Avoid Weird Al Yankovic's 29 Errors in “Word Crimes”
by Stephen Wilbers
Author of 1,000 columns
explanations and exercises.
Why would anyone watch a music video that begins, “Everybodyshutup,” and concludes by telling people who make 29 common language errors that not only are they “a lost cause” but they should “go back to pre-school,” get “out of the gene pool,” and try their best “to not drool”?
The answer: because “Weird Al” Yankovic’s “Word Crimes” is hilarious. Andreallywelldone.
Although I’m not fond of ridicule as a method of instruction, I found this parody of Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” irresistible. The music is appealing, Jarrett Heather’s “kinetic typography” (animated text) is delightfully rendered, and the explanations of how to correct the errors are grammatically sound. And just to make sure you’re having fun, “Weird Al” throws in two off-color puns.
As you watch the video, you’ll find yourself asking if you make any of the featured errors. They include
1. Seven misspelled words (peepl for people, grammer for grammar, moran for moron, it’s for its, expresso for espresso, proof reader for proofreader, and dum for dumb)
2. Four misused words and expressions (I could care less for I couldn’t care less, less for fewer, irony for coincidence, and figurative for literal)
3. Two grammatical errors (pronoun case: to who for to whom; and adjectives for adverbs: doing good for doing well)
4. One punctuation or proofreading error (a missing hyphen in a compound adjective: full time proofreader for full-time proofreader)
5. Three usage errors (using letters for words, numbers for words, and quotation marks for emphasis)
6. Nine proofreading errors (you for You, needa for need a, full time for full-time, proof reader for proofreader, dum for dumb, Mouth for mouth, mouth breather for mouth-breather, including a missing comma and a missing period)
In addition, Yanokovic mentions (without illustration) dangling participles, confusing homophones, and inconsistent use of the Oxford or serial comma. Other common errors he might have featured are using your for you’re, there for their, and loose for lose, as well as using There is rather than There are to introduce a plural complement, as in “There’s three unintentional errors in this video.”
Of course the problem with making fun of other people’s faux pas is that no one is perfect, including Yankovic, a self-proclaimed “grammar nerd” who nevertheless drops the ball a few times himself. He (or maybe Heather) uses a question mark in place of a period at the end of a declarative sentence (It’s a good time 2 lern some grammer?), places closing quotes after rather than before a semicolon (Always say “to whom;” don’t ever say “to who.”), and uses an unnecessary comma after the conjunction but (Oh, but, just now you said you “literally couldn’t get out of bed.”).
Interestingly, the last two errors have been corrected in the current YouTube version, perhaps in response to other grammar nerds playing gotcha.
In any case, “Word Crimes” is great fun. For a list of all 29 errors,
along with explanations and exercises to help you to avoid making them, go
to “www.wilbers.com/WordCrimeErrors or google “Wilbers Word Crime errors.”
Also see explanations and exercises.