Monday, March 31, 2014

The Mother of All Errors

Editor’s note: Today’s post was written by Future Owen, in 2030.

Kids, it was the final day of March 2014, exactly two years before your father married your mother, Mila Kunis. It was a spring day unlike any other. After too many (nine) seasons and too many (206) episodes, the legen — wait for it — dary CBS sitcom How I Met Your Mother was closing MacLaren’s for good with a two-part finale. Yes, the show made like a Connecticut winter and stuck around too long. Yes, many of HIMYM’s creative risks failed, creating a roller-coaster ride for almost a decade. And yes, I still held a bit of a grudge that Barney didn’t end up with Nora, a smart, sexy, laser-tag-playing sweetheart. Still, I anticipated the last two episodes. It was my chance to say goodbye to Barney, Ted, Robin, Marshmallow and Lily Pad … and The Mother, of course. And maybe, just maybe, I’d get an answer to a question that had always puzzled me: Why did Future Ted, who narrated the show, have a different voice from Present-Day Ted?

I had a few hours to kill before the ultimate opportunity to experience bro codes and slap bets, so I donned my ducky tie and went on 60 two-minute dates. None panned out. With another hour to kill, I decided to pen a When Write Is Wrong post in HIMYM’s honor. Little did I know it would be the springboard that propelled WWIW to levels that dwarfed Google, YouTube and Facebook by 2015.

I don’t mean to toot my own blue French horn, but like a certain Canadian pop star from the ‘90s, my March 31, 2014, post sparkled. Here’s a copy of the original. Enjoy.

Friday, March 28, 2014

And the Winner Is...

I hosted an Academy Awards after-party yesterday at my home in southwestern Connecticut. Yes, I’m aware I’m more than three weeks late. That was my intent. I aimed to be inventive, original. The folks in Hollywood appreciate such traits. How else do you explain recent fare such as Total Recall, Carrie, Red Dawn, Footloose, About Last Night and RoboCop? And don’t forget Annie, coming to theaters this December.

My idea to extend the awards season was met with the same critical acclaim afforded to 12 Years a Slave. I Oscar baited the biggest of the industry’s bigwigs with promises of panache, pomp and … pizza.

Some of the A-listers, including Brad Pitt and Harrison Ford, requested food from Big Mama’s & Papa’s Pizzeria in Hollywood. My humble home is about 2,850 miles outside the restaurant’s normal delivery radius, so I had to give a BIG tip to the driver. It cost me an ulna and a femur, but it was worth it. I spare no expense at my soirees.

Everyone who walked the black carpet outside my house (black is the new red) had a grand time. We placed bets on whether Woody Allen would show up. (He didn’t.) We danced. (Jennifer Lawrence wowed us. She blended the virtuosity of Ginger Rogers with the power and acrobatics of the performers from the Step Up series. She christened her nimble, graceful moves the American Hustle.) We paid tribute to the first anniversary of Oz the Great and Powerful with an elaborate song-and-dance routine. (I set up the tribute in hopes Mila Kunis would attend. She didn’t.)

That was mere filler, of course. The party’s equivalent of a best-picture announcement came late, when the production designer unveiled the Place the Comma set. You remember Place the Comma, right? It’s the game I won at a party in 2012, and again in 2013. The 2014 edition got heated at times. Someone tried to tell other players what to do. (How dare you, Fassbender!) One cranky guest claimed he was the winner, before the game even began. (That’s not how it works, Mr. Dern.) A wolf in Armani’s clothing cheated. (I’m looking at you, Leo!). When the dust settled, the five finalists represented a who’s who of beautiful, talented people with legions of fans: Sandra Bullock, Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Lawrence, Olaf and me. The award for best editor in a leading role would go to the person who correctly inserted the missing comma into the article below.

Bullock placed a comma after every single word, muttering, “I hate space” over and over. Houston, we have a problem.

Speaking of Houston…

McConaughey, in his slow Texas drawl, moseyed over to the article, exclaimed “All right, all right, all right!” and put a comma after outside. He turned, extended his right arm, released the pen and walked away. Naturally, McConaughey’s Place the Comma “mic drop” went over about as well as Sahara. His hubris was his downfall. All wrong, all wrong, all wrong!

Lawrence’s approach to the game was her downfall — literally. She tripped while walking up to the article and had to be treated for minor injuries. She was forced to withdraw. The odds were never in her favor.

Olaf, the summer-lovin’ snowman from Frozen, instituted a little-known rule that allows contestants to use a “phone a friend” lifeline. He called Josh Gad. The actor must have given Olaf some Gad-awful advice, because Olaf placed a comma after afternoon, going with dual commas for the first time in forever. Not even warm, Olaf.

I thought things through. What gas station did the man enter? I asked myself. The one located near the South Pine Creek intersection. “Located near the South Pine Creek intersection” is a nonessential phrase. It provides additional information that, while helpful, is not critical. Without the seven-word phrase, the sentence still would be complete. The phrase, therefore, must be set off by commas. So that’s what I did. I added a comma after intersection, at the intersection of intersection and and.

And the winner is…

Me! Again! I three-peated, just like Michael Jordan’s Bulls did twice in the ‘90s. (I suppose that would be a repeat three-peat.) I joined an exclusive club of three-time winners: Ingrid Bergman, Walter Brennan, Daniel Day-Lewis, Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep. Next year I’m coming for you, Katharine Hepburn!

The guests at my 2014 shindig prodded me into giving an acceptance speech. For those who weren’t in attendance last night, here’s the transcript:

Thank you. [pauses, waiting for a five-minute standing ovation, replete with thunderous applause and raucous cheers, to end] Boy Scouts always leave a campsite in better shape than they found it. We editors aim to do the same, though the page — printed or digital — is our campsite. If we come across something that doesn’t make sense — something like Brad’s 2012 Chanel No. 5 commercial [motions to Pitt in the audience] — we sniff out the errors … and then snuff out the errors. It’s who we are; it’s what we do. To be recognized for doing it well is humbling. I’d like to thank my future wife, Mila Kunis, for inspiring me to be a better man. I’d also like to thank Aldus Pius Manutius, Noah Webster, William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White, and Mr. Raslavsky, my 11th-grade English teacher. Without them, I wouldn’t be here today. One more thing before I’m ushered off stage: Please pause, like a comma, for a moment to remember a couple of individuals we’ve lost since last year’s party. You’ll be missed, Gary David Goldberg and Harold Ramis. Thanks for the laughs. And thank you, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, for this. [holds up golden statuette] Now comma, let’s celebrate!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Little Richard

Richard Howell isnt rich. How do I know? He lacks capital.

Uppercase letters pepper this excerpt, yet Richard begins with a lowercase r. That wasnt a capital idea. Id be hard-pressed to believe Mr. Howell spells his first name with a lowercase letter, a la singer k.d. lang, poet bill bissett and other assorted rebels.

The capital R kept a rockin, but it couldnt come in. Thats a shame, because Mr. Howell is no “little Richard. He may not be renowned, but hes still a proper noun. Show him some respect, with a capital R.

A-wop bop-a loo mop a-lop bam boom!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Don't You (Forget About M/E)

Saturday, March 24, 1984

Don’t pump your fist, Bender. Turn it upside down and extend your thumb. Two errors exist in quick succession during the end credits for The Breakfast Club, an ‘80s classic, and you shouldn’t approve. 

Our, ahem, co-mission, readers, if you choose to accept it, is to find and fix these Breakfast flubs. (Don’t ask Brian for help. He’s busy fixing a lamp.)

Our first stop is the intersection of MAIN and NORTH, where a situation is brewing. The E that was hanging out at the corner of MAINE is missing. Maine North was a high school in Des Plaines, Illinois, in a Cook County subdivision known as Maine Township. It closed in 1981, and The Breakfast Club filmed there in 1984. The “Shermer High School” library was an elaborate set constructed in the Maine North gym.

That’s the Maine error in these end credits, though it’s not the main one. An agency’s powers have been diminished. An M has been put out of commission, literally. What happened to the other M in COMMISSION? Is it being detained, with the brain, athlete, basket case, princess and criminal? Nah. Letters, like screws, fall out all the time. The world’s an imperfect place.

That’s what I think. That’s what fist-pumping, earring-wearing Bender thinks.

I know this post wasn’t at least 1,000 words. Oh, well. I suppose I’ll have another nine hours next Saturday to ponder the error of my ways.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Prairie Dogged

“When Dorothy stood in the doorway and looked around, she could see nothing but the great gray prairie on every side. Not a tree nor a house broke the broad sweep of flat country that reached the edge of the sky in all directions.” – L. Frank Baum, 1900

We’re not in Kansas anymore. If we were, we too would be able to see the Prairie. But our View is obstructed. So is our breathing. We need air. Fortunately, breathing room is plentiful on the expanse of flat, open grasslands common in the central United States.

We’ll get the air we require when another letter roams the prairie. If that vowel arrives, survival is imminent. Otherwise, we don’t have a prayer … because we don’t have a prairie.

Save us, i. Show up. Come into view. Come into Prairie View. It’s where you reside. It’s where you belong. And, as we know, there’s no place like home.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Let's Get Rocked

This excerpt from a story about a hot-air balloon pilot who was killed in a Georgia storm is written in the past tense. The proof is in the -ed pudding. Weve got spidered, floated, sucked and ... rocking.


The sentence lacks parallel structure. It would have rocked if rocking had been rocked.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Chewing the Phat

The author h-bombed on this one. Ive made my share of spelling mistakes, so I can empathize. But I must emphasize: It should be emphatic.

The h is present, but like a mini-bar at an A.A. meeting, its out of place. Its gone down the wrong path, giving us empathic instead of emphatic.

An empathic step would be one characterized by empathy, the understanding of anothers feelings. That wasnt the case here. The Huskies took a step marked by forcefulness and decisiveness. They displayed no empathic emotions during their emphatic victory. Take no prisoners, Huskies! Put an emphasis on winning!

Friday, March 14, 2014

An Unidentified Fill-in Object

Its 1947 Roswell all over again! New Mexico has been invaded! Alert the armed forces!

A UFO allegedly crashed near Roswell in ’47. What happened — or didnt happen — in that southeastern New Mexico city back when Jackie Robinson was breaking Major League Baseballs color barrier is up for debate.

No debate today. The story Im about to tell you is true. No cover-up. No controversy. No conspiracy.

A mysterious visitor has been sighted in the Land of Enchantment, though this one is not of the extra-terrestrial variety. This alien is extra-alphabetical. A T has crash-landed in the state.

Dont panic, readers. I immediately contacted the U.S. military and asked to have the debris removed. Top men are working on it right now.


Top ... men.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

A Bumpy Road

At the end of my favorite movie, Doc Brown says to an unsuspecting Marty McFly: Roads? Where were going, we dont need roads. Allow me to add my own Future-istic spin to that line:

Road? What were writing, we dont need road.

Hit the road, road. Youre an Interstate 70 wannabe, running through the middle of the Centennial State. Things started off well enough. C-O-L- Thats where we hit a roadblock. The o and the r in the middle of the state changed coordinates, leaving us with a rocky road in the state famous for its Rocky Mountains. Transpose those two letters and well be on the road to recovery.

[Note to the person transcribing the TV listings: Lets not go down this road again.]

Monday, March 10, 2014

Get Rid of Him

For more than a week Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race mushers face grueling conditions, including subzero temperatures, blizzards and even the occasional wolf or bear. My race through this Sports Illustrated blurb about the Iditarod lasted less than a minute, though I too encountered rough sledding before I reached the finish line.

As I neared the final checkpoint on this unforgiving trail, I spotted something unbecoming — and it materialized right after becoming. Visibility was low, but the Alaskan whiteout didnt prevent me from noticing a word we need to white out. Whats up with him? Lets send him packing and return to our pack of 12 to 16 mixed-breed huskies. The race continues. Mush!

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Out of Your League

I just heard some big NBA news: Tom Brady was traded. And youll never guess what happened in Major League Baseball today? According to unnamed sources, LeBron James has retired.

None of that makes sense, does it? Of course not. Those items are incompatible. They are, if you will, leagues apart. As is this section of National Football League Done Deals from my local newspaper.

Seems strange that the first transaction listed in the NFL portion pertains to an NHL incident. When I read about the National Football League, I want football news, not National Hockey League material. Silly me.

We need to drop that first transaction faster than they drop the puck in a face-off to start every NFL game.

I meant NHL game, of course. I was sporting with you. 

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Stop! Grammar Time!

Were you aware that today is a holiday? It has been since 2008. That’s when Martha Brockenbrough, author of Things That Make Us [Sic], established National Grammar Day. It was important to her that those of us who care about words and syntax march forth (get it?) annually and spread the grammar love.

National Grammar Day has yet to reach adolescence, but the holiday is growing fast, growing strong. NGD even has its own haiku contest and alcoholic beverage. More on that to come.

Those who have a way with words can go a long way, with words. In conjugation, er, celebration of NGD, I’ve come up with a dozen things to keep in mind when it’s grammar time. Take a look at the list as I thumb through my AP style guide. I’ll be back shortly…

Don’t literally write literally if it doesn’t work. Figuratively speaking, that drives me up the wall.

When you unexpectedly change from past to present, or vice versa, it makes readers tense.

A preposition can end a sentence. Those are words to live by.

Readers do double takes if they see a double negative.

Don’t dangle a word (or words) where it doesn’t belong. To write clear and concise sentences, dangling modifiers must— no, wait. To write clear and concise sentences, you must avoid dangling modifiers.

Stay active. Strong writers use the active voice. The passive voice is used by novice writers.

Be sure your subject and verb agree. A reader notices. Readers notice.

Write powerfully, use powerful words and know the difference between adverbs and adjectives.

Parallel structure creates rhythm, adds style and draws interest. You can use it. You should use it. You will use it.

Avoid misusing commonly confused words, such as affect/effect and lay/lie. You’ll lose a reader’s trust if you play fast and loose with the English language. By the way, did you know that some people would rather cuddle than have sex? Gifted (and amorous) grammarians, on the other hand, would rather cuddle then have sex.

Fragments serve a useful purpose. Sometimes.

Understand the difference between contractions and possessives. It’s has its place. So does its. It’s true.

I’m back…

If I composed today’s post properly, I did well. If I helped at least one reader realize the importance of grammar, I did good. Some good, anyway.

Oh, right, I promised additional information about the haiku contest and the adult beverage.

A five-judge panel of wordsmiths looked at 269 tweeted submissions for the 2013 NGD haiku contest, and Arika Okrent won with this entry:

I am an error
And I will reveal myself
After you press “send”

Larry Kunz captured the 2012 contest with the following:

Being a dangler,
Jane knew it would have to come
Out of the sentence

And in 2011 Gord Roberts earned top honors with this three-lined, unrhymed verse of five, seven and five syllables:

Spell-checkers won’t catch
You’re mistaken homophones
Scattered hear and their

These five did not win. They could have.

Wanted: one pronoun,
To take the place of he/she
“They” need not apply

After a sentence
Be like Obi-Wan and just
Hit the space bar once

Loose rhymes with moose and
Lose with booze, which I want to
Drink when they’re confused

Dear yoga teacher:
If you say “lay down” once more,
I’ll hurt you. No lie.

Conjugating through
My existential crisis
I am, was, will be

Too much haiku for you? There, there. (Their, their? They’re, they’re?) You’ll feel better after you drink a “grammartini,” a cocktail concocted by NGD’s founder, Brockenbrough.

Grab your glass and check out these funny grammar-based images, which I found online. To grammar! Clink.