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Christmas ’Log Review

Every year, for six weeks or so, I get a taste of what it’s like to be a superstar.

From late October to early December, I am accosted daily by an aggressive mob of stalkers who know where I live. Their urgent need for my attention seems to be their only reason for being. No, they’re not paparazzi or obsessed fans. I’m talking about Christmas catalogs. Every day brings a new swarm—they burst out of my mailbox, entreating me to behold them in all their holiday finery.

Well, even a six-week celebrity has an obligation to his public. I checked out every last one. None was turned away. Here, then, is my Christmas catalog review.

For big spenders there is the stately Gump’s catalog, so tasteful you want to take a nap; or Neiman Marcus, with its sullen, stubbly, pasty pretty boys modeling $390 sneakers; or the gaudy Hammacher Schlemmer, for taste-challenged high-rollers: I’ve got to have that animatronic singing and talking Elvis, or more accurately, Elvis’ head and shoulders—the King has been mutilated, I guess, to spare the embarrassment of pelvic thrusts in mixed company. How about spoiling your child rotten with Hammacher’s “6½-foot teddy bear” for $500. If that’s too sissified, the NFL Shop will warp the values of your little tough guy with a personalized 12-minute CD of a football game in which the announcer says the kid’s name 30 times. It’s never too early to learn that it’s all about you.

Frontgate offers a machine that enriches your oxygen as it plays music. An up-and-comer called X-treme Geek has caffeinated soap, a talking toilet-tissue holder, and, for the guy whose girlfriend doesn’t hate him enough already, a Wild West revolver-shaped TV remote, which makes a loud gunshot as it changes channels. It comes with a “super-cool official-looking sheriff’s badge.”

The Signals company tempts pet lovers with the “I kiss my dog on the lips” T-shirt, but I have my eye on the coat rack with three duck tails for hangers. Not to be outdone, What on Earth offers a “cat butt magnet set,” to go with its flatulent toy puppy (“squeeze his belly”) and a Bill Clinton figurine with a corkscrew coming out of his pants.

Wolferman’s offers 44 pages of … muffins?! Fahrney’s offers 56 pages of … pens!? Don’t miss the Marlene Dietrich model (“sensuous curves in all the right places”), a bargain at $880, or the $3,000 “pen of the year” (who voted?).

From high-end catalogs on down, the one constant is the writing, which is excellent across the board. (Is this what good writers have to do to eat these days?) Oh, some are better than others. Fahrney’s thinks the plural of entry is “entrys”—a store devoted to writing can’t make such a dumb mistake. National Geographic’s otherwise classy mailer misfires with the awkward “spiders are one of the creepiest crawlers out there.” Spiders, plural, are “one”? Why not “a spider is”? Sahalie’s writes “completely waterproof.” How is that different from just “waterproof”? Orvis Men’s Clothing says, “Crafted in New England, you’ll appreciate the comfort.” This sentence, taken literally, means “you” were crafted in New England. Herrington’s high-spirited but sloppy catalog spells minuscule “miniscule.” Herrington is also one of many catalogs that can’t get the subject to agree with the verb: “Every one of our vintage Ferraris are parked …” No, every one is parked. Subject-verb agreement is a big problem nowadays, and reflects the carelessness and short attention spans this era will be remembered for.

When you read as many of these things as I did, you come to realize that catalogs have their own language, rules, and customs. Numbers are almost never spelled out, not even leading off a sentence. That’s against all civilized rules of writing, but merchants want to be direct, not correct. They’re targeting our eyes, not our brains. Capitals are thrown around extravagantly because anything capitalized looks Important and Impressive. Hyphens are avoided wherever possible because advertisers will always choose two simple words with a clean space between them over one long, confusing word with an ungainly bar right in the middle.

Many companies sell jewelry made with “Swarovski crystals,” a fancy term for rhinestones, which is in turn a euphemism for phony gemstones. And countless catalogs feature “nutcrackers,” so called because they were inspired by the popular Tchaikovsky Christmastime ballet. The 21st-century versions look to be useless, charmless statuettes, tackier than tin soldiers. You can get them wearing uniforms of your favorite pro sports team or branch of the military. Despite the name, I doubt they could even crack a moldy peanut. Their heads don’t even bobble.

Finally, see if you can figure out what this list of words culled from several catalogs refers to: chianti, chili, dirt, dragonfly, dusk, espresso, grasshopper, mineral, nutmeg, ocean, persimmon, raisin, root beer, sesame, spa, sweet pea, sweet potato, toast.

You might as well give up, because you’ll never guess. They’re … colors?! “Oh, sweetheart, you look fabulous in that root beer muumuu!” “Thank you, darling, and that dragonfly-and-dirt sweater goes so well with your spa-and-dusk striped tie and those toast trousers.”

—Tom Stern

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Posted on Thursday, December 12, 2013, at 7:12 pm


Hyphens with Common Prefixes, Part 2

The current trend is to do away with unnecessary hyphens with common prefixes.

Examples:
noncompliance
copayment
semiconscious
unending

However, there are exceptions.

Read more…

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Posted on Tuesday, February 1, 2011, at 10:33 am


Hyphenating Between Words

Many of us get confused about when to hyphenate between words. For example, should you write nearly-extinct wolves or nearly extinct wolves?

Adverbs ending in -ly should not be hyphenated.

In most cases it is compound adjectives–adjectives that act as one idea with other adjectives–that get hyphenated in front of nouns.

Example: The crowd threw out the barely edible cake.
The word barely is an -ly adverb answering how edible the cake was.

Example: It’s a lovely-looking home.
The word lovely is an -ly adjective, because we could say a lovely home.

Example: We live in a two-story building.
The word two in this sentence is an adjective working together with story to describe the noun building. Therefore, two-story is a compound adjective requiring a hyphen.

Example: The announcer offered a blow-by-blow description of the boxers’ punches.
Blow-by-blow is acting as one idea. Therefore, it is a compound adjective.

Example: Our building is two stories.
Often when the description follows the noun, it is not necessary to hyphenate it.

To learn more about hyphens, click here.

Click here to try a free quiz on hyphens.

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Posted on Tuesday, August 17, 2010, at 1:47 pm


Hyphens with Numbers

Should you write 13-feet or 13 feet? Here is the rule: when you’re combining two or more words to form a compound adjective in front of a noun, put hyphens between these words.

Examples:
Lara handed me a 15-foot pole.
An eighteen-inch monitor is too big for my desk.
Emergency room nurses work 12-hour shifts.
Anthony swung his five-pound hammer.

In the above sentences, the measurements are compound adjectives describing nouns.

When numbers are not used as compound adjectives preceding nouns, don’t use a hyphen. (But remember, all two-word numbers from twenty-one to ninety-nine must be hyphenated in all cases.)

Examples:
Suzanne won the race by a solid 15 feet.
The room was 17 feet long.
Twelve hours later, he was exhausted.
Anthony’s hammer weighs five pounds.

To learn more about hyphens, click here.

Pop Quiz

Correct or incorrect?

1. Stella had her hair cut six-inches last week.

2. Her party shoes had three inch heels.

3. Can you lend me your five-foot tape measure?

4. I am 5-feet-2-inches in my bare feet.

5. The water level rose 10-inches in just three hours.

Pop Quiz Answers

1. Stella had her hair cut six inches last week.

2. Her party shoes had three-inch heels.

3. Can you lend me your five-foot tape measure? (Correct)

4. I am 5 feet 2 inches in my bare feet.

5. The water level rose 10 inches in just three hours.

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Posted on Tuesday, July 27, 2010, at 10:45 am


Hyphens with the Prefix re

Many of us find hyphens confusing. The prefix re can make hyphenating even more of a head-scratching experience. However, there is really only one rule that you need to learn to determine when to hyphenate with re.

Rule: Use the hyphen with the prefix re only when re means again AND omitting the hyphen would cause confusion with another word.

Example: Will she recover from her illness?
Re does not mean again so no hyphen.

Example: I have re-covered the sofa twice.
Re does mean again AND omitting the hyphen would have caused confusion with another word so hyphenate.

Example: The stamps have been reissued.
Re means again but would not cause confusion with another word so no hyphen.

Example: I must re-press the shirt.
Re means again AND omitting the hyphen would cause confusion with another word so hyphenate.

 

Pop Quiz

Select the correct answer:
1A. Please call the restaurant to reserve a table.
1B. Please call the restaurant to re-serve a table.
1C. Please call the restaurant to re serve a table.

2A. I resent the file to you last night.
2B. I re-sent the file to you last night.
2C. I re sent the file to you last night.

3A. I’ll print out the letters again, and you can resign them.
3B. I’ll print out the letters again, and you can re-sign them.
3C. I’ll print out the letters again, and you can re sign them.

Answers:
1A. Please call the restaurant to reserve a table.
2B. I re-sent the file to you last night.
3B. I’ll print out the letters again, and you can re-sign them.

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Posted on Tuesday, March 30, 2010, at 9:06 am