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If Justin Bieber Doesn’t Know the Difference Between “Less” and “Fewer,” HPV Has Won

May 17, 2010


Oh, HPV awareness ad…. It’s not hard to use “less” and “fewer” correctly. Here you go:

If you can count them, you’ve got “fewer.”

If you can’t count it, you’ve got “less.”

For instance:

I have fewer leprosy symptoms than you do; consequently, I have less discomfort than you do.

I not only have less milk in my glass than I did a minute ago, but I also have fewer cartons of milk in my refrigerator than I did before the hockey team arrived.

Express Lane: 10 Items or Fewer. (No, really. It should be “fewer.” Every time. Fewer).

You know who, besides the HPV prevention lobby, doesn’t know the difference between “less” and “fewer”? Justin Bieber.


His song title “One Less Lonely Girl” is ambiguous — if it were about one girl who were made, by the ministrations of Mr. Bieber, to feel less lonely, than the title would be correct (although some grammatical authorities might recommend a hyphen to make the meaning clear: One Less-Lonely Girl).

However, I listened to this song. After suffering an acne outbreak, I discovered that Mr. Bieber really meant “fewer”; as evidence, he says, “I’ll take her and leave the world with one less lonely girl.”

In sum, I now have less respect for whoever is claiming to homeschool Justin Bieber; I hope this advice will result in fewer Justin Bieber fans. That itself should result in fewer cases of HPV.

Lindsay Lohan and the Misplaced Deodorant Modifier

September 9, 2009

In a followup to last week’s post The World’s Only Blog Post About Jessica Alba and the Grammatically Correct Usage of Compound Adjectives and When to Hyphenate Them, I’d like to share a hilariously miswritten item from Popeater.

First: modifiers. Here are some examples of modifier errors:

Filled with one million tons of trash, the mayor suggested that a new landfill be built.

Running on the beach, my pacemaker went info fits and starts.

America celebrated its bicentennial two hundred years after the adoption of the Declaration of Independence in 1976.

In the first example, “Filled with one million tons of trash” should modify “landfill,” but is instead modifying “mayor.” Ha ha, the mayor is full of trash!

Similarly, “Running on the beach” should modify “I” (which doesn’t even appear in the sentence); instead, it is modifying “my pacemaker.” Ha ha, the pacemaker is running!

Finally, “in 1976″ is a prepositional phrase that should modify “celebrated its bicentennial,” but is instead modifying “adoption of the Declaration of Independence.” The sentence implies that the adoption was in 1976 and the bicentennial, consequently, in 2176. Ha ha, future time!

Now on to Lindsay Lohan’s deodorizing needs, which appear to be profound and multitudinous:


Apparently, Lindsay’s deodorizing needs are not only severe, but also very specific: she has dropped a box of deodorant “formulated to combat extreme sweating on her way out of a Rite Aid.”

Does she have another variety of deodorant formulated to combat extreme sweating on her way INTO Rite Aid? And another for the DMV? Another for banging on Samantha’s door during their love spats? What happens if she shops at a different drugstore? Does CVS offer competing formulations of deodorant for entering and exiting their stores?

So, let’s fix it:

The modifier is “on her way out of a Rite Aid” (that’s actually two strung prepositional phrases, but let’s not split hairs). The modifier should modify “Lindsay Lohan,” not “extreme sweating.” Here:

“On her way out of a Rite Aid, Lindsay Lohan drops a box of deodorant formulated to combat extreme sweating.”

Another perfectly fine option is: “Lindsay Lohan, on her way out of a Rite Aid, drops a box of deodorant formulated to combat extreme sweating.”

Sweat away, Lindsay!

The World’s Only Blog Post About Jessica Alba and the Grammatically Correct Usage of Compound Adjectives and When to Hyphenate Them

September 3, 2009

I have recently been apprised by the celebrity press that Jessica, Cash, and Honor Do Their Weekend Thing in LA. Resultantly, I would like to discuss compound adjectives and when to hyphenate them.


Say you want to modify a noun with two adjectives:

My, what a large, rigid Maypole you have there.

I am trying to make my mark on the small women’s hosiery industry.

I’m late to a dalliance with a smoking hot librarian.

In the first example, both large and rigid modify Maypole. No problems here.

In the second example, small, women’s, and hosiery all modify industry. The meaning here is ambiguous — is the women’s hosiery industry the thing that’s small, or are we discussing the industry that sells hosiery for small women? We may use a hyphen to express either of these things, by writing small women’s-hosiery industry and small-women’s hosiery industry, respectively. Looks weird, right? Well, it’s better than not knowing whether you’re applying for a job selling myriad pantyhose to legions of petite ladies, or peddling middling quantities of sundry hose to a clientele ranging from small to zaftig.

A similar and classic example (I can’t remember where I read it) of the problems caused for want of a hyphen involved an unfortunate newspaper headline about an ORANGE JUICE SALESMAN. Poor guy got a little too much beta-carotene? The fix for this is, of course, ORANGE-JUICE SALESMAN.


And finally, the sartorial adventures of the Alba-Warren clan. It’s just a chic striped dress. The dress is both chic and striped. The stripes are not themselves what is chic. Truly. If you were describing the stripes themselves — a thin-striped dress, a red-striped dress — a hyphen would be needed.

Incidentally, we do not want a comma in between chic and striped, because they are non-coordinate adjectives. A good test for coordinate versus non-coordinate adjectives is to see if you could reverse the order of the adjectives and still have the phrase make sense — if so, use a comma; if not, don’t. For instance, the smoking hot librarian (who arguably could also be a smoking-hot librarian) of my third example above is entirely different from a smoking, hot librarian. One is sexily literate; the other is carcinogenic.

Also incidentally, “grammatically correct” (in the post title) and “sexily literate” (above) are both examples of adverbs modifying adjectives, which is a completely different topic wholly unrelated to Jessica Alba.

Words (Specifically Pronouns) Mean Things

March 5, 2009

I read a sentence in Us Weekly that I wanted to blog about, but then I left my magazine behind in a nail salon, so I don’t have the exact text. However, here is a paraphrase of the sentence that set me off:

Jennifer Aniston finally encountered Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie face-to-face, four years after their marriage ended.

734cov-home.jpgEvery pronoun (with a few idiomatic exceptions, such as the “it” in “it’s raining”) must have an antecedent that matches in number, is unambiguous, and is actually stated in the sentence. A good rule is: If the sentence could be read another way due to its pronouns, and you’re using your outside knowledge or making assumptions to know what the sentence means, the sentence is probably grammatically incorrect.

A good example is the sentence, “Mary’s mother told her she should do her homework.” This is wrong, wrong, wrong on two counts. First, “Mary’s” is acting as an adjective — that is, “Mary” herself is not in the sentence, so, while the pronoun “her,” which occurs twice and is possessive, may refer back to the possessive “Mary’s,” the object pronoun “she” may not. (Subject and object pronouns may not refer back to possessives, whereas possessive pronouns have much less strict rules and may refer back to other possessives or to regular nouns).

But what, really, is the problem with “Mary’s mother told her she should do her homework”? We all know what it means, right? Well, sort of. If you said, “Mary’s father told her she should do her homework,” the “she” would still be wrong, but that’s a pretty pedantic point, since the meaning is unambiguous. But in the case of “Mary’s mother told her she should do her homework,” it is possible to read the sentence as “Mary’s mother told Mary that Mary’s mother should do Mary’s mother’s homework,” or “Mary’s mother told Mary that Mary should do Mary’s mother’s homework,” or even, “Mary’s mother told Mary that Mary’s mother should do Mary’s homework.” Most of these interpretations are unlikely or stupid. But the fact that they are possible (whereas they are not with the “father” sentence) means that the sentence is ambiguous.


Standardized tests love to exploit these alternate meanings by using sentences such as, “Ms. Chang angered the Senator by reporting that her company had violated the new environmental statutes.” What’s wrong here? After reading this far, you’ve probably inferred that the problem is that the Senator could be female, and that the pronoun is therefore ambiguous. Whose company is it? (If the sentence were in context and we knew the Senator to be male, then this sentence would be fine, just as it is, of course, fine to use a person’s name in one sentence and a pronoun in place of the name in subsequent sentences).

Back to Jen, Brad, and Angie. WHO THE HELL IS “THEIR”? (Or, more grammatically, “To whom the hell does ‘their’ refer?” Has anyone ever said “to whom the hell” before?)

Imagine the same sentence reworked, but in a case in which you had no outside information. “A finally encountered B and C, four years after their big fight.” Whom would you think had the fight? A and B? B and C? All three of them? If I changed “fight” back to “marriage,” you could quite reasonably infer that only two people may be involved, but would that tell you that A and B were the people who had been married?


Let’s fix it. One option is: “Jennifer Aniston finally encountered Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie face-to-face, four years after Aniston and Pitt’s marriage ended.” Or maybe, “Four years after her marriage to Brad Pitt ended, Jennifer Aniston finally encountered Pitt and Angelina Jolie face-to-face.” Or, “Four years after Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt’s marriage ended, Aniston finally encountered Pitt and Angelina Jolie face-to-face.”

Us Weekly? Call me.



Jamie-Lynn’s pregnancy has eclipsed Ashley Tisdale’s new nose

December 20, 2007

Britney Spears’ little sister Jamie Lynn is pregnant. Okay, fine. But her employer, Nickelodeon, issued this statement:

“We respect Jamie Lynn’s decision to take responsibility in this sensitive and personal situation. We know this is a very difficult time for her and her family, and our primary concern right now is for Jamie Lynn’s well being.”

“Take responsibility”? I think that sounds a lot like saying she needs to be punished for having sex, and that women who have abortions are “irresponsible.”

When did Nickelodeon turn paternalistically weird?

Update: I just discovered that Feministing wrote basically the exact same post twelve hours before I did. There ought to be some gaydar-type word for picking up on this shit. Misogyny-dar sounds terrible. If Nickelodeon is being a big corporate douchebag, can I call it douchedar?

great gams!

May 19, 2007

Celebrity magazines apparently feel that, in a single-page feature about stars and their great legs, it would be inappropriate to use the word “legs” more than, say, twice.


  • stems
  • gams
  • sticks

Really? Mary-Kate is “displaying her sticks”? Is she playing drums?

It is not necessary to thesaurize your prose to keep from ever repeating a noun. For instance, if the New York Times runs an article about poverty, the writer might use the word “poverty” thirty or forty times. It’s not a big deal. It is fine to mention the topic of an article repeatedly throughout the article.

If I write a blog post, on my comedy blog, about comedy, I might refer to “comedy” at really any time I am talking about, well, comedy. I do not feel the need to mix it up with references to “comicalness, “buffoonery,” “jesting,” “drollery,” “schtick,” or “cracking wise.”

Dear celebrity magazines — Dita Von Teese has “gams.” Everyone else has legs. Thank you.

my celebrity matches

June 4, 2006

I have been amusing myself a great deal with, a website on which one can upload a photo of oneself and see what celebrities one resembles.

I shall now take you on a photo tour of my results.

The first photo of myself that I uploaded yielded matches to a great number of Asian women, which I found curious. Hasn’t anyone seen my seriously sharp and pointy nose?

I tried another photo, and again, more Asian women…

…but also Shannen Doherty, who is the celebrity I’ve most often been said to look like, even though in this photo of her, the weird off-centeredness of her features is really obvious:

…and, more disturbingly, Joan Crawford! (Side note: Once, as a teenager, I sarcastically called my mother “mommy dearest” and couldn’t understand why she got so mad. I had never heard of the movie).

So I tried another photo, and was told I look like Drew Barrymore…

…when she was five! And also, mysteriously…

Missy Elliott!

Kathy Bates!

And … Alfred Hitchcock? And here I was thinking I was good for another ten years, then I might spring for, say, microdermabrasion or some lip collagen. But, if this is it, I give up.

So, I tried again with one more photo, and got some more promising results:

My legs are securely crossed in this photo, I assure you.

I think Josephine Baker and I share a love of eye makeup more than anything, but okay.

And finally — this, I think, is rather inspired. Bebe Neuwirth! Nice.

Update: Jenisfamous comes clean

n’est pas jolie

April 10, 2006

I’m not always against tattoos. Some of the SuicideGirls have quite lovely, clever, and well-placed ones. I often like brightly-colored, animation-inspired tattoos over traditional, Gothic ones. One SuicideGirl even has stocking seams — with little bows at the top — tattooed up the back of her legs! And I also think it’s clever when people cover up scars or distract from flaws with tattoos.

That being said, Angelina Jolie’s body is kind of a national treasure. I do think she is probably the most beautiful woman alive. I also think that defacing a national treasure with these tattoos should be punished via whatever penalties would apply for, say, painting (carving?) Hitler moustaches on the Presidents of Mt. Rushmore.

Alright, enough of that. Who wants to do a line off that ass?

future heartbreaker

January 23, 2006

Maddox Jolie-Pitt is already sticking his tongue out at the press! And, my god, I know he’s not genetically related, but “Jolie-Pitt”? That’s so money. I was trying to make a joke about this name being so oversexed that it’s like a satire of sexiness, but I couldn’t think of anyone sexier to mention in the joke. Banderas-Johannsen? A pale second place. Shit, a lot of Cambodians just want a visa so they can come here and work for minimum wage. Getting plucked out of an orphanage by Angelina Jolie, adopted by Brad Pitt, and gifted with a mohawk that actually works even though you’re a toddler? This is as close as we have to a modern-day Cinderella story. In fifteen years, this kid will have a band, and the hotness of Maddox’s frontman act will cause the universe to fold in on itself, ending all time and space in a moist, pulsating undulation of hotness.

"romantically linked"

December 9, 2005

What is it with the phrase “romantically linked”?

Celebrities get to be “romantically linked” with other celebrities, but you never say that about regular people. “Oh, Debbie, she’s been romantically linked with Joe from accounting.”

When you say “So-and-so has been romantically linked with Heath Ledger, Richard Gere, Keanu Reeves, and Warren Beatty,” it all sounds swanky and glamorous. If you say “She has had sex with Heath Ledger, Richard Gere, Keanu Reeves, and Warren Beatty,” it just sounds slutty. But it’s not like we really have any indication that these people were “romantically” linked rather than merely, you know, just linked. Sometimes linking is just linking.

Apparently, college students “hook up.” If you make it in Hollywood, you get promoted to a presumption of romance.

there are logic classes that cover the difference between deductive reasoning and inductive reasoning

June 23, 2005

Star magazine has reported that Britney Spears may be having twins, based on evidence that 1) she is fat, and 2) she’s been shopping in both the girls’ and boys’ departments.

First of all, this is the very same magazine that routinely publishes photos of Britney eating Doritos and guzzling Red Bull. Women get fat when they do that. Women get fat even when they don’t. Pregnant celebrities (“baby bump,” how cute) aren’t exactly the model of what the human body was meant to do.

Second of all, if you were fantastically wealthy, you could buy as many baby clothes as you want and then get rid of all the ones that don’t properly coordinate with your baby’s gender.

class in America? whatever are you talking about?

May 13, 2005

I rather enjoy the New York Observer. If you’re going to be economically elitist (see previous comments re: the Times), at least offer up a collegiate-level writing style to match. An article in the Observer offers some highly thoughtful commentary on a topic that rarely begets much rigor of thought: Angelina Jolie’s androgynous, man-eating appeal:

Despite her turn as gun-wielding British genius wonder woman Lara Croft…Ms. Jolie doesn’t exactly get the feminist stamp of approval. She isn’t uplifting in a Gloria Steinem sort of way.

But in an Ayn Rand kind of way, although better-willed, she constitutes complete freedom, both kindly and voracious. She’s a little libertarian and an altruist sex bomb, a man-eater and a boy-raiser. No one thinks Ms. Jolie would have their back. She’s a lone vessel.

Semi-related note: an article in the Times recently referred to Mayor Bloomberg’s 22 year old daughter Georgina as “a competitive horse jumper.” Oh, how the freakishly wealthy live. Competitive horse jumping is not a job, and twenty-two is really about time to have a job.

At least she’s not appearing in “House of Wax.”