Humorous Reminders of Common Writing Mistakes

01 24 2009

A selection of advice from generations of Teaching Fellows at Harvard University, edited by Gordon Silverstein.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when you write an essay:

  1. Avoid run-on sentences they are hard to read.
  2. Never use no double negatives.
  3. Use the semicolon properly, always where it is appropriate; and never where it is not.
  4. Reserve the apostrophe for it’s proper use and omit it where it is not needed.
  5. Verbs has to agree with their subjects.
  6. No sentence fragments.
  7. Proofread carefully to see if you any words out.
  8. Avoid commas, that are not necessary.
  9. When you reread your work, you will find on rereading that a great deal of repetition can be avoided by rereading and editing.
  10. A writer must not shift your point of view.
  11. Do not overuse exclamation marks!!! (In fact, avoid them whenever possible!!!)
  12. And do not start a sentence with a conjunction.
  13. Place pronouns as closely as possible, especially in long sentences, as of ten or more words, to their antecedents.
  14. Hyphenate only between syllables and avoid un-necessary hyphens.
  15. Write all adverbial forms correct.
  16. Don’t use contractions.
  17. Writing carefully, dangling participles must be avoided.
  18. It is incumbent on us to avoid archaisms.
  19. If any word is improper at the end of a sentence, a linking verb is.
  20. Steer clear of incorrect verb forms that have snuck into the language.
  21. Take the bull by the hand and avoid mixed metaphors.
  22. Avoid modernisms that sound flaky.
  23. Avoid barbarisms: they impact too forcefully.
  24. Never, ever use repetitive redundancies.
  25. Everyone should be careful to use singular pronouns with singular nouns in their writing.
  26. If we’ve told you once, we’ve told you a thousand times: avoid hyperbole.
  27. Also, avoid awkward or affected alliteration.
  28. Do not string a large number of prepositional phrases together unless you are walking through the valley of the shadow of death.
  29. Always pick on the the correct idiom.
  30. “Avoid overuse of ‘quotation’ ‘marks.'”
  31. Never use more words than are necessary to get your point across: be concise.
  32. Awayz check you’re spelling. (Your spellchecker would only pick up one of the two errors here.)
  33. Always be avoided by the passive voice.
  34. Every sentence a verb.
  35. Last but not least, avoid cliches like the plague: seek viable alternatives.

Politician’s Fallacy

10 03 2008

The debate around the bailout bill reminds me of the politician’s fallacy:

  1. We must do something
  2. Passing this bill is doing something
  3. Therefore, we must pass this bill!

Les Miserables meets Silicon Valley

07 27 2008
Newsgroups: rec.humor.funny
From: (Stephanie Cottrell Bryant)
Subject: Les Miserables meets Silicon Valley
Date: Mon, 16 Jul 2001 19:30:00 PDT

Empty Chairs at Empty Cubicles

[sung to the tune of “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” from Les Miserables]

There’s a grief that can’t be spoken.
There’s a pain goes on and on.
Empty chairs at empty cubicles,
My friends logged out and gone.

Here they talked of great stock options.
Here it was they bought domains.
Here they sang about stock splitting,
And those stock splits never came.

From the office on the corner,
They could see a world reborn,
And they rose with servers pinging–
I can hear them now,
The very jobs that they obsessed
Became their last downsizing
On the quarterly report at dawn!

Oh my friends, my friends forgive me.
That I’m employed and you are gone.
There’s a grief that can’t be spoken,
There’s a pain from that dot-com.

Phantom servers on the network,
Phantom logins at the port,
Empty chairs at empty cubicles,
Where my friends will code no more.

Oh my friends, my friends, don’t ask me
What your IPO was for.
Empty chairs at empty cubicles,
Where my friends will code no more.

Star Trek & UUCP

07 27 2008

Kirk: What is the meaning of this attack?
Khan: Surely I have made my meaning clear. I mean to avenge myself upon you, Admiral. I deprived your system of UUCP connections and when I swing around I mean to deprive you of your life. But I wanted you to know who it was who had beaten you.
Kirk: Khan, if it’s me you want, I’ll have myself rcp’ed over. Spare my crew.
Khan: I make you a counter-proposal. I’ll agree to your terms, if … if in addition to yourself you hand over to me all data and materials regarding the project called UUNET.
Kirk: UUNET? What’s that?
Khan: Don’t insult my intelligence, Kirk.
Kirk: Give me some time to recall the data from our archives.
Khan: I give you sixty seconds.
Kirk: Clear the bridge.
Spock: At least we know he doesn’t have UUNET.
Kirk: Keep nodding as though I’m still giving orders. Mr. Saavik, punch up the data charts of Reliant’s password file.
Saavik: Reliant’s pass…
Kirk: Hurry.
Khan: Forty-five seconds Admiral.
Spock: The free login?
Kirk: It’s all we’ve got.
Saavik: File’s up, sir.
Khan: Admiral.
Kirk: We’re finding it.
Khan: Admiral. Kirk: Please. Please you’ve got to give us time. The machine room is smashed, the editors inoperable.
Khan: Time is a luxury you don’t have, Admiral.
Kirk: Damn.
Khan: Admiral?
Kirk: It’s coming through now, Khan.
Spock: Reliant’s free login is 16309.
Saavik: I don’t understand.
Kirk: You have to learn why things work on a UNIX system.
Spock: Each system has its own hidden free login.
Kirk: To prevent an enemy from doing what we’re attempting. We’re using our console to order Reliant to let us login.
Spock: Assuming he hasn’t changed the combination. He’s quite intelligent.
Khan: Fifteen seconds, Admiral.
Kirk: Khan, how do we know you’ll keep your word?
Khan: Oh, I’ve given you no word to keep, Admiral. In my judgement, you simply have no alternative.
Kirk: I see your point. Stand by to receive our mail message. Mr. Sulu, lock an Internet connection on target and await my order to login.
Sulu: Connection pending.
Khan: Time’s up, Admiral.
Kirk: Here it comes. Now, Mr. Spock.
Spock: % telnet reliant
Connected to reliant.
Escape character is ‘~’.

M-6 Duotronic
U.S.S. Reliant, NCC-1864
Spock: login: 16309
Joachim: Sir, the Enterprise is logging on.
Khan: Kill them.
Joachim: I can’t!
Khan: Where’s the chroot call? The chroot call!
Kirk: Fire.
Sulu: % su
Kirk: Fire!
Sulu: # rm -rf /
Khan: Reboot, reboot!
Joachim: We can’t reboot!
Khan: Why can’t you!?
Joachim: They’ve corrupted the file system and the /etc directory! Sir, we must power-cycle.
Khan: No!
Joachim: Sir, we must!

And the rest is (ahem) history.

Bush Legal Team Sues Santa Claus

07 27 2008
Newsgroups: rec.humor.funny
From: (John Chambers)
Date: Mon, 18 Dec 2000 19:30:00 PST

2105 GMT

AUSTIN, TX (Dec. 13) – Attorneys for Texas Governor George W. Bush filed suit in federal court today, seeking to prevent Santa Claus from making his list and then checking it twice. The complaint seeks an immediate injunction against the beloved Christmas icon, asking the court to effectively ban his traditional practice of checking the list of good boys and girls one additional time before packing his sleigh.

The suit, filed in the Federal District Court of Austin, Texas, asks a federal judge to “hereby order Mr. Claus to cease and desist all repetitive and duplicative list-checking activity, and certify the original list as submitted, without amendment, alteration, deletion, or other unnecessary modification.”

“There are no standards for deciding who is naughty, and who is nice. It’s totally arbitrary and capricious. How many more times does he need to check? This checking, checking, and re-checking over and over again must stop now,” said former Secretary James Baker.

Baker further claimed that unnamed GOP observers witnessed an elf removing all boys named Justin from the ‘nice’ list, filing them under ‘naughty’ instead because “everyone knows all boys named Justin are brats.”

Gov. Bush cited the potential for unauthorized list tampering, and blasted what he called the “crazy, crazy mess up there at the North Pole.”

“Their security is really awful, really bad,” said Bush.A0 “My mother just walked right in, told ’em she was Mrs. Claus. They didn’t check her ID or nothing.”

Meanwhile, Dick Cheney, Gov. Bush’s running mate, issued a direct plea to St. Nick himself. “Mr. Claus, I call on you to do the honorable thing, and quit checking your list. The children of the world have had enough. They demand closure now,” Cheney said, adding that his granddaughter has already selected a name for the pony she’s asked for.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson was quick to respond to this latest development with plans to lead his protesters from Florida to the North Pole via dogsled. The “Million Man Mush” is scheduled to leave Friday. “We need red suits and sleighs, not law suits and delays,” Jackson said.

Santa Claus could not be reached for comment, but a spokeself said he was “deeply distressed” by news of the pending legal action against him.

“He’s losing weight, and he hasn’t said ‘Ho Ho’ for days,” said the spokeself. “He’s just not feeling jolly.”

A weary nation can relate.

[Note – making the rounds, unattributed – ed.]

A Consumer Reports special: Girlfriends

07 27 2008
Newsgroups: rec.humor.funny
From: (Egon)

Well it’s been over 20 years since Consumer Reports reviewed girlfriends (CR, Aug 1972). Since then, styles have changed, new features have been introduced, and the market for girlfriends has changed substantially. So we here at CU decided another report was needed.

As in a car or a computer, you should ask yourself what you need a girlfriend for before obtaining one. This will, in large part, dictate the final product which you should consider. Do you want an intellectual companion? A baby factory? A hiking partner? Or just lots of good, old-fashioned sex? Identifying your needs is the first, and most important, step in selecting a girlfriend.

The second question which needs to be addressed is, of course, how much you are able to spend. This is largely determined by your physical and personal characteristics – if you are good looking, have a commanding personality and a good sense of humor, you will have the resources to obtain a fancy, high-end model. On the other hand, if you are ugly, smell bad, and wear polyester clothes, your choices are more limited. Keep your purchasing power in mind when considering your selection. Although the salesman will tell you that a girlfriend can be financed, CU does not reccommend this practice; due to inflating expectations, the required monetary outlay will actually increase with time.

Used vs. New?

A question many girlfriend seekers have to address is whether to get a new or a used girlfriend. The answer to this question will, roughly speaking, be determined by your age, as shown in the following table:

 Your age        Used or New
 --------        -----------
 1-12 years      (see note A)
 13-16 years     New
 17-21 years     Used, but not used up
 22-35 years     Used heavily
 35-60 years     New (see note B)
 60+             (see note A)

 A: Seek psychiatric help
 B: Only "new" if income > $100,000/year.  Otherwise, "divorced".

New girlfriends have the advantage that they have no previous bad experiences to project on you, but the disadvantage that they will rarely be old enough to open their own checking account. Used girlfriends, on the other hand, may be steady, reliable performers, with the initial problems worked out, but CU advises that you avoid models which have much more than average mileage (2.1 SO’s/yr). Much greater than the average may be an indication that the girlfriend was a professional.


Often the potential girlfriends you see on the lot or in a tavern will be loaded with accessories, as the dealer gets a high markup on such items as large bosom, long legs, green eyes, etc. Other accessories will only appeal to fringe markets, such as models which come pre-equipped with children, or the ability run 10 miles while chanting sanskrit. In such cases you should make a list of accessories desired, tolerated, and disliked. Note that some accessories (such as children) can be added later, while others (such as a large bosom) must be factory installed.

The Test Ride

When evaluating a girlfriend, a test ride is essential. The test ride ritual begins with the so-called “pickup line”, which can range from the simple if dull (“Can I buy you a drink?”) to the aggressively hip (“dance with me or I’ll kill you”) to the arcane (“You’re my Camus comrade, and I want to leap you, Faith!”). CU rates as Not Acceptable “Smile, you’ll look better.” Once on the test bed, evaluate handling, stability, and acceleration. The two questions you want to answer are: how fast, and how far? Examine the detailing. Does the bosom sag? Does the heater warm adaquately, or does she remain cool?

Ordering vs. On-The-Lot

Finding the right girlfriend can be a frustrating experience, and many potential customers find it hard to get the exact model and accessories wanted. In such cases ordering from the factory is an option. Delivery time, however, is from 14 to 16 years (depending on the state you live in), and CU questions the usefulness of such a practice: if you have access to the baby factory, you should reconsider your need for a girlfriend anyway.


Girlfriends were evaluated by a dedicated group of 10 test engineers, selected to typify the average seeking population. All tests were performed at CU’s specially constructed test facility, which included a bedroom, kitchen, and living room, and at a number of bars and taverns surrounding the facility. A series of seven tests were run, evaluating each product according to the following criteria: intelligence, wit, humor, empathy, initiative, looks, and performance.


Girlfriends are grouped together in catagories by similarity. Within each catagory, variation is not statistically significant.

Catagory Comments
Goddess This is the woman of your dreams. She comes equipped with all the options you want and none of the ones you don’t. She can argue subtle points of philosophy, give you a stiff game of raquetball, understand what you mean even if you don’t say it, and break a bed. No mental or physical hangups. The drawback is that this model is not actually available.
Goddess-in-law This model is similar to the goddess, but comes with contractual retainers, such as a psychotic ex-husband, a spiteful mother, an alchololic father, and a bratty kid. This model tends to generate grey hairs.
Ms. Right The best all-around choice for most girlfriend situations. Has most of the characteristics of the Goddess except possibly in the wrong size or hair color. Other than that, an excellent long-term investment. Availability is extremely limited but can occasionally be found with luck.
Babe This is the flashy, fully-loaded variety with all the options. Unfortunately this model lacks cognitive powers and empathy. Showy, and suitable for a parade or for impressing your friends, but not for your long-term girlfriend needs.
Friend The model with the most empathy. Caring and kind but you wouldn’t be caught dead in it. Availibility is poor to fair, depending on quality.
Yeah, Her The Ford Escort of girlfriends. Widely available, but useful as a girlfriend only in a pinch, if no others are available. Tends to be spiteful or unreliable, or have a dull finish.

Until you find her, we at CU wish you Happy Hunting!

Psychiatric Hotline

07 27 2008
Newsgroups: rec.humor.funny
From: (Gary Koerzendorfer)
Subject: Psyschiatric Hotline


Recording – “Hello, Welcome to the Psychiatric Hotline.”

If you are obsessive-compulsive, please press 1 repeatedly.

If you are co-dependent, please ask someone to press 2.

If you have multiple personalities, please press 3, 4, 5 and 6.

If you are paranoid-delusional, we know who you are and what you want. Just stay on the line until we can trace the call.

If you are schizophrenic, listen carefully and a little voice will tell you which number to press.

If you are manic-depressive, it doesn’t matter which number you press. No one will answer.

Hospital Cost Containment

07 27 2008
Newsgroups: rec.humor.funny
From: (Mark A. Cochran)
Date: Mon, 3 Mar 97 19:30:02 EST

I am a neonatologist, so I often get find it necessary to make late night visits to the hospital. While exiting through the ED last night, I was stopped by one of the nurses and given a copy of this. I don’t know where it originated, and although it’s apparently only floating around the ED, none of the staff there is willing to confess.

To: All Hospital Staff
From: Administration/Groundskeeping
Subject: New Cost Cutting Measures

Effective immediately, this hospital will no longer provide security. Each charge nurse will be issued a .38 caliber revolver and 12 rounds of ammunition. An additional 12 rounds will be stored in pharmacy. In addition to routine nursing duties, Charge Nurses will rotate the patrolling of the hospital grounds. A bicycle and helmet will be provided for patrolling the parking areas. In light of the similarity of monitoring equipment, ICU will now take over the security surveillance duties. The ward clerk will be responsible for watching cardiac monitors and security monitors as well as regular duties.

Food service will be discontinued. Patients wishing to be fed will need to let their familes know to bring something or may make arrangements with Subway or Pizza Hut to deliver. Coin-operated telephones will be available in patient rooms for this purpose as well as for other calls the patient may wish to make.

Housekeeping and Physical Therapy will be combined. Mops will be issued to those patients who are ambulatory, thus providing range of motion exercises as well as a clean environment. Families and ambulatory patients may also sign up to clean the rooms of non-ambulatory patients for special discounts on their final bill. Time cards will be provided.

As you can see on the “from” line above, hospital administration is assuming the groundskeeping duties. If an administrator cannot be reached by calling his/her office, it is suggested that you walk outside and listen for the sound of a lawnmower, weed-whacker, etc.

Maintenance is being eliminated. The hospital has subscribed to the Time-Life “How to…” series of maintenance books. These can be checked out from administration, and a toolbox will be standard equipment on all nursing units. We will be receiving the series at a rate of one volume every other month. We already have the volume on “Basic Wiring”, but if a non-electrical problem occurs, please try to handle it as best you can until the appropriate volume arrives.

Cutbacks in phlebotomy staff will be accomidated by only performing blood-related tests on patients who are already bleeding.

Physicians will be informed that they may order no more than two X-rays per patient stay. This is due to the turn-around time required by Photomat. Two prints will be provided for the price of one, and physicians are being advised to clip coupons from the Sunday paper if they want extra sets. Photomat will also honor competitors coupons for one-hour processing in emergency situations, so if you come across any extra coupons please clip out and send these to ER.

In view of the hot summer temperatures, the Utilities Dept. has been asked to install individual meters in each patient room, office, etc., so that electrical consumption can be monitored and appropriately billed. Fans will be available for sale or lease in the hospital gift shop.

In addition to the current recycling programs, a bin for collection of unused fruit and bread will soon be provided on each floor. Families, patients, and the few remaining employees are asked to contribute discarded produce. Pharmacy will utilize this for antibiotic production. These will be available for purchase and, coincidentally, will soon be the only antibiotics on our HMO’s forumlary.

Only Lost One Game

07 27 2008
Newsgroups: rec.humor.funny
From: (Gordon Banks)
Date: Thu, 14 Dec 95 4:30:09 EST

Sorry, but I just don’t remember where I first heard this one…

At our annual company picnic, the advertising department always played a game of softball with the editorial department. This year the ad dept won, 8-4. But on the company bulletin board the next morning was the following notice.

The Editorial Dept. is proud to announce that upon the conclusion of this year’s softball tournament, we finished in second place overall, having lost only one game the entire season.

We would also like to take this opportunity to offer our condolences to the Ad Dept’s team for finishing next to last, having won only one game during the entire year.

God overrules supreme court

07 27 2008
Newsgroups: rec.humor.funny
From: (Jim Toth)
Date: Thu, 21 Dec 2000 19:30:00 PST

Bush to be smitten later today

In a stunning development this morning, God invoked the “one nation, under God” clause of the Pledge of Allegiance to overrule last night’s Supreme Court decision that handed the White House to George Bush.

“I’m not sure where the Supreme Court gets off,” God said this morning on a rare Today Show appearance, “but I’m sure as hell not going to lie back and let Bush get away with this bullshit.”

“I’ve watched analysts argue for weeks now that the exact vote count in Florida ‘will never be known.’ Well, I’m God and I DO know exactly who voted for whom. Let’s cut to the chase: Gore won Florida by exactly 20,219 votes.”

Shocking political analysts and pundits, God’s unexpected verdict overrules the official Electoral College tally and awards Florida to Al Gore, giving him a 289-246 victory. The Bush campaign is analyzing God’s Word for possible grounds for appeal.

“God’s ruling is a classic over-reach,” argued Bush campaign strategist Jim Baker. “Clearly, a divine intervention in a U.S. Presidential Election is unprecedented, unjust, and goes against the constitution of the state of Florida.”

“Jim Baker’s a jackass,” God responded. “He’s got some surprises ahead of him, let me tell you. hot ones, if you know what I mean.”

God, who provided the exact vote counts for every Florida precinct, explained that bad balloting machinery and voter confusion were no grounds to give the White House to “a friggin’ idiot.”

“Look, only 612 people in Palm Beach County voted for Buchanan. Get real! The rest meant to vote for Gore. Don’t believe me? I’ll name them: Anderson, Pete; Anderson, Sam, Jr.; Arthur, James; Barnhardt, Ron…”

Our Lord then went on to note that he was displeased with George W. Bush’s prideful ways and announced that he would officially smite him today. In an act of wrath unlike any reported since the Book of Job, God has taken all of Bush’s goats and livestock, stripped him of his wealth and possessions, sold his family into slavery, forced the former presidential candidate into hard labor in a salt mine, and afflicted him with deep boils.

Dick Cheney will reportedly receive leprosy.

[Note – making the rounds anonymously, author unknown – ed.]