Category Archives: Grammar & language

English fail!

I’ve posted a link before to English Fail blog.  Today in the Pain Clinic’s procedure room (which houses a fluoroscopy–x-ray–machine), I noticed a warning sign and was immediately pleased at the prospect of sending in a photo to the blog.  But then I wondered what kind of back-log the administrators of that blog have, and I wanted ample credit for discovering the sign.  Suddenly, I realized I could just post it on my own blog.  That’s right, for three years I’ve been writing, and it all culminates in this moment.

This picture could be labeled both Capitalization Fail and Punctuation Fail.  There’s no logical reason to capitalize the words physician and pregnant.  The “R” in “X-Ray” is questionable at best.  But even better is the mystery period after the second pregnant, creating a sentence fragment.  Not only is there this extraneous period, but the end of the sentence lacks any punctuation whatsoever.

I will not comment on the fact that the Spanish version below resorts to capitalizing every word, which is both awkward and lazy, and there’s no need to mention that the word “Esta” lacks an accent.

Another gem of the day was when the pain fellow, David, when describing the process of searching for a rare diagnosis when a patient in reality has a common one, said, “The zebra could be looking at us through the door while we’re looking for the thoroughbred.”  A few seconds of silence followed while everyone pondered the inverted metaphor.

And finally, I snapped this picture out of the Pain Clinic’s window.  Some people, when picturing urban life in New York City, imagine looking out the window and seeing geraniums on the fire-escape, children playing on the side street, and perhaps a corner bistro with sidewalk dining.  Sadly, this is not always the case.

 I think I’ll write to the hospital administrators and suggest they create better feng shui for this outdoor space.



Filed under Grammar & language, Work

Understatement of the Month Award

“The plane is very seriously damaged,” said Jan Van der Cruysse, a spokesman for Brussels Airport, referring to a 747 cargo plane that crashed today while attempting to take off en route to Bahrain, reports.  Only four of five crew members sustained minor injuries.

Here’s a picture of the damaged plane.

I was noticing that it looks like the fuselage is cracked just over a third of the way back, and yet, if you look closely, you can see that the wings are still attached to the front part.  Are these the normal proportions for 747s, or is it just a matter of perspective?  Some additional pictures might help.

This view from behind seems to have the wing about at the midpoint…

…whereas in this view (which is similar to the Brussels crash view), the wings definitely appear to be in front of the midpoint.

A view from the side might be more objective.  Don’t be confused by the space shuttle in this next photo.  That’s not a usual feature of the 747.  If one were to bisect the plane at its midpoint, the place where the wings attach to the fuselage definitely seems to be in front.  I also notice that the bulge in the front of the plane is smaller in this freighter version than in the passenger models seen above.  If I were in charge of ordering jets for an airline, when I call in an order, I hope I wouldn’t forget to specify that I want the larger upper passenger deck.

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Filed under Grammar & language, Photos

I have no words…

And yes, I have about three grammar blogs on my favorites list.  But I don’t have a problem.  People who correct others’ grammar in comments on grammar blogs are the ones who have a problem.

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Filed under Grammar & language

Another blog

On the blog English Fail, I saw a funny post. The blog features pictures of grammatical mistakes seen by various grammarians who submit photos. (And for those of you who are worried about me, I do not spend most of my free time looking at grammar blogs. I do not have a problem.)

This picture had a warning sign,


One person left commented that it had a haiku-like cadence. As for me, it reminds me of Dylan Thomas’ “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night.”

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Filed under Grammar & language, Poetry

A near flub…

…appears in the February 23 edition of The Economist, in an article that addresses the split in Hamas’ leadership:

“Yet even the pragmatists, currently seeking a deal with Israel that would comprise a ceasefire, an exchange of prisoners and a formula for opening the border crossing to Egypt, shy from the kind of concessions–such as recognising Israel–that might convince the world to grant them legitimacy.”

I had to read this sentence several times when I first came upon it. The sentence is best understood by realizing that the word comprise is followed by a list of three things. There is no comma between the second and third things in the list (i.e., the Oxford comma is missing), an act I don’t approve of but will not condemn.

Hence, the subject of the sentence, pragmatists, is paired with the verb, shy.

Notice also the correct use of the word comprise. Individual parts compose a whole. A whole is composed of its parts. More eloquently, a whole comprises its parts. The Economist knows that the verb to comprise should be used in the active voice.

This post is sponsored by Hamas and the verbs to comprise and to shy.

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Filed under Grammar & language, The Economist

Today’s analogy

I had this realization recently about some words that are occasionally confused. It’s not entirely precise, but perhaps generally true:

Flaunt is to blatant as flout is to flagrant.


Filed under Grammar & language

A Little Pizzazz

The art of capturing the audience with the title and subtitle

I’ve never heard formal teaching on this topic, but I’ve noticed how newspapers and magazines often make use of both a title and a subtitle. As a result, I’ve developed an intuitive sense of how most writers use these features. It seems that a title is used to catch the eye. (In the case of this entry: “A Little Pizzazz.”) Anything to spark the reader’s interest. Commonly, the subtitle goes on to clarify, especially when the title scintillates to the degree of obscuring what the article is really about. An example of title/subtitle from a recent issue of The Economist:

Taming Leviathan: These are both the best of times and the worst of times for the American-Jewish lobby.

The article is accompanied by a dapper illustration of a sea monster tossing about rowboats filled with men in dark suits. This fits the paradigm nicely: the subtitle should not bore the reader, but rather encourage her* to read on.

Perhaps better to have no subtitle, however, when the subtitle in mind is about as sexy as oatmeal. Case in point, from the same issue of The Economist:

What price carbon?: Britain and the EU have learnt from some green-policy mistakes, but not from others.

Tantalize, this subtitle does not. It reeks of balance and fairness. It bores in its stated attempt to see both sides of the issue. And whereas the title should at least provide a little spice for the eyes, the question form serves only to confuse the reader. Thumbs down.

* Usually I’d revert to classic English rules and use “him” when referring to a person whose gender is unknown. “The doctor said to his patient…”; “The pilot made his announcement…”; “The principal asked the student to step into his office.” However, I thought I’d mix it up sometimes and try “her” on for size. “The nurse picked up her uniform from the cleaners.”; “The flight attendant enjoys her job.” Feedback in this area would be appreciated.


Filed under Grammar & language, The Economist