Grammar Moses: Let's talk about bad math and F-words
One of the functions I've adopted at the Daily Herald over the last decade is chief email triage specialist.
It's not a glamorous job. There is no stipend for it.
But I'm reluctant to hand the reins to someone else for fear that person would run screaming for the exit.
There is a generic-sounding email address that sends news releases only to me with the same force as a fire hose in a riot.
So, yes, I see a lot of email, I delete a lot of email and I forward plenty of email that probably has recipients wondering why I did so.
Headlines grab me. Quotes grab me. And sometimes the misfires end up here.
Let me be clear: I discuss these things to help teach you -- rather than the person who sent out the release -- a lesson.
In the spirit of scholarship, here are a couple of recent ones.
The office of a longtime congressman from northern Illinois, in calling for an investigation into charges of racism in the NFL, put out a news release quoting him as saying, "The firing of David Culley and Brian Flores are not unique ... Simply put, this is boldfaced racism."
Actually, this is boldfaced racism. (If you're reading this online, pretend the word "racism" is in heavier type.)
What the congressman (or his PR person) meant was "baldfaced" racism.
You descriptivists out there will complain that I'm being a stickler, that "boldfaced" is in common usage today.
That's because people don't know the difference. It's a malapropism.
"Baldfaced" is the grandchild of "barefaced," a term used to connote brazenness.
Back in the late 1600s, only the youngest men -- the most reckless and brazen men -- went beardless.
The headline was "Household income was 200 times lower in some parts of blobbety blobbety than others."
The "blobbety blobbety" is of my manufacture. But it makes no less sense than the math in this headline.
I know some of the incredibly smart people who work at the publication in question, so I found the headline startling.
Who among you can tell me what 200 times less of something is?
Yeah, I didn't think so.
If I make $15 an hour and my boss told me I would be making 200 times less next week, then I would owe HIM $2,985 for each hour I work.
You can't have less than zero salary (even if you had the worst divorce lawyer) in the same way you can't have negative three basketballs in your backpack.
Less than zero is relegated to measures of temperature, relation to sea level and Bret Easton Ellis novels.
Even I know that my paying the boss $2,985 an hour for the privilege of running the news department is a lousy deal -- for me, at least.
A better way to phrase this is to simply turn the sentence around: "Household income was 200 higher in some parts of blobbety blobbety than in others."
In our own paper, we ran a story about the founders of one company thriving during the COVID-19 pandemic while other companies floundered.
In this case we should have used "founder" twice.
This one is tricky, because "founder" and "flounder" have similar meanings.
To "flounder" is to struggle or stagger helplessly or clumsily in water or mud.
To "founder" is to go lame or collapse.
Clearly, we were talking about a collapse.
Whether you're foundering or floundering, it's no fun.
• Jim Baumann is vice president/executive editor of the Daily Herald. You can buy Jim's new book, "Grammar Moses: A humorous guide to grammar and usage," at
grammarmosesthebook.com. Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org and put "Grammar Moses" in the subject line. You also can friend or follow Jim at facebook.com/baumannjim.