Usage Peeve Bingo

If you search Google Images for “buzzword bingo”, you’ll see how popular a game (or pretend game) it is. Some examples were probably inspired by Dilbert, veteran victim of business jargon:

Dilbert - buzzword bingo

By comparison, bingo cards of grammar/usage peeves are surprisingly rare. On Twitter recently I described a Guardian article as “peever’s bingo” because it contained so many timeworn usage peeves, like literally and whom.

Maybe I had this comment by LanguageHat at the back of my mind. In any case, author and ex-copyeditor Scott Huler replied that an actual bingo card of pedantic peeves would be a good idea. So here it is:

[click to enlarge]

s

I’ve avoided common misspellings and variant pronunciations, but you could easily compile cards based on those, too – or a set of completely different usage peeves.* As for this table, Scott notes ironically that which ones are important is an “obvious question, with the obvious answer: the ones I personally think are important”.

He suggests that someone with the same peeves as you “is obviously a great writer and editor; a couple more than you [is] an admired copy chief”; more than that again means a “frowning, iron-haired” pedant. Conversely, someone with fewer peeves than you:

is a lazy writer who ought to know better; fewer than that and you must be one of those annoying self-conscious usage libertarians; fewer even than that and you’re a barbarian.

Some of the usages on my bingo card are non-standard and generally avoided in formal writing; others are unfairly decried. All are common peeves. For what it’s worth, nothing on the card is a personal peeve. Some I avoid, some I would remove from prose I’m editing, but I think most are unworthy of any irritation.

So the next time you see one of those wearisome lists of “grammar errors” that largely comprise misspellings and misinformation, or when a forum pedant goes on an ill-tempered peeve-rant, cross-check their contents with this handy card, and you’ll at least get some fun out of the experience. Hopefully.

Updates:

John McIntyre, at You Don’t Say, suggests that you “Print out a card. It has the classics.”

Dawn McIlvain Stahl follows up at Copyediting.com, with a thoughtful post on “[giving] up the peever’s approach to editing”.

There’s further discussion at LanguageHat, who suggests using the card for drinking games…

Jan Freeman at Throw Grammar from the Train wonders how you would play such a game. For the record: mine was meant mostly as a joke for writers and editors, but – as I said in the post – you could play it solo when you come across a list of peeves. Making it a proper bingo game would be more complicated.

*

* After reading my tweet, @sdostu created another peever’s bingo card. Many of our examples are the same, owing to these peeves’ repeatedly cropping up when grammaticasters grouch about usage.

Creative Commons Licence Usage peeve bingo by Stan Carey is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.

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26 Responses to Usage Peeve Bingo

  1. Shaun Downey says:

    Ah good old bullshit bingo. As for peever’s bingo it would be more fun to get people with pet language peeves in a hall with someone using these “atrocities”. It’s not for the sight of them shouting bingo but to see the steam coming from their ears!

  2. How do you feel about “both … but also”? (In case that now seems standard, it used to be ” both … and”.)

  3. wisewebwoman says:

    I remember doing this at business meetings with business buzzwords. Where “tranparency”, “apples and oranges”, and “at the end of the day” et al would just about do my head in. I would actually get a headache from the overusage of these idioms. Only an internal blah-blah mechanism and a careful recording of the offenders (which made me look attentive) would keep my head from exploding.
    XO
    WWW

  4. Good work, Stan. I think you’ve very nicely captured the most popular peeves.

  5. Stan says:

    Shaun: I can just picture it. That’s another disadvantage of having pet peeves: it makes you more susceptible to being wound up.

    Edward: I’ve nothing against it in principle. The phrase but also commonly follows not only, but sometimes it follows both, or neither, e.g., “It depends on your point of view, but also on where you live” (from Don Watson’s Weasel Words).

    WWW: In excess they can be hard to stomach. Mind you, that didn’t stop me before.

    Jonathon: Thank you. I only hope it’s not used for evil.

  6. It says something significant (about bad writing – not about you, Stan) that you found enough peeves to fill a 6×6 grid rather than the standard 5×5. In fact I suspect you had a hard time stopping there.

  7. Lane says:

    My wife claims to have played a version of Bullshit Bingo at the UN, which is fuller of jargon even than the average workplace.

    I too was struck by the 6×6 card… maybe the rows would read

    B I N G O !

  8. Sharon says:

    Hypersensitivity to the position of ‘only’ makes me laugh. I had never given it a second’s thought until I read a rant by John Humphrys on the perils of misplacing it in a sentence. If I recall correctly, he also had something to say about ‘daily’ as an adverb but I see that doesn’t make your final cut!

  9. Stan says:

    Larry: I started with a 5×5 grid but had to add a row to include some peeves I felt were essential; another column became necessary for symmetry, and was also easily filled. I could have continued in that vein, yes, or made another card, but I didn’t want to overdo it.

    Lane: A UN bingo card with its special brand of legal-diplomatic jargon would be fun. And I do like your solution to the 6×6 adaptation.

    Sharon: It’s one of those pointless rules that constrains normal expression but is eagerly adopted by devotees of ‘logic’ in language for whom the more regulation the better. I tend to avoid reading Humphrys, but maybe I should follow your lead and do so for amusement!

    Fowler is sensible on only placement. Addressing a complaint about the line “He only died a week ago”, he writes:

    there is an orthodox placing for only, but it does not follow that there are not often good reasons for departing from orthodoxy. For He only died a week ago no better defence is perhaps possible than that it is the order that most people have always used & still use, & that, the risk of misunderstanding being chimerical, it is not worth while to depart from the natural.

    • Sharon says:

      It really does have a logical appeal – I was almost persuaded that I had been wrong my whole life in my ‘only’ placement! – but shunting it further down the sentence for fear of modifying the verb often just creates the same strange robot-speak quality that you get when people desperately try to avoid splitting an infinitive. Fowler’s approach is much more sensible – thanks for digging that out.

      JH’s Lost For Words is not a bad read, by the way, but I think by Beyond Words it was all turning into a bit of a grumpfest. As you said, you should probably only read him for laughs (read him only for laughs? for laughs only?).

  10. marc leavitt says:

    Stan:
    Excellent job!
    One of the hallmarks of the residents of the land of Language-Peeveria, is a total lack of a sense of humor; literally.
    Hopefully, that will change, but I doubt it. Your post reminded me of the late George Carlin’s riff on euphemisms. I wish he were still among the living (alive), but unfortunately, he has passed away (he’s dead), gone to a better place (he’s dead), met his maker (he’s dead), is with the ages (he’s dead), but will always be in our thoughts (he’s dead).

  11. Jan Arzooman says:

    Some of these don’t bother me, but I do love the concept and I’m so jealous I didn’t think of it first! (Will work on the American version… unless someone’s already beaten me to it.) And irregardless, hopefully people will utilize it, since its so unique.

  12. Stan says:

    Sharon: ‘…only read him for laughs (read him only for laughs? for laughs only?’ Ha ha! I may try JH one day, when curiosity gets the better of me. I know what you mean about robot-speak: only-shunting can make one’s language sound awkward, or feel too formal for a given context. It’s just not normally the more natural syntax. (There’s a similar, lesser-known peeve about the placement of even, covered briefly in MWDEU.)

    Marc: Thank you! I don’t know about a total lack of humour — Lynne Truss can be amusing even at her most ill-judged — but much peeving is decidedly fun-free. Your “I wish he were” reminds me that subjunctives almost made the cut; maybe I’ll add them to a later version of the game. And euphemism is an area definitely worth returning to.

    Alex: To get that reference I would have to search YouTube for Chevy Chase, so I’ve decided to leave it alone.

    Jan: Thanks very much. Regarding your last phrase: Its/it’s was another contender (it’s one of my few genuine peeves), but I left it out after deciding to minimise orthography-related items. Do let me know if you make your own version.

    • alexmccrae1546 says:

      Stan,

      No worries.

      My comment was mainly intended to perhaps get a rise from Marc, and anyone who may have been a fan of vintage Saturday Night Live comedy, particularly early cast-member Chevy Chase’s mock news reportage.

      The ‘Franco-is-dead’ line became kind of his running faux-news-guy signature bit over his short tenure at SNL, before he moved on to became a major movie star.

      I tend to forget that a sizable portion of your readership is not from this side of The Pond, and might not be that familiar with much of U.S. television fare, particularly my earlier referencing SNL from it’s mid’70s glory days.

  13. Not to mention “print out” instead of simply “print” (with apologies to John McIntyre above). Mind you, I get upset about “fill out”. You fill things “in”. Think of holes in the ground.

    • Stan says:

      Patrick: Fill out in that sense is idiomatic. I suppose a peeve about it falls under Americanisms. You could make an entirely new bingo card based on [verb] [preposition/particle] phrases.

  14. Michelle says:

    I dislike the mistake of using “your” in place of “you’re.”

  15. [...] Dictionary blog, Stan Carey mansplained the new-word-pocalypse, and on his own blog, played usage peeve bingo. In the week in words, Erin McKean noted jukochodai, old-school manufacturers; slow steaming, a [...]

  16. [...] Carey, in his blog Sentence First, has a wonderful post about “Usage Peeve Bingo,” including a wonderful bingo card.  Mind, as an American, I would change the square marked [...]

  17. Ben says:

    Stan, I’m curious why “between you and I” didn’t make the cut. I believe that when the BBC polled people about their peeves a decade ago, that was number one.

    • Stan says:

      No particular reason, Ben. It was on my list but it got squeezed out towards the end. The presence of some pairs (Americanisms & Britishisms, verbing & nouning, that/which & that/who) reduced the available slots. But on another day I might have included it.

      • Ben says:

        Clearly, you have to do a sequel. You might also include presently=currently, disinterested=uninterested, nonplussed=unfazed, and “faxed” spelled as “phased”!

  18. […] suspect few would include different than – though it was among the 36 questionable examples in my Usage Peeve Bingo […]

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