Pop Culture Fallacies

Posted on Wednesday, October 11, 2017, at 10:59 am

Editor’s note:  It was one year ago that we passed along to you the unfortunate news of the death of our popular GrammarBook writer Tom Stern. Tom loved writing about the English language, and he loved writing for and hearing from you, his audience. He was a keen observer and critic of the media. While the article below is only tangentially related to grammar, punctuation, and the use of language, it’s one he left for us to publish at some point in the future. We thought we’d run it today in remembrance of Tom Stern’s wit and way with words.

 

This is the paradox of the pop culture: it’s street smart and cutting-edge hip, yet as easy to fleece as Little Bo Peep.

In an open society, people are free to believe anything. It’s not like centuries ago, when you could be put to death for doubting the sun revolved around the (flat) earth.

Which “experts” should we trust? A few years back, word got around that we weren’t sufficiently “hydrated” unless we drank eight glasses of water a day. Then the British Medical Journal said never mind, just drink when you’re thirsty.

When running swept the country in the 1970s, the first commandment was, Stretch those muscles and tendons before hitting the trail. Now Sports Illustrated has a different take: “Study after study has found that increased flexibility actually impairs performance.”

I’ve lost track: Is pasta good or bad? Did you know dark chocolate is high in antioxidants and improves cardiovascular health? Silly me, I thought it trashed my teeth. Remember when red wine rotted livers and caused gout? Now it prevents blood clots, lowers the risk of prostate cancer, and protects against Alzheimer’s.

Yet more popular misconceptions:

“Kiss me, you fool!”  We’re all familiar with this audacious, provocative line, and we always picture a woman saying it. But would you believe it’s a misquotation? It comes from A Fool There Was, a popular 1915 silent film starring the sultry, wicked Theda Bara. In a torrid scene with her lover, Bara spoke wordlessly as the intertitle flashed “Kiss me, my fool!”

Sodium Pentothal is a “truth serum”  Sodium Pentothal in small doses lowers inhibitions and makes users talkative, but there’s no certainty they’re telling the truth. So much for those movies in which the bad guys drug some hapless character who spills crucial classified info.

Mussolini made the trains run on time  The trains were no more efficient under him than they were before. This infamous canard was devised to assure skeptics that as fascist dictators go, you could do a lot worse than Benito “Il Duce” Mussolini (1883-1945), who (mis)led Italy from the 1920s and on into World War II.

Jimmy Carter’s “malaise” speech  In July 1979 the U.S. had an energy crisis, an inflation crisis, and a growing unemployment crisis. Carter addressed the nation with what is remembered as his ill-advised “malaise” speech, supposedly a putdown of America that helped seal his political doom. But at the time, the speech was received quite positively—and Carter never once said “malaise.”

Tom Stern

Leave a Comment

Commonly Confused Words That Bring Bumps to Writing

Posted on Wednesday, October 4, 2017, at 9:07 am

The English language—its words, its structure, its stylistic possibilities—is rich, descriptive, and versatile. It can communicate with precision and convey vivid, persuasive thoughts and ideas. At times, it can also confuse. Those not familiar with the nuanced or multiple meanings of many English words and the finer points of grammar can sometimes trip where they’re …

Read More

Effect vs. Affect

Posted on Wednesday, September 27, 2017, at 5:21 pm

Knowing whether to use effect or affect may not qualify you as a genius, but you will be demonstrating an understanding about a grammar issue most people find perplexing. We trust that the strategies offered here will clear up any confusion you have had. Rule: Use the verb effect when you mean "bring about" or "brought about," "cause" or "caused." Example: He effected a commotion in …

Read More

Collecting the Truth About Collective Nouns

Posted on Monday, September 25, 2017, at 4:50 pm

American English offers us words as tools for efficient and clear communication. One such tool is the collective noun, a noun that is singular in form but singular or plural in meaning depending on the context. A collective noun represents a group of people, animals, or things. Examples include: band flock bunch crowd herd fleet …

Read More

How Are You—Good, Well, or Fine?

Posted on Wednesday, September 20, 2017, at 1:51 pm

We at GrammarBook strive to cover both current and established topics of relevance to you, our dedicated band of careful writers and grammarians. Periodically we still receive inquiries about when we should use the adjectives good, well, and fine. We, perhaps as you do, also still hear and read these words used incorrectly. We addressed the subject of Good vs. Well in …

Read More

1 2 3 71