Copy-Editing the Culture: Eat Pray Love

Slate's Culture Blog
Aug. 26 2010 10:57 AM

Copy-Editing the Culture: Eat Pray Love

Not long ago, following a breakfast of black coffee and All-Bran and a call to his dentist's assistant, Copy-Editing the Culture left his modest apartment dressed in his late-summer best and strolled to a nearby bus stop for a coach across town. It was a hot day, and the bus was late by several minutes, but a gentle morning breeze was up, and as Copy-Editing the Culture settled into some light reading (The Chicago Manual of Style: 16th Edition), he allowed himself a small frisson of bliss. The joy did not last. Barely had your grammar-loving correspondent made it to Section 5.51, "Demonstrative pronouns defined," when, glancing up from the cream-colored page to relish a particularly ravishing line ("The antecedent of a demonstrative pronoun can be a noun, phrase, clause, sentence, or implied thought, as long as the antecedent is clear"), he found his gaze turned toward a poster advertising a new movie: Eat Pray Love —a big-screen version, starring Julia Roberts, of the best-selling book Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert.

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One often hears that movies based on books are disappointments; something gets lost in the journey from the page to the screen. In this case, evidently, what got lost was punctuation. Where did it go? Eat Pray Love is not a title. It's a random and nonsensical jumble of words. It is a score card in the most boring game of Scrabble imaginable. Gilbert's punctuated title made a kind of grammatical sense, directing a forceful, three-verb command at the narrator (and, perhaps, the reader, too). Eat Pray Love makes sense only as something that an aphasiac might scream at the walls.

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This latest crime against the English language was especially unwelcome, because you, Copy-Editing the Culture's eagle-eyed and well-spoken readers, have lately been bringing to his attention so many similar abuses that an Elizabeth Gilbert-style escape tour sometimes seems the only recourse. Reader Justin Babcock laments the gross indecency of an Apple ad for "the funnest iPod ever" (possibly the "hideousest" phrase Copy-Editing the Culture has ever encountered). Another reader, Teddy Murray, describes his horror at "Live Solid. Bank Solid," the slogan for Suntrust Bank. "Will they allow me to put any solid in the bank?" he asks. Good question, Teddy—one hopes prudent investors won't linger to find out.

This crisis hasn't concerned only the written word. Reader RoseEllen Pederson describes her disgust with a "popular song that has been overwhelming radio waves as of late": "Cooler Than Me," by Mike Posner. (A more discerning vocalist, Copy-Editing the Culture needn't tell you, would sing "Cooler Than I.") Powerful minds have lately gotten caught up in tracking every (frequent) misuse of lay and lie . on the popular AMC drama Mad Men. And in a particularly ghastly display making the rounds, the BBC broadcast a notice in the queen's tongue but without her majesty's punctuation. The results, it's no surprise, were dangly .

Still, Copy-Editing the Culture retains a small amount of optimism for this planet's future. Following this column's previous rant on the perverse title Grown Ups , reader Natalya Minkovsky photographed an act of divine subterfuge at one enlightened cinema in Bethesda, Md.:

Hope remains.

Spot a grammar clunker in the cultural limelight? Send it to  copyeditingtheculture@gmail.com .

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

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