Grammar Christmas ’Log Review |
The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation

Christmas ’Log Review

Every year, for six weeks or so, I get a taste of what it’s like to be a superstar.

From late October to early December, I am accosted daily by an aggressive mob of stalkers who know where I live. Their urgent need for my attention seems to be their only reason for being. No, they’re not paparazzi or obsessed fans. I’m talking about Christmas catalogs. Every day brings a new swarm—they burst out of my mailbox, entreating me to behold them in all their holiday finery.

Well, even a six-week celebrity has an obligation to his public. I checked out every last one. None was turned away. Here, then, is my Christmas catalog review.

For big spenders there is the stately Gump’s catalog, so tasteful you want to take a nap; or Neiman Marcus, with its sullen, stubbly, pasty pretty boys modeling $390 sneakers; or the gaudy Hammacher Schlemmer, for taste-challenged high-rollers: I’ve got to have that animatronic singing and talking Elvis, or more accurately, Elvis’ head and shoulders—the King has been mutilated, I guess, to spare the embarrassment of pelvic thrusts in mixed company. How about spoiling your child rotten with Hammacher’s “6½-foot teddy bear” for $500. If that’s too sissified, the NFL Shop will warp the values of your little tough guy with a personalized 12-minute CD of a football game in which the announcer says the kid’s name 30 times. It’s never too early to learn that it’s all about you.

Frontgate offers a machine that enriches your oxygen as it plays music. An up-and-comer called X-treme Geek has caffeinated soap, a talking toilet-tissue holder, and, for the guy whose girlfriend doesn’t hate him enough already, a Wild West revolver-shaped TV remote, which makes a loud gunshot as it changes channels. It comes with a “super-cool official-looking sheriff’s badge.”

The Signals company tempts pet lovers with the “I kiss my dog on the lips” T-shirt, but I have my eye on the coat rack with three duck tails for hangers. Not to be outdone, What on Earth offers a “cat butt magnet set,” to go with its flatulent toy puppy (“squeeze his belly”) and a Bill Clinton figurine with a corkscrew coming out of his pants.

Wolferman’s offers 44 pages of … muffins?! Fahrney’s offers 56 pages of … pens!? Don’t miss the Marlene Dietrich model (“sensuous curves in all the right places”), a bargain at $880, or the $3,000 “pen of the year” (who voted?).

From high-end catalogs on down, the one constant is the writing, which is excellent across the board. (Is this what good writers have to do to eat these days?) Oh, some are better than others. Fahrney’s thinks the plural of entry is “entrys”—a store devoted to writing can’t make such a dumb mistake. National Geographic’s otherwise classy mailer misfires with the awkward “spiders are one of the creepiest crawlers out there.” Spiders, plural, are “one”? Why not “a spider is”? Sahalie’s writes “completely waterproof.” How is that different from just “waterproof”? Orvis Men’s Clothing says, “Crafted in New England, you’ll appreciate the comfort.” This sentence, taken literally, means “you” were crafted in New England. Herrington’s high-spirited but sloppy catalog spells minuscule “miniscule.” Herrington is also one of many catalogs that can’t get the subject to agree with the verb: “Every one of our vintage Ferraris are parked …” No, every one is parked. Subject-verb agreement is a big problem nowadays, and reflects the carelessness and short attention spans this era will be remembered for.

When you read as many of these things as I did, you come to realize that catalogs have their own language, rules, and customs. Numbers are almost never spelled out, not even leading off a sentence. That’s against all civilized rules of writing, but merchants want to be direct, not correct. They’re targeting our eyes, not our brains. Capitals are thrown around extravagantly because anything capitalized looks Important and Impressive. Hyphens are avoided wherever possible because advertisers will always choose two simple words with a clean space between them over one long, confusing word with an ungainly bar right in the middle.

Many companies sell jewelry made with “Swarovski crystals,” a fancy term for rhinestones, which is in turn a euphemism for phony gemstones. And countless catalogs feature “nutcrackers,” so called because they were inspired by the popular Tchaikovsky Christmastime ballet. The 21st-century versions look to be useless, charmless statuettes, tackier than tin soldiers. You can get them wearing uniforms of your favorite pro sports team or branch of the military. Despite the name, I doubt they could even crack a moldy peanut. Their heads don’t even bobble.

Finally, see if you can figure out what this list of words culled from several catalogs refers to: chianti, chili, dirt, dragonfly, dusk, espresso, grasshopper, mineral, nutmeg, ocean, persimmon, raisin, root beer, sesame, spa, sweet pea, sweet potato, toast.

You might as well give up, because you’ll never guess. They’re … colors?! “Oh, sweetheart, you look fabulous in that root beer muumuu!” “Thank you, darling, and that dragonfly-and-dirt sweater goes so well with your spa-and-dusk striped tie and those toast trousers.”

—Tom Stern

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14 Comments on Christmas ’Log Review

14 responses to “Christmas ’Log Review”

  1. Laurence Henry says:

    As someone who nailed the list of colors at the end of the article, I feel obligated to share another such “creative” color name that was used to describe a luxury car some years ago: antelope firemist. Now try to figure out what color THAT is!

    • Given the outrageous name, we’re guessing that the color is actually nondescript. We hope the marketing folks who came up with “antelope firemist” won some sort of award for creativity. Or got fired—one or the other.

  2. Sharon says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed! You’re much more patient and tolerant than I am to actually wade through each catalog received.

  3. I think Mr. Stern’s article on Christmas catalogs is fabulous! I hope to be able to write almost as well, when I grow up.

    It would be worthwhile, in my opinion, to run it as part of your Christmas publication annually. I would not grow tired of it at all.

    Thank you so very much; with all due credit going to Mr. Stern…..

  4. Daniel K. says:

    Quick question. What is’s position on greetings such as “Merry Christmas Joe!” or “Happy Thanksgiving Sarah!” Should we capitalize every word in the greeting? Or should we just capitalize only the first letter of the first word and the recipient’s name? In other words, instead of writing “Happy New Year Jason!”, should we just write “Happy new year Jason!”

    • The examples you mention include the names of holidays, which should be capitalized. In addition, when directly addressing a person, we recommend setting off the name with a comma:
      Merry Christmas, Joe!
      Happy New Year, Jason!

  5. Manish says:

    Excellent help…as usual

  6. Carlo says:

    Santa’s in town. Correct contraction for Santa is in town?

  7. Brandy K. says:

    This is the funniest newsletter ever! Thank you for the laughs.

  8. Robin Hershey says:

    This comment is about the newsletter in general, not this specific article.

    Every time I get your newsletter (which I do love!), I cringe when I read “Due to the E-Newsletter’s large readership. . .” Surely you must know that “due to” does not mean “because of.” “Due to” means “owed to”; so the only correct usage is in a sentence like “Give him the money that is due to him.” Please change your request to “Because of the E-Newsletter’s large readership. . .”

    • Owed is not the only definition of the word due. One dictionary definition of the word due is “capable of being attributed: ascribable—used with to.” We are happy you enjoy our newsletters.

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