I love Weird Al. This mostly stems from my freshman year of college when “White and Nerdy” was all over the William and Mary campus like a sort of rallying cry, because a good number of us were, well, white and nerdy. I will confess to not knowing that “Ridin'” by Chamillionaire was a song at the time. That was an interesting day when that song came on the radio for the first time.

Anyway, Weird Al came out with a new album fairly recently, and my boyfriend sent me a link to his video for “Word Crimes” because, let’s face it, it’s me we’re talking about. For reference, in case any of you aren’t as aware of Weird Al’s affinity for grammar, he’s a self-described grammar nazi, and this song is a clear indication of that fact.

Weird Al’s Top Word Crimes

It’s impressive how much verbal learning Weird Al throws at you in under four minutes. Let’s take a look at the highlights.

Less vs. Fewer

As Mr. Yankovic makes clear (in an impressive infographic), less is used for mass nouns, like liquids or electricity, which can’t be quantified by themselves. You can’t say that you have two electricities, so you wouldn’t use fewer to indicate the amount; you would use less.

Fewer, on the other hand, is used for count nouns, like bottles of water or light bulbs, which can be individually numbered.

Caring Less or Not Caring Less

Just looking at the phrase “I could care less” should tell you that it means you still care. If you’re able to care less, then by definition you still care, at least a little bit. You’re looking for its more decisive cousin, “I couldn’t care less”, which does in fact mean that you straight up don’t care.

Textspeak

This is one of my biggest pet peeves, and it apparently bothers Weird Al too. Anytime I see a letter by itself that is trying to be a word (and that letter isn’t I or a), I cry on the inside. That “y” is not a substitute for “why”. You’re a grown adult. Come on.

Accurate Use of Quotation Marks

You wouldn’t believe how frequently business owners put quotation marks around words for emphasis in their signage. This is wrong. Don’t do it.

The Optional Oxford Comma

As strongly as Weird Al feels about using “its” or “it’s” correctly, he concedes that if you want to leave out the Oxford comma, it’s kind of okay. There’s no hard-and-fast rule about it, but its omission can sometimes lead to confusion. If it helps to clarify your sentence, considering throwing it in.

What would you say are the worst “word crimes”? Share some of your linguistic pet peeves in the comments.

PRACTICE

You have two options for this practice:

  • Write about a teenager who is confronted by Weird Al after committing each of these Word Crimes.
  • Write a small story in which you break each these Word Crimes.

Write for fifteen minutes. When your time is up, post your practice in the comments section. And if you post, please be sure to give feedback to your fellow writers.

Happy writing!

Liz Bureman
Liz Bureman

Liz Bureman has a more-than-healthy interest in proper grammatical structure, accurate spelling, and the underappreciated semicolon. When she’s not diagramming sentences and reading blogs about how terribly written the Twilight series is, she edits for the Write Practice, causes trouble in Denver, and plays guitar very slowly and poorly. You can follow her on Twitter (@epbure), where she tweets more about music of the mid-90s than writing.