October 25, 2005


Lately it seems as if everywhere you look there are practitioners of what Deborah Cameron has called "verbal hygiene" (all manner of activities "born of an urge to improve or 'clean up' language," as Cameron puts it in her book of that title). From best-selling authors to cartoonists, from op-ed columnists to Supreme Court nominees both approved and waiting in the wings, everyone's getting into the act. Now verbal hygienists are exploring a new ecological niche: the blogosphere.

Of course, the blogosphere is already much more than an ecological niche — it's a thriving ecosystem unto itself (a blogobiosphere?), able to support its own abundant array of niches, subniches, and subsubniches. Thus it's not surprising that we now find "peeveblogging" — weblogs slavishly devoted to particular points of grammar, punctuation, or usage. Here are two examples, though no doubt there are many more lurking out there in the underbrush.

  • Literally, A Web Log: "an English language grammar blog tracking abuse of the word literally." According to the creators, Patrick Fitzgerald and Amber Rhea, "it started as a nit-picking distraction, grew to a frustrating obsession, and finally resulted in the creation of this blog." Examples are found in the wild and categorized on the blog as "correct," "incorrect," or "unnecessary." "Incorrect" items are those where literally intensifies a figurative expression, while "unnecessary" items are those where it is used as a more general intensifier. (The American Heritage Dictionary, which includes both of these senses in its entry for literally, observes that critics have complained about the seemingly contradictory usage of this word for more than a century.) 
  • Apostrophe Abuse: "links and visuals illustrating a grammar pet peeve." This is quite a common gripe, as we have noted before — the blog even links to a British organization calling itself  The Apostrophe Protection Society. Blog entries lean heavily on the greengrocer's apostrophe, with numerous photographs of offending signs. A recent example:

    (The blogger, who goes only by Chris, wryly speculates, "Maybe there is a 'Thai' Herb, and this is his restaurant.")

The granddaddy of peeveblogging actually predates the era of rampant blogification. Begun in the antediluvian year of 1996, The Gallery Of "Misused" Quotation Marks was faithfully curated by the visionary Evan "Funk" Davies. Sadly, it seems that Davies stopped updating the site in 2000 (a broken link to CDnow, long since overtaken by the Amazon behemoth, sits forlornly at the top of the page). But the Gallery's spiritual descendants live on in the new cyberecology. Let a thousand grousers grow.

Posted by Benjamin Zimmer at October 25, 2005 01:00 AM