Waxahachie should have been the epicenter of science”
“the Church will become the epicenter of imagination”
“Russia has positioned itself at the epicenter of global politics”
“it was the epicenter of the city’s social scene at the beginning of the nineteenth century”
“it’s the epicenter of who I am as a writer”

And so on. There are literally tens of millions of similar constructions out there (according to Google). All you need to do is fiddle with the search verbiage a little (“viewed as”, “seen as”, “considered the”, etc.) and hordes of additional examples appear.

Click to become the epicenter of this post

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If your eyes are on the ground, where did you put your boots?

I keep a very long list of potential topics for this blog. It tracks unusual words and phrases, odd or incorrect usages, new coinages and definitions, as well as all sorts of things that I happen to find interesting at a given moment. Due to the way the list keeps growing compared to the frequency of my posts, it’s unlikely that I’ll ever get to all the topics. In fact, there’s a second list where I move topics which have stopped being interesting, or which have had enough coverage in other places, or which just don’t have enough value (or enough material to work with).

A phrase I had heard repeatedly around two and a half years ago came close to moving to that B-list: “eyes on the ground.” Then I heard it prominently again this past week, so that’s the topic today.

What the heck does it mean? And should you embrace it, live with it, or avoid it?

Keep your ear to the grindstone and your eyes to the…no, wait…

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Keeping your clocks in time or a connecting principle linked to the invisible…synchronicity or synchronization?

I hate it, hate it, hate it when one of my favorite publications, especially one which has high standards, makes an ignorant error. A couple of weeks back, one just did that.

In this article about the next generation of incredibly precise atomic clocks, Science News used the word “synchronicity” instead of “synchronization” not once but twice in the space of a single paragraph.


Click to continue synchronizing

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The long and the short of the British billion / thousand million

If you pay attention to such things, at some point in your life you’ve probably heard a speaker of British English use the phrase “thousand million” (or perhaps you’ve seen it in print). If you’ve had someone willing to translate, or you’ve been able to look it up, you might have been informed that in the US we say “billion” for a one followed by nine zeroes (1,000,000,000; known to its scientifically inclined friends as 109), but that in the UK and most other countries of the Commonwealth they call this a “thousand million.” In the UK “billion” is reserved for a one with twelve zeroes (1,000,000,000,000; 1012) — which in the US we’d call a “trillion.”

Dr. Evil wouldn't have asked for "one thousand million" dollars!

Dr. Evil wouldn’t have asked for “one thousand million” dollars!

It turns out that, according to standard usage, this is wrong: we should use the same terminology, regardless of which flavor of English we’re using or on which side of the Atlantic we’re standing — and the correct variation is the one described as “American” above.

Click to understand why, once again, the Americans are correct

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