Scott Edwards, "Machete-armed men rampage through streets in violent clash" (Birmingham [U.K.] Mail):
A group of thugs were caught on camera clashing with each other in the middle of the road armed with machetes.
FORENSIC VERDICT: Put the parts together that belong together. The road wasn't "armed with machetes," so the sentence should have referred to "thugs
Anya Leonard, "A Funny Philosopher" (Classical Wisdom Weekly):
FORENSIC VERDICT: Spell-checkers don't spot when a writer has used an incorrect, but similar word. In this case, the writer wanted "don" instead of "dawn."
Eddie Pells, “After the title game, uncertainty” (Association Press article in Florida Times-Union, April 3, 2018):
FORENSIC VERDICT: The 48-word sentence has three or four problems. First, the sentence needs to be simplified or broken up into separate sentences. Second, a “conditional” helper, such as “could” (or “would”) requires the main verb to be in the present tense form (“could lay” or “would go,” etc.). Third, after “bare,” we need a comma or a dash.
Steve Flowers, “Inside the Statehouse” (weekly column, April 11, 2018):
FORENSIC VERDICT: The prepositional phrase tricks the ear by having “congressmen” next to the verb. The subject in that wording, however, is really “era,” so the verb should be “was.” A simple fix (besides that) is to convert the information in the prepositional phrase into a legitimate subject, as with this:
“The Alabama congressmen of that bygone era were very progressive. . . “
David Max Korzen, "Civilian Life Has Appeal for 'Burned Out' Air Force Pilots" (Real Clear Defense.com):
But despite all his ferocity and determination, its possible Olds wouldn’t make it very far in today’s Air Force.
To their credit, Air Force leadership is attempting to reign in additional duties, yet despite setting themselves a deadline on October 1, 2016, for implementing changes, aircrew in flying squadrons report few tangible differences.
As aviators come up on the end of their contracted service period they face a choice; take the money on the table from the Air Force or take a chance with the airline industry.
FORENSIC VERDICT: The first sentence requires "it's," a contraction for "it is," not for the possessive pronoun. The second sentence requires "rein in," as air jockeys and horse jockeys have to do. The third sentence needs a colon after choice. The words finishing out the sentence explain what is meant by choice.
Headline in online edition of The Birmingham [U.K.] Mail:
FORENSIC VERDICT: So we name hurricanes and now they want to name street brawls? If so, why not just go with Street Brawl Jordan? By omitting words to make the headline work, they created the above problem. A full wording would have been "Man who was stabbed to death after a huge street brawl is identified as Jordan Ross." Ah, but it's too long the editor says. How about "Street brawl victim is ID'ed as Jordan Ross"?
Nina Metz, "Shooting Christmas classic not always 'Wonderful'" (Tribune News Service):
While [Jimmy Stewart] was making ["It's a Wonderful Life" in 1946], he was questioning the superficiality of Hollywood and acting in general, and John Barrymore (who plays Mr. Potter) said to him, "So are you saying it's more worthwhile to drop bombs on people than to entertain them?"
FORENSIC VERDICT: Mr. Potter, of course, was played by Lionel Barrymore. John had died in 1942 at age 60, whereas Lionel made it to 1954, dying at age 76.
Michael Starr Hopkins, “Kamala Harris and Kirsten Gillibrand will lead Democrats to 2020 victory” (The Hill):
As relative newbies on the national political scene, neither Harris nor Gillibrand have had the time to accumulate the partisan ire that was often attributed to the former first lady and secretary of State. Neither Harris nor Gillibrand suffer from questions about their age or potential fitness for office. Neither Harris nor Gillibrand have to address unfair questions relating to their husband’s indiscretions or political decisions that they were not elected to make.
FORENSIC VERDICT: If the subject phrase involves “either/or,” “neither/nor,” or “or,” the rule for the verb is simple. If both items are singular, the verb requires a verb in the third person singular (e.g., “Neither Donald Duck nor Mickey Mouse appears in a Warner Bros. cartoon”). If one of the items is singular and the other plural, the verb is determined by the one closest to the verb (e.g., “Neither Snow White nor the Seven Dwarfs appear in a Warner Bros. cartoon”).
Caption for Civil War photograph that has been colorized:
Pictured here is the infamous Lieutenant Custer with Union Troops in 1862, just prior to the battle that would cost his life. Custer was known for his vicious tactics as a soldier during the American Indian Wars. In a battle that became known as “Custer’s last stand,” he was scalped by a Cheyenne warrior.
FORENSIC VERDICT: Lieutenant Custer went on to climb the ranks during the Civil War but ran out of luck in 1876 at the Battle of Little Bighorn in Montana.
Gigen Mammoser, “Trump Supporters Enraged by 18th-Century Custard Recipe” (Munchies):
This year, the Fourth of July was a sensitive time for Trump voters. But with new evidence in the investigation regarding Trump's ties to Russia and stalled legislative agenda hanging over the presidency, what better way to blow off a little steam than to knock back a couple of beers, fire off bottle rockets, and salute the ol' stars and bars?
FORENSIC VERDICT: The colonists in America had a custard-orange juice-nutmeg dessert called the "Orange Fool," but, alas, it was taken out of context. We can tsk-tsk the ignorance of the pro- (and anti-)Trump responders . . . but then we have to fuss at Munchies about one of its own errors: The Stars and Bars referred to the original, official Confederate flag.
Liel Liebowitz, "Rex Makin, Mr. Beatlemania, dies at 91" (The Tablet):
... when Epstein became the band’s manager, Makin became its de facto lawyer. He had his work cut out for him: when the boys caught the clap, Makin arranged for a discrete doctor.
FORENSIC VERDICT: Few writers correctly distinguish between discrete and discreet. The first means "separate," while the second means "judicious."
Steve Flowers, "Inside the Statehouse: Alabama Politics" (syndicated column):
He allowed Mrs. Mason to take control of his life and the reigns of the governor’s office.
The April 5 Ethics Commission ruling that found that there was a reasonable cause that the governor violated the Ethics Law is the coupe de gras to the Bentley/Mason regime.
FORENSIC VERDICT: We have two problems.
First, the writer is an insightful commentator about state politics, but he repeatedly can't differentiate between "reins" (as in "take the reins of a horse") and "reigns" (an administration, in state terms).
Second, it's dangerous to play around with foreign expressions unless you are well-grounded in the language. Even so, your readers may not be familiar with the phrases. The writer wanted coup de grâce (which means "mercy killing"). A "coupe" would refer to a two-door car with a solid top.
Catherine Roberts, "13 healthy foods to avoid for weight loss" (ActiveBeat):
There are many different sugar alternatives and each carry their own risk.
TheWrongStuffSara Jones, “Victory: The Supreme Court Refuses to Hear an OK Law Banning Medical Abortions” (PoliticusUSA):
The very activisty and conservative Supreme Court refused to hear a struck down 2011 Oklahoma law today that “effectively bans all medical abortions”, which means that the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the law on the grounds that it put an unconstitutional burden on women stands.
W.S. SAYS: This was posted minutes after the ruling of the SCOTUS was handed out, so we shouldn’t quibble too much. Minor point: The comma goes inside the quotation (British style is outside). We do have two major problems. First, give the writer credit for creating the word “activisty.” Now hit her with a wet noodle because it’s lame. Second, a reader may have to re-read the last part of the sentence to figure out what it is saying. Why? Because “stands” is tacked on at the end, creating an awkward split. Better revision: “which lets stand the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s decision to” blah blah blah.
“Old West section: History of Butch Cassidy, LeRoy Parker” (Utah.com):
By this time, the Wild Bunch had an extensive allay of law officers hunting them wherever they went, and Butch had an impressive folio compiled by the Pinkerton National Detective Agency, whose operatives seemed to follow his every move, waiting for a slip-up.
W.S. SAYS: The website is using the wrong word. “Allay” is a verb and refers to “calming.” The writer probably wanted the word “array,” which would refer to “a large group or number of things.”
Headline in Nation of Change:
Want to Stop Monsanto? Stop Using It’s Best Seller: Round Up
W.S. SAYS: This is one of the top ten most irritating errors: using “it’s” (contraction for “it is”) when “its” (personal pronoun) is required.
Rebecca Crockett, “Hurt: The War Doctor Was One Of My Toughest Roles” (Kasterborous):
For a man with a vast and storied career, having played everyone from an old, crazy wand maker to someone with serious physical deformities to the victim of a viscous alien, one might think playing the part of the Doctor would be easy. Decide on your Doctor’s characteristic traits and play on them.
W.S. SAYS: The alien creature that came out of John Hurt’s chest was vicious. “Viscous” refers to liquids that may be thick and not flowing easily.
Shawna Vercher, “The Blog: Football, Rape and National Media: Five Things to Keep in Mind Regarding the FSU Case” (Huff Post Sports):
Again, we still do not know what happened between she and Mr. Winston, but can we finally abandon the idea that a woman at a party after midnight causes her coach to turn into a pumpkin while she dons a "Please Rape Me" t-shirt??
I get why everyone from the local news to ESPN are trying to temper this down by giving us the platitude that, "We just need to wait and see what happens with the investigation."
W.S. SAYS: Normally, we don’t pick on blogs, but this came from a sports blog of Huffington Post, which might be expected to give their blogs a cursory examination and fix. In the first selection, you don’t say “between she and” someone. “Between” is a preposition, so the pronoun should be in the objective case: “her.” In the second selection, the subject of the “why”-clause is “everyone,” which is singular. Either change the subject to something plural (e.g., “all critics”) or make the verb singular (“is trying”).
Past issues of “The Wrong Stuff” are now available in a paperback, The Wrong Stuff: Findings of a Forensic Grammarian at http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00D3PF180
It’s good for writers, editors, English grammarians, and even cornet players with embouchure problems.
Bonnie Malkin, “Malala favourite for Nobel Peace Prize” (The Telegraph: The World Today):
The Taliban in response stood by their decision to shoot her [Malala Yousafzai] in the first place and have threatened to kill her again.
W.S. SAYS: A misplacement of “again” suggests we are dealing with resurrections or zombies. Move the adverb closer to the verb, as in “and have again threatened.”
Anthony Gucciardi, “3 Disturbing Fukushima Facts the Government is Covering Up” (Nation of Change):
The mega Fukushima meltdown continues to assault the planet on a daily basis with barrages of radioactive fallout that have infiltrated everything from our international food supply to the Pacific Ocean. But instead of alerting us to this reality and helping us to be prepared for what’s coming, both the United States and Japanese governments have chosen to ignore and downplay the devastating affects of Fukushima in order to pretend that nothing is wrong.
W.S. SAYS: The Fukushima disaster AFFECTS the world, but the governments are ignoring the EFFECTS.
Trevor LaFauci, “Genius: How a 1990s Cartoon Character Perfectly Represents Ted Cruz” (Politicususa):
Che Guevara started out believing himself to be a freedom fighter for the people of the Americas. He ended up being killed participating in guerrilla warfare in Africa.
W.S. SAYS: Actually Che was captured and executed in Bolivia by captors who didn’t want to risk his escaping again or his becoming the focus of a show-trial.
Gregory Ellwood, “10 Superheroes who really don’t need their own movie” (Zergnet):
Don't feel bad for young Billy Batson though, he's still got the big golden lightening bolt emblazed on his chest but he's now going by Shazam instead.
Though the entire 1998-99 ASF season hasn't been set, expect Richard III as one of the Shakespeares, Lurleen (Mrs. George Wallace becomes governor after her husband is incapacitated) as the newest entry in the Southern Writers' Project, and It Ain't Nothin' But the Blues, a new musical.
Incredible footage of a Japanese electric train being struck by lightening
The onset of the personal computer held no appeal for him, and the many advantages of Word Processing was not able to seduce him away from his beloved typewriter.
And if Ray was looking down from above (no, not from heaven, but from Mars) and saw what I saw he must have become livid, he must have become read-faced with anger, sputtering out curses and damnation against his publisher, William Morrow (an imprint of HarperCollins).
The two least-driven cars, a 1959 Bel Air and a 1960 Corvair Monza, each have one mile on their odometer.
Regardless of whether it’s a “good” or a “bad” choice, casting [Ben] Affleck was definitely an interesting choice, as were each of those chosen to take the role before him.
W.S. SAYS: The verb needs to agree with “choice,” and the “each” emphasizes the actors will be discussed individually, so make it “as was each.”
Associated Press, “Julie Harris, Broadway star, dies at 87” (USA Today):
In the movies, she was James Dean's romantic co-star in East of Eden (1955), and had rolls in such films as Requiem for a Heavyweight (1962), The Haunting (1963) and Reflections in a Golden Eye (1967).
On Sunday, July 25, 2010, one of Enbridge’s pipelines in the U.S. sprung a leak near Marshall, Mich.
And then there’s the properties of this oil itself that enter into the risk portion of the analysis.
House Speaker John Boehner, like a chief lemming leading his followers over a cliff, warned in advance of that Senate vote, in which 14 Republicans broke party ranks, that his flock would continue its obdurate ways on the politically explosive immigration issue.
Abram Brown, “Barnes & Noble CEO Lynch Out After Nook Woes Deepen” (Forbes):
That’s despite Lynch’s best efforts. He choose to work from the company Website’s offices rather than its corporate headquarters, and at times he would take a page from Apple’s playbook, personally introducing new products himself.
W.S. SAYS: “Choose,” of course, is present tense, and the writer really wanted to use “chose.”
Perlmutter proved most interested in people living in severly straightened circumstances and often took pictures of children at play, such as here in a Spanish courtyard.
A few days later, 17-year-old De’Marquis Elkins and his 15-year-old alleged accomplice Dominique Lang, were arrested for the crime and charged with murder. Their trail is set for August.
A German U-boat spotted the vessel off the coast of Ireland on Feb. 17[, 1941] and fired a torpedo that sunk the Gairsoppa 300 miles southwest of Galway Bay.
[Motorist Oscar] Scott said there were several people setting on the porch beside her when she fired.
Sherlock Homes inspired real life CSI
Former Nixon aide claims he has evidence
Lyndon B. Johnson arranged John F.
Kennedy's assassination in new book
Police said it was being piloted by Jojo John, 35, of Nyack, whom they suspect was intoxicated and who has been charged with vehicular manslaughter and vehicular assault.
Steven Rosenfeld , “Supreme Court Says Human Genes Cannot Be Patented, Striking Down Breast and Ovarian Cancer Gene Patents” (Alternet):
Megan McArdle, “No, Democrats Did Not Just Want to ‘Count All the Votes’ in the 2000 Election” (Daily Beast):
A number of people have pushed back, here and elsewhere, have pushed back. Gore, they say, offered to do a hand recount of all 67 Florida counties on November 15th; if Bush would support it, and withdraw his lawsuits, Gore said he would withdraw his lawsuits too. Bush turned him down. This is supposed to prove that Democrats always had a committment to counting all the votes.
W.S.: The opening sentence could have said, “A number of people have pushed back, here and elsewhere.” It would also work if it had said, “A number of people here and elsewhere have pushed back,” but attention lapsed, and we had the repeated verb phrase. For the second problem, no one noticed that the spellchecker was highlighting the misspelling of “commitment.”
Teaser in a bulletin about a shocking development at a festival (Der Spiegel):
Father's Day in Germany is traditionally an occasion for massive alcohol intake and a bit of quality time with the guys. One such gathering on Thursday, however, was disrupted by a lightening strike, sending dozens of revellers to the hospital.
W.S. SAYS: The actual English-language article had the correct spelling for “lightning.” It just underlines the importance of publications and websites proofing and editing such secondary material as cutlines, headlines, decks, and teasers.
“Did Hemming Plaza just dodge a bullet?” (Metro Jacksonville):
This same group of people then met with Ms. Boree who, by reports, reacted quite hostility to the interference of outsiders and said that she had the money in the budget to do it now and wanted to proceed [with the proposal to cut down twenty-four trees at Hemming Plaza].
W.S. SAYS: “Hostile” is a fine word, most memorable in Florida for the assertion of legendary Coach Jake Gaither that he wanted his Florida A&M football players to be “agile, mobile, and hostile.” However, “hostilely” doesn’t make a smooth adverb, and, in fact, the sentence above actually uses the noun form. It would be better to say “Ms. Boree…reacted with hostility.”
Closed captioning about a Tufts University photographer (CNN):
…a photographer at the Boston Marathon scene from Toughs University.
W.S. SAYS: We can’t help wondering if voice recognition software was used on this error.
Mohi Kumar, “Once in a Blue Moon and Other Idioms That Don’t Make Scientific Sense” (Smithsonian):
Typically, 12 full moons occur from winter solstice to the next winter solstice (roughly three per season), but occasionally a forth full moon in a season could be observed.
W.S. SAYS: An interesting article takes a hit from “forth” instead of “fourth.”
Suffice it to say that the budget deficit hole left by two wars, two massive tax cuts, and a massive drug program on the credit card by the previous administration along with an irresponsible & intransigent Congress cannot be solved in two terms.
California spending its surplus not on tax cuts, or abusive business incentives but instead on human capital in the form of education and improved healthcare is a sustainable long-term solution.
W.S. SAYS: The first sentence is referring to national politics and the second only to California, but they both have the same problem. In sentence one, “suffice it to say” is a throw-away that we can ignore. The main subject of the sentence is “hole,” and then the reader goes searching for a verb. Ah, there’s one 28 words away. In the second sentence, grammarians might quibble about whether “California” or “spending” is the main subject. Would the subject phrase be “California’s spending”? No matter, let’s go with “spending” and start looking for the verb. Ah, there it is 23 words down the road. Solution? The writer should put the parts together that belong together. The verb should be as close to the subject as is reasonable and euphonious.