March Madness Madness!

Everybody wants to get into the actI think we can all agree that March Madness has jumped the shark. In addition to the actual brackets to the NCAA men’s and women’s basketball tournaments, one can find mock-brackets for such things as public broadcasting hosts, ESPN personalities, and, courtesy of Jezebel, intoxicants. (In early-round action, Champagne topped Smirnoff Ice, weed blew away crack, Margaritas got the better of rubbing alcohol, and caffeine narrowly edged glue.)

I was actually around for the beginning of this trend. In 2006, I was asked to contribute to a book, which was published the following year, called The Enlightened Bracketologist: The Final Four of Everything, edited by Mark Reiter and Richard Sandomir and designed by the great Nigel Holmes. The idea was to get so-called experts to design brackets filled (somewhat arbitrarily) with examples of a subject they were interested in, and pick winners in each round, ultimately selecting a champion. So the book has Rox Roz Chast on animation characters, Ken Jennings on game-show catchphrases, Michael Wex on Yiddish phrases, Kurt Andersen on conspiracy theories, and me on “sins against the language.” (I put the phrase in quotation marks to indicate it should be taken with a measure of irony.)

Here were the 32 entries I chose, paired off in first-round matchups:

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Take a minute, if you like, to make your choices. (Remember, the “winner” will be the thing you think is worse.) Ready? Here are my first-round results:

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Looking back over the winners, I’m OK with all of them, with one exception. Today, I would choose “commas or periods outside quotation marks” (otherwise known as “logical punctuation”), definitely to advance to the second round and possibly a lot farther. My students are wedded to this, and it drives me cuckoo.

I could go on, but I thought it would be fun to throw open this competition to you, the readers. Every day from now till we have a winner, I am going to put a PollDaddy poll on my website,, asking you to choose between two sins. I’ll also put a link to the matches on Twitter and Facebook. Then, at the end of the day, I’ll fill in the results in this actual bracket.

We’ll start today with wordiness versus clichés, which, today only, you can vote on here at Lingua Franca.


Tomorrow I’ll post the result at, and another question. With eight second-round, four quarter-final, and two semifinal matches, we should reach the final in a fortnight. I’ll get back to you when we’re there.

In the meantime, vote.


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