“Everything’s a $1″

No. Everything is not “a $1.” Everything is $1. In a construction like this one, the indefinite article “a” is unnecessary. We read “$1″ as “a dollar,” or “one dollar.” Since we wouldn’t say “everything’s a one dollar” or “everything’s a a dollar,” we don’t need the “a” in the sentence.

I went to the Dollar Store’s website to be sure they weren’t using the improper structure and was pleased to see they weren’t. However, they’re now accepting coupons–but from only one manufacturer, apparently. That’s what “manufacturer’s coupons” means. If they were accepting them from more than one, the copy would read “manufacturers’ coupons.” Or it should read that, I’ll wager. Whoever proofed this copy missed that fine point. (They did, however, spell “cornucopia” correctly, which made me smile.)

Here’s the site; see for yourselves.

We could also discuss that “Teacher’s Corner,” since apparently only one teacher is allowed to use it. However, now we’re straying quite far from my actual topic: how to write about monetary items. So, back to that.

Let’s say someone owes you a quantity of money, perhaps $100. You’d say: “He owes me a hundred dollars.” If you need to write that out, you could either write just what you said, or you could use a dollar sign and numerals: “He owes me $100.” You do not need the indefinite article “a” if you use “$100.” It’s the same principle as in the first paragraph of this blog entry. If you can use the indefinite article with the amount of money, you can apply this rule when writing. Try substituting “a dollar” for “a hundred dollars” and you’ll see what I mean. Then try with “a thousand dollars.” (It doesn’t work with amounts like “$50″ or “$500,” though. We don’t say “He owes me a fifty dollars.” We might say “He bet me a $50 bill,” however. See the difference? Keep reading.)

If he pays you with a single bill, you can say “He paid me with a $100 bill.” Omitting the “a” in that case is incorrect; you wouldn’t say “he paid me with hundred-dollar bill,” so you wouldn’t leave out the “a” if you use the format “$100 bill.”  Yes, it’s utterly confusing. It’s English. It’s supposed to be confusing. Continuing this train of thought: If he paid you with a quantity of $1 bills, you might say: “He paid me with a hundred $1 bills,” or “He paid me with 100 $1 bills,” or even “He paid me with 100 one-dollar bills” or “He paid me with 100 dollar bills.” They’re all correct, technically. So is “He paid me with a hundred one-dollar bills.” (Style guides will vary in their answers as to which form is more correct than another. I’m not going there. Check your style guide, if you’re really interested.)

If you’re confused, feel free to ask questions in the comments or to email me directly. I promise I’ll explain until you understand it.

I leave you with this final thought:

"I'd buy that for a dollar!"

Q: What do you call a neighborhood for hobos?

Nothing instills confidence in your school like seeing a big typo on the sign by the front door.

O no!

Just think: someone (probably many someones) had to write those words, create the sign, proof the sign, drill it into the brick wall, look at it, nod contentedly, and walk away, whistling a happy tune.

The photo comes from the Dudley Street Neighborhood’s Facebook album, and if you check out the comments there, you’ll see that the school posted the photo proudly, then realized their mistake after several people pointed out the error. This article offers a good quote:

“I think we get a big, fat F for the spelling on this sign,” said Matt Wilder, director of media relations for Boston Public Schools. “We are already in the process of fixing it, and it will be taken down today.”

Kudos to the school for acknowledging the error and moving quickly to replace the sign. But this incident just goes to show you that, for good or ill, it’s hard to get away with typos in these days of instant feedback from social media.

 

Signs and Portents

Because I like the word “portents” in combination with “signs,” and for no other reason, I made that the title. I’m sure you’ll deal with it in your own ways.

Well, okay; part of my reason is also that I have this neat pic of a sign, which I’ve quite openly swiped from Amanda Patterson over at The Plain Language Programme (Aussies spell things with extra letters, just like the Brits do).

Here’s your sign. (Apologies to Bill Engvall for stealing his line, but in this case it really is relevant.)

All that’s needed to correct the problem is an “s” and an apostrophe. That’s all. Such a simple fix, yet so very far away . . .

Then there’s the gem I received via a Facebook message from a friend, Janet Deaver-Pack. She shared with me a typo from the cover of the newest catalogue from Bits and Pieces (http://bitsandpieces.com), which features a “secret book box” that I presume is like this one. I presume this, because the same error appears on this item. Look closely at the central “book” title. The last time I checked, something decorated with gold is “gilded.” Perhaps the creator of this product is a union supporter; that might begin to explain the typo.

As Janet said to me, “There are dictionaries in the world.” Of course, some folks need the special “misspeller’s dictionaries” because after all, if you don’t know how to spell the word to start with, how are you supposed to find it?

 

“Lack toast and tolerant”

If you’re already on Twitter, perhaps you’ve already noticed the Tweets from @cheesecasadia. His modus operandi is simple: He re-Tweets ridiculously bad spellings (or perhaps that should be “misspellings”–it’s difficult to know, when one’s already said they’re bad, you know?) without any commentary at all. His basic belief is “If you can’t spell it, you shouldn’t be allowed to eat it.” (Hence, “cheese quesadilla” became “cheese casadia”–taken directly from the Twitterverse, and turned into his handle.) Here are just a few of the recurring errors @cheesecasadia passes along to his followers. I will not explain them; reading aloud sometimes helps decipher the intended meaning, except in cases where the spelling is a perfectly good word on its own but is misused for another and mispronounced in the process. Good luck!

flaming young

valid Victorian

colon

excepted (as in “to college”)

collage (see immediately above)

dognuts

self of steam

from the gecko (and it’s not about insurance, either)

80hd (The RPG editor in me wants to capitalize “HD” but that really wouldn’t fix the problem, would it?)

parmajohn (not someone from Ohio soliciting sex–I checked already)

feyonce (She’s not married to JayZ, though–and this one might even be male, from what I’ve seen!)

websight (I confess, that’s a new one on me.)

And of course, the one I used as the title of this post: lack toast and tolerant.

Just look at all the work we proofreaders have screaming for our attention. Look at it, I say!  I have plenty of aspirin, ibuprofen, acetominophen, naproxen sodium . . .  and Malibu rum.

 

Super Mario and Hitler

I went to GenCon last week and have been thinking a lot about games, so what better time to bring you a trio of game-related typos?

Our first howler comes from New Super Mario Bros. 2, a recent release for the Nintendo 3DS. The Mario games are extremely popular across all Nintendo game systems, so this isn’t exactly a tiny error in an obscure product that no one will ever see.

No, Mario, I don’t want to click OK! That implies my acceptance of the typo hovering right above the button! (The above image is a screenshot I took of a short video that documents the error, proving it isn’t a fake.)

Our second typo is also from the New Super Mario Bros. 2 game, this time from the manual. (Yeah, yeah, I know—errors in an instruction manual? The devil you say!)

According to the note below the cute diagram, co-op play requires two Nintendo 3DS systems, two game cards, and two game cards. Is that Nintendo’s sneaky way of saying you need to buy four game cards? (The above image comes from this article that documents the typo.)

Let’s give poor Mario a break now and turn to our third typo, which comes from the world of Major League Baseball. I can’t improve on the title of the article where I found this typo, so I’ll just echo it here: There are closed captioning typos, and then there’s calling Carlos Pena “Hitler.”

It’s nice to know that Godwin’s law holds even in baseball games. (By the way, the expression on Pena’s face above is crying out for a “WTF?” thought bubble to be Photoshopped above his head.)

Thanks to the GRAMMARGEDDON! readers who alerted me to some of these mistakes. And if you see anything worth spotlighting on the blog, feel free to send it in. Your efforts will be also be appreciated.

Let’s shoot the chute!

I have to say this isn’t a very common error, at least in my experience stalking the wild typo. In the coffee aisle (not isle) at the local big box department store, next to the pricey “designer coffee” with its own grinder, I spotted this sign.

Maybe it’s missing a comma?

In fact, this is such an uncommon example I stood there for a few seconds while my brain processed the information. I wasn’t in “editing mode” during this part of our trip, admittedly. Usually that mode is always engaged and running in the background. The delay rather unnerved me, truth to tell. However, once I realized what I was seeing, I snapped a photo for posterity (and you, kind readers) because it was just too good to pass up.

As for my caption: I did come up with a rather unconventional correction that could conceivably make sense. Kinda. A little. Okay, not really, but it amused me to think of it. “Slide bag behind, shoot to activate lever.” Nice comma fault, that way, isn’t it? A semicolon makes better sense.

Or, we could just–y’know–use the correct word. “Chute.”

Two really unfortunate typos

Hi, folks! I haven’t been too present on the blog lately. I was away for much of last week on a family vacation, and tomorrow I’m heading to GenCon to see old friends, but I recently found* two typos that I had to share. Consider them snacks to tide you over until a real post comes along.

First, you’ve heard of Porsche, right? Their cars ain’t cheap, so you’d figure the company would have a little money to invest in producing great ads. However, they seem to have skimped on the proofreading in this series of billboards promoting their Boxster. I always say if you’re going to misspell the name of your own product, you might as well do it big.

Next up is this obituary, which contains a hilariously inappropriate acronym in the photo caption. Apparently, some folks on Twitter have called this the “worst caption fail of all time.” I really don’t know how this particular error can be explained. You’d have to go out of your way to make this mistake. One theory is that the caption writer meant to signify “lots of love,” but that just makes me LOL.

(When I say I “found” these typos, I mean I read about them online. One of them was sent to me by a friend, and one of them was discovered while browsing. I much prefer taking photos of real typos in the wild, but until Karen and I launch a Kickstarter campaign to fund our world travels for that very purpose, a prescriptive grammarian’s gotta do what a prescriptive grammarian’s gotta do.)

Muprhy’s Law in action

You read that right. Not Murphy’s. Muprhy’s. Check the Daily Writing Tips blog (in our blogroll) for an excellent piece about it. (Short form: Any post criticizing the grammar, spelling, or mechanics of another post will in itself contain at least one error.)

Check here and here for examples of a corollary to Muprhy’s Law in action. (ETA: The second link takes you to a master list of worksheets. The page is set for auto-download; I have no control over that. The worksheet in question is #5. If you really want to see it, you’ll have to download it. Otherwise, just keep reading for my commentary.)

I call this a corollary to the actual law because what I’m pointing out are errors not in comments, but in teaching aids.These are actual worksheets available for free at the links provided. I downloaded them for use here at home for my daughter, who needs some help with English skills. Imagine my displeasure when, as we were going through the first one, she stopped and said “That doesn’t look right.” I wasn’t displeased with her at all; I was thrilled that she recognized the problem.

No. My displeasure was with the educator who wrote the material and then made it available for others, obviously without having someone proofread it first. (Never, ever proofread your own work. Trust me. You’re too close to it to catch everything. I will freely admit that every time I post here, I wind up coming back in afterward to fix something. It might be only a missing punctuation mark of some kind, but in the words of Roseanne Rosannadanna, “It’s always something.”) For heaven’s sake, people–if you’re putting material out there to teach English skills, make sure the material is error-free before you post it. Otherwise someone like me will find the errors and tell the world (the entire world, do you hear me?) about your ineptitude.

I do not make allowances for one error in this kind of material. There are no excuses. Period. The materials we use to teach our students mechanics, grammar, and spelling must be perfect. Period. (I apply this to all teaching aids, of course, but I’m not qualified to kvetch about physics, or algebra, or ancient Greek, or any number of other subjects. I am qualified to kvetch about grammar, mechanics, spelling, and literature.)

The second problem is clearly circular. (ETA: The vocabulary word is “perpetuate.” The third option for a definition is “to perpetuate.” Duh.) Someone didn’t change the entry for answer #3, question #10, to a definition of the word in question; the word was just left there. While some might be tempted to make that a “gimme,” I’m not one of them. The problem is, once the error’s corrected it becomes a gimme anyway–because now the correct answer is handwritten on the page.

Damn it.

::sighs::

Yes, I was a language arts teacher for junior high students. Yes, I’m still a substitute teacher who prefers language arts and literature classes to all others, and junior high or older students to younger ones. (I was certified 6-12, so I never had classroom experience with the little ones.) And we all know I’m still a copy editor and proofreader. This stuff is in my blood.

I can’t help it, I was born this way . . .

 

There’s no “I” in “they,” either

Yesterday, Karen posted about how she’s fine with the use of the singular “they,” as in, “Everyone can decide for themselves.” My initial response to her was, “Of course you know this means war.” (Yes, that phrase comes from where you think it comes from.)

But then today I saw this article about how the Queen’s English Society closed up shop recently. For 40 years, the QES had pushed for the continued use of proper English despite what the group perceived as declining standards. It took the prescriptive approach to grammar—trying to enforce the rules as they should exist, rather than adapting the rules to reflect what was actually happening to the language.

So I started to wonder: when (for example) I continue to insist that “they” is not singular, and I go out of my way to recast phrases such as “Everyone can decide for themselves” to “People can decide for themselves,” does that make me part of the language police? When is it worth fighting, and when is it better to go with the flow?

I don’t have an answer yet. I just wanted to ask the question and see what people thought.

Also, while looking into the QES, I couldn’t help but notice that the group’s website says nothing about disbanding. In fact, they’ve announced that their next annual meeting will take place in September. So perhaps the QES is not dead yet!

That would be a good thing; if nothing else, their website has a section called “On the Lighter Side” that has some decent language entertainment. For example, check out the Oxford Word Challenge, in which you have to identify a pair of homophones from clues. And then read “A Lesson Learned (the Hard Way),” which dramatizes the terrible things that can happen when you end a sentence with a preposition.

Everyone can decide for themselves.

No, really. Everyone can make their own decisions about the singular “they.” (I happen to know that Ray and I are on opposite sides of this particular issue. I’m posting about it only because someone I’ve known longer than I’ve known Ray posted about it over on my Facebook wall about a half-hour ago, and in the process of responding to her, I relocated the two wonderful blog entries that helped me face my fear of “singular they” and move past it.)

You may or may not realize that being up in arms over “singular they” while remaining placid about “singular you” could be called hypocritical by some. (Not by me, but by some who are even more rabidly grammar-nerdly than I. There are such people. Oh, yes, there are.) I point this out as a matter of concern for my readers’ relative safety while roaming the Internet.

Once upon a time, long long ago (but not in a galaxy far far away), “ye” (now “you”) was the plural second-person pronoun, and “thou” (now mostly extinct except in historical and fantasy writing) was the second-person singular. Over time, the latter fell into disuse and the former became the acceptable catch-all second-person singular and plural pronoun. And that, my readers, is how we wound up needing phrases like “all of you” and dialectical constructs like “you’uns” and “all y’all” (because “y’all” is singular, you know?). Pitching a fit over a singular they, but accepting singular you without question, causes some people to react very badly indeed. Of course we’re still in the very midst of the shift for the singular they, while most of us were raised with the singular you (unless we lived in Yorkshire in the 1940’s, for example, when “tha” was the dialectical form of “thou” used in everyday speech).

And so, here are the links I mentioned at the start of this ramble. I hope that if nothing else you will find them entertaining. (I can also hope that some of you might decide that the singular they makes sense, just like the singular you does.)

http://chronicle.com/blogs/linguafranca/2011/12/16/pronoun-agreement-out-the-window/

http://chronicle.com/blogs/linguafranca/2012/01/05/dogma-and-evidence/

I want to address one more point, because I can hear the thought rumbling around out there in the ether. While I have come to accept the usefulness of singular they when the gender of the antecedent cannot be known and I want to avoid the wordiness of “his or hers” or “himself or herself” or what-have-you, when I am copy editing this is an issue I discuss with the author. If said author is apoplectic at the concept of the singular they, I will do my best to recast sentences to not need gender specificity. If said author is receptive to the concept, happiness ensues. It’s all part of my job, ensuring that the author’s voice is clear even after I’ve fixed all the problems. This isn’t really a problem. It’s a choice–one that everyone can make for themselves.