"Half the lies they tell about me aren't true." - Yogi Berra

Malapropisms. The word itself makes my heart sing…so symmetrical and full of whimsy. But the concept is deadly.

What is a malapropism? Well, it came from a character named Mrs. Malaprop in Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s play The Rivals. This character routinely mistook one word for another, and the resulting language was pretty comical. When the average person uses a malapropism in speech or writing, the result is typically high hilarity and a severe dip in his/her “take me seriously” quotient. Usually, a malapropism is used because it sounds a lot like the correct word. Continue reading

Proofread your resume!

Dear Conan,

I have a job opening and I’m getting flooded with resumés. I am cringing when reading them. Apparently schools don’t teach English class anymore.

“Insure quality work”

Really? How much are the premiums?

“My objective is to procure a position with a company that I can contribute to, and learn from”

The rogue comma strikes again…

“One of my strongest skills would be great focus, determination, organization, and getting things done”

I thought it was just one…

I have more examples, but you get the idea.

RS Continue reading

Principle vs. principal

I am  your principle...uh, principal...I think...

I am your principle! Uh, principal...I think...

Here comes one that has stymied people for generations — the age-old duel between principle and principal. And why not? One is a rule you’d rather not follow and the other is a person you’d rather not run into in the hall. As always, there’s a way to keep the two separate, just like Rosie O’Donnell and Elisabeth Hasselbeck: one here, one over there.  But first, how about some definitions?

Principal means first, most important, chief or head.

Principle means a law, rule or doctrine.

Both are nouns, but as you can see, principle is an idea and principal is usually a person. So here comes Conan’s mnemonic device for how to tell the two apart: The principal is your pal.

Hey! My cable guy’s a proofreader too!

I once edited a charming memoir written by a gentleman whose mother grew up in a North Dakota sod house. He wrote his book as a gift to his brothers and sisters, and he had it professionally published and bound. The final product will look great and is grammatically correct, so his family can concentrate on the content and not on the misuse of commas or the confusion of the words “then” and “than.” Continue reading

Who’s vs. Whose: Is There an Owl in Here?

Are you serious? You don't know the difference?

Whose. Who’s. Which do you use and when?

The most common error in this regard is to use who’s as a possessive. Why? Because that’s the rule we learned in school: in order to make a noun possessive, you take out the Elmer’s Glue and stick ‘s to the end of it, like so:

That’s Vladimir‘s baby-blue Pacer. (That baby-blue Pacer belongs to Vladimir.)

But you must erase this from your mind. Who’s only means who is or who has. It never means anything else. Ever. Okay? Who’s is a contraction in which the apostrophe replaces the i in is or the ha in has. Examples:

Who’s your daddy? (Who is your daddy?) Who’s got head lice? (Who has got head lice?)

Whose is the possessive form of who and sometimes which. Definition: “belonging to whom or which.” Examples:

Zerubabel, whose last name is O’Reilly, did the Safety Dance. (Zerubabel, to whom belongs the surname of O’Reilly, did the Safety Dance.)

Whose Village People eight-track is that? (To whom does that Village People eight-track tape belong?)

So in the words of Brad in Fast Times at Ridgemont High: Learn it. Know it. Live it.

There, Their, They’re…It’s Not That Hard

It really isn't.

Few homophones cause as much confusion and chaos as there, their and they’re. The problem, of course, is that our brains are so stuffed with vital information–Olympic curling team stats, disco song lyrics, ways to get cranberry juice stains out of deep pile carpet–how are we supposed to keep such trivial garbage straight? Continue reading

‘Tis the Season to Send Out Annoying Holiday Greetings


Nothing strikes fear into the hearts of Americans like the prospect of writing Christmas greetings. I should know–as the family wordsmith, it falls to me each year to crank out a two-page missive that’s engaging, informative and treads that fine line between connecting with friends and family–and smarmy bragging. Continue reading