Things That Make Us (Sic): The Society for the Promotion of Good Grammar Takes on Madison Avenue, Hollywood, the White House, and the World

Things That Make Us (Sic): The Society for the Promotion of Good Grammar Takes on Madison Avenue, Hollywood, the White House, and the World

by Martha Brockenbrough

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This book is for people who experience heartbreak over love notes with subject-verb disagreements...for anyone who's ever considered hanging up the phone on people who pepper their speech with such gems as "irregardless," "expresso," or "disorientated"...and for the earnest souls who wonder if it's "Woe is Me," or "Woe is I," or even "Woe am I."

Martha Brockenbrough's Things That Make Us (Sic) is a laugh-out-loud guide to grammar and language, a snarkier American answer to Lynn Truss's runaway success, Eats, Shoots&Leaves. Brockenbrough is the founder of National Grammar Day and SPOGG -- the Society for the Promotion of Good Grammar -- and as serious as she is about proper usage, her voice is funny, irreverent, and never condescending. Things That Make Us (Sic) addresses common language stumbling stones such as evil twins, clichés, jargon, and flab, and offers all the spelling tips, hints, and rules that are fit to print. It's also hugely entertaining, with letters to high-profile language abusers, including David Hasselhoff, George W. Bush, and Canada's Maple Leafs [sic], as well as a letter to --and a reply from -- Her Majesty, the Queen of England.

Brockenbrough has written a unique compendium combining letters, pop culture references, handy cheat sheets, rants, and historical references that is as helpful as it is hilarious.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781429985420
Publisher: St. Martin''s Publishing Group
Publication date: 10/14/2008
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 272
File size: 578 KB

About the Author

Martha Brockenbrough is the founder of SPOGG, the Society for the Promotion of Good Grammar, as well as a writer for and the former editor-in-chief of She is the author of It Could Happen to You and lives in Seattle with her family.

Martha Brockenbrough draws on her diverse experience in journalism, research, nonfiction, and literary teen fiction to bring Alexander Hamilton to life in Alexander Hamilton, Revolutionary. A powerful storyteller and narrative voice, Brockenbrough is also the author of the critically acclaimed YA novels The Game of Love and Death and Devine Intervention. She enjoys reading Hamilton's original correspondence, playing board games, and spending time with her family. She lives in Seattle, Washington.

Read an Excerpt


Grammar for Spammers and Pop Stars

The Society for the Promotion of Good Grammar

Dear Noah R. Estrada:

You accidentally sent us an e-mail meant for a Mr. Bret U. Sandoval. Ordinarily, we'd ignore this sort of thing, but we were so concerned for your grammar, we wanted to contact you so that you could clean things up a bit. Your mail read as follows:





We're not sure what a peni-5 is. Is that some sort of new currency? A poor cousin of the euro? If so, we agree; it would be annoying to have a small peni-5. The regular-sized ones are already hard enough to retrieve from gutters.

In any case, we wanted to let you know you might have inadvertently insulted Mr. Sandoval when you wrote, "Didn't you feel, stupid?"

We believe you meant to say, "Didn't you feel stupid?" The difference, of course, is that the first sentence calls him stupid, while the second empathizes with him for feeling that way because of his poor, tiny peni-5.

For all we know, Mr. Bret U. Sandoval might be the kind of guy who likes a little verbal spanking. We suspect, though, that you'd have more luck in general if you were kind to your customers in your correspondence.

In any case, good luck with Megadik. Whatever the effect of this preparation (that's the correct spelling, by the way), we're confident it's every bit as high quality as your e-mail advertising it.

Sincerely, The Society for the Promotion of Good Grammar

P.S. There is no need to put a space before an exclamation point. Your penultimate sentence should read simply, "Megadik will make you a real man!"

If the state of language in popular culture is any indication, we're in trouble. As we write, Billboard's list of top-selling albums contains two serious spelling errors: Underground Kingz by UGK, and Dutchess by Fergie. These aren't just bad;they're royally bad. And it's not just musicians assaulting the language, either. We don't believe there has ever been a time when so many of society's rich and powerful have risen to their positions without first mastering the language of the land. Nor has there been a time when careful and correct use of the language — something that can only be learned by reading well, listening carefully, and sharpening skills — was routinely disdained as a vile act of the untrustworthy "elite."

Somehow the powers that be have decided to wage a costly and unnecessary war on the mother tongue. Someone in Los Angeles has decided that movie titles sound funnier with incorrect grammar, and that pop stars will have more credibility if they spell and punctuate as they please. Someone in New York has decided that "kids" and other plurals will sell more products when they're spelled with a terminal z. Someone in Washington, D.C., has decided that people who regularly bungle language can be called "plainspoken," when the truth is that people who actually speak plainly are the language masters, so skilled that their meaning is transparent without the use of long words, misleading jargon, or convoluted clauses.

This sort of mastery doesn't come without effort. Why do we allow this to be disparaged? If you wouldn't trust your hair to a stylist who hadn't mastered the craft, then why should you trust your cultural legacy to so-called artists who can't write songs, your money to marketers who butcher words, and your political future to any leader who hasn't mastered the ability to shape and convey his or her ideas?

It is time for those of us who love and respect our language to take it back. Clear, grammatical communication is society's foundation. It is what helps us understand and be understood. If we let that bedrock crumble from neglect, or if we actively chip away at it in a misguided fit of anti-intellectualism, then we run the risk of watching the world around us collapse.

This is a dramatic picture, to be sure. But consider the difference in meaning a single comma gives these two simple sentences:

"Let's eat, children," is something a kind mother might say before offering a nutritious meal to her beloved offspring.

"Let's eat children" is something else entirely. And while the likes of Hannibal Lecter might like to eat the delicate flesh of babies, the rest of us — in the immortal and grammatical words of Bartleby the Scrivener — would prefer not to.

Knowing how punctuation and sentence structure can give collections of words the power to communicate complicated ideas is a good thing. We can, for example, let others know we merely intend to feed our children, and not eat them. Likewise, it's also good to know the meaning of individual words. Pajamas marked "INFLAMMABLE" are not flame-resistant; rather, they are liable to blaze up if exposed to extreme heat. It would be a shame, really, to resist eating your children only to lose them in an unintended bedroom barbecue.

These are unlikely misunderstandings, but that doesn't mean there are no risks to sloppy English. If you don't speak or write well, others are likely to assume you are stupid, uneducated, or both. Never mind that many of today's most powerful people have no grip on their grammar. If you're not a pop star or the president of the United States, you don't necessarily get a free ride on the language bus. We know of an otherwise lovely man who was not hired to be an editor because of a spelling goof on his Web site. During the interview, the hiring manager was happy to overlook the large wad of spinach the candidate had stored in his teeth. The spelling error, however, sealed his fate.

What's more, the price can go beyond the mere professional. One woman we know — a ravishing expert in sexology who has had exotic and erotic affairs around the globe — will not date men whose personal ads contain errors. The errors in typing, if they are so innocent, are costing these men certain experiences we will not describe here, but that can be imagined by those with even modest creative gifts. Bad grammar can either screw you or leave you unscrewed. The Society for the Promotion of Good Grammar refuses to take this lying down.

Bad grammar is a particular irritant in two places: our e-mail inboxes and our ears. Try to go shopping without hearing the ubiquitous undulations of pop music. It's difficult, if not impossible. Inevitably, the most embarrassing of those shopping songs take root as "earworms," a word translated from German and thrust into popular usage by University of Cincinnati marketing professor James Kellaris. Synonyms include "repetunitis" and "melodymania."

The danger, grammatically speaking, occurs when an ear-worm infected with bad grammar dwells not just in your ear, but in your mind. For even a seasoned speaker, it could blunt your ability to know the difference between good grammar and bad. And for vulnerable teens still struggling to use "I" and "me" correctly, it could deafen their ears to the difference between correct and incorrect speech.

While e-mail spam is far less likely to tattoo our minds, it is still a huge problem. Some fifty-five billion pieces of unsolicited mail are sent daily; this is about eight per man, woman, and child living on the planet. And it's not just that the e-mail generally offers to enlarge body parts half its recipients do not even have; it's that the vast majority of this junk mail is hideously ungrammatical. It's an affront to the eyes of anyone with any sense. Worse, you can't write back and correct the grammar, lest you want to confirm your e-mail address is a valid spam target. It's the virtual equivalent of dog poop left on your lawn in the cover of night. There's no stuffing it back from which place it came. You must dispose of it daily, and it stinks.

This is why we have created two fantasy programs: grammar rehab for pop singers, and grammar court for spammers. They're dreams today; may they someday come true.



Manager: Star "Exhausted," Full Recovery Expected

(LOS ANGELES) Pop star Justin Timberlake today checked himself in for a three-month stint at Each Day I Try, a glamorous Los Angeles center for celebrities who've fallen off the grammar wagon.

Timberlake's people issued a statement that said the star "was exhausted from the constant subject-verb disagreements in his lyrics. We ask that his fans respect his privacy and dignity during this difficult time. EDIT is a top-notch facility, and we expect him to be in perfect shape, both grammatically and musically, after his treatment is complete."

On his MySpace page this message appeared briefly for his fans: "I just want 2 be grammatically correct. I have a long way 2 go. Keep me in UR thoughts."

The personal message was removed after only a few hours, and replaced with the following: "We're keeping Justin away from the keyboard for his own good. Please keep him in [begin strikethrough]UR you're[end strikethrough] your prayers."

(From Justin Timberlake's EDIT diary)

Dear Diary,

This is what I learned today from my grammar therapist: Any man who can dance like I can without losing his pimp hat can conjugate a verb. So I corrected the lyrics of "What Goes Around."

When you cheated girl My heart [begin strikethrough]bleeded[end strikethrough] bled girl

Then I realized that I'd punked my rhyme! So I changed it:

When you cheated girl My heart did bleed, girl

Peace out! Do you think people are going to start wondering why I write songs about my girlfriends cheating on me whenever I'm breaking up with them? Man, that would suck worse than the Backstreet Boys.


Dear Diary,

I totally get verbs now. They're like me. They just want to get along with their subjects, which makes them royalty, which makes me the Prince of Pop. Bite that, Michael Jackson! You'd better hide your glove because I AM COMING FOR IT!

I think I will write a love song to verbs. Me and them, I mean, they and I will never break up. I'm not saying we're going to get married or anything, so Ellen DeGeneres can hold off on buying her bridesmaid's tuxedo. But damn! Verbs are about the love between equals.

And this is how I meant to write that part of "FutureSex/LoveSounds" (I am pleased to say I already spelled "you" right this time around:

You can't stop baby

You can't stop once you've turned me on

And your enemy [begin strikethrough]are[end strikethrough]isyour thoughts baby [Because "enemy" is the subject of the sentence, not "thoughts"!]

So just let 'em go [Oops, missed that apostrophe first time around. Good thing I put it in here.]

Peace out,


Dear Diary,

Today my therapist and I had the most interesting discussion. I had been reviewing the lyrics to "Like a Rolling Stone," which I thought was probably a Mick Jagger song, but turns out to have been written by this totally tight geezer named Bob Dylan.

I had some questions about his grammar. For example, he says, "When you got nothing, you got nothing to lose."

"Shouldn't that be 'you've got'?" I asked my therapist. Her eyes got wet, like maybe a piece of dust landed in them or something. And she said, "Oh, Justin. That's where the artistry of the song comes in. While it technically would be correct to use the present-perfect tense, to indicate an action that began in the past and leads up to and includes the present, Dylan is increasing the folksy feel of his song by playing a bit with his verb tenses."

"How do you know he didn't just screw it up?" I asked.

"Just look at the rest of the lyrics of the song," she said.

You used to be so amused

At Napoleon in rags

And the language that he used

Go to him now, he calls you, you can't refuse

When you got nothing, you got nothing to lose

"Do you think anyone who'd craft an image about Napoleon in rags wouldn't know how to conjugate a verb?"

"Conjugate," I asked. "Is that the sort of visit you get in prison?"

"No," she said. "Not even close. Though many people derive similar pleasure from good grammar."

Then she slid something she'd written about verbs over to me [see "Things That Make Us Tense," page 167]. I read it. And I realized I could sing about so much more than I've been singing about if I just used more WORDS. I had no idea that words could actually do anything besides give my mouth something to do when I shake my groove thing.

I feel like a whole new man.




(LOS ANGELES) Pop star Justin Timberlake today checked out of the high-profile Each Day I Try grammar rehab clinic.

"I have made a full recovery," Timberlake said to a throng of screaming teenage fans. He read from a prepared statement:

"No more will I use unnecessary abbreviations. I will ensure my subjects and verbs agree with each other. And I will use conventional word order and considered vocabulary wherever possible in my future songs.

"I just wish every artist knew how it felt to use the tools of language," he said. "I feel so much more creative power. I might even try to use actual metaphors in my songwriting now, so that I can sing about more topics than just wanting to go skin to skin with the ladyfolk."

Then Timberlake's manager jerked the microphone from his hands, while young Timberlake fans screamed and wept at the notion of more complicated songs.

"It's going to be a lengthy recovery period," Timberlake's manager said. "But don't think that good grammar will make him any less of a futuresex lovestallion.

"And you can quote me on that."


(LOS ANGELES) Noted psychic Ivana Predict held a press conference today where she claimed to have spoken with the ghost of Doors lead singer Jim Morrison.

"He told me he wanted to make an apology," she said. "And it wasn't for wearing unwashed leather pants.

"His apology," she said, "was for singing the following lyric repeatedly: "I'm gonna love you 'til the stars fall from the sky / For you and I."

Predict continued: "Jim Morrison has been in Limbo since his death, but because the Pope just officially shut the place down, Mr. Morrison is being evicted. God told him he'd get into heaven if he agreed to no longer say 'for you and I' just for the sake of a cheap rhyme."

A representative of the Society for the Promotion of Good Grammar officially accepted the apology, and sent the Morrison estate a coupon for 30 percent off leather cleaning at a reputable chain.


There is much about e-mail spam that puzzles us. We get why spammers send it, of course. It's about the money. One notorious spammer whose last name appropriately enough was "Pitylak" made $3 to $7 for each sucker he managed to lure with his unsolicited online propositions. We utterly lack pity for the million-dollar fine he racked up. (He had to sell a house and a BMW to pay it off, the poor dear.)

What we don't get is why it's so difficult for spammers to send grammatically correct e-mail. We don't care if they're actually working out of converted bunkers in those crazy Eastern-bloc countries that keep changing their names, using online translators to churn out spooky English. No one should want to buy medication that will change the size of vulnerable body parts from people who can't spell "pill."

But apparently some people don't care where their fake medicine comes from, which is why we continue to get such offers, even at e-mail addresses we have never distributed to anyone for any reason. People, please stop this.

Meanwhile, the Society for the Promotion of Good Grammar, Spam Police Division, issues the following citations for crimes against language.


Excerpted from "Things That Make Us [Sic]"
by .
Copyright © 2008 Martha Brockenbrough.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

1. Grammar for Spammers and Pop Stars,
2. Vizzinis, Evil Twins, and Vampires,
3. You Put a Spell on Me,
4. Vulgar Latin and Latin Lovers,
5. $%&*#$ Punctuation,
6. No, You Can't Has Cheezburger? The Parts of Speech and How Sentences Form,
7. Things That Make Us Tense,
8. Cliché-Why Shakespeare Is a Pox upon Us,
9. The Enemy Within-Flab, Jargon, and the People in Your Office,
10. Rules That Never Were, Are No More, and Should Be Broken,
Bonus Material: Clip 'n',
Send Letters from SPOGG,

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