Joint Ownership


This post isn’t about who owns that crummy bar downtown. It’s about using apostrophes when more than one person owns something (although, we could be talking about that crummy bar). Look at the following sentences:

1. John and Bill’s crummy bar downtown is doing well, despite its location.

Why does only Bill get an apostrophe showing ownership? When two or more people own the same thing, only the last person mentioned gets an apostrophe. That’s the rule.

2. John’s and Bill’s wives are very good friends.

Presumably, John and Bill each has his own wife; they don’t share connubial bliss. Therefore, each man gets his own apostrophe (along with his own wife).

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New Job Titles


According to an article in the Business section of the Los Angeles Times (9/24/15), it’s becoming somewhat trendy for people in the corporate world to invent their own titles. At Google, employees can give themselves any title they like. Who wants to be a regional general manager or a vice president when you can be the Jolly Good Fellow, the person in charge of Google’s meditation and mindfulness program (and remember, I’m just reporting this, not making it up). Google also has a Chief Extraterrestrial Observer: obviously, that’s the guy who founded the Google Earth Engine.

But it’s not just Google or even Silicon Valley. A designer now calls himself the Head of Touchy-Feely Graphics in an effort to avoid using the words “user experience.”

Need a Certified Thanatologist (and how does one become certified in that field)? Contact Gail Rubin, who helps people deal with all aspects of death. Her business card identifies her as “The Doyenne of Death.” Of course.

A hardware engineer named Mike Savini decided that since he specialized in solving computer glitches, he should be called a Bug Specialist. I have to wonder how many requests he gets to deal with ant or rat infestations.

Troika, a marketing company in Los Angeles, has hired Maya Imberman as Head of the Happiness Committee. Eva Scofield, who works for Graze, is a Snack Huntress for her company.

This seems to be a trend because, in part, these titles are good icebreakers and are thought to make employees more engaged with their work. I happen to see them as adding to the already pervasive jargon in the corporate world. What do you think?

I’ve been called a Grammar Guru as well as a Grammar Nazi. Somehow, I never felt the urge to put one of those on a business card. Right about now, I’m guessing many of you are thinking about what your actual titles should be. Feel free to send me the printable ones.

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Yogi, We’re Going to Miss You


Yogi Berra, New York Yankee catcher with a 19-year career, was (almost) as famous for his turns of phrase as was for his catching. Here are some of his most famous, listed in today’s Los Angeles Times:

• The future ain’t what it used to be.
• When you come to a fork in the road, take it.
• You can observe a lot by watching.
• Never answer an anonymous letter.
• We made too many wrong mistakes.
• It’s deja vu all over again.
• Baseball is 90% physical. The other half is mental.

And when Yogi’s home town, St. Louis, staged a “Yogi Berra Day” in 1949, Berra announced to the crowd, “I want to thank everybody for making this day necessary.”

Whatta guy!

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More Commonly Misused Phrases


These lists certainly have been popular. I’ve heard from many of you, and you even offered additional suggestions, for which I am very grateful. Here is another crop of malaprops, a word made famous by Richard Sheridan in his play The Rivals (1775), which contains a character named Mrs. Malaprop.

1. Flush out Nope. You mean to flesh out an argument, put some meat on the bones. If you flush it out, you know where it goes.

2. Unlease a hornet’s nest You want to cancel your lease on that hornet’s nest? I understand. But more likely you want to unleash it, to set those hornets free to sting someone else.

3. Electrical votes This is shocking. Better to use electoral votes. Imagine, we’ll be counting electoral votes in only 14 months! And yet the campaign is in full swing. Just shoot me.

4. Upset the apple tart I have personally done this, and it takes all the joy out of dessert. If you upset an apple cart, you are eliminating order and causing chaos.

5. Alcoholics Unanimous Alcoholics Anonymous protects the participants’ privacy.

6. A vast suppository of information  Yes, that has been written. Repository is so much more pleasant, not to mention accurate.

7. Lavatories of innovation  Probably written by the same person who wrote #6. Go with laboratories.

8. You could have knocked me over with a fender Pretty easy to do. To indicate extreme surprise, use a feather.

9. Tow the line I have never tried to tug a line of anything. If you toe the line, you come right up to the edge and follow rules.

10. Very close veins That they may be, and I am sorry for you. But the correct term is varicose, meaning swollen and twisted.

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Grammarphobia Blog and Woe Is I


You may be familiar with the wonderful blog Grammarphobia ( It is written by the author of the extremely, very, enormously wonderful book Woe Is I, Patricia T. O’Conner. Can you tell how much I love this book?

The subtitle is “The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English.” Not only is the book written in plain English, it is written in clever, entertaining English. O’Connor frequently makes allusions to popular culture, for instance when giving this correct pronunciation:

“Nuclear. Pronounce it NOO-klee-ur (not NOO-kyoo-lur). ‘My business is nuclear energy,’ said Homer.”

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Ten More Commonly Misused Phrases


Here are some more phrases that sound almost right—but aren’t. Check to see if any belong to you:

  1. For all intensive purposes   It’s for all intents and purposes.
  1. One in the same should be one and the same.
  1. Make due  Nope. You need to make do. Make what you have do what you need.
  1. By in large is by and large.
  1. Do diligence is not something done. You want due diligence.
  1. Peak one’s interest  This has nothing to do with height. It has to do with pique, sharpening your interest.
  1. Shoe in? This has nothing to do with footwear. It’s shoo in, the way you would shoo your cat inside at night.
  1. Extract revenge. Nothing is being removed. You are going to exact revenge.
  1. Doggy-dog world.  You’re describing a highly competitive situation, which is a dog-eat-dog world.


  1. Supposably   No such word. You want supposedly.

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Ten Commonly Misused Phrases


Do you say or write any of these? Many smart people do, but their use can lead to embarrassment. Check out the correct form of each.

1. DEEP-SEEDED This should be “deep-seated,” meaning something that is established, e.g., a deep-seated anxiety.

2. FIRST COME, FIRST SERVE It needs to be “served.” If you arrive first, you will be served first. Otherwise, it looks as if you will have to serve everyone who comes after you.

3. I COULD CARE LESS If this is true, you care to some extent. If you “couldn’t” care less, you are saying you don’t care at all.

4. PROSTRATE CANCER “Prostrate” means lying face down. The prostate is a gland males have near the bladder.

5. SNEAK PEAK It’s a sneak “peek,” a secret, quick look. “Peak” means the summit or apex.

6. HONE IN “Hone” means to sharpen. You can hone your writing skills or your carving knives. But you need to “home” in on areas that need improvement; think of heading for home plate.

7. WET YOUR APPETITE “Wet” means to dampen. You need “whet” here, which means to sharpen. Smelling baking brownies probably doesn’t dampen your appetite but instead makes you drool in anticipation of that first bite.

8. EMIGRATED TO “Emigrate” is used with the preposition “from.” You emigrate from one country to another. “Immigrate” means to go somewhere and is used with the preposition “to.” Hordes of people are emigrating from Syria; they are immigrating to Western Europe.

9. BAITED BREATH I get the most revolting picture of someone who has just eaten a worm. That’s bait. The expression you want is “bated” breath. “Bated,” a word practically obsolete these days, is related to “abate,” which means to cease or reduce. If you are in hiding with bated breath, you are trying not to breathe because of danger or pressure.

10. PIECE OF MIND When you yell at someone in anger, you may be giving that person a piece of your mind. But for serenity, you want “peace” of mind.


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