Don’t like singular they? Tell Mike Tyson.

Everyone has a plan till they get punched in the mouth

Mike Tyson helps James “Quick” Tillis adjust his plans in 1986.

 

 Everyone has a plan till they get punched in the mouth.

Obviously, this brilliant quote from Iron Mike works both literally and figuratively. But it’s a great and timely example of the value and utility of a singular they, which was just declared 2015’s Word of the Year by the American Dialect Society.

If you listen carefully, you can hear copy editors and the least-adaptable among us gnashing their teeth. Late last year, the Washington Post updated its style guidelines to accept singular they, and junior high school English teachers everywhere panicked and bemoaned the decline of the language and the death of rules and meaning. Of course they probably didn’t read the memo from Post copy editor Bill Walsh:

It is usually possible, and preferable, to recast sentences as plural to avoid both the sexist and antiquated universal default to male pronouns and the awkward use of he or she, him or her and the like: All students must complete their homework, not Each student must complete his or her homework.

When such a rewrite is impossible or hopelessly awkward, however, what is known as “the singular they” is permissible: Everyone has their own opinion about the traditional grammar rule. The singular they is also useful in references to people who identify as neither male nor female.

See that? Singular they is acceptable only when a rewrite is impossible or hopelessly awkward. Most of the time, there’s probably a graceful solution. And for those rare other times when there isn’t, or we’re referring to someone who prefers a gender-neutral pronoun, we’ll continue to do what I suspect we’ve already been doing this whole time.

The language isn’t going to die, everyone. We’re all going to be OK.

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Project Semicolon

Saw someone walking around the other day with a semicolon tattoo, and I thought: Well, that’s kind of interesting. Simple, graceful, understated.

Had no idea what it meant, or that it even meant anything at all—people get really dumb and heinous tattoos sometimes. Eventually, I moved on with my life and forgot about it.

But today in a HuffPo article, I stumbled onto Project Semicolon, a faith-based nonprofit devoted to people struggling with depression, suicide, and addiction.

A semicolon represents a sentence the author could have ended, but chose not to. The sentence is your life and the author is you.

Mental illness is a killer, and the stigma makes it even more tragic. So good for these people and their elegant display of support. Carry on, you guys.

mental illness

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Filed under Politics, punctuation, Words Used Well

Hit the ground and just take it easy for a bit, you ninjas

You see this a lot in job advertisements: Candidates need to be able to hit the ground running.

Hit the ground running. I guess what this really means is that once you plant yourself at your desk on your very first day, you need to know what to do. Without any inconvenient hassles like training or guidance.

Reminds me of this dangerous* toy I had when I was a kid. The SSP Racer was a car that you pulled a zip cord through to make the wheels spin, and when you put the car on the ground, it zoomed off like a rocket. Loved those things. Problem is, when those cars hit the ground running, they usually just spun out erratically and crashed into a wall.

I suppose if I were ever writing a job description, I might revise it to say:

Candidates need to be able to hit the ground and be still for a minute, take in your surroundings, figure out where things are and how you fit in. Examine your role in the operation and work on ways that we can all benefit from your knowledge and expertise. Carefully explore the terrain and try to learn from the experience of the others around you. Meanwhile, we’ll provide excellent training and support.

This is probably why I don’t write job ads. Anyway, while we’re here, you might as well listen to me rant about a few other hiring cliches I’ve had just about enough of:

Rock stars: I don’t think HR departments realize how terrible rock stars are. They’re moody, unpredictable, ultrasensitive, with explosive tempers. Are these really the traits you’re looking for? Because I think I could be a good fit. Wait, you just mean very talented? Ah. Guess you could have said that instead. Also, it’s worth keeping in mind that not all rock stars are talented (I’m looking at you, Anthony Keidis).

Ozzy Osbourne applies for a job

Yes, right, well, my skills include shrieking and stomping around. At my previous firm, Black Sabbath, I helped define a genre. I type about 50 words a minute and am proficient in the Microsoft suite of products, including PowerPoint.

Ninjas: Companies often want ninjas to work for them. Not sure how being a stealthy assassin can help us achieve positive momentum on our initiatives and mission-critical deliverables or whatever, but I’ll play along. Are tabi boots and throwing stars included as part of employment, or am I responsible for my own weapons and gear?

Where is everyone?

Where is everyone? I don’t know, Phil, looks like everyone’s been assassinated. Whose idea was it to hire that ninja, anyway?

Wizards: Oh, you want me to do magic? Gotcha. (No disrespect intended, but this salary does not seem commensurate with actual wizardry—is there a typo in that number?)

Team player: There’s no I in TEAM, everyone! There is a me, though, so whatever. I’m not even sure what being a team player means in all these job ads. Especially when it’s always paired with the requirement that a candidate be able to work with little or no direction. Which is it, people? Am I part of a team or am I a lone wolf?

Self-starter: I guess this is where being a self-starter comes in. No idea what you should be doing? Figure it out. Then do it.

Show initiative: It’s been my experience that most managers are really annoyed by people who show initiative, so stop asking for it.

Competitive salary: We pay just as little as the other companies. Also, we will never actually tell you what this competitive salary is unless we hire you, after we’ve already taken up a lot of your time and ours.

Applying and interviewing for jobs is a horrible, degrading, soul-crushing process. The people who write job ads could make things easier on everyone by just saying what they mean.

* In the 1970s, toys weren’t dangerous. Children were dangerous. If you used a toy wrong, it wasn’t the toy’s fault. Like that time I pulled one of the zip cords on my SSP Racer and put the spinning wheels directly onto my stupid head. My hair got tangled around both axles, and my mom had to shave my head to remove it, leaving an enormous, gaping bald spot above my left ear that let the world know that I was an idiot kid who couldn’t be trusted with simple toys. They stopped making the SSP Racer soon after, and I guess the world is a safer place for stupid children.

SSP Racer

Hey, kids, rev this thing up and put it directly onto your head. Totally safe. You will not regret it ever.

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Very curious.

There’s this regional bank in my, uh, region that uses the tagline: The curious bank.

Every time I see it, though, I read curious as strange: The strange bank. I don’t want to bank at a strange bank. I want my bank to be super-normal. Boring, even. I don’t mind strange or unusual things (I ate squid once!). But banking? Let’s save the adventures for someone else’s money, please.

Also, and this is really just an afterthought after I’ve pondered the whole curious thing: Its logo looks like a fraction — five-thirds. What is that? Is that a number that makes sense to anyone? Admittedly, I’m a word person, so numbers can sometimes confuse me. But five-thirds? I’m almost sure that’s wrong. I don’t want my bank to be this way with numbers.

And Fifth Third — what does that mean? Again, it sounds like they don’t know how numbers work, and that diminishes my confidence in their ability to do banking right.

Fifth Third Bank curious tagline

Fifth Third Bank. We don’t understand how numbers or words work. Give us your money!

 

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‘In Dog We Trust’ isn’t the real blasphemy here

Remember that time the Vatican misspelled Jesus on a commemorative coin? Solid comedy gold.

Now some sheriff’s office in Florida misspelled God on its office rug. But you know what’s a bigger blasphemy than misspelling a deity on a rug? This lede on the AP story, that’s what.

LARGO, Fla. (AP) — The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office in Florida has gone to the dogs. Well, at least its rugs have.

Gone to the dogs? Geez, guys, really? That’s the very best you could come up with? I rolled my eyes so hard I’m blind now. Thanks, AP. My life is ruined.

On another note, the sheriff’s office is just putting the rugs away somewhere. I say they should repurpose them and use them in the offices of their K-9 unit. That would be a perfect solution.

Florida.

It’s true: Dogs are supertrustworthy.

UPDATE: Looks like the rug has been auctioned off to benefit an animal shelter. Good for you, sheriff’s office, good for you.

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OK, razor companies, I’m ready at any time to talk money

I have a great idea for an ad campaign for Gillette or Schick to use during the NHL playoffs. Listening? OK.

The TV spot opens on a sad-looking shirtless man with a scruffy beard gazing into the bathroom mirror. Cut to another bearded man looking forlornly into the mirror. Cut to a clearly distressed bearded man in the middle of shaving, face half-covered with cream. Cut to yet another man in the bathroom mirror with maybe an enormous beard. He is weeping. Fade to black. Announcer: Your team can’t always win, but your face can. Gillette (or Schick, whichever comes up with the best deal for me, obviously). Proud sponsor of the NHL and playoff beards. Logo flash. END/

Solid gold, am I right?

A variation: Montage of sad bearded men looking into the bathroom mirror in varying degrees of distress — crying, raging, scowling – and the final one is smiling and happy, admiring a long, full beard before reaching for the shaving cream. Fade to black: Announcer: No playoff beard is forever. Gillette (or Schick): Proud sponsor of the NHL. Logo flash. END/

OH! Or maybe this: Montage of NHL players’ less-than-awesome beards (I’m looking at you, Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks). Then a regular normal person with a terrible patchy beard at the kitchen table with his wife and kids, who clearly are befuddled by his “beard.” He sips his juice or coffee and says: What? Cut to black. Announcer: Not everyone needs a playoff beard. Gillette (or Schick): Proud sponsor of the NHL and playoff beards, even the bad ones. Logo flash. END/

Holy shit, everyone, I’m like the Don Draper of shaving-products advertising. I need a scotch.

Is very Amish.

The Blackhawks captain goes with an Amish look for the playoffs, probably hoping to confuse opponents into thinking that he is unable to adapt to the modern world of professional sports.

And lame mullet

Patrick Kane’s playoff beard comes with a mullet.

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Worst headline ever? I dunno, but it’s pretty awful.

First of all, let’s answer the most obvious question: Yes, I was at the gym. I go to the gym sometimes. You don’t get pythons like this by just sitting around eating Cap’n Crunch all day and reading financial copy. Also, there’s a sauna there.

Anyway, I was in this sauna when I came across a copy of Golf Chicago Magazine (apparently there’s a magazine devoted to golf and Chicago) and this awful, terrible headline on a story about Jeremy Roenick, the badass former hockey player.

A real headline in a real magazine.

Blackhawk Down. With Golf. Someone wrote a “clever headline” referring to either the 1993 incident in Somalia in which 18 U.S. service members were killed (along with hundreds of Somali militants and civilians) or the 2001 Oscar-winning film about that incident.

Not only did someone write the headline, someone approved it. And it was published. But maybe the headline writer wasn’t referring to either of those and just meant that this former Blackhawks player is down with golf, as in, Jeremy Roenick is OK with golf. He doesn’t love golf or have a passion for golf. He doesn’t hate golf. He’s OK with it. Best-case scenario: Still a terrible headline.

In general, I’m not a fan of movie references or puns, though I’ve succumbed to the temptation periodically (Game of Thrones!). And this is why. In the very best circumstances, it’s merely lame. In cases like this golf magazine, it’s offensively horrid. If you’re going to use an unrelated pop-culture or historical reference in your headline, at least try to make sure it didn’t involve hundreds of deaths or terrible suffering.

This is me being sad at the gym after reading that terrible headline. Totally ruined my workout.

 

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Why outside? Why indeed.

Here’s something I saw the other day, and I stood there and looked at it for awhile trying to figure it out. I get that it’s a fitness club. What I don’t get is how to pronounce it.

How is this pronounced? And why is this plant mascot running away? Has it committed a crime? Is it ashamed of the name of its fitness club?

Could be Yootside, sort of like a fitness club for youths pronounced Joe Pesci-style.

Could be a combining form of you and outside, which still leaves the pronunciation a mystery since the ou in you and outside don’t share the same sound, so it would look like it should be pronounced yowtside. Yowza.

Maybe the Y is pronounced separately, so it’s a question, as in Why outside? Good question. Why outside? Well, why not outside?

Looks like the answer is on their website:

In short, it should be about you. And if you’re like us you prefer to exercise outside. You + Outside = Youtside!

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I don’t always peeve, but when I do, it’s about something very small

I don’t usually indulge in peevery, but I’m making an exception here.

Just a small fraction came up at work the other day, and I removed the word small, which created strife between me and the writer. A discussion ensued in which he said he wanted small reinserted because nine-tenths is technically a fraction and he was emphasizing the smallness. Without small, how would the reader know what he meant?

Yes, it’s true that nine-tenths is a fraction. And yes, one could truthfully say that a Bugatti Veyron, at $3.5 million, is a fraction of the cost of the $4 million Lamborghini Veneno. But you wouldn’t. You would never say that.

It would be a dumb thing to say because the idiom just a fraction means a very small amount. See how small is built in there? This is what I’m talking about. There’s your technical, mathematical fraction (three-fifths, etc.) and then there’s your idiom, in which the word fraction means a very small amount.

  1. a small part, amount, degree, etc.; portion

Anyway, I don’t care about who/whom or begs the question, and I’m learning to live with due to/because of. But a small fraction still gets to me a little.

My next car is probably going to be a Lamborghini Veneno, except it’s a small fraction too expensive for me. Also, I prefer the Countach anyway.

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Conundrum is dumb

Aw, man. Get this: I’m at work, and a writer used conundrum in a way that didn’t feel right, so I looked it up.

 co·nun·drum: noun. 1. :  a riddle whose answer is or involves a pun.

What?! You have got to be kidding me. Since when? So add this to the getting-longer-every-day list of things I didn’t know, I guess, but it needs an asterisk, because come on. This is really so common a thing that it needs its own definition? I had to look up the definition again to find an example of such a thing.

What’s the difference between a jeweler and a jailer? One sells watches and the other watches cells.

Hurrr. Lame. How is this even a thing, people? Very disappointed in English today.

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