The Angry Grammarian

Grammar nerds and computer nerds unite!

By Jeffrey Barg
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Aug. 20, 2008

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It was a tragic week for grammar. Beleaguered Internet readers had their hopes momentarily lifted, only to get them smashed just as quickly.

Last week the typically staid typical programmer.com posted an interview with the founder of "Apostrophree," a Silicon Valley startup designed to automatically correct grammar errors in blog posts and comments. Allegedly, it dramatically increased workplace productivity by reducing the need for corrections comments and corrections to those comments--all of which eat up precious hours in the workday.

"Apostrophree looks at all incoming HTML content and applies proprietary language processing algorithms to find and correct the most egregious errors," the company founder supposedly said. "It also looks at articles that contain flags like (sp?)."

Sounds like a godsend. Too bad it's all a not-so-elaborate hoax.

Commenters and bloggers Googled the interview's few identifying details, and found no existence of either the company or its venture-capital funders. Commence tears.

But just because it doesn't exist doesn't mean it couldn't, right? Imagine if the grammar nerds and the computer nerds teamed up. We'd be unimpeachable, undateable and unstoppable.

This week my intolerance for America's slaughter of the English language reached a new high when I heard on both NPR and NBC the phrase, "Michael Phelps is the winningest athlete in American history." I'm sorry--I don't get it! I know it's on dictionary.com and Merriam-Webster, but it sounds like the most ridiculous adjective I've ever heard.

Don't be too sorry--the word's acceptance is hardly universal. Though M-W and dictionary.com list it, "winningest" hasn't yet been included in the sometimes-more-liberal Oxford English Dictionary.

With broadcasters tripping over themselves to find new superlatives to describe Phelps, it's hardly surprising that "winningest" would be trotted out. Compared to the absurdity of the Phelps circus--like Morgan freaking Freeman fellating Phelps on a Visa commercial--a word like "winningest" starts to look not so ridiculous after all.

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