Monday, November 29, 2010

Monday Morning Quarterback

The Black Friday sales flyers yielded no typos of interest – or maybe I simply lost interest, because I find the whole Black Friday thing totally inane anyway.  Nothing says "the holidays" like fistfights over children's toys at 3:00 a.m. or flattening someone else's tires in a mall parking dispute.

But I digress…

These tidbits all come to us courtesy of my favorite local TV news station's web site, which has already supplied plenty of fodder for this blog.

1.  Regarding the theft of a purse from a vehicle:

"Police believe the victim's purse, left on the seat, lured them to break-in."

I'm starting to see more and more instances of hyphens inserted where they don't belong, and I find the trend most annoying!  In this instance, "break in" is a verb (i.e. "to break in") and should not be hyphenated.  The crime itself is a (hyphenated) "break-in."

2.  Isn't it bad enough that a family was displaced by a house fire over the weekend, and that they lost their family pets in the fire?  The poorly written story covering the incident just adds to the injustice.  Here are select excerpts (underlines are mine):

  • "No one was inside the home, except their two dogs." - As written, this sentence says that a person named "No one" owned the dogs.  Well, isn't that an interesting name!
  • "The homeowner's are being helped by the red cross." - Apostrophes are not necessary for a simple plural – it should be "homeowners."  And "red cross" is a proper name that should be capitalized: "Red Cross."
  • "The red cross is helping the family." - This was the last sentence in the story.  Guess the writer forgot he/she had already mentioned that fact…and forgot to capitalize "Red Cross" yet again!
    3.  On the recent accidental death of a beloved giraffe at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, a reporter writes:

    "A 20-year-old giraffe named Uhura fell and died within it's exhibit on Friday…"

    The misuses of "its" and "it's" is one of the more common typos I see.  Many are simple brain-to-hand goofs, but the difference between the two forms can be confusing.  In most cases, possessiveness is indicated by an apostrophe followed by an 's,' as in "the farmer's dog" or "the car's leather interior."

    However, adding an apostrophe and an 's' to "it" indicates a conjunction, replacing "it is."  "Its" without the apostrophe indicates the possessive case.  Here are some examples of correct usage:

    It's a beautiful day outside.  (Replace "it's" with "it is" and the meaning remains the same.)

    The bird explored its new cage.  (This "its" cannot be replaced with "it is" and still make any sense.)

    Go forth, my fellow word warriors, and be grammatically correct in all that you do.

    Sunday, November 21, 2010

    Headline Hijinks

    I cannot take credit for any of these – both the headlines and the snarky commentary came to me in one of those oft-forwarded e-mails circulating on the Web.  But since they fit the theme of this blog, I decided to share.  If you can identify any of the original sources, let me know and I'll make the appropriate credit.
    Man Kills Self Before Shooting Wife and Daughter
    The person who found this one notes, "I called the Editorial Room and asked who wrote this.  It took two or three readings before the editor realized that what he was reading was impossible! They put in a correction the next day."

    Something Went Wrong in Jet Crash, Expert Says [Ya think?]

    Police Begin Campaign to Run Down Jaywalkers [Now that's taking things a bit far.]

    Panda Mating Fails; Veterinarian Takes Over [What a guy!]

    Miners Refuse to Work after Death [No-good-for-nothing' lazy so-and-so's.]

    Juvenile Court to Try Shooting Defendant [See if that works any better than a fair trial.]

    War Dims Hope for Peace [I can see where it might have that effect.]

     If Strike Isn't Settled Quickly, It May Last Awhile [Really?]

    Cold Wave Linked to Temperatures [Who would have thought?]

    Enfield (London) Couple Slain; Police Suspect Homicide [They may be on to something.]

    Red Tape Holds Up New Bridges [You mean there's something stronger than duct tape?]

    Man Struck By Lightning: Faces Battery Charge [He probably IS the battery charge!]

    Astronaut Takes Blame for Gas in Spacecraft [That's what he gets for eating those beans!]

    Kids Make Nutritious Snacks [Do they taste like chicken?]

    Hospitals are Sued by 7 Foot Doctors [Boy, are they tall!]

    Typhoon Rips Through Cemetery; Hundreds Dead [Did I read that right?]

    Thursday, November 18, 2010

    No Peaking!

    "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means." – Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride
    Has something ever piqued your curiosity?  Have you ever peeked inside a box you weren't supposed to open?  Or have you simply reached the peak of your patience?

    Okay, that was pretty much a bunch of gibberish, but hopefully it illustrates some of the ways that "pique," "peak," and "peek" are used.  These words are today's topic because, once again, I encountered the phrase – nay, the incorrect phrase! – "to peak one's curiosity" and it left me in a fit of pique.

    Confused?  I promise, it will get better.  Maybe.

    Incorrect:  My curiosity was peaked by the note in my lunch bag.
    Correct:  Her sultry voice piqued his interest.

    As a verb, "pique" means to arouse interest or to excite.  "Peak" (as a verb) means to reach a limit or maximum, such as, "He peaked in his third season as a pro."

    Incorrect:  She left in a fit of peak.
    Correct:  His pique over the demotion lasted for months.

    The noun "pique" means resentment, or as puts it, "a transient feeling of wounded vanity."  (I really like that definition!)

    Incorrect:  She peaked inside the foil-wrapped box.
    Correct:  Sammy's pet mouse peeked out of its little house.

    I haven't seen this misuse very often, but I have seen it. "Peek" means to take a quick look.  "Peak" does not.

    And last, but not least, the one that I was certain I knew until I researched it:

          Incorrect:  The elderly man looked pekid.
          Correct:  The doctor noted that the patient appeared peaked.

    Until last week, I would have sworn on a stack of dictionaries that this usage was spelled "pekid" because that's how it's pronounced.  Wrong!  The correct word is "peaked" (pronounced 'peek-id' or 'peek-ed'), meaning wan or pale.

    Who knew?

    There's more to cover in the "peak," "pique" and "peek" realm, but I won't bore you here.  Instead, take a minute to peruse a dictionary and see if that word really means what you think it means.

    Saturday, November 13, 2010

    Irish Nachos, Anyone?

    Today's post comes from one of my favorite blooper sites, Failblog (  I dedicate this to a friend who recently returned from the Emerald Isle:

    (Photo submitted to by Richard Saunders)

    And by the way, "Failte" is not Irish for "Fail."  It means "Welcome."

    Wednesday, November 10, 2010

    Words on Fire

    In a world where we are bombarded daily with multiple news stories, how do you decide which stories you'll read or view?

    You go to the stories that appeal to you, of course – stories that relate to your career, hobbies, or whatever you find interesting.  

    Take a moment to read my previous posts, and you'll see a disproportionate number of entries on fire-related stories.  After fifteen years in the fire service, my eye is naturally drawn to stories about fire and firefighting.  And when the fire happens in my neighborhood, you bet I'm going to tune in or click through to get the scoop!  Inquiring minds want to know – and so do nosy neighbors.

    Today's post is about that very type of incident, but this was more than just your run-of-the-mill house fire.  This case involved a domestic dispute in which a man rammed his car into a house, barricaded himself inside and then torched the place.  Fortunately, the target of the attack was able to get out safely.  Unfortunately, she faces some difficult times ahead.

    Naturally, a story like this receives a lot of local media attention.  Just to be clear, it is the reporting blunders I'm poking fun at today, not the horrible situation that unfolded Sunday night.

    I found this head-scratcher on the web site of a local television station.  Their camera crew captured spectacular footage of the fully – and I mean fully – involved structure, which was posted with the written story.  Yet the reporter wrote:

    "Officials said the house may not be salvageable."

    Do tell.  I'm not necessarily faulting the "official" who said this, because government officials often err on the side of ambiguity when dealing with the press.  But anyone who sees this video can safely assume the house was totally destroyed (and it was).  It is that obvious.  Now, it's possible that this reporter didn't see her own station's footage before posting the story.  If she did, then including this particular comment just looks silly.

    Later in the article, this same reporter notes that fire crews were on the scene some nine or ten hours later, still dousing hot spots.  Here's a tip:  If firefighters are actively working a scene that long after the fire started, there's a pretty good chance that the structure is not salvageable.
    Next up:  A story on a local newspaper's web site, written two days after the incident, says the whole thing began "about 11:15 a.m."  Well, give or take twelve hours because the correct time was 11:15 p.m.  That's just sloppy work.

    This last one is from that same story – and frankly, it speaks for itself:

    "…the house, valued at $282,000 by the El Paso Cunty assessor…"

    Wow.  Does anyone know how to use spell check anymore?  Anyone?

    Thursday, November 4, 2010

    No Typos, Please

    Author, writing instructor and acquiring editor Alicia Rasley, who writes the Edittorent blog, was a guest on the Seekerville blog this week.  In her post, she addressed the top five mistakes authors make in proposals.

    # 1 on the list:  Typos.
    "...especially in the query letter, and mechanical errors in the first page of the synopsis and chapters...Typos jump right out and attack the eyes of editors and agents, and you don't want to cause that kind of anguish."
    If you have a moment, pop over to the Seekerville blog and read her full post.  It's great insight about the things that will cause an editor or agent to reject your writing.

    And no matter what you write, always, always take the time to carefully proofread your work before sending it out to the world.  Your readers will thank you for it.

    Wednesday, November 3, 2010

    Where Have All the Proofreaders Gone?

    That's a question I ask on a regular basis, and it seems I'm not the only one.

    This morning I ran across an AOL article about a recent hotel fire in Philadelphia that was a cover-up for a murder. The article said the fire was "put out quickly and limited to (the victim's) room."

    Accompanying the article, and placed right at the top beneath the headline, was this photo:

    (Photo by by Edward Vielmetti at

    Wow. That's a pretty spectacular room and contents fire! A couple of other readers thought so, too.  Kevin S. commented:
    OK AOL, please tell us why you chose the picture of what looks like a very devastating fire at the beginning of this story, only to find out that the fire was contained to the hotel room? The picture you used makes it look like the entire city of Philly is going up in flames. Nice!
    Wil added:
    The picture did confuse me, also. It is of a forest fire in Santa Barbara, CA, and has nothing to do with the tragedy and fire in Philadelphia. Definitely a slip-up by the editor or proofreader (are there such nowadays with instant computer-to-copy?).
    My thoughts exactly.