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Pictures here.

Including some nice examples of Muphry's Law in action:


  1. Brian said,

    March 31, 2010 @ 7:28 pm

    No … excretions?

  2. Maribel said,

    March 31, 2010 @ 7:36 pm

    Love this! Oh, and "Muphry's Law"? I'll assume this was intentional. :D

  3. Mark P said,

    March 31, 2010 @ 7:48 pm

    Regularized spelling is just another example of the white, male hierarchy's oppressive regimentation of the proletariat to keep them in chains. To the barackades!

  4. Rory said,

    March 31, 2010 @ 8:33 pm

    Muphry's law?

  5. Mark Steward said,

    March 31, 2010 @ 8:36 pm

    Rory: you'll see the irony of your post if you Google it.

  6. Elizabeth Herrington said,

    March 31, 2010 @ 8:47 pm

    This is funny, sure. But we need to remember Ebonics (inglorious word it be) is based on a grammar. Teabonics is just plain ignorance.

  7. Kathryn said,

    March 31, 2010 @ 8:48 pm

    I wonder about the hyphen between "are" and "country." Could this be an attempt to induce contrastive focus intonation on "are" via compound-stress-eliciting orthography? That would be fascinating.

  8. Obamarmy said,

    March 31, 2010 @ 9:00 pm

    The TEABAG Movement sweeping across America has forged a new English language vernacular. A phenomenon that linguists are calling TEABONICS.


  9. Lance said,

    March 31, 2010 @ 9:07 pm

    Given Obamarmy's post, I'm sort of sorry that LanguageLog is propagating this. The common tagline is that "linguists are calling [this] Teabonics"; except that, as Elizabeth Herrington says above, recognizing Ebonics is deeply rooted in linguistic concepts, whereas this is just making fun of misspelling. And while I'm in favor politically of making fun of tea-partiers, I'm professionally against calling it "Teabonics", which elevates this to actual academic study and debases Ebonics as being equivalently illiterate.

  10. Will said,

    March 31, 2010 @ 9:26 pm

    Saw this earlier today. Pretty funny. But if you look carefully, you'll see that most / all of them have been Photoshopped, poorly in many cases.

  11. John Laviolette said,

    March 31, 2010 @ 9:32 pm

    Is "are-country" really and error, or is it "the country where we say 'are' instead of 'be'?" Perhaps a heretofore unnoticed anti-pirate sentiment?

  12. Nathan Myers said,

    March 31, 2010 @ 10:50 pm

    Will: Can you point out cases where it's easy for people like me to see that they're photoshopped? The ones I checked after reading your post looked authentic, although it's hard to tell with high JPEG compression levels.

  13. Herby said,

    March 31, 2010 @ 11:16 pm

    is it really easier to use photoshop to doctor an image than it is to assemble the required components — 1) two pieces of yellow paper 2) a stick 3) a felt pen 4) some staples — and take a picture?

  14. James said,

    April 1, 2010 @ 12:55 am

    I'd just like to point out that it's really easy to transpose letters when hand-writing signs, which seems to be the error made in the majority of these photographs. Now, I would think people would take a minute to read and edit their signs before showing them off at a public rally, but that's just me.

  15. C Thornett said,

    April 1, 2010 @ 1:58 am

    I did think the attack on scholiasts was a bit unfair. I doubt they contribute much to the national debt.

  16. ShadowFox said,

    April 1, 2010 @ 2:03 am

    @Nathan Myers:
    –Over? Did you say "over"? Nothing is over until we decide it is! Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell no!
    –Forget it, he's rolling.

  17. Will said,

    April 1, 2010 @ 2:28 am

    @Nathan: It's hard to tell for sure because of the resolution and some weird artifacts around a lot of the letters (maybe camera phone pictures), but I thought a few, including these ones, looked somewhat suspicious. There was a part of me who wanted to believe these were real, but a few folks who have much better Photoshop skills than I do thought a lot of the photos looked doctored.


    This one's interesting because you can see an outline of an apostrophe and an 'e', but unclear if it was someone trying to fix the sign or what:

  18. D.O. said,

    April 1, 2010 @ 2:51 am

    Ilya Il'f Notebooks

    Решено было не допустить ни одной ошибки. Держали двадцать корректур. И все равно на титульном листе было напечатано: "Британская энциклопудия".


    They have decided to avoid any mistakes. They kept twenty proofs. And yet on the title page it was printed: "The British encyclopudia."

  19. Aaron Toivo said,

    April 1, 2010 @ 3:38 am

    Muphry's Law is surely spelled that way apurpose so as to provoke itself, in addition to exemplifying the nature of the issue.

  20. outeast said,

    April 1, 2010 @ 3:52 am

    Multiple comments querying or hypothesizing about the spelling of Muphry's Law, even though there's a hyperlink right there in the post to take readers to an explanation? Mrrrrgh.

  21. Guy said,

    April 1, 2010 @ 8:02 am

    Would Kathryn please translate hir komehnt…??
    It got by me to a certain extent.

  22. Sili said,

    April 1, 2010 @ 8:52 am

    Politiken tried to convince people that the Danish Language Council had decided to make silent "h"s optional.

    Not surprisingly reader response quickly realised it was an April's Fool – but then proceeded to heap scorn on the council: "It's no more stupid than other resolutions they've made."

    Personally I like the idea, and I'm rather appalled by the counterargument from the real council: "It will act as a hindrance in understanding our cultural heritage. Already 6th formers are already miserable when they have to read pre-1948 texts where nouns are written with capital initials." …

    You couldn't make it up.

    ('Quotes' are paraphrases.)

  23. Cliff Bowman said,

    April 1, 2010 @ 9:26 am

    Serving 22 years for a feral apostrophe ("I did'nt serve 22 years for socialism") seems a bit harsh…

  24. Haamu said,

    April 1, 2010 @ 9:49 am

    This is, of course, the classic of this genre:

  25. Haamu said,

    April 1, 2010 @ 9:50 am

    Sorry, fooled by preview. Here's the URL:


  26. ...just don't call me late for dinner! said,

    April 1, 2010 @ 10:43 am

    There are corners of the internet where "are country" is a running in-joke making fun of middle Americans. The joke is based on a John Mellencamp song a few years ago (played in a Chevy commercial) where he sings "this is OUUUUURRR coun-tryyyyy!" "Our" comes out very much like "are" in the song, and people kind of took it and ran.

    So it's not uncommon to see tongue in cheek posts saying something like "keep those freedom hating Frenchmen out of ARE country!" as a way of making fun of middle America. Is that what the first sign is? I don't know, but it's what immediately jumped to my mind.

  27. Jim said,

    April 1, 2010 @ 12:26 pm

    "This is funny, sure. But we need to remember Ebonics (inglorious word it be) is based on a grammar. Teabonics is just plain ignorance."

    Elizabeth, you must have missed Mike Tyson's spelling word list:

    And the word is "ig'nant"

  28. Brn said,

    April 1, 2010 @ 3:28 pm

    My favorite example of this was back in the late 80s when the Japanese prime minister claimed that American workers were stupid. A protester promptly marched outside the closest Toyota dealership with a sign that read:

    "The Japanese think your stupid"

  29. Kathryn said,

    April 1, 2010 @ 5:20 pm

    Regarding my cryptic hyphen comment:

    Assuming they really meant "our", it's possible that they wanted to make it contrastive: OUR country, as opposed to YOUR country. The letters are all already in caps, so that's not an option for conveying this. Meanwhile, English puts different stress on compounds like greenhouse (blackboard, wetsuit, etc.) as compared to their transparent counterparts (green house, black board, wet suit). So, and this is maybe a long-shot (though not a long shot), is it possible that hyphenating two words has come to be associated with compound *stress*? Although our-country doesn't really make sense (semantically) as a compound (to say nothing of are-country), pronouncing it as a compound does get you stress on "our/are", which can be interpreted in the contrast sense.

  30. jan reynolds said,

    April 2, 2010 @ 8:03 am

    Many pronounce our as r, but most know the word difference and how to spell the word our.

  31. Chris said,

    April 2, 2010 @ 3:30 pm

    "Ebonics" was always a highly politicized term for what most linguists without a political agenda were content to refer to as AAVE or AAE (African American (Vernacular) English).

    As such, "-bonics" seems like it's becoming a useful suffix indicating non-standard linguistic elements that are variously embraced or criticized (by partisans/their enemies). There should be a "-bonics" word for people who switch into other languages to pronounce names.

  32. David Kidd said,

    April 2, 2010 @ 3:41 pm

    @Maribel, Rory, Aaron Toivo:

    Muphry's Law is not a mistake:

  33. Jim said,

    April 2, 2010 @ 3:55 pm

    You are quick to make fun of "TeaBaggers" but where is the outcry for this idiot's error?
    It can be argued that the sign makers are poor proof readers or under educated but in this video clip we see a Democratic Congressman that makes 185k a year believing that islands float about randomly and can tip over, like rafts in an ocean.
    To make matters worse, this idiot actually votes on bills that affect peoples lives.
    Too sad; way too sad.

    [(myl) You're reading too much into this post. My consistent position over the years has been that everyone makes mistakes, including (and even especially) me, and that attempts to turn linguistic "errors" into political capital (whether they're genuine errors, or merely non-standard usage) are a bad idea. However, hypocrisy about such things does deserve an occasional mild rebuke.

    As for your youtube link, if it really shows a congressman expressing his fear that overpopulation will cause the island of Guam to tip over, and not some elaborate and not very funny April Fool's joke, you're certainly justified in mocking him. But a "tu quoque" argument is even more irrelevant in this case than such arguments generally are, since weird beliefs about the physics of islands have nothing to do with semi-literate calls for English literacy.]

  34. Jim said,

    April 2, 2010 @ 3:57 pm


    Oops, in my haste I forgot to include the video URL.
    Who's the idiot now?

  35. Ralph said,

    April 3, 2010 @ 1:21 am

    Is this post really as racist as it seems? Ebonics is a dialect we all know that. One ponders though if signs created by a legitimate Ebonics speakers be spelled any better? Your thoughts…

  36. T,Johnson said,

    April 3, 2010 @ 11:37 am

    I take it you are making the point that Tea Party people speaking Teabonics are as stupid as people that speak Ebonics.

    [(myl) No, not at all.

    In the first place, "Ebonics" (though a slightly silly name) refers to a well-established and entirely respectable (set of) varieties of American English. The people for whom those varieties are native are no less linguistically talented than the speakers of other varieties; and the differences among varieties are not matters of "right" and "wrong" — much less "ignorant" or "stupid" vs. "intelligent" — but simply represent different the norms of different speech communities.

    In the second place, as several commenters have observed, the cited set of photos of signs is apparently focused on issues of spelling and punctuation, not with any aspects of speech at all. Since English spelling has become standardized, it's possible to say that some spellings are "wrong", and whoever made the Flickr collection seems to have had in mind that wrong spellings are commoner on the signs at "tea party" demonstrations than elsewhere. (I don't know whether that's true or not, but it seems plausible based on the pictures that I've seen.)

    But a higher-than-normal incidence of spelling errors is not a "dialect", nor does it have anything at all to do with the variations in speech-community norms that are usually called "dialects". I thought that was too obvious to need explaining, but clearly I was wrong.

    Over the years, we've occasionally poked fun at mis-spelled signs that urge people to learn and use English, the dominant language of this country. This is not because spelling mistakes are generally rare or an appropriate subject for mockery — all of us commit such errors fairly frequently, and I'm an especially frequent offender — but because it's an ironic instance of (what is sometimes called) Muphry's Law, a phenomenon that we also often point out in other cases.

    Overall, people seem to me to be reading way too much into this post, which I guess I should have anticipated, since there are some raw nerves here of several different sorts.]

  37. Bookworm Bill said,

    April 4, 2010 @ 7:37 am


  38. Textwrapper said,

    April 5, 2010 @ 9:16 pm

    "Teabonics" is a great coinage, since these angry people fit neatly into the demographic that scoffed at the very idea of (the unfortunately-named) ebonics.

  39. “Linguicism” – når folk bruger sprog for at skjule racisme « Sprogkursus said,

    April 14, 2010 @ 4:38 am

    […] interesseret i at finde mig i. Og ja, ironisk nok stavede de selv på engelsk med det stereotypiske Teabonics. Nå ja – så har jeg selv lige vist en smule linguicism! Men i dette tilfælde er det […]

  40. John Lawler said,

    May 8, 2010 @ 12:40 pm

    @Textwrapper: It's more than ironic that nobody except one forgotten author had ever used the term Ebonics in the years before the Oakland School Board's famous decision. Let alone the back-formed suffix -bonics used in Teabonics.

    Only racists and the linguistically ignorant still use the word "Ebonics"; it has never been accepted as a technical term in linguistics (where the American black speech spectrum is referred to in general as AAVE – Afro-American Vernacular English). Like "politically incorrect", "Ebonics" is a term used either for derision, or else ironically, to refer to some unfortunate but undiscussable political fact.

    So the choice to call these signs "Teabonics" links their wing nut wielders and their organizations, who get all furious over Obama, to the prior wing nuts that got all furious over Ebonics. Which is the right link.

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