It’s a pity about this backpack’s name

I know. It’s supposed to sound like fuel. But that’s not what I see whenever I come across someone with one of these dumb backpacks.

Instead, my brain reads it as fool. Then full. Only on the third mental correction does it land on the right way to say it. Nobody asked me for my opinion, though, so instead of calling these backpacks something that makes sense, they went ahead with Fūl.

Fools.

You probably already know how Mr. T feels about the whole situation.

‘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.

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.

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.

Montreal sweaters get complicated

The Montreal Canadiens have started putting accent marks on the players’ jerseys. It never occurred to me that they weren’t there, but now that it’s been pointed out, I wonder why it’s taken so long.

“I like to write things the right way,” said Pierre Gervais, the longtime equipment manager in charge of putting name bars on the Canadiens’ uniforms.

General Manager Marc Bergevin signed off on the idea, and voilà, linguistic sports history was made. Montreal is the first N.H.L. club to have a policy of rendering players’ names accurately on their uniforms.

Seems like a no-brainer: “rendering players’ names accurately.” Gervais says that the reason they never did it before was because the cloth that the names are sewn onto was too narrow, as though cloth comes in only one size and can never be made differently. But now, with technology, cloth comes in many sizes! Lame excuse, Pierre.

Gervais said the accents were made possible by technology. Until recently, the strip of cloth for name bars was too shallow.

At any rate, I’m glad that Montreal is the first team to do it.

Daniel Briere Montreal Canadiens accent marks
Montreal center Daniel Brière will finally be able to play hockey without the embarrassment of having his last name spelled wrong on his sweater.

Toronto’s hockey team: Go, LEAVES!

Most sports fans have a favorite team and a backup. Sometimes the backup team’s from a favorite city. Or maybe if your favorite team is in the Eastern Conference, for example, you’ll have a backup in the Western Conference.

For many years, the Toronto Maple Leafs were my backup hockey team, No. 2 behind the Montreal Canadiens. Why Toronto? Good question. Thanks for asking. To be honest, I didn’t put a whole lot of thought into it. I liked that they were in Canada, because that seemed right for hockey. I liked, too, that they were part of the Original Six NHL teams, so they had a great deal of history. Also, and probably most important, I liked their colors: blue and white. Classic.

It occurred to me more than once that Leafs didn’t sound quite right, and I wondered why they weren’t the Toronto Maple Leaves (which also doesn’t sound quite right). Turns out there is an answer. Maple Leafs is a class of word similar to still life, leadfoot, low-life, and Walkman. What Steven Pinker calls headlessness in his outstanding book The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language.

A headless word is an exceptional item that, for one reason or another, differs in some property from its rightmost element, the one it would be based on if it were like ordinary words. A simple example of a headless word is a low-life—not a kind of life at all but a kind of person, namely one who leads a low life. …

As for the Maple Leafs, the noun being pluralized is not leaf, the unit of foliage, but a noun based on the name Maple Leaf, Canada’s national symbol. A name is not the same thing as a noun. … Therefore the noun a Maple Leaf (referring to, say, the goalie) must be headless, because it is a noun based on a word that is not a noun. And a noun that goes not get its nounhood from one of its components cannot get an irregular plural from that component either; hence it defaults to the regular form Maple Leafs. … Indeed, the explanation apples to all nouns based on names:

I’m sick of dealing with all the Mickey Mouses in this administration [not Mickey Mice]

Hollywood has been relying on movies based on comic book heroes and their sequels, like the three Supermans and the two Batmans [not Supermen and Batmen]

We’re having Julia Child and her husband over for dinner tonight. You know, the Childs are great cooks. [not the Children]

This all makes sense to me, and I approve. At any rate, now that I live in Chicago, I’ve moved Toronto down to No. 3 and promoted the Blackhawks to the backup spot. Sorry, Leafs. Don’t take it personally.

Toronto’s Dave Bolland won the Stanley Cup for Chicago last year. Thanks, Dave. (The plural of Stanley Cup is Stanley Cups, by the way.)

Probably stating the obvious here, but this is a pretty bad mistake

As I’ve said before, some misspellings are worse than others. And in this case, of all the words to misspell on this commemorative coin, you really couldn’t have picked a worse one than Jesus.

At least copy editors get a shoutout on this one from CNN:

(CNN)  For the love of “Lesus,” the Vatican needs a copy editor

Look, Vatican, I hate to pile on, especially since you’re probably feeling pretty crummy about this whole thing. But, come on, man. Lesus?!

Vatican misspells Jesus on commemorative coin
Way to go, Vatican.

Ever read something so good you’re angry because someone else wrote it?

Yes, well, that’s where I am with this post by Kory Stamper, whose blog I found today somehow.

I know you’re surprised that I would ever be angry about anything, but whatever. She wrote something awesome, so I’m sharing it even though I resent her.

Let’s say that you feel, despite the evidence I may put in front of you, that “decimate” should not be used to refer to utterly destroying something. That’s fine, assuming you’ve gone through Steps 1-5 above. But before you move in to correct the next guy who uses “decimate” to mean “to utterly destroy,” consider: is this the hill you want to die on? Do you want your legacy in life to be “That One Person Who Bitched Endlessly About ‘Decimate’”? Are you happy with a life that will be beset by smart-asses like me asking why, if you are so interested in so-called etymological purity, you aren’t also tackling “nice” and “frankfurter” and holy hell half the month names of the Gregorian calendar?

That’s all. Carry on.

Required reading for any language person

I’ve encountered my share of know-it-alls and fussbudgets in the editing (and writing) world, many of whom probably really believe they are doing God’s work and making the world a better place by pointing out every single misspelling, misplaced comma, or unconventional usage.

I wrote about the topic earlier this year when people corrected President Obama’s grammar on Reddit, but this blogger’s series of posts are far more graceful and informative. If you work with words, either writing or editing, or are interested in language at all, her posts should be required reading.

Fact is, language is hard, and some people are better at it than others. And there are a lot of people who only think they’re good at it. Best policy, as with many things, is to be less judgmental.

I will never be able to spell “poinsettia”

I have taken (and given) many, many editing tests in my life, and one thing has become very clear to me: I will never be able to spell poinsettia.

It looks wrong to me no matter how I spell it. First, it seems like it ought to have another T in there somewhere. Pointsettia? Then I realize that, no, that’s absurd. Oh, wait, I know: The -ia at the end is all wrong. Needs to just be an -a because that’s how it’s pronounced. I think. Look, I’m not a florist.

Poinsetta. No, still looks wrong.

Luckily, most programs have dynamic spellcheck by now, and lucky, too, that there is just not that much content that contains this cursed plant.

I also look up siege and seize every time, too.

Can't spell poinsettia? Try tulip
This is a tulip. We should think about phasing out the poinsettia in favor of this easier-to-spell flower.

Apparently, I watch Jay Leno now

In the past week or so, I’ve watched two episodes of “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.”

It makes me ashamed a little, but it’s not like I planned to watch it. OK, that’s not entirely true. The other night, someone I know happened to be on a segment of the show, so I watched it on purpose.

But tonight, it was just on. I guess I could have changed the channel, but Monday night, apparently, is Headlines night, which comes with a special schadenfreude for me.

I’m going to go ahead and just man up to watching Jay Leno sometimes. Judge if you must. I can take it.

Jay Leno Headlines
Is it wrong that this brings me so much joy? Probably. I am probably a bad person.