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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.

Punctuation in Virginia Beach

April 15, 2010

Yes, go see the movie “Kick A¢$”! (For those unaware, Virginia Beach has a “no swearing” campaign; this town is not so much “for lovers”).


Speak no evil!


A Brief View Into What It is Like to Date Me

March 16, 2010


Here is the original article.

A Final Roundup of Tom Swifties!

February 4, 2010

tom_swift_cover_1939_unrenewed.jpgThe Week of Tom Swifties was a resounding success! At least if you define “success” as “Puns make us chuckle!”

(Tom Swifties — named after the titular character in a series of grandiloquently written novels, as pictured at right — are phrases in which a sentence spoken by “Tom” is paired with an adverbial pun). Here are a few more from me:

“I’m sorry I’ve ruined your balloon,” said Tom, punctually.

“I don’t see why my sentence needs a subject when it has TWO predicates,” Tom said, verbosely.

“I’m a huge fan of Paul Reubens,” Tom said, earnestly.

From contributor Eric:

“I can’t believe how easily Vincent fell for my Ponzi scheme!” said Tom convincingly.

“I have finally carved this stick down to just the right size,” said Tom wittily.

Here is a roundup of the best ones posted in the comments:

  • “There’s something rotten in the state of Denmark,” Tom said disdainfully.
    - Galen Brown

  • “I was so excited to hear about your Swifty Bee,” Tom buzzed.
    - Calvin Cato

  • “I’ve always preferred blunt instruments to firearms,” Tom said bashfully.
    - Camilo North

  • “I am not exactly subtle when it comes to my love of French legumes,” Tom said overtly.
    - Matt Penn

  • “My favorite figure of speech is ‘money is the square root of all evil,’” Tom said irrationally.
    - Dan Toma

And actually, I’m just going to re-post this whole damn submission from J.D. Finch:

  • “It’s so nice to see Minnie, Mickey and Donald here,” said Tom goofily.

  • “That’s the last time I’ll listen to a damn thing that Bader Ginsburg woman says,” said Tom ruthlessly.

  • “Wow, you’d think she would have accepted, seeing as how I was offering her a diamond as big as the Ritz,” said Tom cuttingly.

  • “OK, so here’s the thing. It’s a great game and all, but I think that the competion really gets to people and I have seen friendships end because of it. I’m not saying it happened to me, don’t get me wrong, I just wanted to let you know where I stand so we’re on the same page about Scrabble, OK?” said Tom wordily.

  • “There’s no doubt about it, the murder weapon is this pick,” said Tom icily.

  • “I just took a Jack London book out of the library,” said Tom doggedly.

  • “I think I’ll put some nudie pics up on this bulletin board,” said Tom tackily.

  • “J.D. Salinger is dead,” said Tom wryly.

  • “Yes, I use Viagra. Why do you ask?” said Tom stiffly.

Tom Swiftie Week: The Denouement

January 29, 2010

jetmarine.gifToday is the final installment of Tom Swiftie Week. But it need not be the end of your own (perhaps newfound) adverbial pun obsession!

To recap, Tom Swifties — named after the titular character in a series of bombastically written novels, as pictured at right — are phrases in which a sentence spoken by “Tom” is paired with an adverbial pun.

Today, as yesterday, I’m turning it over to magician Eric Walton, whose lexical abilities, I hear, make female lexicographers swoon at lexicography conferences. Here are some Swifties by Eric!

  • “Mr. Chang, this soup is delicious,” said Tom wantonly.

  • “I suppose I should do something about all those leaves in my yard,” said Tom rakishly.

  • “How I do adore Voltaire,” said Tom candidly.

  • “How did you enjoy your first day at our uranium enrichment facility?” asked Tom glowingly.

  • “If only I had brought flowers,” Tom said lackadaisically.

And now, in my opinion, the mother of all Tom Swifties:

  • “The science is clear: global warming is real and human activity is the cause,” said Tom allegorically.

Tom Swiftie Week: Now With Prestidigitation!

January 28, 2010

jetmarine.gifIt’s Day Four of Tom Swiftie Week!

To recap, Tom Swifties — named after the titular character in a series of bombastically written novels, as pictured at right — are phrases in which a sentence spoken by “Tom” is paired with an adverbial pun.

Today I’m turning it over to magician Eric Walton, whose Tom Swiftie production this past week has far outstripped my own. Here are some Swifties by Eric!

  • “Perhaps these iron mittens were a bad idea,” said Tom heavy-handedly.

  • “The only information I will give you about myself is that I am lava-flow,” said Tom magnanimously.

  • “Control yourself!” said Tom remotely.

  • “That’s going to leave a mark,” said Tom impressively.

  • “My bananas, apples and plums have all gone missing!” said Tom fruitlessly.

  • “This macaroni and cheese is delicious,” said Tom craftily.

Tom Swiftie Week: Tom Swift and His Atomic Adverbs!

January 27, 2010

jetmarine.gifIt’s Day Three of Tom Swiftie Week!

To recap, Tom Swifties — named after the titular character in a series of bombastically written novels, as pictured at right — are phrases in which a sentence spoken by “Tom” is paired with an adverbial pun.

So here are a few more of mine. Feel free to post your own in the comments!

  • “My aorta’s full of fireflies,” Tom said lightheartedly.

  • “How sad that I cannot change the ending of this Nixon biography,” Tom said resignedly.

  • “I got so emotional when I found!” said Tom effusively.

  • “Look, I’ll multiply, divide, and subtract, but that’s it,” said Tom nonplussedly.

  • “I wouldn’t want anyone to think I were Peeping back here,” Tom said hedgingly.

  • “I think my penis might be injuring people,” Tom said pointedly.

Tom Swiftie Week: It All Ends In -Ly

January 26, 2010

jetmarine.gifIt’s Day Two of Tom Swiftie Week!

To recap, Tom Swifties — named after the titular character in a series of bombastically written novels, as pictured at right — are phrases in which a sentence spoken by “Tom” is paired with an adverbial pun.

So here are a few more of mine. Feel free to post your own in the comments!

  • “I’m sorry for signaling S.O.S. again,” Tom said remorsefully.

  • “This Budwesier will never substitute for a good Chardonnay,” said Tom whinily.

  • “You just poked the quarterback in the eye!” Tom said jocularly.

  • “I’ve figured out just where we can get the raw materials for our wig-making business,” Tom said gravely.

  • “I know how you could help my friends and I make our Three Stooges tribute act just perfect,” Tom said piously.

  • “Look, I’m the Hindu god Shiva!” Tom said handily.

Tom Swiftie Week

January 25, 2010

jetmarine.gifI became aware of Tom Swifties via an article in this month’s Mensa Bulletin, a publication I have recently questioned for its editorial choices.

But Tom Swifties — named after the titular character in a series of bombastically written novels, as pictured at right — are so fun that I decided to write some, my gentleman consort decided to write some, and I decided to publish them here all week long!

Abridged from Wikipedia:

A Tom Swifty (or Tom Swiftie) is a phrase in which a quoted sentence is linked by a pun to the manner in which it is attributed.

“Can I go looking for the Grail again?” Tom requested.

“We just struck oil!” Tom gushed.

“They had to amputate them both at the ankles,” Tom said defeatedly.

“Hurry up and get to the back of the ship,” Tom said sternly.

As the examples illustrate, the standard syntax is for the quoted sentence to be first, followed by the description of the act of speaking.

There are a few more rules about Tom Swifties — a few require a name other than “Tom” in order to work, and some people think that Swifties that don’t end in -ly aren’t “real” (for instance, the Mensa article, by Richard Lederer, contained the quite satisfying pun, “I’m wearing my wedding ring!” said Tom with abandon.)

In any case, here are a few of mine. Feel free to post your own in the comments!

  • “Surely this recipe couldn’t require any more cheese,” Tom said gratingly.

  • “I’ve just learned you can purchase matador supplies over the internet!” Tom said ebulliently.

  • “Watch how efficiently I can manipulate this remote control to get to my favorite sitcom about a serial killer,” Tom said dextrously.

  • “I don’t just want to kill this vampire, I want to punish him,” Tom said painstakingly.

  • “I don’t know whether that woman will sleep with me for money,” Tom said horrifically.

  • “I’d like whatever bread the Jews like,” Tom said wryly.

It’s Your Time (Having a Baby): Second-Person Pronoun Abuse

January 21, 2010

This is the “New Non-Fiction” rack near the door in a Barnes and Noble. It holds only two books: It’s Your Time and YOU Having a Baby.


Actually, the complete title of It’s Your Time, by megachurch pastor Joel Osteen, is It’s Your Time: Activate Your Faith, Achieve Your Dreams, and Increase in God’s Favor. (A “search inside the book” for the word “payday” brings up four references, all of them encouraging you to ask for yours).


There’s no need to even debunk anything Osteen says, because Christians themselves are doing a fine enough job:

Did Jesus die so you could live in “total victory”? Is the story of the resurrection about “living an abundant life”? I mean, don’t get me wrong; I’m an atheist, and I think the Bible is a book of bad history mixed with fiction. But The Lord of the Rings is also fiction, and I’d get mad if you started telling me that Frodo traveled to Mordor as a way of overcoming mediocrity and living an abundant life (and you can too!)

Barbara Ehrenreich (whom I adore) wrote the following in the Huffington Post in 2008, when Osteen’s wife and co-pastor, Victoria, went on trial for assaulting a flight attendant:

Consider the ways the Lord works in the life of the Osteens, as recounted in Joel’s book Your Best Life Now, which has sold four million copies and is graced by a back cover photo of the smiling couple. Acting through Victoria, who kept “speaking words of faith and victory” on the subject, Joel was led to build the family “an elegant home.” On other occasions, God intervened to save Joel from a speeding ticket and to get him not only a good parking spot but “the premier spot in that parking lot.” Why God did not swoop down with a sponge and clean up the offending stain on the armrest remains a mystery, because Osteen’s deity is less the Master of the Universe than an obliging factotum.

But there’s a better reason for this post. The two books juxtaposed on the New Non-Fiction rack have something else in common.

51fmldxrol_sl500_aa240_.jpgNote the bizarre use of English in YOU Having a Baby. It sounds as though the book is written for pregnant ogres. ME HAVE BABY. READ BOOK, NO EAT BABY, NO HIT BABY WITH ROCK!

YOU Having a Baby is, of course, a followup to YOU On a Diet, YOU The Owner’s Manual, YOU Being Beautiful, YOU Staying Young, etc. BECAUSE IT’S ALL ABOUT YOU! Or, more importantly, if you just read a book about pregnancy or dieting, you would be unable to make the imaginative leap towards applying the advice therein to your very own self! Oh, say our sad little selves, Me human too? Book about me? Me diet? Me feel included like not ever before!

Osteen, also, employs a grating second-person address throughout his self-help tome. From the back cover:

Your dream may be just up [sic] around the corner. You may think it will take another two years. But if you stay in faith, who knows? It may just be two more months. You are closer than you think. I believe it’s your time.

Really? Is it all of our time? Let me get this straight — is it literally everyone’s time, or is it only the time of the people who bought the book? The former would seem to create a conundrum: we can’t all have God giving us the best parking spots at once. If the latter, then does Joel have magical powers that allow him to see all of us who were about to buy the book, and see into our futures? If not, and it’s merely the act of purchasing the book that makes you part of the titular “You,” then Joel has set up a grand tautology.

There are two reasons that the gratuitous second-person address is so grating. First, it’s illogical (as above). Second, it’s condescending in the extreme.

What’s the last book you read that addressed you in the second person? For me, it was the Choose Your Own Adventure series. Which, of course, was for children. (And I, of course, was a child).

From The Abominable Snowman

Christopher Hitchens waxed weary on the subject in 2007 (The You Decade):

I suppose I started to notice it about two or three years ago, when the salespeople at Rite-Aid began wearing dish-sized lapel buttons stating that “YOU are the most important customer I will serve today.” It was all wrong, in the same way that a sign hung on a door saying “Back in five minutes” is out of time as soon as it is put in place. It was wrong in other ways, too, since it could be read from some distance (say, from 10 spaces back in a slow-moving line) and thus became an irritant to anyone who could grasp that “they”—or the “we” of this putative “you”—were not really important at all.

I believe it’s time to take a stand against second-person pronoun abuse (hint: that means you!)

And don’t forget, folks: YOU are the most important person reading this blog!

And What a Party It Must Have Been!

October 15, 2009

Can you find the hilarious misplaced modifier in the Daily Mail?


Just in case anyone was still under the impression that the British are more erudite than we are.

Pedant Party: The Answers! (Also: Stevia has no idea what it’s talking about)

October 2, 2009

I’m a bit late with the answers to Thursday’s Pedant Party Quiz, but Rich really nailed it in the comments. Here we go!


1. Going out OF business, obviously. This was just a warm-up. I do feel for these entrepreneurs, losing their porn enterprise as well as having trouble selecting the correct preposition in English. Prepositions are one of the hardest things to get in a new language (and English speakers might be the only ones who claim to stand IN the street, rather than ON it).


2. WHOSE. “Who’s” means “who is.” These people weren’t even trying. Maybe they thought their ad would get a few extra clicks from people wanting to complain about their grammar.


3. Just as the Pussycat Dolls should have said, “Don’t you wish your girlfriend WERE hot like me,” this ad should use “were” instead of “was.” When in the subjunctive mood (i.e., anything beginning with “if,” “I wish,” “you wish,” etc.), use “were” instead of “was” or “would.”

Also, “It grows where your cravings meet your conscience without compromise” makes no fucking sense whatsoever. “Without compromise” appears to be an adverbial modifier modifying “meet.” So the cravings are not compromising — fine, it’s advertising, and I’ll accept that. But wherever the non-compromising cravings and conscience are meeting — which is presumably inside my body (almost certainly inside my mind, or perhaps at some suitable rendezvous point between my mind and stomach) — is where the Stevia grows? INSIDE THE CUSTOMER? If so, why do you need to advertise at all?

Also, Stevia tastes terrible.


4. If you can count it, you have FEWER. If you can’t, you have LESS. I make FEWER grammatical mistakes than most people, but as a result of my incredible pedantry, I have LESS joie de vivre.


5. Every cardmember WHO registers. People are not objects. Not even the sexy ones.


6. Here’s a fun one. “Tact” is a caring about others’ feelings, or a keen sense of what is appropriate; that is not what was meant here. “Tactic,” as Rich noted, would work. However, I think the writer meant “tack.” A tack is a ship’s course; to “continue a tack” is to remain on the same course. Of course, if you write “continue on the same tack,” many people would think you had misspelled “track”; the metaphors have the same meaning, but you would have been foiled in your attempt to evoke a nautical feeling.

Also, “if” should be “whether.” Here’s how to know which one to use: if you could add “or not,” use whether; if you could add “then,” use if. For instance:

I don’t know WHETHER it’s going to rain (or not), but IF it rains, (then) I’ll have to stop grilling.


7. And finally, “that may be monitored and/or recorded at any time” is a modifier that is currently modifying “video surveillance.” The video surveillance may be monitored? You’re going to surveil the surveillance? What’s the point of surveillance if it’s not monitored and/or recorded all the time? In fact, if the sign just said “This building is under video surveillance,” the sign would serve its intended purpose better, since people would assume that, of course, the surveillance is continuous; specifying that the default setting of the surveillance is that no one watches or records it really defies the very nature and purpose of surveillance.

This error is similar to the one covered in the post Lindsay Lohan and the Misplaced Deodorant Modifier.

Pedant Party! You Correct These Companies’ Grammar!

September 30, 2009

I’ve been collecting these for months! Can you spot the multitudinous errors? Feel free to correct away in the comments — I’ll post answers tomorrow.

1. I figured I’d start with the most obvious one (8th Ave between 39th and 40th). What’s wrong with this sign?


2. Spot the web advertising error!


3. Hint: this Stevia ad contains the same error as the Pussycat Dolls’ magnum opus, Don’t Cha:


4. Maybe this error has something to do with why there is no more Washington Mutual bank at all anymore:


5. In order to read Salon, you’ll have to watch a bad grammar parade:


6. Diction check, Us Weekly!


7. My favorite. This sign (from a residential building in the East 30s) could stand to be, um, modified:


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.

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