The War on Words

A monthly column in which we attempt, however futilely, to defend the English language against misuse and abuse

SI, We Hardly Know Ye

What has happened to the once rigid grammatical standards at Sports Illustrated? First there was this recent gaffe in a subtitle, caught by daughter Danielle: “The Vikings have two rabid receivers who could care less who’s delivering their slants and curls.” As readers of this column know, the correct phrase is couldn’t care less.

Then, not long afterward, there were two miscues in a story by Jenny Vrentas:
• “They were both a couple years away from turning 40.” That should be couple of, unless you’re referring to two people (the couple walked down the street). You have a couple of something, not a couple something.
• “The Browns’ Berea facility permeated with the same ‘Do Your Job’ mantra . . .” Permeate means “spread throughout” or “pervade,” and in this sentence, should be preceded by was. Better to turn the sentence around: “The same ‘Do Your Job’ mantra permeated the Berea facility.”

More Media

Of course, SI is not the only member of the media that is grammar-challenged. A few recent examples:
• Mike Missanelli, 97.5 talker, recently discussed “the amount of arrests” made after the NFC Championship game in Philly. We love Mike, but he continually mangles the language. It’s number of arrests, Mikey.
• Earl Holland, in the sports pages of the News Journal, predicted the Eagles would beat the Vikes, 28-21, and added: “The Eagles’ defense will come to the rescue in aide of Nick Foles.” “In aide” is both redundant (“come to the rescue” already covers it) and wrong here. An aide is a personal assistant. Aid is the word Earl was groping for.
• Actor Dylan McDermott, quoted in Entertainment Weekly: “I think it stops with he and I.” Like many people, Dylan can’t bring himself to acknowledge the preposition and use the proper him and me. Just doesn’t sound sophisticated, you know?
• John Smallwood in the Philadelphia Inquirer: “St. John’s does not have the offensive acumen to fight all the way back from a decent deficit to a team the quality of Villanova.” Never mind the questionable use of decent; acumen means the ability to make good judgments and quick decisions, as in “business acumen.” We’re pretty sure that’s not what John had in mind.
• A crawl on CNN noted that “White House fights to squash concerns about Trump’s mental health.” That’s quash.
• Kansas City Chiefs Coach Andy Reid, commenting on new Chicago Bears coach Matt Nagy: “He puts his own flare on things.” That’s flair—unless Andy was implying that Nagy wears 1970s-style pants.
• Margie Fishman in a News Journal story on Bill Russo, communications director for Joe Biden: “Russo graduated UD in 2009.” Say it with me, media: Colleges graduate students, not the other way around. It’s graduated from!
• And finally, a reader spotted this from a delawareonline story: “Joe Senall, left of Hockessin and Liz Snyder of Middletown pay homage to Tom Petty who died this past year at the Hummers Parade in Middletown.” Of the comma-challenged sentence, the reader says: “I didn’t know that Petty was in the parade at the time of his death.”

Literally of the Month

Commentator on a Saturday morning AM radio show: “The New England Patriots are literally a house of cards about to collapse.

How Long, Oh Lord, How Long?

(In which we call out misuse of that most abused punctuation mark, the apostrophe.)
Someone on the McDaniel Crest website recently offered “Free National Geographic’s.”

Department of Redundancies Dept.

Reader Maria Hess cites a classic case of redundancy in a radio commercial for Wilmington’s Columbus Inn that begins, “Being a successful professional is hard work, and it isn’t always easy.” True enough; hard work is, by its very nature, not easy.

The War on Words

Media Watch

• Sarah Todd, in the sports section of The Philadelphia Inquirer: “Dario Saric (of the 76ers) is as blue-collar of a player as they come.” The mistake is ubiquitous, but of is totally unnecessary in this and similar phrases.

• Here’s the start of a caption that appeared in a recent Sunday News Journal: “The homeless stay warm inside Sunday Breakfast Mission, who wants to inform the public of the eminent danger to the homeless by issuing an excessive cold alert. . .” It went on in this clunky fashion, but we will only point out that the Sunday Breakfast Mission should be referred to as which, and the danger was imminent (about to happen), not eminent (important, famous).

• Vin Scully, legendary Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers broadcaster, as reported by the Associated Press: “Dick Enberg (who passed away in December) will never be emulated.” Sadly, the venerable Scully misspoke. Many will no doubt emulate (imitate) the also legendary broadcaster Enberg, but he perhaps will never be equaled, the word we assume Scully meant to use.

• Madison Avenue has rarely demonstrated respect for good grammar. Latest proof, as reported by reader Brenda Boyd: In a TV ad for Sensodyne Toothpaste, the speaker tells the viewer “how effective it works.” That would be effectively; or, better, “how effective it is.”

• Philadelphia radio and TV media were disappointed in the Eagles’ defense during the Giants game, claiming it needed “sureing up.” The term is shoring up, and it refers to a shore, which is a supporting post or beam; a prop or strut. 

• A panelist on MSNBC’s Morning Joe said that “Trump is incredibly beholding to certain right-wing influences.” As noted previously in this space, the word is beholden.

• According to reader Janet Strobert, the November issue of American Way, the American Airlines magazine, contained an article about Kelsea Ballerini that included this sentence: “Ballerini found her footing as a singer-songwriter and earned an early career boost from Taylor Swift, who sung her praises on Twitter on 2015.” The past tense of sing is sang, Janet notes.

• And commentators all over TV and radio continue to utter the double is: “The point is is that . . .”

Signs of the Apocalypse

• Reader Katherine Ward, a writer and editor, recently learned that the Merriam-Webster Dictionary now accepts “sunk” as the past tense of “sink.” Her reaction: “My heart sank. We’re sunk!”

• Corporate-speak is getting way out of hand. Case in point: An email recently sent to a banker friend contained this phrase: “If the action is dependent on technology to solution it . . .” Really? Solve doesn’t work here?

Department of Redundancies Dept.

• In a News Journal story about teachers who created a YouTube video, the caption read: “It’s a positive affirmation for educators.” As opposed to a negative affirmation?

• Reader Joan Burke sends us this caption from the online edition of The Newark Post: “Smoothie bowls, like these ones, are sold at Viva Bowls.” Ones is totally unnecessary here, and it’s also a provincialism that should never appear in a publication, online or otherwise.

• And finally, that banker friend mentioned above notes that “required deadline” is common usage in his office.

Hard to Believe, Harry Dept.

(In honor of the late Richie Ashburn, Phillies announcer, who would utter those words to his broadcast partner, the late Harry Kalas, whenever he witnessed something incredibly stupid.)

Headline in The Inquirer: “Woman burned after setting herself a blaze.” First of all, duh! And second, ablaze is one word.

Just Sayin’

Pearl Harbor Day (Dec. 7) reminded us of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s famous (and prophetic) quote: “A date which will live in infamy.” We admire, respect and honor FDR, but grammarians would agree that he should have said “that will live in infamy.”

And we leave you with these reminders:

• Nuclear: It’s pronounced nook-lear, not nook-u-lar.

• The abbreviation i.e. means “that is,” not “for example.” The abbreviation for that is e.g.


Cancer surgery took 20 percent of Kevin Reilly’s body, but it couldn’t take the former Eagle’s zest for life. In a new book, he looks back on his battle to survive—and thrive.

Kevin Reilly arrived for our interview at Hollywood Grill around 7:30, straight from attending morning mass with his 91-year-old father at nearby St. Mary Magdalen Church. It’s a ritual the father and son follow a couple of times a week. Indeed, faith is one of the bedrock principles of the Reilly family and one that has helped steer the Salesianum alumnus and former Philadelphia Eagles linebacker through the fires of hell.

Nearly 39 years ago, in New York City’s Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital, a surgeon removed Reilly’s left shoulder, left arm and four ribs. Earlier surgery had cost him his shoulder blade and collarbone—all in an effort to eradicate the cancerous desmoid tumor that had caused him excruciating pain and threatened his life. All told, when he was wheeled from the operating room on that chilly October day in 1979, he had lost 20 percent of his body. His road to recovery was marked by more pain, depression and, ultimately, victory, thanks to his tight-knit family, friends, his aforementioned faith, and the fortitude of a gritty athlete.

One of his first obstacles was created by the alleged “pep talk” he received a few days after the operation from a World War II veteran who also had lost his left arm. Explaining that he was there to offer support, the vet proceeded to list all the things the new amputee would be unable to do, including tie a tie or his shoelaces. He added that running—a regular part of Reilly’s workouts—without pain would be almost impossible because his body would be out of balance.

Today, the 66-year-old Reilly, a much sought-after public speaker, often ends his talks by demonstrating how he ties a tie. Since the operation, he has run the Caesar Rodney Half Marathon, the Marine Corps Marathon, and he currently logs about 8 or 9 miles a week, in addition to lifting weights. And he can drive a nail.

The intense Reilly was special teams captain with the Eagles. Photo courtesy of Kevin Reilly

Reilly details his recovery and much more in a candid, 205-page autobiography, Tackling Life. Published last month, the book discusses his career at Sallies, Villanova and the NFL, where he played for the New England Patriots and Miami Dolphins in addition to the Eagles. He also touches on his divorce and his decision several years ago to give up alcohol. Now happily remarried, he dotes on his 10 grandchildren, babysitting at every opportunity, while pursuing a speaking and broadcasting schedule that takes him throughout the country.

He discussed the book and his remarkable life in an hour-and-a-half interview at the Concord Pike diner. Following are some highlights. 

The genesis for the book: “It had been in the back of my mind for a while,” Reilly says. “After almost every speech, there would be a line of 20 or so people who wanted to talk, and they would ask if I had a CD or a book.” He finally decided to start the project in March of 2016, after he made the kickoff speech to an audience of 1,800 at the Catholic Men’s Conference in Philadelphia. He got a rousing reception, and another speaker told him: “You could’ve sold 500 books today.”

Reilly’s friend of 40 years, John Riley, agreed to help, and they soon set up a routine: Reilly would write 15 pages or so in longhand (“I have good handwriting,” says the Sallies grad), then give them to Riley, who would massage the words. Reilly’s daughter-in-law, Erica, served as editor and advisor and helped to type the manuscript. The result is a good read whose early chapters contrast the traumatic operation and his recovery with his athletic career.   

Overcoming his limitations: In the book, Reilly credits Rocky Bleier, a mainstay of the legendary Pittsburgh Steeler Super Bowl teams, with helping him get past the deflating lecture from the WWII vet. At the hospital, Bleier, who was wounded in Vietnam and told by doctors he would never play football again, urged Reilly not to let other people set limitations on him. “Promise me you won’t quit on anything until you try it three times,” Bleier said.

Ever the over-achiever, Reilly tried some things many more times than three. He revealed that it took him about 20 tries to learn how to knot a tie one-handed. The secret, he says, “was when I finally learned to use my mouth. Then it was just a matter of figuring it out.”

The Salesianum alum held a well-attended book-signing at his alma mater in early December. Photo Anthony Santoro

Reilly’s father built the family’s home in Blue Rock Manor and Reilly himself worked one summer for a Wilmington contractor, so he knows his way around tools. Driving a nail was a challenge until he learned to start it by holding it between two fingers, placing the flat side of the hammer against the head, and pounding it into the work surface.

Linebacker humor, and some vintage Biden: Football players aren’t noted for their sensitivity, and an incident not in the book illustrates how a couple of former Eagle teammates—also linebackers—helped Reilly maintain a sense of humor about his handicap. When he and Bill Bergey were doing a WDEL broadcast at Stanley’s Tavern in North Wilmington, they were joined one night by Frank LeMaster, who played for the Birds from 1974-82. It was Christmas time, and Bergey and LeMaster surprised Reilly with a gift: The Clapper—the device that turns lights on and off and is activated by hands clapping. “How the hell am I supposed to use this?” Reilly laughed, whereupon Bergey grabbed Reilly’s hand and slapped him on the cheek with it.

Another helpful and equally less-than-gentle encounter occurred not long after he lost his arm to surgery. An old friend, then Sen. Joe Biden, came up to Reilly following a speech and imparted a Joe-being-Joe admonishment: “You’re fat. Get back to the gym!”—advice the workout addict promptly followed, with his usual fervor.

How he got his nickname: In the book, Reilly mentions his nickname, “Tick,” but doesn’t explain how he got it. It seems he has former Philadelphia quarterback Roman Gabriel to thank. By the end of the 1973 season, Reilly had played a total of 21 games (seven exhibitions with the Dolphins and Eagles and 14 regular season contests), and the wear-and-tear dropped his weight from 225 to 209. So in the offseason he embarked on a rigorous exercise and diet regimen to pack on the pounds, and he reported to training camp in ’74 at 228. “But it was all in my chest and shoulders,” says the 6-2 Reilly, which left his legs looking out of proportion. When he stepped on the scales, Gabriel was standing nearby. “Reilly,” he yelled, “what the hell happened to you? You look like a bloated tick.” The name has stuck with his ex-Eagles teammates.

How sales are going: “The book is exploding,” says the newly-minted author. “I just hired part-time help.” It’s available on Amazon ($20 paperback, $9 Kindle) or on the website: 

The War On Words

Media Watch

• Both Sen. Al Franken and the president seem to have tactile problems. Various media quoted Democrat Franken thusly: “I feel badly” about grabbing a woman’s butt at the Minnesota State Fair a few years ago. Likewise, the (nominal) Republican in the White House says he “feels badly” for his buddy, Gen. Mike Flynn, who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI. Attention, politicians and everyone else: when feelings/emotions are involved, you feel bad . . . or good. To feel badly is to have problems with your sense of touch.

• From an email by the president of the National Federation of Press Women: “There’s only 41 days until we will celebrate the New Year.” Such a mistake—using there’s, the contraction for there is, where there are is required because of the plural noun —is rampant, but particularly egregious when committed by the leader of a national organization of communicators.

• Lindsay Schnell, in USA TODAY: “If you don’t think East Coast bias is real, come take up residence on the West Coast for awhile.” Should be a while, a noun phrase that means “a period of time.” Awhile has a similar meaning, but it’s an adverb and is used in such sentences as “she rested awhile.” This can be confusing, but in most cases a while will be your best choice, and always when preceded by “for.”

• Josephine Peterson, in the Wilmington News Journal: “But the same tenants of the constitution . . .” Tenants are occupants of houses or apartments. The word needed here is tenets, meaning principles or beliefs. And Constitution should be capitalized, since the reference was to the U.S. Constitution.

• Derrick Gunn, Comcast sports guy, called the Eagles-Cowboys game “a backyard brawl.” No, it’s not. Backyard denotes proximity, so a Pittsburgh Steelers-Cleveland Browns game qualifies, or University of Pittsburgh vs. West Virginia. But Philly and Dallas? A little too far apart.

• A radio report on the shortage of Christmas trees included this from a tree farmer: “There was a glutton of them a few years ago.” He meant glut. Glutton, of course, describes someone who overindulges in food.

• Finally, courtesy of a reader, another from a NJ story about a fire in Richardson Park: “Her, along with other neighbors, ran out to help.” Her ran out? Really? That should be she, of course.

From the Hard to Believe, Harry Dept.

Reader Walt DelGiorno reports that on a trip to Oregon he and his wife stopped at a restaurant with this sign on the door: “We know longer serve breakfast.” And the menu offered a “Ceaser” salad.


I recently came across two instances in which “dear” (a term of affection) was used where “deer” (the animal) was correct. One was on Facebook (not surprising at all), and one in USA TODAY (semi-surprising).  That got me thinking about words that sound alike, differ slightly in spelling, and have entirely different meanings. Here are a few:

alter: to change, amend.  altar: the structure in churches where offerings are made.

hanger: a device used to hang clothes.  hangar: where planes are kept.

stationary: unmoving. stationery: paper products.

ladder: a structure used for climbing. latter: situated or occurring nearer to the end of something than to the beginning.

complimentary: denoting a compliment, praise.

complementary: completing something else or improving it.

exercise: physical activity, or, as a verb, to use or apply.

exorcise: to drive out or attempt to drive out, especially an evil spirit.

baloney: nonsense. bologna: a large sausage; or, capped, a city in northern Italy.

Department of Redundancies Dept.

• Reader Janet Strober calls out this sentence in Foreign Body, by Robin Cook: “Neil got his key card, left his room, and descended down to the lobby level.”

• And two utterances I head on local radio: “adult woman,” and “15-year-old teenager.”

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Word of the Month:


Pronounced BA-fuhl-gab, it’s a noun meaning obscure, pompous, or incomprehensible language, such as bureaucratic jargon.

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The War On Words

A monthly column in which we attempt, however futilely, to defend the English language against misuse and abuse

This is the worst!

CBS NFL color analyst Dan Fouts recently called a penalty “the worse I’ve ever seen.” Meanwhile, Mike Missanelli, sports talker on 97.5 The Fanatic, tweeted about turnovers during a Philadelphia 76ers game: “2 TOs at the worse time!”
They’re not alone; many people mistake worse, the comparative adjective, for worst, the superlative. If something is as bad as it can be, use worst.

Department of Redundancies Dept.

Susan Monday, on her WDEL talk show: “It was a repeat performance from before.”
And reader Dan Hamilton says a New York Times editorial used the term “partisan gerrymander” four times. Gerrymander means “to manipulate the boundaries of (an electoral constituency) to favor one party or class”—thus eliminating, as Dan points out, the need to call it partisan.

Media Watch

• Headline from the Wilmington News Journal, courtesy of reader Joan Burke: “Man critically wounded after being found stabbed.” Which prompts this from Joan: “So how does that work? Did they wound him after they found him?”
• Similarly, a reader submits this from a USA TODAY story: “Five suspected terrorists were fatally killed by the police.” Thus killing them twice?
• A WNJ story described UD’s football victory over Richmond as a “penultimate win.” Like many people, the writer thinks that penultimate means the absolute best, when it actually means, simply, next to last. Reader Julian Baumann, Jr., who also spotted the gaffe, comments: “UD fans surely hope not.”
• And reader Luann Haney came across this in a WNJ story about the shooter who killed three people in Maryland before being apprehended in Delaware: “He also had multiple traffic offenses from attempting to allude Maryland State Police.” Allude means to suggest or call attention to indirectly. What was meant here was elude.
• We end with a minor transgression by Christine Brennan, USA TODAY sports columnist: “But more than half our nation’s population has no idea how big of a deal this was.” Of is totally unnecessary in that phrase, and is avoided by the best writers and speakers.
Most Common Mistake
Let us now address the most common punctuation gaffe committed by Americans: placing periods and commas outside quotation marks. Such placement is correct in Britain and virtually everywhere else in the world, but here in the good ol’ US of A, periods and commas go inside quotation marks. It seems counter-intuitive, we know, and that’s why so many people do it. Here are examples:
Wrong: She said, “I’m going to the store”. Calling his action “a mistake”, the politician apologized.
Right: She said, “I’m going to the store.” Calling his action “a mistake,” the politician apologized.

Stranger Things

. . . not just the name of a popular Netflix series, but also a descriptor for the way we sometimes treat words. Examples:
• Overheard in the Brandywine YMCA sauna (usually a veritable bastion of eloquence and wisdom): “I may be touting my own horn here, but . . .” The man meant “tooting.” He was touting his expertise.
• Overheard on the street: “I’m going to videotape that with my cell phone.” Smartphones have a video recording function, but there is no tape involved.
• A friend reports that “action” is frequently used as a verb in his workplace: “You need to action this.” “This is for him to action.” Please, stop with the corporate corruption of language!

Ah, Those Advertisers

Advertising and advertisers have never been great respecters of correct usage (“light beer has less calories”), and two current commercials reinforce that observation:
• Home Mattress Center urges consumers: “Lay down on our mattresses.” Our question: lay what down? To lay is to put or set something down. To lie (the verb needed here) is to recline.
• And Corropolese Bakery & Deli in Norristown is back with its commercial on Philly radio about “a kindler, gentler time.” Kindler: not a word, at least not in this sense. It’s the rarely used noun form of kindle. Kinder is meant here.

Word of the Month

Pronounced MAM-uh-thrept, it’s a noun meaning a spoiled child or a person of immature judgment.

The holidays are here, and The War on Words book makes a great stocking stuffer. Buy it at Ninth Street Books in Wilmington, the Hockessin Book Shelf, on Amazon, or by calling O&A at 655-6483.

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The War On Words

A monthly column in which we attempt, however futilely, to defend the English language against misuse and abuse

The Contest

Last month, readers were challenged to identify correct sentences, phrases or terms in the lengthy list in the column. Among the incorrect answers we received were expresso, lightening in a bottle, Volkswagon, prostrate problem, he was literally breathing fire and alot (the latter is automatically corrected by spell check). Several readers declared that nothing in the column was correct. One note: some readers understandably construed the directions to mean they were to identify any single item that was correct. Those who responded with one correct answer were given a chance to identify a second correct sentence or phrase.

Long-time reader Larry Kerchner argued for “We’ll return momentarily,” but being the old-fashioned prescriptivists that we are, we pointed out that such usage is correct only according to the second definition of momentarily: “at any moment, very soon.” The first definition is “for a very short time.” The word has unfortunately tacked (see more on tack below) toward definition 2 in recent years.
The winner was Scott Matthews of Newark, who identified “It’s all here” and “I’m loath to do that” as the only correct entries in the column. He gets a $25 gift certificate to El Diablo Burritos.
Thanks to all who participated.

Media Watch

• From the Wilmington News Journal, courtesy of reader Jane Buck: “Carney this year took a similar tact as his predecessor by proposing $10 million in cost reductions . . .” Some writers seem to think that tact is short for tactic. It’s not. What is meant in this case is tack, a sailing metaphor that means to change the direction of a sailboat by “tacking”—shifting the sails and turning the bow into the wind.
• Son Steven spotted this in an story on a hazing incident at Wheaton College: “The men are expected to turn themselves into authorities this week.” The missing space between in and to makes all the difference, creating the sense that the men are going to become authorities.

History Lesson

Reader Tricia Kramer asked us to explain the difference between historic and historical. OK: Historic denotes someone or something that is famous or important in history, whereas historical refers to something in the past. Historical novels or historical romances, for instance, refer to past times, but they are not of historic importance. So, simply put: historic—important; historical —old.

Hard to Believe, Harry

(Often uttered by the late Richie Ashburn to his broadcast partner, the late Harry Kalas, when something unbelievable occurred during a Phillies game)
A contestant on Jeopardy gave “laxadaisical” as an answer. The word, often mispronounced, is lackadaisical. Alex Trebek was only too happy to correct him.


Dangling modifiers abound in today’s language-challenged media. Examples:
• David Murphy in the Philadelphia Inquirer: “Besides winning the locker room, people seem to forget that the Eagles were pretty competitive on the football field last year.” Murphy, no doubt writing under deadline pressure. was discussing Coach Doug Pederson, so the sentence should have been something like this: “Besides winning the locker room, Pederson had the Eagles playing pretty well on the field last year, which people seem to forget.”
• From Sports Illustrated: “After rushing for 1,007 yards during the 19983 season, the Steelers abruptly cut Harris on Aug. 20, 1984.” Franco Harris rushed for that total, not the team.
• From the News Journal, in a story about Tilton Holt, marbles champion: “Born in Buena Vista, Georgia, in 1938, family members said Holt had a very sharp mind . . .” Holt was born in Buena Vista, not family members.
• Reader Janet Strobert saw this in a LifeDaily post on Facebook: “After 200 years deep beneath the earth, two farmers made this groundbreaking discovery.” Says Janet: “After 200 years under ground, l wouldn’t be making many discoveries.”

Department of Redundancies Dept.

“I’ve been a life-long Chargers fan since birth”—a Los Angeles bus driver, quoted in USA Today.

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Word of the Month

Pronounced mith-uh-MAY-nee-uh, it’s a noun meaning an abnormal tendency to exaggerate or lie.

The War On Words

A monthly column in which we attempt, however futilely, to defend the English language against misuse and abuse

Win a $25 gift certificate for El Diablo Burritos: Identify any sentence, phrase or term below that is correct. Prize goes to the first person to email the correct answer to

Just between you and I. | Exact replica. | Pouring over the material. | Your an idiot. | Should have ran. | Bring me to the ball game. | He was literally breathing fire. | It would have shrank. |  It sunk. | It would have sank. | He graduated college. | He’s an alumni. | Not that big of a deal. | He squashed the meeting. |  I myself personally. | The point is is that. | It mitigates against that. | It’s the principal of the thing. | He made a 360-degree change. | Sitting in the library, fire sirens went off. | He found the mother load. | It runs the gambit. | Discuss between the three of you. | Enclosed please find herewith. | RSVP please. | I’m loath to do that. | She’s laxadaisical. | He’s expecially fat. | You can not do that. | No one is like that no more. | Use an axterisk. | Great players, like, i.e., Babe Ruth. | Déjà vu all over again. | Mano y mano. | Irregardless of the situation. | I could have wrote that. | She supposably likes wine. | He ate the whole entire thing. | He has prostrate problems. | Last year, they lead the league in errors. | There are less calories in light beer. | He ate a large amount of burgers. | More stricter laws are needed. | Her peripheal vision. | He’s an intragral part of the team. | In lieu of the snow, we are closing. | For all intensive purposes. | The storm wrecked havoc. | The Phils are flustrating. | I seen the accident. | You should have saw what I saw. | I would have did it different. | I feel badly. | I’m done my homework. | Family heirloom. | It’s apple’s and orange’s. | She told an antidote. | Past history. | Future plans. | Pre-planning. | The office needs stationary. | Very unique. | End result. | Ultimate outcome. | The general consensus of opinion. | Mutual cooperation. | Alternative options. | I’ll have a cup of expresso. | It had no affect on me. | He’s adverse to sharing. | Did you just infer that I’m stupid? | He has a hairlip. | You shouldn’t have drank that. | Drinks are complementary. | She is a Christian women. | There not going to the party. | Alls you have to do. | I was happy, really jubulant. | It depends on your prospective. | Hone in on the target. | Tough road to hoe. | Thanks Joe. | Here you are Sam. | Director, Joe Smith ran the meeting. | I know!!! | All of the sudden. | I could care less. | Precise estimate. | On accident. | The Smith’s live here. | He can score the ball. | He gets a lot of YAC yardage. | She drives a Volkswagon. | VIN number. | ATM machine. | Eagles verse Redskins. | That begs the question as to why he is President. | Me and him are going. | First come, first serve. | The guide wire on the pole. | We’ll return momentarily. | Former ex-football player. | That’s besides the point. | My fellow colleagues. | It’s cut and dry. | A book that’s chuck full of information. | Three pair of pants. | Go lay down. | I was bored, disinterested in the subject. | A foreshadowing of things to come. | A 50-50 toss-up. | The reason why is. | In the essence of time. | Underneath of the bridge. | Another gaff by Biden. | Trump is prone to disassembling. | The 10 most quintessential movies. | He’s the Achilles tendon on that team. | It was the very last, the penultimate item. | I should’ve took the train. | He flaunts the law. | I never loose an argument. | Balled fist. | Gambler’s Anonymous. | Her dog was the biggest of the two. | I hate them Cowboys. | Honey, I shrunk the kids. | It was a miniscule mistake. | Mens room. | The car had their headlights on. | A respite of rest. | The mushroom capitol of the world. | He has an educated pallet. | 10 a.m. in the morning. | Chomping at the bit. | There’s many more of them. | Airport hanger. | The internment will be at Veterans Cemetery. | Different than. | It’s a challange. | Happy New Year’s.  | He eked over the goal line. | She eeks out a living as a waitress. | He wrote the foreward of the book. | Open ‘til 6 p.m. | They caught lightening in a bottle. | That’s a quandry. | It’s all here. | He took a conservative tact as a businessman. | Not as good as he use to be. | You are smarter than me. | Sum total. | He’s the person that did it. | The thing which bothers me most. | I’ll be back in awhile. | Alright. | Alot. | A part from that, it was fun. | A singer who is nationally renown.

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The War On Words

A monthly column in which we attempt, however futilely, to defend the English language against misuse and abuse

Media Watch
• George Schroeder in USA Today: “Gundy insists the rattlesnake thing was not preplanned.” Not strictly wrong, just a meaningless word (does it mean planning to plan?). What’s wrong with planned?
Philadelphia Inquirer, under “This Date in Sports: 1993— Jack Nicklaus sunk a birdie putt on the 16th hole . . .” A day after the Inky error, 97.5 The Fan talker Harry Mayes said his heart sunk when he heard 76ers rookie Markelle Fultz had injured his ankle. Philadelphia media, please note: the past tense of sink is sank.
• From David Brooks’ opinion piece in The New York Times online, courtesy of reader Jane Buck: “For the Greeks, that was just avariciousness, an activity that shrunk you down into a people-pleasing marketer . . .” Although avariciousness is indeed a word, Jane points out that avarice is much preferred. And shrunk is similar to sunk, in that the past tense of shrink is shrank, not shrunk.
• Correspondent Anthony Mason on CBS Sunday Morning: “At age 16, the song ‘Royals’ made Lorde an international pop star.” The dreaded dangler. The song wasn’t 16, Tony, the singer was.
• Matthew Albright, engagement editor at the Wilmington News Journal, recently had a two-fer in a very incisive Sunday column: 1) They don’t appear to have surreptitiously squashed meetings . . .” One quashes (suppresses) meetings, movements, etc. Squash is a little too literal. 2) “Delaware politicians, usually loathe to criticize in public . . .” That’s loath. Loathe is the verb meaning “to abhor, detest.” Loath is an adjective meaning “reluctant.”
• WDEL’s Don Voltz, on Robinson Cano hitting a home run in extra innings of this year’s All-Star game – the first such home run since 1967 (50 years ago), when Tony Perez hit one: “Ironically,” said Big Don, “Perez was there at the game.” Not ironic. Coincidental. Ironic does not mean any kind of amusing coincidence. It means the opposite (outcome) of what was expected; contrary to expectation.
• Laken Litman in USA Today: “Organized spaces and a clean carpet don’t necessarily equate a successful turnaround.” “Last year he—and extension the team—was too focused on production . . .” “the season spiraled from there.” Litman is afflicted with the current trend of dropping prepositions—as in graduated (from) college. “Equate” needs to after it; by should be in front of “extension,” and “spiraled” needs a direction after it; in this case, down.

As we have pointed out several times, English is full of confusing words. Here are some of the more troublesome:
gambit – Often confused with gamut, it means a ploy or strategy, as in a card game. Gamut, on the other hand, means range or scope, as in, “she exhibited a gamut of emotions.”
load – Sometimes mistakenly used in place of lode, which means a deposit of ore, and, in a figurative sense, a rich source. Load, of course, refers to a quantity to be carried.
bring – Speaking of carrying, we come to the age-old bring/take question. The problem here is that many people never use take. Think of the sports term “home and away.” To bring something is to have it carried to your location—your home, say. That’s why you tell your dog, “bring me the paper.” To take refers to something moving away from you—to another location/destination. Reader Dick Bugbee points out this problem in a recent News Journal editorial: “For that reason, we hope Delaware officials follow through on a plan to bring their case to federal court.” Neither Delaware officials nor the TNJ are located in federal court, so they would take their case to federal court.

Literally of the Month
Courtesy of reader Maria Hess, who notes the Xfinity commercial with this tagline: “Wi-Fi: we literally could not live without it.”

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Word of the Month

Pronounced out-HER-uhd, it’s a verb meaning to surpass in cruelty, evil, extravagance, etc. Derived from the biblical King Herod, the villain in the Christmas story.

Quotation of the Month

The teacher and the printing press are the great supporters of linguistic tradition.
— Henry Alexander, Painter, 1860-1894

A Baseball Life

At 90, Jack Crimian can look back on a pitching career and a uniquely American odyssey that touched many of the sport’s immortals

It’s doubtful that any ex-ballplayer enjoyed his career as much, or remembers it as well, as 90-year-old Jack Crimian.

The long-time Delawarean spent parts of four years in the Majors and 11 in the minors as a right-handed pitcher, pursuing a quintessentially American odyssey that intersected with some of the immortals of the sport’s golden age—as well as Bing Crosby’s future wife.

The list of his encounters with future greats began at Olney High School, in Philadelphia, where Crimian, class of 1944, played baseball and football with Del Ennis, a star on the Philadelphia Phillies “Whiz Kids” team that won the National League Championship in 1950.

Four years later, as a minor leaguer in spring training in St. Petersburg, Fla., he shook hands with Babe Ruth. “Everything stopped when Ruth showed up,” remembers Crimian, “and we all went over to him. He could hardly talk.” A few months later, the Bambino would die of throat cancer.

In 1957, he served up Roger Maris’ first Major League home run—a grand slam. “It was a 3-2 count and I pitched him up and away. The ball went up and away, and it still hasn’t come down.” Adds the still competitive Crimian: “But it was Jim Bunning’s fault. He struck out Maris earlier in the game, so he told me how to pitch to him.”

Crimian fanned Maris’ future teammate, Mickey Mantle, five of the 11 times he faced the switch-hitting Yankee slugger. “One of his hits was a bunt down the third base line because we (the Kansas City Athletics) were the first to put a shift on against him, and there was nobody on the third-base side,” says Crimian.

He almost struck out Ted Williams, after a semi-epic battle of wits and skill (more later).

He was a teammate of Stan Musial (“one of the nicest men I’ve ever met”).

He played in Havana in dugouts guarded by Cuban soldiers carrying automatic rifles.

Crimian checks out a photo of the 1946 champion Blue Rocks, the team he broke in with. The Blue Rocks staff bought the photo on Ebay and presented it to him during the photo shoot at Frawley Stadium. Photo Jim Coarse
Crimian checks out a photo of the 1946 champion Blue Rocks, the team he broke in with. The Blue Rocks staff bought the photo on Ebay and presented it to him during the photo shoot at Frawley Stadium. Photo Jim Coarse

And he managed to connect peripherally with entertainment royalty. At a minor league game in Texas, players were recruited to escort contestants to home plate for a pre-game beauty contest, and Crimian was paired with Kathryn Grandstaff, runner-up in the 1952 Miss Texas competition. Years later, as Kathy Crosby, she would become the second wife of famed crooner Bing.

And in a final blaze of glory, he came out of retirement to go undefeated with the legendary Brooks Armored Car team in the Delaware Semi-Pro League from 1963-65.

But most important, throughout his career, Jack Crimian was a devoted husband to his late wife, Mary (“Mom” to him), and a loving father, grandfather and great-grandfather. And, in an age when players had to hold off-season jobs to make ends meet, he became a first-class auto body repairman in a Wilmington shop.

Crimian turned professional in his senior year in high school, when Phillies Scout Jocko Collins signed the 17-year-old son of a Philadelphia fireman to a $100-a-month contract with the Wilmington Blue Rocks.

“Got a check for $42.40 every two weeks,” says Crimian. “Lived at the YMCA.”

His budding career was interrupted a year later, near the end of World War II, when he was drafted into the Army.  After basic training in Alabama, he volunteered for the 82nd Airborne Division and went to jump school at Fort Benning, Ga. “First time I was ever in a plane I got kicked out of it,” Crimian laughs.

Kathryn Grandstaff, future wife of singer Bing Crosby, grins at the slightly flustered Crimian as he prepares to escort her to a home-plate beauty contest prior to a minor league game in '52. Photo courtesy of the Houston Chronicle
Kathryn Grandstaff, future wife of singer Bing Crosby, grins at the slightly flustered Crimian as he prepares to escort her to a home-plate beauty contest prior to a minor league game in ’52. Photo courtesy of the Houston Chronicle

Back from the service in ’46, he rejoined the Class B Blue Rocks. Working in the hot dog stand at the stadium, at 30th and Governor Printz Boulevard, was a pretty Wilmington girl, Mary Theresa Kelley. Crimian bought plenty of hot dogs, they began dating, and married two years later, honeymooning in—where else?—Niagara Falls.

A 5-10, 180-pounder with a three-quarter delivery, Crimian posted a 13-4 record with the Blue Rocks, and that winter was drafted out of the Phillies’ organization by the St. Louis Cardinals. Sent to Omaha, Neb., and now making the princely salary of $350 a month, he continued to stay at the Y during the season. In the offseason, the Crimians lived in the Olney section of Philadelphia and Jack went to work in the body shop at Roth Buick in Northeast Philly.

He spent the next four-and-a-half seasons in the minors, mostly as a reliever. “One year,” says, “I pitched 19 days in a row, sometimes three innings at a time. There was no such thing as a one-inning pitcher back then.”

He developed a slider, which became, he says, “my pitch. If you were gonna hit me, you were gonna hit my slider.”

In July 1951, the Cardinals called him up to “the show.” But the National League, stacked with sluggers like Willie Mays, Roy Campanella, Gil Hodges and Ralph Kiner, gave him a rude welcome. He pitched in 17 innings over seven games in July, all in relief, allowing 24 hits and eight walks. He did manage his first win, against his original team, the Phillies, in Philadelphia’s Shibe Park, and struck out his high school teammate Ennis.

He had another brief stint with the Cards in June of 1952, but was roughed up again and returned to the Triple-A Rochester Red Wings for the reminder of the season.

Crimian loved his time with his Cardinal teammates, in particular Musial and second baseman Red Schoendienst. “They were like one big family,” he says. “They were the only club where if you went there as a rookie, they weren’t trying to cut your throat because you were trying to take their job.”

When he was sent back to the minors, Crimian says, “I called [Cards Manager Eddie] Stanky everything in the book.”

In 1955, he became a starting pitcher for the Toronto Maple Leafs, posting a 19–6 record and 2.10 earned run average, with 16 complete games. The performance earned him Most Valuable Player of the Year in the International League, and in October he was acquired by the new American League franchise, the Kansas City Athletics. That fall, Jack, Mary, six-year-old Ann Marie and two-year-old Mary Ann moved to Green Street in Claymont.

The A’s called him up for the ‘56 season. Working in 54 games —seven as a starter—and 129 innings, he won four of 12 decisions and recorded three saves for the last-place team.

The most vivid memory from that season: his first time in Yankee Stadium. “I looked around and said, you son of a gun, you made it now.”

He also discovered a difference in the balls: “National League balls had stitches that were high, and American League stiches were flat.” Crimian preferred the high stitches for the better grip they gave him, and he hated new balls. “Too slippery,” he says.

Crimian's baseball card from his days with the Kansas City Athletics. Card courtesy of Drew Davis
Crimian’s baseball card from his days with the Kansas City Athletics. Card courtesy of Drew Davis


His battle with Williams occurred in the’57 season in Boston’s Fenway Park. A’s Manager Lou Boudreau brought Crimian in at the top of an inning, with Williams set to lead off. “Boudreau told me, ‘just throw one [type of] pitch warming up, and don’t throw it after that, because he will have it timed.’”

As Boudreau predicted, Williams watched intently as Crimian threw nothing but fastballs during his warmup.

Williams stepped into the box and pitcher and hitter battled to a 3-2 count. That’s when Crimian decided he had shown the Splendid Splinter too many sliders, so he went to a changeup curveball for the full-count pitch. At first, it looked as if the off-speed delivery had worked. “I had him halfway out to the mound,” says Crimian, meaning Williams was off-stride, his front leg extended, as the ball came toward the plate. “But those hands were still back, and—pow!—he flicked his bat and hit one off the Green Monster (Fenway’s famed left field wall, the opposite field for the left-handed Williams) for a double.”

In the off-season, the Athletics included Crimian in an eight-player trade to the Detroit Tigers, who used him in just four games in April—one of which was the Maris grand slam game—before sending him down to the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The ’57 season would be his last in the Major Leagues. He made $9,000.

In ’58 he won 15 of 23 decisions for the Leafs, then, his arm hurting, he retired.

In his MLB career, Crimian pitched 160 innings, allowing 177 hits and 65 walks while recording 69 strikeouts. His minor league record was151-91.

The Crimian family, which now numbered six with the addition of Michael in ‘56 and Kathleen two years later, had followed their paterfamilias around the country throughout his career. Now they all settled into their Claymont home, and the ex-hurler didn’t watch a game or throw a ball for more than two years. He kept busy with the family and became a specialist on large wrecks at John’s Body Shop, a fixture on Wilmington’s West Third Street.

Then, in 1961, friends persuaded him to join the softball team at Holy Rosary Catholic Church, his home parish. “I played a little third base and found out I could still throw, and it was softball, so I had some power [at bat],” Crimian says.

Then came his last hurrah, what he calls his most enjoyable time in baseball: three years with the Brooks Armored Car juggernaut. Brooks Manager and third baseman Lou Romanoli went to John’s shop and persuaded Crimian to join two other former Major Leaguers, Ray Narleski and Bob Davis, on the 1963 Brooks pitching staff.

By then, his fastball, which he estimates was in the mid-90s in his prime, had deserted him, so he morphed into the wiley veteran. He particularly loved playing in Canby Park. “It had a good mound, and my pitch came right out of that white house across the street.”

Relying on a slow curveball, he says, “I found out how to pitch with Brooks.” He used the talented defense behind him, throwing strikes and allowing opponents to ground out or fly out. Romanoli says Crimian used to chide Narleski, a strikeout pitcher, “Ray, it takes you at least three pitches to get somebody out. I like to get ‘em out on one.”

That approach proved effective. From 1963-65, he went 24-0 for Brooks, whose 1963 playoff games with John Hickman’s Parkway team were the stuff of legend, drawing more fans than Phillies games.

Crimian retired for good after the ’65 season. He was 38 and a mainstay at John’s, where he built the unique car with two front ends, welded back to back, that came to symbolize the shop around town.

The tight-knit Crimian family was devastated in 2010 when Mary passed away. She was buried in the Delaware Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Middletown, and until recently, when he could no longer drive, Crimian went to see “Mom” every day. Setting up a folding chair by the graveside, he says, “I would just sit and talk to her for a while.”

Today, he has seven grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren (with another due this month) and lives with Kathleen in Boothwyn. Looking back, he says, “I wouldn’t trade the life I’ve had for anything.”

He and his extended family are regulars every Tuesday for half-price burgers at Kid Shelleen’s in Wilmington. “Sometimes there are eight or nine of them,” says Drew Davis, the restaurant manager.

A memorabilia collector and student of baseball history, Davis didn’t realize who Crimian was when he began coming to the restaurant several years ago. Then he spotted Crimian in a photo of the Brooks 50th reunion dinner. Now he views the nonagenarian as a living national archive of baseball lore.

“I shake his hand every time I see him,” says Davis. “I love pointing him out to people and introducing him. He has a new story for me almost every week, and they all check out.”

The nonagenarian wanted to deliver a pitch from the Frawley Stadium mound, and the Blue Rocks staff made it happen. Photo Jim Coarse
The nonagenarian wanted to deliver a pitch from the Frawley Stadium mound, and the Blue Rocks staff made it happen. Photo Jim Coarse

Crimian uses a walker now, and he has taken a couple of falls, breaking some ribs, but the competitive fire hasn’t gone out. One of Davis’ favorite stories involves the time Crimian, who compiled a respectable .231 average in only 26 at-bats in the Majors, was poised to put down a sacrifice bunt against Hall of Famer Bob Feller. Crimian didn’t know that Feller, a noted fireballer, had a curveball in his repertoire, so he was startled, he said, when “Feller threw a ball that started at my head and fell in for a strike.”

“So did you bail out?” asked Davis.

“Hell, no,” Crimian bristled. “I got the bunt down.”

Reflections on ‘The Show’

John Melvin Crimian knows how to tell a story and deliver a punch line. Here are his takes on some of the Major Leaguers he played against and with, along with comments on the game in general:

• Harry “The Hat” Walker, an outfielder for the Cards, Phils, Cubs and Reds and National League batting champ in 1947: “He must’ve touched his hat a hundred times during an at-bat.”

• Jackie Robinson, who was on first base when Crimian came into a game against the Brooklyn Dodgers: “I threw over to first 10 times straight. I had him twice, but they wouldn’t call him out.”

• Yogi Berra, the great Yankee catcher who was a notorious bad-ball hitter: “You couldn’t get a ball by him, unless it was right down the middle. Anything anywhere else, he’d get a bat on it.”

• Joe DiMaggio, “The Yankee Clipper”: “In Spring Training, I threw him a fastball inside and he ripped it down the line and tore the glove off my third baseman. He [the third baseman] was so mad because I threw inside to DiMaggio that he wouldn’t talk to me afterward.”

• Bobby Shantz, diminutive pitcher for several teams, including the Philadelphia Athletics, with whom he won the American League MVP in 1952: Shantz, 91 and still making personal appearances, is bald and has always worn a toupee —but not on the field. Says Crimian, who played with Shantz in Kansas City: “When he was pitching, he wouldn’t come out of the dugout while they played the National Anthem because he would have to take off his cap. On the road, his suitcase was clothes on one side and hair products and toupees on the other.”

• Joe Garagiola, a below average Major League catcher who gained fame as a broadcaster: “They sent him down to the minors because he could not throw the ball back to the pitcher. Believe it.” 

• On the movie 42, about Robinson, which Crimian saw with his grandson: “Everything in it is true.”

• On today’s baseball players. “Nobody can bunt anymore. And the way they keep adjusting their gear and moving in and out of the box? In my day, they would’ve been on their butt all the time. And pitchers should not throw in the off-season. Your arm needs time to recuperate. That’s what winter’s for. From the last pitch of the season to opening day, I never picked up a ball. The only thing I did was go to Spring Training early and run on the beach. We did a lot of running.”

• On coming close to hitting a home run: “We were in Toledo, and I hit one off the top of the fence, and man, I thought it was a homer and I’m Cadillacin’ around the bases, only I missed first base. They called for the ball and threw it to first and I was out. Didn’t even get a hit out of it.”

The War On Words

A monthly column in which we attempt, however futilely, to defend the English language against misuse and abuse

Media Watch

In the course of one hour on a recent Sunday morning, I encountered these gaffes:

• Tracy Smith, on CBS Sunday Morning, reporting on author Herman Wouk: “After graduating Columbia University, he found work writing for comedian Fred Allen’s radio show.” Never mind the wordy “found work writing for,” the real culprit here is the missing from after “graduating.” When did this start, this trend of people graduating schools instead of schools graduating people?

• Same show, from Correspondent Lee Cowan: “The goats scale up a tree.” Scale: to climb up a surface (Department of Redundancies Dept.).

• Danny Pommells, on Comcast SportsNet: “The play of he and Reddick . . .” A typical sportscaster, eschewing the objective pronoun him, required by the preposition of, because he sounds more sophisticated.

• “I can tell you that Italy and China had twice as many voting representatives than the Philadelphia market” — Bob Ford, Philadelphia Inquirer. Surprising, since Ford usually writes pristine prose, but the comparative here calls for “as the Philadelphia market.”

Some additional media miscues:

• Reader Larry Kerchner spotted an online medical service article that reported “a debilitating condition, untreated Tinnitus wrecks havoc.”  The term is wreaks havoc. Says Larry: “Hey, I never liked havoc anyway.”

• In Delaware Business Times, a Sam Waltz sentence lost its way: “Clearly, exercising your First Amendment rights to commercial free speech now have been impeded and impaired by Dover Lawmakers.” Exercising, not rights, is the subject, so the verb is singular: has been.

• In a Wilmington News Journal story by Scott Goss, spotted by reader Jane Buck: “Aslam and Kim also withheld details about . . . a business partnership, cash payments and a gifted BMW sedan, according to the indictment.” Jane wonders if the BMW could dance, and I wonder why writers employ such strained, bastardized words. Wouldn’t “a free BMW sedan” work?

• Bob Cooney in The Philadelphia Inquirer: “Jackson’s shooting form may be something the Sixers would see as needing a major overhaul as it has myriad of mechanical problems.” Either insert a in front of myriad or make it “myriad mechanical problems.” Either way is fine, since myriad is considered both a noun and an adjective, but I prefer the shorter “myriad problems.”

• ESPN football commentator Tedy Bruschi: “It was much more easier for me.”  The deadly double comparative. Perhaps Tedy had too many brewskis before the broadcast.

• During a Phillies TV broadcast, Tom McCarthy said the runner needed to be “weary and leery of the catcher.”  That’s wary, Tom. And aren’t wary and leery virtually the same thing?

• Let’s end with this, from TNJ, via a reader: “When plump, chicken catchers, like those employed by Unicon, round up the birds….” Ah, those chicken catchers: plump but nimble.

Department of Redundancies Dept.

• From the Newark Post: “Nelson said the victim, a 22-year-old man, had engaged in a mutual fight with Evans.”

• Martin Frank, in TNJ: “In addition, Wentz’s new receivers, Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith, as well as running back LeGarrette Blount, will also get their fair share of attention . . .”

Missed Opportunity

Reader Susan Kaye writes: “Your comment on the News Journal sports page and ‘There ARE a litany of teams’ does not address the fact that litany is a singular noun. Although I agree that ‘litany’ doesn’t really fit in the context, if the sportswriter does choose to use it, it really should be ‘there IS a litany of teams.’”

Couldn’t Resist

I came across this somewhere on the Internet: What do you say when comforting a grammar Nazi? Their, there, they’re.

Seen a good (bad) one lately?

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