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It was one year ago that we passed along to you the unfortunate news of
the death of our popular GrammarBook writer Tom Stern. Tom loved writing
about the English language, and he loved writing for and hearing from you, his audience. He was a keen observer and critic of the
media. While the article below is only tangentially related to grammar,
punctuation, and the use of language, it’s one he left for us to publish at some point in the future. We
thought we’d run it today in remembrance of Tom Stern’s wit and
way with words.
Pop Culture Fallacies
This is the paradox of the pop culture: it’s street smart and
cutting-edge hip, yet as easy to fleece as Little Bo Peep.
In an open society, people are free to believe anything. It’s not
like centuries ago, when you could be put to death for doubting the sun
revolved around the (flat) earth.
Which “experts” should we trust? A few years back, word got
around that we weren’t sufficiently “hydrated” unless we
drank eight glasses of water a day. Then the British Medical Journal said
never mind, just drink when you’re thirsty.
When running swept the country in the 1970s, the first commandment was,
Stretch those muscles and tendons before hitting the trail. Now Sports Illustrated has a different take: “Study after study
has found that increased flexibility actually impairs performance.”
I’ve lost track: Is pasta good or bad? Did you know dark chocolate is
high in antioxidants and improves cardiovascular health? Silly me, I
thought it trashed my teeth. Remember when red wine rotted livers and
caused gout? Now it prevents blood clots, lowers the risk of prostate
cancer, and protects against Alzheimer’s.
Yet more popular misconceptions:
“Kiss me, you fool!”
We’re all familiar with this audacious, provocative line, and we
always picture a woman saying it. But would you believe it’s a
misquotation? It comes from A Fool There Was, a popular 1915
silent film starring the sultry, wicked Theda Bara. In a torrid scene with
her lover, Bara spoke wordlessly as the intertitle flashed “Kiss me,
Sodium Pentothal is a “truth serum”
Sodium Pentothal in small doses lowers inhibitions and makes users
talkative, but there’s no certainty they’re telling the truth.
So much for those movies in which the bad guys drug some hapless character
who spills crucial classified info.
Mussolini made the trains run on time
The trains were no more efficient under him than they were before. This
infamous canard was devised to assure skeptics that as fascist dictators
go, you could do a lot worse than Benito “Il Duce” Mussolini
(1883-1945), who (mis)led Italy from the 1920s and on into World War II.
Jimmy Carter’s “malaise” speech
In July 1979 the U.S. had an energy crisis, an inflation crisis, and a
growing unemployment crisis. Carter addressed the nation with what is
remembered as his ill-advised “malaise” speech, supposedly a
putdown of America that helped seal his political doom. But at the time,
the speech was received quite positively—and Carter never once said
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Tom Stern hated the pervasive misuse of "literally."
Learn all about who and whom, affect and effect, subjects and verbs, adjectives and adverbs, commas, semicolons, quotation marks, and much more by just sitting back and enjoying these easy-to-follow lessons. Tell your colleagues (and boss), children, teachers, and friends. Click here to watch.