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I have officially entered the brave new world of e-books with a popularly-priced ($3.99!) collection of some of my pieces on language, first published in Slate, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and other fine publications.  language pieces . It's called (take a deep breath) You Need to Read This: The Death of the Imperative Mode, the Rise of the American Glottal Stop, the Bizarre Popularity of "Amongst," and Other Cuckoo Things That Have Happened to the English Language.

(Funny story about that title. Back in 2005, I wrote an essay for the New York Times Book Review about the odd trend of extremely long subtitles. One example I gave was Jeff Pearlman's recently publishished The Bad Guys Won! A Season of Brawling, Boozing, Bimbo Chasing, and Championship Baseball With Straw, Doc, Mookie, Nails, the Kid, and the Rest of the...

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In the first Final Four contest, Wordiness and "Its"/"It's" confusion were neck and neck for a while, but "Its"/"It's" pulled away to a 60-40 percent lead, and held on, with a final score of 59.9 percent.

I̶t̶s̶ Its opponent in the final will be the winner of today's classic matchup between a grammatical mistake (or "mistake") and an ever-more-frequently-seen piece of poor writing. The latter is poor word choice, an example of which appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer the other day: using "penultimate" to mean "last." (Actually, "penultimate" is even more commonly (mis)used to mean "ultimate," as in "it was the penultimate insult"). And the mistake is saying using "I' instead of "me" in expressions like "between you and I" or "thanks for inviting my wife and I."

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I think we have a favorite. Yesterday, "between you and I" veritably blew away spellcheck errors, with 70.6 percent of the vote, and takes the third spot in the Language March Madness Final Four.

Today we decide the last spot. Mark Twain said, "The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter—’tis the difference between the lightning-bug and the lightning," and poor word choice is one contestant. It seems to me a growing issue--just the other day, the Philadelphia Inquirer referred to Cliff Lee's "penultimate" pitch of the 2010 season, when it meant his final pitch.

It goes up against "myself" incorrectly used as a substitute for "me" or "I." For example, "The teacher gave the best grade to myself."

 

 

 

And the second Final Four slot goes to ... Vagueness, which bested Left-Out Commas, 65.1 percent to 34.9 percent.

Today we should have a classic battle. The much-hated "between you and I" goes against spellcheck errors (like "pour over" instead of "pore over" and "lead" for the past tense of "to lead"--which I saw just the other day in the Philadelphia Inquirer).

Only you can decide which is a greater sin against the language.

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