Copy-Editing the Culture: "Be Good Johnny Weir" and "44 Inch Chest"

Slate's Culture Blog
Feb. 17 2010 5:54 PM

Copy-Editing the Culture: "Be Good Johnny Weir" and "44 Inch Chest"

Just as we're surrounded by a world of micro-organisms—some good, some bad, many imperceptible—our culture is continually under siege by small perversions of the written language. Today, some of the world's nastiest errata appear on marquees and in book titles, burrowing into the innards of an unsuspecting nation. Copy-Editing the Culture collects the most prominent among these to offer both a diagnosis and a cure.

A few months back, Copy-Editing the Culture took on the tortured grammar of the latest Jamie Foxx movie, Law Abiding Citizen , whose title makes sense only in the context of a particularly trippy thought experiment . Our plea for grammatical integrity, though, went unheard: When the film came out on DVD yesterday , it had not one hyphen more of clarity. We are starting to wonder whether Hollywood has priorities besides its parts of speech.


But so it goes. In the meantime, Copy-Editing the Culture has been beset by other horrors. Be Good Johnny Weir , a Sundance TV show, purports to chronicle the high style of an Olympian skater, but in matters of the written language, this unfortunate program has the style of a garment-district trash heap. The crisis here is a missing comma, one that would separate the command be good from the name to which it is addressed, Johnny Weir . Without that crucial punctuation mark, the title describes a show about a man called Be Good Johnny—a zoot suit of a nickname much more likely to land him in a trunk somewhere in Bergen County, N.J., than on the path toward Olympic glory.

And what is one to make of 44 Inch Chest , the gritty U.K. black comedy that seems to have left its hyphen on the toast rack? Does baroque British profanity preclude proper hyphen use? Abso-bloody-lutely not, muppet! Although there is little chance of the title being misunderstood as it is written, 44 Inch functions as a single modifier and thus deserves its own hyphen. Where did Windsor come from, after all, besides the great house of hyphens,  Saxe-Coburg-Gotha ?

Spot a grammar clunker in the cultural limelight? Send it to .

Nathan Heller is staff writer for The New Yorker and a film and TV critic for Vogue. You can follow him on Twitter.



More Than Scottish Pride

Scotland’s referendum isn’t about nationalism. It’s about a system that failed, and a new generation looking to take a chance on itself. 

What Charles Barkley Gets Wrong About Corporal Punishment and Black Culture

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

Three Talented Actresses in Three Terrible New Shows

Why Do Some People See the Virgin Mary in Grilled Cheese?

The science that explains the human need to find meaning in coincidences.


Happy Constitution Day!

Too bad it’s almost certainly unconstitutional.

Is It Worth Paying Full Price for the iPhone 6 to Keep Your Unlimited Data Plan? We Crunch the Numbers.

What to Do if You Literally Get a Bug in Your Ear

  News & Politics
Sept. 16 2014 7:03 PM Kansas Secretary of State Loses Battle to Protect Senator From Tough Race
Sept. 16 2014 4:16 PM The iPhone 6 Marks a Fresh Chance for Wireless Carriers to Kill Your Unlimited Data
The Eye
Sept. 16 2014 12:20 PM These Outdoor Cat Shelters Have More Style Than the Average Home
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus Video
Sept. 16 2014 2:06 PM A Farewell From Emily Bazelon The former senior editor talks about her very first Slate pitch and says goodbye to the magazine.
Brow Beat
Sept. 16 2014 8:43 PM This 17-Minute Tribute to David Fincher Is the Perfect Preparation for Gone Girl
Future Tense
Sept. 16 2014 6:40 PM This iPhone 6 Feature Will Change Weather Forecasting
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 16 2014 11:46 PM The Scariest Campfire Story More horrifying than bears, snakes, or hook-handed killers.
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.