Style, Dammit. F#%@ing Style.

If you’ve ever been prescribed an overly crippling dose of William Strunk’s The Elements of Style, then you know how painful it is to read prose about (sometimes dated) grammatical rules written in a stilted, stuffy cadence circa 1918.

Enter, thankfully, The Elements of F*cking Style, published this year and written by Chris Baker and Jacob Hansen. While the scope and aim of the work is similar to that of the original Elements of Style—and while a subtle, persnickety insistence on prescriptive practices finds its way into the book, such as the authors’ assertion that “The active voice is the only way to fly”—F*cking Style employs a seemingly age-old trick to cajole, coerce, and even downright convince the most ungrammatical of grammar non-nerds to leaf through its pages: “using sex, drugs, and fucking swearing. . . . Because we’re into that shit.”

A quick glance through the “Table of Fucking Contents” illustrates that the book covers the basics, as it were. Such sections as “Commas are fucking fun,” “A colon is more than an organ that gets cancer,” and “Pronouns are a real bitch” walk readers through the usefulness of, say, using commas “to parenthesize shit,” and a general adherence to grammatical rules that will keep your writing clear and cogent. Subsequent sections delve more deeply into instructions on writing, with pages devoted to using “strong, definite language in your writing”—in an attempt to “Make that sentence your bitch”—parallel construction, organized under the apt (I guess) moniker of “Symmetry is the tits,” and organization of words, thoughts, and paragraphs, under the section “Incest need not stay relegated to European monarchies; keep related words together for clarity.” A real strength of this work is the entire section on “Words Your Bound to Fuck Up,” a helpful guide to its and it’s; they’re, their, and there; and affect and effect—among other words—that we have all fucked up at some point or another.

However, the talent the authors display for vivid imagery and example writing that would make your mother cringe (as well as get her to understand grammar rules) makes the book funnier than a night of shitty Dane Cook stand-up on Comedy Central. For instance:

On symmetry: “All right, remember what we wrote about half a page ago regarding symmetry? About how it sucks big, flaccid penis and stinks of amateurism?”

On the positive form: “It was not that I studied more, but that I smoked pot less.”

On not “fuck[ing] up the coordination of number between subject and verb”: “Everything I loved about her—the pert breasts, the deviant sexuality, the incessant need to videotape our lovemaking—is everything that haunts me.”

As I read my way through F*cking Style, I will no doubt arrive at points where that aforementioned subtle, persnickety insistence on prescriptive practices inspires a bit of blog-mediated rambling and arguing. At which point, I hope, you will join me—for or against—in the fucking comments section, and criticize or applaud the shit out of whatever the fuck it is I’m saying.

Only Wussies Watch Soccer, Mind You

If you, like I, took any interest in watching the U.S. women’s national [soccer] team defeat team after team in the women’s World Cup bracket, you were undoubtedly streaming or watching live the final match between U.S. and Japan this Sunday. And while it was painful to see them lose in a shootout after leading Japan by a goal in extra time—the collapse brought back memories of the U.S. men’s national team losing to Brazil in the Confederations Cup final after leading them by two goals—the story I was following more intently was one published the day before the women’s World Cup final.

Published in the Wall Street Journal was a story about male fans of women’s soccer resorting to manufacturing their own custom jerseys, since the women’s soccer uniforms are cut in a way that prevents most men from donning them. It was in the comments section online that the real storyline unfolded, as one male reader cited the article as further evidence of the “woosification of the modern American male”—and, you know, not just a fluff article on men looking to find suitable, wearable jerseys for cheering on the U.S. women’s soccer team. The underlying premise, it appears, is that to further feminize the world’s most feminine sport—and, moreover, to have men looking for ways to cheer on women’s soccer, let alone men’s soccer—is to further emasculate the American male.

All this over a damn game of football.

Before I get all high-and-mighty, a prefatory statement: the overall issue here, this one about confusion over gender roles and the appropriate “spheres” for men and women (and you thought that argument died at the Seneca Falls Convention…), is far more complex than any pithy treatment it can be given in a blog post. In general, it seems (see what I did there?) that the popular narrative is one of self-empowerment if women choose to be single; for men to be single is to identify themselves as underdeveloped man-boys who need women to kick our asses into shape (which is a concept I don’t buy whatsoever).

However, we’re dealing with the far more important issue of men becoming wussies by cheering for women’s soccer…

What the charge ultimately betrays in popular male thinking is our discomfort in seeing or depicting women as anything other than sexual objects. We’re wussies if we cheer on U.S. women’s soccer, but if we purchase any number of magazines out there that publish full-page color photographs of beautiful women clad in nothing but slinky underthings (I should add that I am a consumer of those magazines; no, not Playboy), we’re men. Nevermind the fact that our behavior dictates that we’ll never actually be able to “bag” one of those “hotties”; as long as we can prove to ourselves and each other that we know when it’s appropriate to “cheer on” women—say, when we’re jerking off ourselves—we’re not wussies.

The entire connection between cheering on U.S. women’s soccer and the progressive “woosification” of the American male is, of course, ludicrous and a load of bunk. If anything, I would argue, such charges of wussification further explicitly demonstrate that a growing meritocracy with respect to roles and positions of men relative to women in the 21st century has utterly confused the uniquely American perspective on “being a man.” In the past—think 1950s, for instance—being a man was easy to define, because men worked, made money, and provided for the family. Today, with the issue more muddied—since women can earn money and provide for themselves—society tends to look to outside markers as barometers for what manliness is. So, drink 20 beers and you’re alright; cheer on women’s soccer, and you’re a pussy.

Nevermind, again, that the pussy might actually be the man providing for his family. Or that George Washington wore tights. Or that Frank Sinatra sang songs. Or that some NFL players do yoga and ballet in the off-season to maintain their agility and flexibility.

In any event, any such “woosification” of the American male has nothing to do with cheering on women’s soccer. What it does indicate is allegiance to a set of superficial, artificial markers of male-dom, ones that have nothing to do with being a man—things like dressing well, speaking with elocution, providing for yourself, setting good examples for younger men—and everything to do with appearing to be a man.

So watch as much soccer as you want, as long as you can pay your own cable bill. And for the love of God, pour out your Natty Light.

Be Careful Where You Stand

Readers following this blog know that I’ve been happily (and gainfully) employed as the Digital Media Editor for Baltimore’s Urbanite magazine since April’s end. It’s a fine job, one that entails largely the understanding and analysis of how readers interact with the Web—from where Urbanite‘s traffic comes (direct links versus referring sites, for instance), in what ways online publications can boost online and mobile readership, and some strategy with respect to how traditionally print publications can attract online readership and loyalty while still turning a profit.

And then, of course, there’s some additional wrangling with various content management system fixes, editing of e-mail newsletters, and the share of writing for the print magazine.

One part of the job I wasn’t alerted to initially was the task of proofreading the magazine (though it certainly wasn’t a task I took on begrudgingly, having learned the importance of editing from former professor turned internship supervisor turned professional colleague, John McIntyre).

In one story, I noted the author’s use of the word “podium,” which was intended as that wooden thing people stand behind while giving a speech or lecture of some kind. At once the blue pen came out. I quickly changed the aforementioned word to “lectern” and forgave the error.

The word “podium,” from the Greek root “podos,” meaning foot (do a Google search), is the wooden dais upon which a person stands so as to be slightly elevated. The “lectern,” derived from the Latin “legere,” meaning to read—it turns out that preparatory school education served some purpose—is the wooden stand, often with a slanted top, behind which a person stands to read from prepared remarks or a book.

In all probability, the distinction—like the “who-whom” distinction—will eventually die out, and either word will suffice for a person thinking of a podium (but actually meaning lectern). Until then, I’ll continue to insist that words have definitions for a reason.

Ch- Ch- Ch- Check it Out

No, this isn’t a post paying homage to the Beastie Boys.

I was away from the blogosphere for the entirety of last week, as virtually all my time was spent writing up web copy and doing troubleshooting for Urbanite magazine’s new Foursquare game, The Great Baltimore Check-In. It’s 89 places in and around Baltimore that we’ve picked. Eighty-nine places that we know are worth, well, checking out.

In the most unbiased-biased way I can put this: This is a Foursquare game worth checking out. Get to checking in, Baltimore.

And if you’re looking to eat up some time, consider some of these short reads, straight from the July 2011 issue of Urbanite:

1. Help Comes Tapping: Can an unlikely duo from the city’s local arts scene save the Edgar Allan Poe House?

2. Perfect Gentleman: Ken Himmelstein knows that some men just want a crisp white shirt.