Snippets:  Some Examples of Bad Writing for Your Amusement and Horror

INSTRUCTIONS: Correct each of the following snippets of prose so that it says what its author probably meant. If the author doesn't seem to mean anything at all, say so. (Not every collection of words expresses a thought.) These all were first reprinted in The New Yorker. In making your corrections, be faithful to the form of the snippet. If it's a headline, don't substitute wordy sentences. If it's an advertisement, abbreviations and contractions commonly used in ads are fine. Don't be a pedant!

1. [Headline in the Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch] EVIDENCE IS IMPRESSIVE THAT MAN, DINOSAUR COHABITED(1)

2. [From the Bloomington (Ill.) Pantagraph] "I would not ever want to say there are not people on our campus that at first in the classroom are not hard to understand, at least until students get used to them," Watkins said.(2)

3. [From the New York Times] "This is the first time there has been institutional support," said Martin Levinson, the director of the drug prevention program in District 30 in Queens. "For the morale of the drug workers, it is a shot in the arm."(3)

4. [From the Stockton (Calif.) Record] "Teaching is like a disease; those of you who have it are lucky, you are blessed," Honig said.(4)

5. [Advertisement in the Cocoa (Fla.) Today] Lady wants ride to South Western Pennsylvania. Will more than share expenses.(5)

6. [Photo caption in the Burlington (Vt.) Free Press] Like the family barn, Harold Wright's car is still going strong after 285,000 miles.

{The barn has more leg room, though.}

7. [Advertisement in the New York Times] From the Street Stanley J. Rollerson Audacious life-view of a hoodlum's rise to gentleman hustler. Absorbing realism, it illuminates the dark corners of New York's sleazy street life, exposing the underbelly of the sex beast that stalks the corridors of men's minds. A scathing perspective of the sordid soul of a shameless city that tells a stinging truth. A fast-paced novel, honest and thoughtful with a sunny message at its innermost core.

{The message: Don't leave Sioux Falls.}

8. [Advertisement in the Chicago Tribune] Excellent skills in written communication is required.

9. [Headline in the Memphis Commercial Appeal] ERADICATION FAILS TO SLOW FIRE ANTS

{I'll bet it makes them think, though!}

INSTRUCTIONS: For each of the following snippets of prose, explain why it is bad writing. These all were first reprinted in The New Yorker.

10. [From the Chicago Sun-Times] Businesses planning sales strategy perceive buying power as a gauge of the general ability of potential customers to buy their products.

{Great advances in methodology}

11. [Sonja Hillgren in the Boston Globe] The task force said it looked at hunger as a social problem in which some people cannot obtain adequate amounts of food.

{Great advances in methodology}

12. [From the Los Angeles Times] "Much too frequently, the criminal escapes the scene of a crime because he manages to escape the visual capability of the responding officers," said Monterey Park Police Chief Jon Elder.

{Great advances in methodology}

13. [From the Washington Post] The elderly, who now get a double personal exemption (an elderly couple gets four exemptions worth $1,080 per exemption, instead of only two), would be abolished.

{Who would be abolished? The author forgot what the subject of the sentence was.}

14. [From Ireland of the Welcomes, published by the Irish Tourist Board] When all else was stripped from him, the great Cyrano de Bergerac, with his dying breath, was able to say, "But I had my panache!"* [*Wrong.]  Though there is nothing of the dying breath about the Irish Museum of Modern Art, there is nevertheless a fundamental and very obvious dilemma facing its board and director: how does a new museum of modern art come into existence, in the last decade of the twentieth century, and find for itself pictures to hang on its walls?

{Non sequitur}

14. [From the Congressional Record] With at least $263 billion already obligated to be spent by Congress over the next 40 years on public housing, we have dug a deep trench by obviously biting off more than we could chew.

{Block that metaphor!}

16. [Photo caption in the Mobile (Ala.) Register] PET OF THE WEEK: Nannouk is a 10-week-old Spitz mix female and will grow to be medium sized. She does well inside. Sterilization is mandatory for anyone wanting to take her.

{Who should be sterilized?}

17. [Headline in the Oskaloosa (Kans.) Free Spirit] EXHIBITIONISTS NEEDED AT CURRY ART GALLERY

18. [Headline in the San Francisco Chronicle] FUTURE IS COMING, ACADEMICS PREDICT

{No fooling?}

INSTRUCTIONS: Examine (with awed horror) the following prose gems and explain (in a sentence or two) the nature of their problem. These were first reprinted in The New Yorker.

19. [From Capitol Currents, a newsletter published in Sacramento, Calif.] The Beaux' Stratagem is a less than famous tale to the American audience written by George Farquhar that is being performed by the University of California, Davis under the European director Frank Hauser. Although The Beaux' Stratagem is relatively a new story to the student audience, the major actress manages to breath air into the play, Julie Eccles who plays Mrs. Sullen, Lady Bountiful's daughter-in-law is powerful. She single handedly carries and makes the night. But how does she accomplish this task? One must look at the play for the answer. The scene is an old rural town several kilometers from London in 1707 in which this play takes place. The major character begins her powerful roaring. For she has come upon the stage. She is a swan of beauty and grace which sails through the portals of the mind into greater sunsets. She is an eagle that soars through the sky to another atmosphere. In short, she carries the play with her wonderful, classical, energetic, smooth performance. Miss Eccles' mouth is a grand canyon of excellent speech. The voice is full of fire, pain, pleasure and love; yet natural. Her voice is full of raw emotion which is born within a person. It is not taught. Moreover, her voice is a shark which swims from its mother's belly into the blue ocean. It is the bird which is tossed from the nest, and it flies. The play flew because of the skills of Julie Eccles, and the fact that she is glorious does not hurt!

{Rich, Beautiful Prose Department}

20. [From UW Teaching Forum, published by the University of Wisconsin System Undergraduate Teaching Improvement Council] Operationally, teaching effectiveness is measured by assessing the levels of agreement between the perceptions of instructors and students on the rated ability of specific instructional behavior attributes which were employed during course instruction. Due to the fact that instructors come from diverse backgrounds and occupy different positions within a given university, both individual and organizational based factors may contribute to the variance in levels of agreement between perceptions.

{Translation, please! This is the worst sort of pseudo-scientific jargon, one to which social science and particularly education are unfortunately addicted. Don't let this happen to you!)

21. [Jeffery S. Ingram in the Newport (Ore.) News-Times] The evening opened with the Sinfonia Breve or Short Symphony by Ernest Bloch. Composed at his Agate Beach residence in the early 50s, the Sinfonia Breve is a work redolent of the sea and its moods. Now cobalt blue and glassy or gray and churning with a storm's seething foam, the sinfonia is a tonal seascape full of the depth, breadth and colors that music can describe. The first movement held the crispness of a clear winter's day, with the east wind sharpening the contrast of colors in the play between the woodwinds and strings, punctuated by a harp as if played by the fingers of a stiff breeze. The second movement changed the tempo abruptly to a deeply ponderous one, the end sad and questioning. As if a storm had suddenly whipped up out of the southeast, the third movement sped along with driving force, a ricochet of tone and rhythm that was closed by the summation of the fourth and final movement.

{Rich, Beautiful Prose Department (Music Division)}


1. [From a promotional letter from The Washington Weekly]

Dear Fellow Resident: Washington is a city that only cares about one thing: sex, money, power and politics.

{And certainly not arithmetic.}

2. [From Deceived with Kindness: A Bloomsbury Childhood, by Angelica Garnett]

At first his appearance was unimpressive; without being fat he was short and fairly solid, almost stocky, usually dressed in unremarkable grey tweed. It was when he was seated that one became aware of the nobility of his forehead, completed by the curve of his aquiline nose, on either side of which was a pair of shrewd, hawk-like eyes.

3. [Mark E. Neely, Jr., and R. Gerald McMurtry in Crain's Chicago Business]

Like most American women in the 19th century, Mary Todd Lincoln lived her life outwardly within the confines of the female roles acceptable to Victorian society. Like more than 90% of married women in that time, she married.

4. [Panel title from the program of the Tennessee Press Association -- University of Tennessee Press Institute and Winter Convention]

9:15 A.M. "Illiteracy and Newspapering -- Threat or Challange?"

{Clearly, a threat.}

5. [From the Salt Shaker, newsletter of the First Presbyterian Church of Hamilton, Mass.]

The ladies of the church have cast off clothes of every kind and they can be seen in the church basement on Friday afternoons.

6. [From the Syracuse (N.Y.) Daily Orange]

"We're not running a temperance movement," he said. "We're trying to start people thinking and choosing between alternatives -- 'Do I drink or do I drive?'"

"We have encountered students from the University," Oliveri said. "We've encountered people from all stratospheres of the community."

7. [From Newsday]

The plot is less than the sum of its parts. It concerns an unconventional family -- a free-spirited mother and her three young-adult children -- that visits an English seaside resort. There they meet a young dentist, who falls in love with the older daughter, his grumpy landlord, the mother's nervous solicitor, the friendly waiter, and a stuffy barrister.

8. [From the Bryan (Texas) Press]

According to The History of Brazos County, Texas, by Elmer Grady Marshall, this county was not a large slave-holding county compared to those in other Southern states. Of the 446 white people living here in 1850, 148 were black, all of whom were slaves.

9. [Karen Douglas in the Lansing (Mich.) State Journal]

"My future husband has never seen me work so he's in for a real surprise," laughed Bach, who is getting married for the third time in 10 days.

10. [John Stapleton, the Inquiring Photographer, in the (N.Y.) Daily News]

TODAY'S QUESTION: Efforts to make English the official language is gaining strength throughout the U.S. What is your reaction?

{"It's hopeless."}

11. [From the New Jersey Monthly]

Surveying the seemingly endless rows of dolls stacked almost to the ceiling in the Toys "R" Us on Route 4 in Paramus, the chain's president, Norman Ricken, singles out a Barbie look-alike that he believes will prove a big favorite this Christmas. The high-fashion Jem, marketed as a corporate executive who moonlights as a rock 'n' roll star, represents, says Ricken, a glamorous version of the working woman. "Children like toys that mirror real life," he explains.

12. [Advertisement in the Frederick (Md.) News-Post]

Thomas E. Whitman has just joined The Equitable's Frederick District Office. Judging by his previous experience as a golf professional, we think he's going to become an outstanding member of our highly qualified team of life underwriters.

{Non sequitur}

13. [From the Newark Star-Ledger]

The number of women with infants in the labor force has grown dramatically during the last decade, up from 31 percent in 1976.

14. [Robert Blau in the Chicago Tribune]

On a recent Friday night service at Etz Chaim, the music director, Gregory Zelman, played original piano pieces by Mana Zucca, an Italian composer and Max Janowski, a Jewish composer living on the South Side, with a female soloist.

{Just give the news, please.}

15. [From the Greenwich (Ct.) Time]

CLARIFICATION: A story in Saturday's Greenwich Time about the restaurant at the Bruce Park Memorial Golf Course failed to mention that any expansion of the restaurant into the women's locker room area would need town approval.

16. [From Gourmet]

The Hermitage bedroom cottages, elegant and comfortable, are dotted along a shady hillside path overlooking the bay and nicely secluded. There are two lovely swimming pools and a summer lunchtime bar -- and a few tentative souls still change for dinner in the restaurant.

{Tentative and yet perhaps just a touch daring.}

17. [From the Atlanta Journal & Constitution]

Atlanta's very recognizable Ted Turner presented Edwin Moses the gold medal for winning the 400 meter hurdles while dressed in a yellow-and-white striped gold shirt, grey sports coat and a borrowed burgundy CNN-logo tie.

{And, of course, track shoes.}

18. [From the New Jersey Network Guide]

What do George Washington, the model town of Fayetteville, North Carolina, America's churches, and the Experimental Aircraft Association have in common? They are all unabashedly and truly part and parcel of the American spirit, captured for television by Smithsonian World in the spring special, American Pie.

The cameras travel to Fayetteville for the dedication of the new main street, symbolizing the rebirth of a town whose energetic leaders razed the red light district and brought it back in a glorious urban victory.

{Who said politicians can't think creatively!?}

19. [From the San Francisco Examiner & Chronicle]

The Oakland Parks Department (273-3186) offers more party rusticity at lodges surrounded by forested acres. The Leona and Sequoia Lodges are large wooden structures with stone fireplaces, free wood to burn, tables, chairs, pianos, kitchens, decks and barbecue pits that can hold 150 and 212 people, respectively.

20. [From the Kansas City Times]

Word processors are replacing the steno pad and ballpoint for many secretaries. Several thousand are to convene in Kansas City.

{O Brave New World!}

21. [Sheldon Landwehr in the New York Post]

Recently we were invited to a meal here by Joey Adams, that "strictly for laughs," lineal descendant of Confucius and his wife Cindy.

22. [Memorandum received by a faculty member of Georgetown University]

TO: SFS Faculty

FROM: Dean Peter F. Krogh, Dean

School of Foreign Service

Wendy von Staden, wife of the former German Ambassador to the United States, a former German Foreign Service Officer and a celebrated author in Germany, will be speaking in the Dean's Office on October 15th at 5 p.m. She is one of the world's greatest women. I would appreciate it if you would announce this in your classes.

{O.K., students, listen! Wendy von Staden is one of the world's greatest women.}

23. [From the Madison (Ind.) Courier]

Jefferson County Sheriff Wayne Hamilton this morning discussed the problems of lodging in the jail unconscious people suspected of being drunk with the Jefferson County Commissioners.

{How low can one sink?}

24. [From the Greensboro (N.C.) News & Record]

Asked about Kelley's comments Thursday, Fort issued the following statement: "My responsibility is to work as closely with the president and the people he has designated in the operationalizing of those mechanisms and modes of activity and strategies necessary to maintain the viability of this institution's fiscal management operations.

"That is precisely what we are doing and shall continue to do. Period."

Fort declined to elaborate or to respond specifically to any of Kelley's comments.

{Thank goodness.}

25. [From Interface Age]

There are two things wrong with microcomputer documentation: most of it is largely incomprehensible, and users wouldn't read it enough even if it was.

26. [From the Cochin (India) Indian Express]

The Tibetan Youth Congress has urged the Dalai Lama not to go ahead with his proposed 1985 visit to Tibet "as long as the present uncertain and insecure conditions continue to prevail" in the region.

In a petition drafted at its fifth general body conference, the TYC said it was making this request because of the "sheer undependability of the Chinese authorities and because of the potential risk that every Tibetan sees to your person under the present circumstances."

"History is replete with examples to show that throughout our long and rewarding relations with the Chinese, they have time and again proved to be totally untrustworthy," the petition said.

27. [Advertisement in the San Mateo (Calif.) Times]

Develop interpersonal conversational skills by learning to talk good.

{Like a conversationalist should.}

28. [Bob Adams in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch]

Gordon Adams, director of the defense center for the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, wrote a book two years ago called The Iron Triangle.

He sees the defense contractors, the Pentagon, and Congress as the three legs of that triangle -- with the defense lobbyists as the point where all three meet.

29. [From The Power Players, by Arelo Sederberg]

The man was eating a fish that still had its head on and was drinking red wine in great gulps. The fish's eyes looked alive.

{And apprehensive.}

30. [From the Topeka (Kans.) Capital-Journal]

HAINES CITY, Fla. (AP)--George Brett says he regrets smashing a reporter's camera against a wall.

"I regret what I did," said the first baseman of the Kansas City Royals. "But I'm not sorry I did it."

31. [Headline in the Purdue (Ind.) Exponent]


{Not until you conservate the Republicans.}

32. [From the New York Times]

Mr. Bush said he saw a need to "flush out" his basic campaign themes so they appeal to a wider audience.

33. [From a nomination form distributed by the National Council of Teachers of English]

I understand neither me, nor any of the colleagues I've recommended above, are obligated to accept NCTE membership.

34. [From Aviation Week & Space Technology]

"We've scoped this out to cover a wide gamut of different types of performance evaluation assessment activities to give both configurations a fair shot," Kosmo said. "I think the outcome will more or less be self-evident one way or the other or there will be some combination of the two."

{Great advances in methodology.}

35. [From the Wall Street Journal]

McDonnell Douglas views its entrant, which would cost the company $500 million to produce, as a budget-priced hybrid: a newfangled engine on a modified version of its existing MD-80 jet, ready to carry passengers by 1992.

"This is a good opportunity for Douglas -- if this airplane can catch fire," says a marketing executive for a major U.S. airline.

36. [Advertisement in the Chicago Tribune]

WRITER: Entry level, full time position for writer who can produce verbose, 1st-draft material under pressure.

37. [From the Allentown (Pa.) Morning Call]

Elsas and other researchers say they believe that aspartame can do more damage over a long period of time than federal health officials.

{Nonsense. Federal health officials do much more damage.}

38. [From a Barnes & Noble advertisement in The Atlantic]

1433507. How to Write in Plain English by M.L. Stein. A step-by-step guide to writing clearly and effectively that should be within arm's reach of every student, businessperson, and professional who wants to express themselves with clarity and confidence.

39. [Advertisement in the Eureka (Calif.) Times-Standard]

SLEEPING ROOMS, share kitchen and front room. Want honest roomers or Christians.

{Personally, I'd give the edge to the honest roomers.}

40. [From the Lorain (Ohio) Journal]

ELYRIA--Firefighters are often called upon to save lives.

Occasionally, they must help begin lives.

Such was the case yesterday morning when five Elyria fire fighters gave birth to a girl in the bathroom of an apartment.

{Another first for Elyria.}

41. [From the New York Times]

The animals' new home will be the last word in zoo-style interior decoration.

"The old zoo was a constant reminder of how horrible humans can make it for animals," Mr. Lattis said. "This will do the opposite."

42. [Headline in Boeing Plane Talk, newspaper of an aircraft plant in Wichita, Kans.]


43. [From the Bulletin of St. John's United Church of Christ in Kenton, Ohio]

TODAY--4:00-6:00 p.m. -- Senior High Youth Group Mtg. (9-10-11-12 grades) Meet at St. John's for election of officers, an excellent film and discussion on how we unintentionally enable to use drugs and alcohol, worship and pizza. Please bring $1.50 for pizza and pop.

{The other stuff is on the house.}

44. [Lawrence Rule in The Minnesota Horticulturist]

Most gardeners limit their experience of growing beans in their backyard gardens to snap beans. In fact, snap beans are second in popularity only to the omniscient tomato.

{Damn know-it-all.}

45. [From the Bergenfield (N.J.) Twin Boro News]

TENAFLY--On Friday evening, April 3, the Tenafly Nature Center will hold a "WoodCock Viewing."

In this program, participants will sit in silence and observe this bird's unusual mating display while sipping plum wine. This program is for adults only.

46. [From New American Poets of the 80's, edited by Jack Myers and Roger Weingarten]

Heather McHugh (1948) was born and raised on both coasts and attended Radcliffe College.

{For final assembly?}

47. [From the Atlanta Journal & Constitution]

Borrowing the mystique of the Bermuda Triangle, White Water Park in Marietta has created a new ride for people who want togetherness with family or friends.

{I'll pass, thanks.}

48. [From Continuo, newsletter of the Friends of Music at Guilford, Vt.]


Candlelight Champagne Dinner


Three lucky people will win an elegant French Dinner for two.

{Not that lucky.}

49. [From the Southbury (Conn.) Voices]

HARTFORD--Governor William O'Neill announced here last week that the Connecticut Coalition for Literacy has joined forces with International Business Machines (IBM) to launch an experimental statewide program to combat adult illiteracyycy thrrhrrhrrhrough the use of comppmputers.

{Good luck.}

50. [Advertisement for Marshall Field's in Vogue]

This dress. This subtlety. A breathless simplicity in spring's gentle dimensions. Engaging the wit and the charm of the Ellis vision in a soft swirl of swing-skirted dress. With clarity in the easy bodice, focused waist, and flowing silhouette. Prosaic in yards of silk.

51. [Examples cited in James Kilpatrick's essay, "Avoid Overpacked Sentences":]

a. "Silent Cal has gotten a raw deal," says Rep. Silvio Conte, a Massachusetts Republican who persuaded the House to declare the first annual Calvin Coolidge Week, marking the 60th anniversary of his swearing-in after Warren G. Harding's death by his notary-public father in the family home in Plymouth Notch, Vt.

b. TEL AVIV--The 16-1 vote followed a grenade explosion in a crowd of Peace Now protestors outside the Cabinet meeting that killed a paratrooper who friends said fought in the Lebanon invasion and injured nine others who demanded Sharon be fired.

c. Founded in 1843 -- and edited later in the century by Walter Bagehot, the period's most famous journalist of democratic politics and capitalist economics -- the weekly's circulation has doubled to about 200,000 over the past decade.

d. [From the Seattle Times]

President Reagan will Air Force One his way into the area Tuesday...

e. [From the minutes of a Midwestern hospital's "quality assurance panel"]

The panel, having considered complaints that patients' meals were often cold by the time the meals reached the floor, "was assured by the dietary department that meals will be rethermalized by use of microwave oven before delivery to patients."

f. [From a report in the Washington Post on a suspicious fire in nearby Montgomery County, Md.]

Said the assistant fire chief: "I would unequivocally say it very probably could have been set."

g. [From the Marysville (Ohio) Journal-Tribune]

According to the (police) report, a vehicle apparently ran off Ketch Road and struck the mailbox as it attempted to get back on the roadway.

{Follow that mailbox!}

52. [From Nairn's London]


All Saints, Margaret Street

William Butterfield, 1849-59

To describe a church as an orgasm is bound to offend someone; yet ...

53. [Irv Letofsky in the Los Angeles Times]

At the heart of "The Return of Sam McCloud," airing at 9 Sunday night on CBS, it's nice to see all the usual suspects rounded up again looking perfectly quaffed.

{Drunk as a goat, every one of them.}

54. [From KVIE-TV's Members' Magazine]

9:00 MASTERPIECE THEATRE A Tale of Two Cities

Charles Darney makes a surprising announcement on the morning of his marriage to Dr. Manette.

55. [From the Seattle (WA) Post-Intelligencer]

Britain's Prince Charles turned 41 in Scotland Tuesday when his flight home from Singapore was diverted because of fog.

{That'll age anyone.}

56. [Advertisement for Gilbey's Gin in Time]

Coincidentally, the martini has made a return as well. And it's still drank the same way it was sixty years ago.

{Sometimes to excess.}

57. [From "Eyewitness to History", edited by John Carey]

Las Cases, who became a Dominican missionary, was the first European to expose the oppression of the native races of Latin America. He had himself taken apart in the conquest of Cuba, 1513.

{We don't want to hear about it.}

58. [From the Harvard Crimson]

Kunstler spoke on another matter close to the law students' hearts -- the controversial tenure of newly appointed Dean Robert C. Clark. Kunstler called Clark anti-Deluvian for his conservative policies.

{Kunstler himself is pro-Duluvian.}

59. [Headline in the Orange County (Calif.) Register]



60. [From the George Street Journal, a publication of Brown University's news bureau]

I want to embrace our alumni to help me carry the message of that Brown spirit into the '90s. That's important. It's a significant time we live in. The Berlin Wall came down, the democratization of Eastern Europe, Mandela was freed - three things that were supposed to never happen. Now, the resurgence of Brown football.

{Anticlimax Department.}

61. [Headline in the Galesburg (Ill.) Register-Mail]


{"I only regret that I have but one life to give."}

62. [Wayne King in the New York Times]

He also favors the death penalty and a moment of silence for those who want to pray in school.

{Not necessarily in that order, however.}

63. [Douglas Davis in the Australian]

Something more than a seducer-counselor is necessary to ease the excessive constipation of the region: What the Middle East needs now is a powerful purgative that will unblock the system and deliver the parties to the negotiating table.

{Block that metaphor--please!}

64. [Photo caption in the Gainesville (FL) Sun]

Prince, sporting a new hairdo, has formed a new band, the New Power Generation, with whom which he will be touring with later this year.

{With whom?}

65. [From the Richmond (VA) Times-Dispatch]

WINCHESTER (AP)--A scientist told 182 Shenandoah University graduates to avoid complacency.

"Hitch your wagon to a star. Keep your seat and there you are," Charlotte C. Campbell said. "I can only hope your star is as exciting and rewarding to you as mine was to me."

Ms. Campbell has studied fungi for more than 40 years.

66. [From the Kansas City Star]

CBS News has settled on Saturday, Dec. 7, as the air date for its two-hour special marking the anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor 50 years ago.

{Good thinking, CBS.}

67. [Notice in the Stanford (California) Weekly]




Sunday, August 26 10:00 AM

"Whom do I

say He is?

Whom does He

say I am?"

{Whom indeed?}

68. [Headline in the San Marcos (Texas) Daily Record]


{We don't want to hear about it.}

69. [Robert Wyatt in the Nashville Tennessean]

I poured over the proof for typos, my wife poured over the proof, my friends poured over it. I was certain that my job hung in the balance.

{It does. You're fired.}

70. [Chris Dufresne in the Los Angeles Times]

MINNEAPOLIS--The Rams swore they would never forget Buffalo, and the memories of a last-minute loss there on Oct. 16 that stuck to their insides like clumps of oatmeal, a taste so bitter it could not be duplicated, a feeling so strong it could not be tolerated.

The Rams wore the wounds of that loss, a gut-wrencher of ulcer-raising proportions, like lockets around their necks, hoping it would remain close to their hearts and serve warning to a game's funny bounces and its sometimes humorless conclusions.

{Block that metaphor!}

71. [Flyer for a topic in the Lunch and Learn series at Auburn University, Alabama]

"Disciplining Children: Concrete Helps"

{Spare the concrete, spoil the child.}

72. [From the business card of a restaurant in Decatur, Texas] Mattie's Restaurant and Yogurt Parlor "An Alternative to Good Eating"

73. [From The High School, the alumni magazine of the Alexandria, Virginia, Episcopal High School]

Not only does Bill have several studies which are being published, but also he is planning a project in which he will investigate the developmental stages of a freshwater fish and compare it to a close relative.

{The one who's always out by the pool.}

74. [From the Philadelphia Inquirer]

Yesterday, the owners of three of the spas, where female employees allegedly sold massages that included sexual contact to undercover police officers, turned themselves into police.

{Too late, guys.}

75. [Donna Petrozzello in the Westhampton Beach (New York) Hampton Chronicle-News]

Hold onto your garden greens--giant African snails have invaded Long Island. Boasting a voracious appetite and stocked with both male and female sex organs capable of producing up to 1,000 offspring per year, officials at the U.S. Department of Agriculture are warning Long Islanders to report any sightings of the oversized escargot immediately.

{And if you see one of those officials, shoot first and ask questions later.}

76. [From the Los Angeles Times]

CHEATING POLICE: Eleven National City police officers were caught cheating on a promotion exam. However, no disciplinary action was taken against them, because they had not been specifically instructed not to cheat.

{This isn't a writing error, but it was too funny (but sad, too) to exclude from this collection of snippets.}

77. [Headline in the Nogales (Arizona) International]


{Department of Straight Thinking}

78. [From "Personal Finance" in the Toronto Globe & Mail]

If both of you do not consent to an automatic split, the spouse who belongs to the pension plan will retain the whole pension. You are then limited to trading off other assets like spouses in British Columbia, Alberta and Newfoundland.

79. [From the Bridgeport (Connecticut) Post]

FAIRFIELD--The Lesko Funeral Home, long a fixture in Bridgeport, is now located in Fairfield, back to where it has ties from years ago and where many of its clients now live.

{Some of those ties are the very wide ones.}

80. [From the Louisville (Kentucky) Courier-Journal]

The total number of births in the 1950s was larger than had ever been seen in the United States, but this was due mostly to the number of women having babies.

{Great advances in methodology.}

81. [Mark Purdy in the Lexington (Kentucky) Herald-Leader]

In the USA's gallery of sports celebrities, Conner seems to fit in that curious category of competitors who are obsessed with winning to the point of obsession.

{"Curious" is the word, all right.}

82. [From the Winberley Valley (Texas) News]

Two-story 1500 Sq. Ft. (3½-1) on 1½ acres with privacy fencing along road frontage attached to two 6' cyclone fenced areas for security dogs. On hill with beautiful view of damned creek below property.

{Caveat Emptor Department}

83. [From the Peoria Journal Star]

First, Kevin Costner agreed to go west and play the title role in "Wyatt Earp." Now Kurt Russell has agreed to do the same in "Tombstone."

{It must be one of those underground movies.}

84. [From Roger Firestone's voluminous memory; he says not all are original with him]

[Several headlines appearing in some newspaper or other:]

85. [From James J. Kilpatrick's column, "The Writer's Art", appearing in the Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette on 7/22/94, and passed along to me by Charlotte Chilton]
86. [From Keynotes, the newsletter of radio station WDPR, in Dayton, Ohio]

Something exciting is developing at the station. A new board has been formed with the responsibility of conceiving and executing our fundraisers.

{O Brave New World.}

87. [From a letter from Bernadette Castro to the New York Times Magazine]

And, yes, I favor the death penalty for murderers of children, law-enforcement officers and all members of our community.

{Clear days on the political scene}

88. [From Roger Firestone]

Don't use commas, which aren't necessary.

89. [From Roger Firestone]

Reread your work to see if you any words out.

90. [From the San Bernardino Sun]

LOS ANGELES--A mountain lion suspected of killing at least two suburban dogs was shot to death after a state warden spotted it taking a report near the scene of the latest attack.

{The report probably would have just gathered dust on some shelf anyway.}

91. [From a billboard near Chohasset, MN, circa 1974; passed along to me by Bill Fleischman]


92. [From an email notice distributed by the CLA Student Affairs Office]

The new bulletins have arrived in the CLA Student Affairs office (109 Cina). I will deliver the bulletins to your department office today. Full-time faculty will receive a bulletin and the dept sec.-->-->

93. [From the University of Chicago Magazine]

Retired after 27 years as a domestic-violence counselor with the Chicago police, the 71-year old Mr. J. went to college on a football scholarship, made an All-America team, and briefly played in the NFL before joining an all-black league.

94. [These are supposedly winners of the "worst analogies ever written in a high school essay". I got it from Charlotte Chilton, who got it from Judy Getis, who got it from Art Getis, who got it as an email from Janet Franklin, and more than that I don't know.]

95. [From Erwin Knoll (ed.) No Comment (NY: Vantage Press, 1984)]

A spokesman for Consolidated Freightways, Inc., of San Francisco, told the Wall Street Journal that capital spending in the trucking industry "tends to fluctuate widely because much of our spending is very deferrable and quickly crank-upable."

96. [From Erwin Knoll (ed.) No Comment (NY: Vantage Press, 1984)]

J. Curtis McKay, a member of the Wisconsin State Elections Board: "I'm for abolishing and doing away with redundancy."

97. [From Erwin Knoll (ed.) No Comment (NY: Vantage Press, 1984)]

A bill to legalize prostitution in the state of Washington provided that licenses be issued "only upon satisfactory proof that the applicant is of good character."

{Have to keep up those professional standards.}

98. [From Erwin Knoll (ed.) No Comment (NY: Vantage Press, 1984)]

The National Council of Teachers of English presented its annual Doublespeak Award to the Metropolitan Edison Co., operator of the Three Mile Island nuclear plant, for coining such terms as "energetic disassembly" (explosion), "rapid oxidization" (fire) and "normal aberration" (reactor accident).

99. [Headline from the Santa Fe New Mexican]


100. [From Ephemera News] News traveled like wildfire across the Atlantic.

101. [From International News, #163 (6/11/97).

International News is an electronic journal of stories about the GLBT community, compiled by Rex Wockner. Emphasis supplied.] Buenos Aires Mayor Fernando de la Rua vetoed a measure June 1 that would have granted same-sex couples access to pay-by-the-hour "love motels." . . . . The popular motels are used primarily by young people who live with their parents, prostitutes and adulterers.

{The quote seems to imply either that (a) the parents of these young people are prostitutes and adulterers or (b) these young people are living with parents, prostitutes, and adulterers. In either case, it would seem to be a good idea to let them live somewhere else, e.g., these "love motels". :-)}

102. [A headline from somewhere, courtesy of Paul Sharp]


{Where is Dr. Kevorkian when you need him most?}

103. [From an interview with Haruo Tsuji, chairman of Sharp Corp., in World Traveler, the in-flight magazine of Northwest Airlines, August 1997, pp. 128 & 96]

Q. Which areas in Sharp are most directly affected by this [great international] competition [that you have described]? A. Key technologies and key devices for the future are essential in creating the next generation of networkable products. . . . Q. What is the future of LCD technology in relation to emerging flat-panel technologies such as plasma and digital light processing? And what is Sharp's role in these or other emerging display technologies? A. Every technology has its good and bad points. The suitability of the applied products--in other words, how users accept them--will determine the permanence of the product.

{The Overly-Scrutable Orient}

104. [The Tallahassee Bugle, from Steve Sanderson, courtesy of Sara Chilton]


105. [The Anchorage Alaska Times, from Steve Sanderson, courtesy of Sara Chilton]


106. [The New Haven Connecticut Register, from Steve Sanderson, courtesy of Sara Chilton]


{should be "Pen Is"}

107. [The Arkansas Plainsman, from Steve Sanderson, courtesy of Sara Chilton]


108. [Bangor Maine News, from Steve Sanderson, courtesy of Sara Chilton] CLINTON PLACES DICKEY IN GORE'S HANDS

109. [The Washington Times, from Steve Sanderson, courtesy of Sara Chilton] STARR AGHAST AT FIRST LADY SEX POSITION

110. [The Bosnia Bugle, from Steve Sanderson, courtesy of Sara Chilton]


111. [Newsday, from Steve Sanderson, courtesy of Sara Chilton]


112. [San Antonio Rose, from Steve Sanderson, courtesy of Sara Chilton]


113. [The Miami Herald, from Steve Sanderson, courtesy of Sara Chilton]


114. [The New Haven Connecticut Register, from Steve Sanderson, courtesy of Sara Chilton]


115. [The Tallahassee Democrat, from Steve Sanderson, courtesy of Sara Chilton]


116. [The Houston Chronicle, from Steve Sanderson, courtesy of Sara Chilton]


117. [From an information sheet enclosed with a U.S. Bancorp Investments, Inc. statement]

As we have converted your U.S. Bancorp Investments, Inc. accounts to our new system, some data failed to print on your April statement.

{BAD data! NAUGHTY data!}

118. [From a picture caption in the September 27, 1998 Duluth News-Tribune. It isn't hilariously funny, but I enclose it as a good example of word order problems.]

Toronto Blue Jays fans do the wave in front of signs displaying pitcher Roger Clemens' 11 strikeouts during the eighth inning against the Detroit Tigers in Toronto Saturday.

{So HOW many strikeouts were there in the eighth inning?}

119. [From the Santa Fe New Mexican, reprinted in The New Yorker of 5/24/99 in its running series of squibs, "Constabulary Notes from All Over"]

A thief stole 60 CDs and a Sony Discman Friday from a home in the 1000 block of Camino Anasazi, leaving the toilet seat up before he left the premises.

120. [Headline in the Duluth Budgeteer News of 11/28/99]

Family finds some solace in daughter's death

{Surely that should be, after daughter's death?}

121. [Supposedly true headlines, passed along to me by Roger Fossum. I don't guarantee their authenticity.]
119. [From the Vancouver Sun, reprinted in The New Yorker of 1/10/2000 in its running series of squibs, "Rich, Beautiful Prose Department"]

In "Private Confessions," Ullmann doesn't just direct one of the pivotal chapters of Bergman's childhood, she reaches deep into the distant heart of Bergman's crisp, artistic soul and untangles one gigantic hairball of feeling.

120. [Headline in the Columbus (Ga.) Ledger-Enquirer, reprinted in The New Yorker of 1/17/2000.]


{The new economy is certainly efficient.}

121. [From the Eastsound (Washington) Islands' Sounder, reprinted in The New Yorker of 6/19 & 26/2000.]

Schneider will be the first to admit that making a living was tough in those first few years. There were days when barely a handful of vehicles drove by the shop, and even fewer actually walked through the door.

{Fewer still were able to sign their credit card receipts.}

122. [Headline in the Islamabad (Afghanistan) South Nexus Newspaper, passed along by Paul Sharp]


{Or, to put this another way, they won't be rolling over in their graves.}

123. [From the Albuquerque (N.M.) Journal, reprinted in The New Yorker of September 30, 2002]

Two critics of a portrait of Our Lady of Guadalupe, clad only in garlands of flowers and hanging at a state museum, asked the state museum Board of Regents on Friday to take the work down.

{The Board of Regents complied immediately.}

124. [From the Ottowa Citizen]

    The Saudis served up a heaping buffet and at least one cabinet minister, Herb Dhaliwal, along with a host of diplomats.

{Fresh Herb is a delicious complement to any dish.}

125. [Headline in the St. Johnsbury (Vt.) Caledonian-Record]



126. [From the New York Times, reprinted in The New Yorker of March 3, 2003]

Dr. Salick donated, along with his wife, Gloria, $4.5 million to Queens College for the center.

{Gloria is tax-deductable.}

{For those who think this is too precious, see how much clearer the more accurate alternative is:  "Dr. Salick and his wife, Gloria, donated $4.5 million to Queens College for the center."}

127. [From the New York Times, reprinted in The New Yorker of June 2, 2003]

If any proof is needed to show that baseball can be salutary, you have only to remember that Ron LeFlore, the former Detroit Tigers center fielder, was discovered by Manager Billy Martin in Jackson State Penitentiary in Michigan, where Mr. LeFlore was serving time for armed robbery and playing baseball on prison teams.  After his release, Mr. LeFlore made his major league debut in 1974 and over his career led the American and National Leagues in stolen bases.

128. [A list of church bloopers, passed along to me by my daughter, Cathy Blood, from a Unitarian Universalist listserv.  I've seen some of these items before (sometimes decades ago) and I would guess they aren't all authentic anyway, but who cares—they're still funny.]

129.  [A list of proposed bumper stickers for the next U.S. presidential election, passed along by Paul Sharp.]

130.  [From Tim Kolar via rec.humor.funny, via Cathy Blood]

Quote from a critic of the Sacramento School District's outgoing

"I don't doubt that Jim Sweeney loves children and has dedicated his life's
career to improving education," she said. "The school district has done some
wonderful things ... but (on state tests) half the students are still below
the 50th percentile. That's a problem."

{She needs to move to Lake Wobegon.}

131.  [From the Washington Post, as reprinted in The New Yorker of 9/22/2003]

Stacks of brochures with pictures of waterfalls and fields
of wildflowers offer six packages, such as basic cremation, which
offers cremating the body, a container and a funeral director for

{Bargain of the Week Dept.}

132.  [From the New York Times, as reprinted in The New Yorker of 12/8/2003, sarcastically entitled, "DEPT OF HORTICULTURE"]

The gardens were rescued in the 1980's from decades of neglect and vandalism by the Women's Committee and its garden
director, Lynden B. Miller.

133.  [Headline in the Durham (N.C.) Herald Sun, as reprinted in The New Yorker of 12/15/2003]


{A victim of his own success.}

134. [From the article, "Don't Dangle Your Participles in Public", by Richard Lederer, Funny Times March, 2004, p.19:

"Don't let related ideas in a sentence drift apart.  Modifiers should be close to the word they purport to modify."  [This last is Lederer's quote from the AP Press Guide to News Writing.]  Some of Lederer's examples:


1. Be faithful to the fact that this is a headline. For example, changing the comma after "man" into "and" is simply picky. Also, the correct answer is not to misspell "cohabited" as "cohabitated"!

2. Huh? Clearly, the problem starts with the number of negatives. Deleting most of them gives us the following: "I would say there are people on our campus who at first in the classroom are hard to understand, at least until students get used to them," Watkins said. Even better: "Some faculty are hard to understand, at least until the students get used to them."

3. An unfortunate metaphor in this context. Try something like, "This has been a boost for the drug workers' morale."

4. Try changing "disease" to "talent".

5. Many corrections over-expanded this; remember that this is an advertisement, not an essay! Try, "Lady wants ride to South Western Pennsylvania. Will pay more than half the expenses."

Author:  Stephen Chilton [email]  |  Last Modified:  2004-02-16
Honor Roll  |  UMD  |  Pol Sci Department

The University of Minnesota is an equal opportunity educator and employer.
Copyright © 2004 Regents of the University of Minnesota. All rights reserved.