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We've got one-quarter of the Final Four: "Its"/"It's" confusion, which blew away Wordiness yesterday with 67.6 percent of the vote.

Today's Elite Eight bout pits Vagueness and Abstraction against omitting a comma after a parenthetical phrase. (For example, "My daughter, who was born in 1988 is awesome.") See the current state of the bracket here, and vote here:

Language March Madness has reached the Elite Eight, and you can see the state of the bracket here.

Today's matchup, like many in the tournament, features a particular mistake going up against a more general problem that frequently shows up in writing. The mistake is using "it's" instead of "its" (or vice versa), and similar errors with "your"/"you're," "whose"/"who's," and so on. The global problem is wordiness. Vote.

Poor Word Choice more than doubled the vote count of Comma splices yesterday, with 67.6 percent of the total and moves on to the Elite Eight.

Today, in the final Sweet Sixteen contest, we've got two annoying trends going to battle. The first is the bafflingly prevalent use of "myself" instead of "I" or "me." For example, "Bruce and myself went to the store."

Its opponent is a recent trend, especially popular on the Internet, of using fake vocalisms to indicate that you're about to make a joke, a pun, or a metaphor. For example, "The key audience of 'Girls," is, um, girls."

It's annoying, but is it more annoying than "myself"? There's only one way to find out. And that, um, is to vote.


Yesterday's result: Spellcheck Errors, 63 percent, Semicolon Abuse 40 Percent. Spellcheck advances to the quarterfinals.

The first contestant today is comma splices. That's a sentence like this, it has a comma instead of a period or semicolon. Its opponent is poor word choice, an extremely common problem in the student writing I see, which I blame on the overuse of the online thesaurus. Thus, I once got an assignment with this sentence: "Of the many things the students aspired to see, a terrorist attack was not one of them." It was clear to me that the student made a poor word choice because the right word, "expected," somehow didn't sound right to her, and she found "aspired" in the thesaurus.


As expected, yesterday's bout was a blowout, with the overwhelming favorite "Between You and I" besting Sesquipedality 85.7 percent to 14.3 percent and moving on to a quarterfinal contest against the winner of today's poll.

This one should be a good bit closer. In one corner we have spellcheck errors, those misspelled words that are the correct spelling of other words and therefore get through. One of the most common among my students--which I just saw in a major metropolitan newspaper--was "lead," instead of "led," as the past tense of the verb "to lead." Others have the quality of "eggcorns"--that is, they seem to make a certain amount of sense, such as "trooper" (for "trouper"), "wreck havoc" ("wreak"), and "peak" (rather than "pique") someone's interest.

Its opponent is semicolon abuse, especially one form; using a semicolon instead of a colon. (As I just did.)