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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
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
Because of the E-Newsletter's large readership, please submit your English usage questions through GrammarBook.com's “Grammar Blog.”
All of us here at GrammarBook.com want to wish all of our readers a very happy holiday season. In observance of the season, we will take a two-week break from our regular newsletters. We will resume on January 7, 2014.
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Santa's helpers are subordinate clauses.
Those who jump off a bridge in Paris are in Seine.
A man's home is his castle, in a manor of speaking.
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.