Grammar Pet Peeves: Nerds Unite!

The last time I wrote about grammar, anonymous commenter Shea Lewis of Hot Springs, Arkansas, asked this intriguing question: “Paul, are you serious with all of this?” To which I respond today: “Yes! On with the grammar pet peeves!”

Lets Go
I think there’s a perception that the only people who care about grammar are lonely nerds and retired teachers. I once got into a conversation about the use of less vs. fewer with a very nice lady in the express lane at a grocery store. She asked if I was a school teacher, and I said no. Then she smiled weakly and responded, “I got mace, you know.” To which I responded, “No, you have ma—AAAAAAAAAAAGH!”

But every once in a while, some jerk who was probably the captain of the high school football team and dated the cheerleaders and kicked sand in the nerds’ faces makes an embarrassing, high-profile grammar mistake. And then even regular people with social skills and friends talk about grammar. Then who’s laughing? Nerds, that’s who.

Well, nerds are still laughing at Old Navy, which is selling T-shirts that are an apostrophe short of being proper English. They mistakenly used Lets (as in, allows) instead of Let’s (let us) in designs on a series of college T-shirts. It got a lot of coverage, and of course, half the people I know emailed it to me. (See it on Gawker, Refinery 29, and the New York Daily News.)

Viola/ Voilà
This one occurs almost exclusively in the cooking column in your local newspaper. Every now and again, the author of this column, who is almost certainly named Mary Lou, writes something like this: “…and then you pour in the milk, and viola!, your cereal flakes are ready for breakfast!” In this instance, it’s likely that Mary Lou means to say Voilà (“Look there!”) instead of viola (“The violin’s dorkier older cousin!”).

Amount/Number
If you’re annoyed when people misuse less and fewer, then this one will get you, too. As with less and fewer, amount and number can be addressed with what I call the Stuff and Things Rule. You should use amount with stuff that cannot be counted (an amount of sand, or milk, or work), and number with things that can be counted (a number of runs scored, or dollars in your bank account, or bricks thrown through your window for being an obnoxious blogger).

Anytime vs. Any Time
In the comments on a previous installment of this series, IBD reader “Susan” (name not changed because we’re unimaginative) asked, “Does anytime/any time work the same as everyday/every day?” The answer is yes. Anytime (one word) is an adverb that means whenever (“Anytime a former child star Tweets about IBD, Shea passes out.”), while any time (two words) is a noun phrase (“Dear Alyssa, I hear you’re a big baseball fan. Do you have any time to read all these other posts we wrote? Love, Shea. XOXOXO”).

You’re Going the Wrong Way
I wrote last week about how annoying it is to me that the Baltimore Orioles have a version of their logo with an apostrophe that’s facing the wrong way. The other time you see apostrophes facing the wrong direction is at the beginning of abbreviated years, as demonstrated above (the red one is incorrect and infuriating, the green one correct and soothing). Unfortunately, most fonts treat the apostrophe in this case like an opening single quote, so you have to trick your computer into turning it around. There’s a funny post about this called “Apostrophes don’t swing both ways” on the site I Love Typography.

That’s it for now!

Wesley the Copyright-Free Walrus Says, “Don’t Steal!”

Earlier this year, I wrote a post about being plagiarized. In the comments on that post, I was particularly moved by this remark from IBD reader Heidi:

I agree with Karissa!

By way of context, I should point out that IBD reader Karissa had commented earlier on the same post:

Why not write a blog or two about copyrights and plagiarism in general? I would love to learn more about the challenges in the digital world regarding intellectual property.

Well, I’m not a lawyer, so I haven’t exactly written a post about copyright. But I’ve done the next best thing: I’ve stolen all of the text below from Dummies.com and claimed it as my own:

The Basics of Copyrights
A copyright protects an Original Work of Authorship (OWA) — think short story, computer program, or song lyrics, for example — which must have tangible form, be a result of significant mental activity, have no inherent technical function, and be the author’s original creation.

This seems pretty straightforward, though some might debate whether IBD is the result of actual “mental activity.” The most important thing to note here is that when you create something—anything—through your own “mental activity” (or in Shea’s case, randomly mashing his computer keyboard and punctuating it with “Go Yankees!”), you own the copyright. You don’t have to register it with any government agency (though you can; in the United States, visit the U.S. Copyright Office website to learn about that), and you don’t even have to put that © symbol on it. You own the copyright as soon as you create it, assuming you created it on your own time rather than on the job or under some other form of contract.

One obvious problem is that bad people steal things—be it money, intellectual property, or that parking space that I was clearly waiting for with my blinker on. Another less-obvious problem is that good people steal things without realizing what they’re doing.

Friend of IBD Amy Lethbridge shared this fascinating story from the Utne Reader about a mild-mannered guy named Noam Galai who posted an image of himself screaming on Flickr, only to find months later that it had been used around the world without his knowledge on everything from magazine covers to T-shirts to political posters. There’s a terrific video about it on the Digital Photography School website. (I’ve reproduced this poster from Uruguay in the name of fair use, which I’ll discuss below.)

In terms of technology, it’s extremely easy for me to download a photograph from a website and use it. But even if I credit the photographer and include a link to the website where I found the image, I’ve still used another person’s intellectual property without permission. I can legally use another person’s photograph if its owner has released the copyright (like some of those found on sites like Stck.Xchng or Wikimedia), if it is in the public domain (like many images created by government employees), or if I specifically request and receive permission from the copyright owner.

That said, copyright law does not always prevent you from reproducing another person’s work. The US Copyright Office says this:

It is illegal for anyone to violate any of the rights provided by the copyright law to the owner of copyright. These rights, however, are not unlimited in scope…. One major limitation is the doctrine of “fair use.”

Fair use allows you to reproduce another person’s intellectual property for the purposes of commentary, criticism, or parody. If I use an artist’s illustration without permission just because I need an illustration, that’s copyright infringement, even if I credit the artist. However, if a piece of artwork has been put out in the world for public consumption and I use it in the course of critique or commentary (as with the poster above), that’s fair use.

If I publish the complete lyrics of Alphaville’s “Forever Young” for no reason, that’s both copyright infringement and poor taste. However, if I quote the single line, “Let’s dance in style, lets dance for a while, Heaven can wait, we’re only watching the skies,” in the context of a post about how awesome senior prom was, that’s fair use.

If I write about certain design aspects of logos from Major League Baseball teams (which are trademarked rather than copyrighted, but fair use still applies), that’s fair use. However, if Philippe De Wulf of the Belgian design firm 6+1 takes all of the text from one of my blog posts and reproduces it in its entirety without my permission (even with that tiny little credit at the end), that’s copyright infringement.

In the end, the basics of copyright law are pretty simple: Don’t claim other people’s work as your own, implicitly or explicitly, and don’t use other people’s copyrighted material without permission. Unfortunately, technology has made copyright infringement extremely easy and far too common. If you’re an honest person, resist the urge to borrow copyrighted materials, even just this once, and even if they’ll never notice. If you’re a dishonest person, consider a career writing for the Belgian firm 6+1!

Note: The photograph of Wesley the Copyright-Free Walrus at the top of this post was taken by Captain Budd Christman in the course of his duties as an employee of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and is in the public domain.

Grammar Pet Peeves: It’s All Right

You know what I think? People love grammar. With that, more grammar pet peeves!

Have Went
More and more often these days, I hear people say have went when they mean have gone. I don’t mean to overstate this, but this is one of those grammar mistakes that makes me want to stab myself in the neck with a fork—though it’s not as bad as Shea saying “Go Yankees” in his Southern accent. The past participle of to go is gone, which you would use with auxiliary verbs like has, have, is, am, etc. The simple past is went, which should not be used with an auxiliary verb.

So you would say, “I went to Yankee stadium and was surprised that they did not have grits at the concession stand.” Then you would say, “I should have gone to a Houston Astros game instead.” Every time you say “have went” instead of “have gone,” a little part of grammar enthusiasts dies inside, even if they don’t hear you say it. It’s like a disturbance in The Force.

Capitol Building
The dictionary definition of the noun capitol (lower case, with an O) is “a building occupied by a state legislature.” So the phrase capitol building is redundant, because capitol by definition is a building. It would be like saying, “I live in that house building” or “I’m going to see a baseball game in that stadium building.”

Similarly, the proper noun Capitol (upper case, still with an O) refers specifically to the building in Washington DC where Congress meets. So if you write, “National Capitol Building,” you’re being triply redundant, since Capitol by itself is already the national building you’re talking about. (If you click on the image here, you will see that Wikimedia user Scrumshus committed this error in the caption. Nevertheless, thank you, Scrumshus, for the copyright-free photo.)

Capital (with an A) can be a noun or an adjective and it means a lot of different things (it’s a little like Smurphy that way). As a noun, capital can be an upper-case letter, money, or a city that hosts the government of a political region. As an adjective, it can mean important, super-duper, related to money, or fatal.

Myself
In the most recent installment of Grammar Pet Peeves, Friend of IBD Greg wrote this in the comments section:

Why no mention of the most annoying (and unfortunately most popular) grammar flub out there: “myself”? What can we do about people’s obsession with this word?

Whenever I hear people say myself when me or I would work, it makes me think of the Austin Powers quote, “Allow myself to introduce…myself.” (For the record, Austin’s first myself is incorrect; the second is correct.) Here’s my theory: People are unsure about the appropriate use of me and I (which I wrote about back in the first installment of this series), so they use myself instead, just to be absolutely sure that they’re wrong.

If you’re in court, you might hear a mobster say, “He would not give the money that fell off the back of that truck to myself,” when what he really means is, “He would not give the money that fell off the back of that truck to me.” You might also hear him say, “Tommy and myself broke that jerk’s thumbs,” when what he means is “Tommy and I broke that jerk’s thumbs.”

As a reflexive pronoun, myself is correctly used as an object of a verb. For instance, “I hate myself for rooting for the Yankees” or “I smacked myself with a hammer.” Or if you are Austin Powers, “Allow me to introduce myself.”

A preposition is something you should never end a sentence with.
Also in the comments of the most recent installment of this series, Friend of IBD Betty wrote, “I dislike sentences that end in prepositions.” Betty’s phrasing here is perfect, because while some people are surprised to learn that it is grammatically correct to end a sentence with a preposition, a lot of people simply don’t like it. (Betty didn’t say it was wrong; she just said that she doesn’t like it.)

The Grammar Girl blog lists the rule that you should not end a sentence with a preposition as one of the top 10 grammar myths. Author Mignon Fogarty explains it like this:

Here’s an example of a sentence that can end with a preposition: What did you step on? A key point is that the sentence doesn’t work if you leave off the preposition. You can’t say, “What did you step?” You need to say, “What did you step on?” to make a grammatical sentence…. Yes, you could say, “On what did you step?” but not even grammarians think you should. It sounds pedantic.

I reference Grammar Girl a lot in these pet peeve posts, and I wonder if you feel, as I do, that Grammar Girl (on the right) is the secret, daytime alter ego of the esurance girl. Or possibly vice versa. At any rate, the point is don’t be afraid to end a sentence with a preposition.

Alright
It’s hard to call this a pet peeve because I just learned about it, but it’s interesting (to me, anyway), so I thought I’d share. It seems that alright is not a word. Or to be fair, if it is a word, it’s recognized in most style guides and dictionaries as “nonstandard,” which means, “You can use it, but if you do you’re stupid.” We’re so accustomed to seeing words like altogether and already (which are indeed words), that we took the two-word phrase all right and made it alright. Again, there’s a good post on this on the Grammar Girl blog.

So now the stodgy prescriptivists (“Without grammatical structure and rules, language will cease to exist”) and the free-love descriptivists (“Language is a like an organism, man, and it can’t be restrained”) can argue over whether alright gets to be a word.

Well, alright, it’s a capitol idea for myself to stop now, because I have really went on. ‘Til next time!

Blogging Blog

I should have thought about this long before I went to Paul and said, “Hey, we should start an IBD blog.” Knowing that Paul would be looking for anything to do (in an attempt to take away the pain of being a redhead and a fan of the Philadelphia Phillies), I should have known that he would have taken the idea and run with it. Of course we put some thought into it (and by some I mean some), but really what is the purpose of this blog and blogging in general? Really, I’m asking you. What is the purpose of this blog and blogging in general? Again I need your help.

This post is a continued thought process, path of self-discovery, and evaluation that began in my post last week (Relevance for the Irrelevant), in which I challenged our readers to tell us what it is about IBD that keeps us relevant in your lives. As always, we both appreciated the comments and constructive criticism that was left in the comments section (Jen, for your benefit there will be no “stabs at humor” in this post, only critical lunges).

From the beginning of IBD we have stated that the purpose of the blog is to make the world a better place one post and typeface at a time. Which is a fancy way of saying we have such a big and lofty goal that it cannot be accomplished and therefore we can write about any topic we want and it applies to our mission. Since we put very little (uh, I mean some) thought into why we blog, I decided to research why it is that others blog. I was hoping that through this process it would improve our end product for you but realized many of the conclusions I was drawing may apply to your interpretive site, consulting business, or design firm.

For the longest time I have operated under the concept “If others are doing it, I should do it too.” That, along with the statement, “Come on, I’ll be your best friend,” have gotten me in a lot of trouble. Now that I’m a parent (eh, blogger) I understand the statement, “If others are jumping off a bridge, are you going to as well?”

Why should we blog? The Graphic Design Blender blog (yes, this is reference to a blog about blogging on a blog about blogging, and if you look closely at the image above it is a picture of this blog, with a picture of this blog, embedded with a picture of this blog) list the following as most common reasons for designers to blog: establish yourself as an authority with the design community, create good relationships with other designers, become “popular” and generate a large following, or make money.

Wow, those are great reasons for having a design blog and sure this is a design-ish-type blog. But let’s face it, no one respects our authority, our relationships are nothing short of artificial, becoming popular would be awesome but it hasn’t happened in our combined 74 years of life, and no one is making money. Okay, I’m not sure if I answered my own question about why we should blog.  So, let’s move on.

Why should you blog? (I like that question, since it takes the heat off of us and puts it on you. Paul, maybe we shouldn’t be blogging.) For the two years I have been writing on this blog, I have learned more than I have shared. I’m not holding back, but the practice of blogging teaches discipline in writing and makes you look at world in a different way in order to share your voice. If you are considering a blog for your interpretive site, you will become immersed in your resources in an attempt to have something to share.

After spending 16 years working at interpretive sites, I know how easy it is to begin to take where you work for granted. Blogging can cause you to find details, try new things, and explore in a way that may or may not have done in a while. You might just remember what it was that drew you to that location in the first place before the emails and evaluations took you away.

I have a short attention span in general and blogging has taught me dedication. What was I saying here? I don’t know really but I’ve got to finish this post because I know four people will read it. Oh, maybe that’s what I was saying. When you have an audience that cares about your subject or resource, you place more effort in being the expert and leaving no stone unturned (literally or figuratively). I joked above about our relationships being nothing short of artificial, which is totally untrue. It wasn’t necessarily a planned objective but lifelong friendships and relationships (I predict the first IBD marriage will be in 2013 where Paul and I will have to draw straws to see who will be the best man and who gets to design the invitations) have been developed through IBD. Relationships to your site, story, or products can be developed in the same way.

Blogging can drive your creative prowess for you and your audiences. For us it has led us to research the history of typefaces (okay, Paul already did that on weekends), visiting unusual places, carrying our cameras everywhere (even bathrooms), and visiting new baseball stadiums (okay that has nothing to do with what it can do for you). If you blog about your site, you will become a better interpreter of that resource for your audiences (who it is all about). In blogging though, you should know who you want your audience to be. This is difficult for interpreters who are used to meeting the needs of various audiences and mixed audiences. As a blogger you can build your own audience but you have to know who that is to do it right and be successful.

Design Blender states that designers who want to attract clients should blog about basic design principles, how to find a good designer, and what to expect when working with a designer. If you are interested in attracting designers you should blog about inspiration, interviews, and advanced design tutorials. For interpretive sites who want to attract support, you should blog about mission, core values, staff, offer interviews, and discuss current topics. If you are interested in attracting visitors you should blog about topics that may create discussion, discuss events, post images that will attract, offer something behind the scenes, list possibilities, and share experiences.

Paul, we should talk. After all, you promised to be my best friend.

Get to Know a Color! Purple is a Snooty Misfit

Purple is a fence-sitter, and needs to make up its mind on a few things. As a combination of red and blue, it’s neither warm nor cool (though unlike us, it’s considered cool in most instances). Alternatively, as a combination of red and blue, purple is simultaneously warm and cool. However you look at it, purple is hard to pin down.

Further, some people aren’t even sure if purple is one color or two. Isaac Newton’s original list of seven pure spectral hues included violet and indigo (violet leans toward red, indigo towards blue). Most people who are not Isaac Newton or do not work for Crayola, however, consider everything between blue and red on the color wheel purple.

Not only is purple hard to categorize or even name, it can be a little full of itself. In many cultures, it’s the color of nobility and royalty (well, la-dee-da!). It’s associated with magic, mystery, and spirituality. According to an article on About.com, “Purple has a special, almost sacred place in nature: lavender, orchid, lilac, and violet flowers are often delicate and considered precious.” Precious indeed. And as if that’s not enough to stroke purple’s ego, hue number 18-3943 (called “Blue Iris,” but really it’s purple) was named Pantone’s color of the year in 2008.

While purple does tend to look down its nose at the world, it is redeemed (somewhat) by its association with one of the all-time-great children’s books, Harold and the Purple Crayon.

Along with orange and green, it’s a secondary color. Used with its complement, yellow, purple creates a bold, high-frequency palette (as with the uniforms and logo of the extra-annoying Los Angeles Lakers basketball team). Used with blue or red, it creates a more subtle analogous palette.

On the color spectrum, purple (or violet, or whatever) lies at the very shortest frequency of wavelengths visible to human eye (measured in the chart here in nanometers). Go any lower on that spectrum beyond the visible frequencies and you get ultraviolet light, which, like this blog, can cause skin irritation if you don’t protect yourself. (Go past red on the other end of the visible spectrum and you get infrared light.)

As with all colors, purple has varied and sometimes contradictory associations in different cultures. In the US military, the Purple Heart recognizes the courage of wounded personnel. According to the article All About the Color Purple on the website Sensational Color, purple is worn by Catholic priests (sometimes), Thai widows, Minnesota Vikings, and Ukrainian eggs. It’s the color of wealth and status in Japan, and virtue and faith in Egypt.

Purple is not commonly used in logo design, so it was kind of big news in nerd/geek circles a couple years ago when Yahoo changed its mark from red to purple. (I think everyone remembers where they were when they first heard that news in June 2008.)

For designers, purple’s schizofrenic, warm/cool nature offers the opportunity to create a rich palette based just on this one color. The combination of warm purple (trending toward violet or magenta) with cool purple (trending toward indigo or very dark blue) makes effective use of just a small portion of the color wheel while still featuring enough contrast to be interesting.

Used creatively and appropriately, purple can be striking and powerful. Just don’t tell it I said so or it’ll get an even bigger head than it already has.

Play-Doh flower photo by Alex Bruda. Purple texture image by Ali Farid.

The Good, the Bald, and the Ugly

I’ve had a week or so to reflect upon the NAI National Workshop in Las Vegas. And when I say reflect upon, I’m referring to the glare emanating from our newly bald heads. In a week that was full of highlights, a few moments stood out.

IBD Preworkshop
Before it was a blog, a book, or irritable bowel disease, IBD was a concurrent session at the 2003 NAI National Workshop in Reno. We’ve presented at every NAI Workshop since then, this year in the form of an all-day preworkshop with 30 terrific participants.

Meeting IBDers
As a member of the National Association for Interpretation staff, I’ve always loved the annual opportunity to meet and reconnect with the people I truly work for—the NAI members. (The people who I officially report to and who sign my paychecks are out of the country at the moment, and also do not read this blog, so I can get away with temporarily redefining who I work for.)

Since we’ve started writing this blog, Shea and I have particularly enjoyed getting to meet in person the people who contribute regularly through comments. Pictured here are prolific contributors Canadian Joan, Uber Jeff, and Ranger Amy, who just all happened to be in the exhibit hall at the same time.

Wait Wait..Don’t Tell Me!
If you’re a nerd—and you are a nerd if you’re reading this blog—then you likely are a fan of NPR’s weekly news quiz, Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me! I certainly am. It was an amazing confluence of luck that the show was being taped at the Paris Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas the week of the Workshop, that the taping took place the one night of the week that I was not obligated to be at a Workshop function (though I was sorry to miss seeing Friend of IBD Kelly Farrell receive her NAI Master Interpretive Manager award that evening), that Nemesis of IBD Phil Broder thought to write to NPR to ask for free tickets, that he got those tickets, and that he offered them to us.

There’s certainly nothing Phil could do to end this new era of good will.

The Comic Sans Bus
This thing tormented me the whole week. Every time I went out on the Strip, there it was, in all its outlined Comic Sans glory. Also, with those American flags, it looks like someone used a heavy dose of the Emotionator that came free with their Make My Logo Bigger cream.

Students Berating Me
As much as I like reconnecting with longtime friends at the Workshop, I try to meet as many new folks as possible. We had the opportunity to sit with a lively and fun group of students from Humboldt State University during the closing banquet. I knew right away that this would be no ordinary conversation when it started with, “Are you the guy who does Legacy? We have some ideas for you….”

Splitting 8s
There’s nothing better than splitting 8s against a dealer’s 7 and winning both hands when the next three cards shown are face cards. Am I right? Well, this did not happen to me.

Phil Broder Sticks it to Shea
When we were asked to participate in the annual scholarship auction as auctioneers, we jumped at the opportunity. We thought, we’ll have a microphone and a captive audience, what could go wrong? Then we thought, we’re going to have to do something really different, and by different we mean stupid.

So then we had the perfect idea: We’ll have a competition to raise money and the loser gets his head shaved. I can’t possibly lose! (Keep in mind, we’re both thinking this.) So we should have known that when the final results of the competition were announced (I forget what the final verdict was, it was so long ago), Nemesis of IBD Phil Broder would come storming to the front of the room with a fistful of cash yelling, “Whatever the difference is, I have enough here to make it a tie!” So much for the era of good will.

And we should have known, too, when we auctioned off the right to actually shave our heads, it would be the fine people at the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority, who brought us to Los Angeles this past summer to present a two-day workshop, who would pony up the cash to do so.

Sarena Gill to the Rescue
And finally, in a display of the human kindness that makes interpretation so great, that last day of the Workshop and my first day of baldness, Sarena Gill showed up at the registration desk with argyle beanies for Shea and me to help keep us warm. And, of course, it was Phil Broder, moments later, who said, “I didn’t pay $69 and change to see you two wearing hats!”