Every universe, our own included, begins in conversation. Every golem in the history of the world, from Rabbi Hanina's delectable goat to the river-clay Frankenstein of Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel, was summoned into existence through language, through murmuring, recital, and kabbalistic chitchat -- was, literally, talked into life.
I’m tired of television announcers, hosts, newscaster, and commentators, nibbling away at the English language, making obvious and ignorant mistakes. If I were in charge of America’s broadcast stations and networks, I would gather together all the people whose jobs include speaking to the public, and I would not let them out of the room until they had absorbed the following suggestions. And I’m aware that media personalities are not selected on the basis of intelligence. I know that, and I try to make allowances for it. Believe me, I really try. But still… There are some liberties taken with speech that I think require intervention, if only for my own sake. I won’t feel right if this chance goes by, and I keep my silence.
The English word forte, meaning "specialty" or "strong point," is not pronounced "for-tay." Got that? It is pronounced "fort." The Italian word forte, used in music notation, is pronounced "for-tay," and it instructs the musician to play loud: "She plays the skin flute, and her forte [fort] is playing forte [for-tay]." Look it up. And don’t give me that whiny shit, "For-tay is listed as the second preference." There’s a reason it’s second: because it’s not first!
Irony deals with opposites; it has nothing to do with coincidence. If two baseball players from the same hometown, on different teams, receive the same uniform number, it is not ironic. It is a coincidence. If Barry Bonds attains lifetime statistics identical to his father’s it will not be ironic. It will be a coincidence. Irony is "a state of affairs that is the reverse of what was to be expected; a result opposite to and in mockery of the appropriate result." For instance:
If a diabetic, on his way to buy insulin, is killed by a runaway truck, he is the victim of an accident. If the truck was delivering sugar, he is the victim of an oddly poetic coincidence. But if the truck was delivering insulin, ah! Then he is the victim of an irony.
If a Kurd, after surviving bloody battle with Saddam Hussein’s army and a long, difficult escape through the mountains, is crushed and killed by a parachute drop of humanitarian aid, that, my friend, is irony writ large.
Darryl Stingley, the pro football player, was paralyzed after a brutal hit by Jack Tatum. Now Darryl Stingley’s son plays football, and if the son should become paralyzed while playing, it will not be ironic. It will be coincidental. If Darryl Stingley’s son paralyzes someone else, that will be closer to ironic. If he paralyzes Jack Tatum’s son that will be precisely ironic.
I’m tired of hearing prodigal being used to mean "wandering, given to running away or leaving and returning." The parable in the Book of Luke tells of a son who squanders his father’s money. Prodigal means "recklessly wasteful or extravagant." And if you say popular usage has changed that, I say, fuck popular usage!
The phrase sour grapes does not refer to jealousy or envy. Nor is it related to being a sore loser. It deals with the rationalization of failure to attain a desired end. In the original fable by Aesop, "The Fox and the Grapes," when the fox realizes he cannot leap high enough to reach the grapes, he rationalizes that even if he had gotten them, they would probably have been sour anyway. Rationalization, that’s all sour grapes means. It doesn’t mean deal with jealousy or sore losing. Yeah, I know you say, "Well many people are using it that way, so the meaning is changing." And I say, "Well many people are really fuckin’ stupid too, shall we just adopt all their standards?"
Strictly speaking, celibate does not mean not having sex, it means not being married. No wedding. The practice of refraining from sex is called chastity or sexual abstinence. No fucking. Priests don’t take a vow of celibacy, they take a vow of chastity. Sometimes referred to as the "no-nookie clause."
And speaking of sex, the Immaculate Conception does not mean Jesus was conceived in the absence of sex. It means Mary was conceived without Original Sin. That’s all it has ever meant. And according to the tabloids, Mary is apparently the only one who can make such a claim. The Jesus thing is called virgin birth.
Proverbial is now being used to describe things that don’t appear in proverbs. For instance, "the proverbial drop in the bucket" is incorrect because "a drop in the bucket" is not a proverb, it’s a metaphor. You wouldn’t say, "as welcome as a turd in the proverbial punchbowl," or "as cold as the proverbial nun’s box," because neither refers to a proverb. The former is a metaphor, the latter is a simile.
Momentarily means for a moment, not in a moment. The word for "in a moment" is presently "I will be there presently, Dad, and then, after pausing momentarily, I will kick you in the nuts."
No other option and no other alternative are redundant. The words option and alternative already imply otherness. "I had no option, Mom, I got this huge erection because there was no alternative." This rule is not optional; the alternative is to be wrong.
You should not use criteria when you mean criterion for the same reason that you should not use criterion when you mean criteria. These is my only criterions.
A light-year is a measurement of distance, not time. "It will take light-years for young basketball players to catch up with the number of women Wilt Chamberlain has fucked, "is a scientific impossibility. Probably in more ways than one.
An acronym is not just any set of initials. It applies only to those that are pronounced as words. MADD, DARE, NATO, and UNICEF are acronyms. FBI, CIA, and KGB are not. They’re just pricks.
I know I’m fighting a losing battle with this one, but I refuse to surrender: Collapsing a building with explosives is not an implosion. An implosion is a very specific scientific phenomenon. The collapsing of a building with explosives is the collapsing of a building with explosives. The explosives explode, and the building collapses inwardly. That is not an implosion. It is an inward collapsing of a building, following a series of smaller explosions designed to make it collapse inwardly. Period. Fuck you!
Here’s another pointless, thankless objection I’d like to register. I say it that way, because I know you people and your goddamn "popular usage" slammed the door on this one a long time ago. But here goes anyway:
A cop out is not an excuse, not even a weak one; it is an admission of guilt. When someone "cops a plea," he admits guilt to some charge, in exchange for better treatment. He has "copped out." When a guy says, "I didn’t get to fuck her because I reminded her of her little brother," he is making an excuse. If he says, "I didn’t get to fuck her because I’m an unattractive schmuck," he is copping out. The trouble arises when an excuse contains a small amount of self-incriminating truth.
This one is directed to the sports people: You are destroying a perfectly good figure of speech: "Getting the monkey off one’s back" does not mean breaking a losing streak. It refers only to ending a dependency. That’s all. The monkey represents a strong yen. A loosing streak does not compare even remotely. Not in a literary sense and not in real life.
Here’s one you hear from the truly dense: "The proof is in the pudding." Well, the proof is not in the pudding; the rice and raisins are in the pudding. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. In this case, proof means "test." The same is true of "the exception that proves (tests) the rule."
An eye for an eye is not a call for revenge, it is an argument for fairness. In the time of the Bible, it was standard to take a life in exchange for an eye. But the Bible said, No, the punishment should fit the crime. Only and eye for an ey, nothing more. It is not vindictive, it is mitigatory.
Don’t make the same mistake twice seems to indicate three mistakes, doesn’t it? First you make the mistake. Then you make the same mistake. Then you make the same mistake twice. If you simply say, "Don’t make the same mistake, " you’ll avoid the first mistake.
Unique needs no modifier. Very unique, quite unique, more unique, real unique, fairly unique, and extremely unique are wrong and they mark you as dumb, although certainly not unique.
Healthy does not mean "healthful." Healthy is a condition, healthful is a property. Vegetable aren’t healthy, they’re dead. No food is healthy. Unless you have an eggplant that’s doing push-ups. Push-ups are healthful.
There is no such thing or word as kudo. Kudos is a singular noun meaning praise, and it is pronounced kyoo-dose. There is also a plural form, spelled the same, but pronounced kyoo-doze. Please stop telling me, "So-and-so picked up another kudo today."
Race, creed, or color is wrong. Race and color, as used in this phrase, describe the same property. And "creed" is a stilted, outmoded way of saying "religion." Leave this tired phrase alone; it has lost its usefulness. Besides, it reeks of insincerity no matter who uses it.
As of yet is simply stupid. As yet, I’ve seen no progress on this one, but of course I’m speaking as of now.
Here’s one you can win money on in a bar if you’re within reach of the right reference book: Chomping at the bit and old stomping ground are incorrect. Some Saturday afternoon when you’re getting bombed on your old stamping ground, you’ll be champing at the bit to use this one.
Sorry to sound so picky, folks, but I listen to a lot of radio and TV and these things have bothered me for a long time.
George Carlin (1997) If I Were in Charge of the Networks
In Andy Borowitz (2011) The 50 Funniest American Writers
Every sentence has a truth waiting at the end of it and the writer learns how to know it when he finally gets there. On one level this truth is the swing of the sentence, the beat and the poise, but down deeper it's the integrity of the writer as he matches with the language. I've always seen myself in sentences. I begin to recognize myself, word by word, as I work through a sentence. The language of my books has shaped me as a man. There's a moral force in a sentence when it comes out right. It speaks the writer's will to live. The deeper I become entangled in the process of getting a sentence right in its syllables and rhythms, the more I learn about myself. I've worked the sentences of this book long and hard but not long and hard enough because I no longer see myself in the language. The running picture is gone, the code of being that pushed me on and made me trust the world. This book and these years have worn me down. Forgotten my own first rule. Keep it simple, Bill. I've lacked courage and perseverance. Exhausted. Sick of struggling. I've let good enough be good enough. This is someone else's book. It feels all forced and wrong. I've tricked myself into going on, into believing. Can you understand how that can happen? I'm sitting on a book that's dead.