At the turn of the new year, I wrote post about Tom Torriglia, who’d managed to get a front-page article in the San Francisco Chronicle stating his opposition to pronouncing the year 2010 as “two thousand ten”. Torriglia, as it turns out, is the head of a group he calls NAGG (National Association for Good Grammar). He is also in the process of writing a book about all the various companies that NAGG has complained to about the grammar of their advertisements, and how (strangely) no one at the companies ever really listened. A draft of the book is available online. So I looked through it, and I can see why the companies never listened to his complaints: they’re mostly rubbish. A few examples:
Ordinal dates for cardinal dates – Torriglia complains about a Fox Sports Net ad for the MLB All-Star Game that had a date written as “March 5th”. Torriglia claims that the cardinal “March 5” is the only acceptable form in writing, and that the ordinal “March 5th” is speech improperly transcribed. If this were an error, it would be one with a long history: here is an example from the front-page of a 1740 sermon, here is an example in a 1773 from Colonel Burgess Ball, and here is a series of examples in an 1832 letter from Charles Darwin. It sure seems acceptable.
Me replacing I – The next complaint is about a children’s show called Buster and Me. Torriglia claims that this ought to be Buster and I. His rationale is a quote from grammarbook.com: “Subject pronouns are used when the pronoun is the subject of the sentence”, but this point is completely irrelevant because Buster and Me/I is not a sentence. The default case for English pronouns outside of sentences is the accusative (or object) case (me, him, her, etc.). If someone asks “Who wants ice cream?”, you can either reply with a full sentence “I do!” or the single word “Me!” Note that you cannot reply with the single word “I”, because it is not in the default case. In the absence of a full sentence* to assign a case to the noun phrase Buster and Me — as in the title — accusative me will be preferred over nominative I.
dead body is redundant – His rationale: “[T]he Random House Unabridged Dictionary defines body as a corpse.” If that is the only definition for body in the RHUD, then it’s not a very good dictionary; the online Oxford English Dictionary lists more that 30 definitions of the word, only one of which is “Short (or euphemistic) for ‘dead body’, corpse.” Yes, body can mean “corpse”, but it doesn’t have to. Here’s just one example of a live body:
(2) “whilst all the rest of my body is sore with cold.”
Strangely, Torriglia follows up his claim that dead body is redundant by noting that a body can, in fact, be alive. Perhaps the dictionary he’s using, in addition to defining body as “corpse”, defines redundant as “clarificatory”.
Torriglia’s book is riddled with errors and absurd claims, so why am I confident that the book will be a best-seller? Simple: a successful popular grammar book is required to contain as many erroneous and unsubtantiated claims as possible. Plus, Torriglia’s got the style down just right. He starts by noting that “This book is a [sic] light-hearted in approach but serious in intent”, and adds the disclaimer “No advertising copywriters were harmed during the writing of this book although I really hope I get to strangle each and every one of them someday!”, as well as noting, in response to a poorly-written email, that “The grammar police had to snuff that guy.” Lynne Truss, you’ve got a competitor in anger!
*: Technically, it’s not a full sentence that assigns the case, but rather a case governor like an inflectional phrase (IP).