The Number One Most Common Mistake in Internet Lists

Gamera the Giant Flying Turtle: Not Sexy

Gamera the Giant Flying Turtle: Not Sexy

See what I did there?

My title should either be: The Number One Most Common Mistake in Internet Lists or The Number One Most Common Mistake in Internet Lists. There can only be one “most common” mistake, so it is unnecessary to specify further.

I wish online-content creators understood the redundancy of the constructions “top ten most” and “top ten best.” You can either list The Ten Best Australian Jai Alai Players of 1948 or The Top Ten Australian Jai Alai Players of 1948. Writing The Top Ten Best Australian Jai Alai Players of 1948 is the same thing as saying you lack proficiency in grammar and composition.

I mean, is there a different group of “top ten” Australian jai alai players from 1948 that necessitates the introduction of best as a modifier? The top ten most average players of 1948? The top ten most last-minute cuts from the team?

I’m not referring to blog posts by new writers trying to learn as they go along. We all try, make mistakes, and grow. I’m talking about Yahoo! and Buzzfeed and Huffington Post and all the other big, fluff-heavy infotainment sites where professional writers are paid to ruin productivity at offices everywhere by distracting us with top-ten lists.

If you are thinking of dipping your toe into the high-stakes pool* of internet list making, here’s a basic guideline on how to construct your title: If the first word after the number is an adjective, drop the “top.”

Example: The Top Five Sexiest Japanese Monsters.

Since “sexiest” is an adjective, drop “top” and change it to The Five Sexiest Japanese Monsters.

[For the record, the five sexiest Japanese monsters are Mechagodzilla (the 1974 version), Gigan, Godzilla, Battra, and the Brown Gargantua]

Gigan: Now there's an attractive monster.

Gigan: Now there’s an attractive monster.

You have more leeway in the absence of an adjective. With a noun, you can either drop the “top” or eliminate the modifier.

Example: The Top 29 Best Colors for Scotch™ Tape Dispensers.

The Top 29 Colors for Scotch™ Tape Dispensers works just as well as The 29 Best Colors for Scotch™ Tape Dispensers. Although, on a side note, I think this is a terrible idea for a list. Once you get past “green” and “clear,” you’re probably going to hit a wall.

Any particular writing mistake you notice over and over again in your cyberspace adventures?


*Yikes. Maybe I should do a post on embarrassingly bad metaphors.

31 responses to “The Number One Most Common Mistake in Internet Lists

  • ygm17

    How about this kind of headline ‘Stop Wasting Time With These Productivity Tools’. Wrong word order! Now I really don’t want to read that article. Or those headlines that over promise and under deliver. I have to agree with you I find ‘top’ anything lists very distracting and tedious. I want to learn something. ‘Best of’ are more interesting. PS. I had to look up Jai Alai 😀

  • Arkenaten

    So therefore a list of my favorite Top Test best most promising under thirty most fittest bustiest big boobed female women on earth ever in the last ten years since 1994 would likely in all probability be a tad over the top ….maybe?

  • Kevin Brennan

    The late ’40s: Golden Age of Jai Alai.

  • nrhatch

    I just searched SLTW for posts using “10” in the title.

    I breathed a HUGE sigh of relief when my search did not reveal these amateurish mistakes. 😎

    BTW: I love Top 10 Lists:

    * Top 10 Lists give us 10 chances to get readers to agree with us. That’s like getting 10 bites at the apple. If you take big bites, that’s almost the whole apple, which is great . . . since an apple a day keeps the doctor away.

    * Top 10 Lists allow us to count our thoughts before they hatch. Warning: Sharing thoughts without necessary gestation and incubation may result in claims of premature ejaculation.

    * Top 10 Lists make anatomical sense. We have 10 fingers, we might as well put them to good use.

    Happy Fourth!

    • ericjbaker

      No wonder Kali, The Hindu Goddess, always writes top-30 lists. She has six arms!

      Some books I’ve read say she has more than six arms, but I can’t multiply 5 by any number higher than 6, so I’m going with that.

      One of the worst such lists is one I saw recently naming “Ten movies that ruined their stars’ careers.” First on the list was The Sixth Sense for ruining Haley Joel Osment’s career. Um, wasn’t that his first role? The text explained that, although he went on to star in several more films, he hasn’t worked much lately.


      I think that list-maker is not ready for the big leagues yet.

  • diannegray

    Maybe people still think the word ‘top’ is a draw card and when you add ‘most’, ‘best’ and ‘top ten’ you’ve got readers hooked. Yahoo! and Buzzfeed and Huffington Post are the Top Three Most Worst for this.

  • Jill Weatherholt

    You’re such a great teacher, Eric, despite your scare tactics with Giant Flying Turtles. My favorite countdown will always be, Saturday night and Casey Kasem’s America Top 40. I remember using my 70’s tape recorder to tape it when I was a kid.
    Have a great 4th of July!

  • Gwen Stephens

    The grammatical mistake that irks me occurs on airlines, when the flight attendants make their announcements. They all seem to have a tendency to use the word “do” unnecessarily. For example, “We do ask that you remain seated until the captain has turned off the fasten seat belt sign.” Or “We do appreciate your business.” In both cases, “do” is completely unnecessary.

    My other perennial pet peeve is the overuse of the word “basically” in everyday speech. Again, in almost every case, it’s unnecessary!

    • ericjbaker

      Perhaps people feel that adding “do” lends weight to what they are saying, the same way they say, “Individual” in place or “person.” I used to edit someone who wrote “does” before verbs, as in, “He does seem hungry.” A weird quirk.

      One of my professors used to say “basically” at least 25 times per lecture. Someone could have recorded her and used it for a drinking game later.

  • Sue Archer

    LOL on ” paid to ruin productivity at offices everywhere.” What annoys me is a title that has nothing to do with the actual post but everything to do with making you want to read it. For shame, people!

    • ericjbaker

      Internet content says quite a lot about human nature, doesn’t it? No wonder the aliens don’t visit anymore. They get Buzzfeed on their planet now, and they are scared of us.

  • Janna G. Noelle

    I’d never heard of jai alai prior to this post. Who says the internet isn’t educational?

    But you do make a good point about “top 10 best” lists. I’m not sure if I’ve ever been guilty of that or not. In general, I try to avoid reading list-type clickbait like this anyway (particularly on Buzzfeed and HuffPo), as they’re almost never as clever as the headlines themselves (which, as you just demonstrated, aren’t all that clever at all).

    Like that five sexiest Japanese monsters list. Brown Gargantua? As if!

    • ericjbaker

      I admit that the Brown Gargantua is a left-field choice, but he is by far the most soulful and the deepest thinker of all the kaiju.

      True story: War of the Gargantuas is the only Japanese “suit-mation” movie in which the monster actor’s real eyes are used.*

      *yes, you can see the actor’s real eyes in Frankenstein Conquers the World, but that actor isn’t wearing a monster suit, so it doesn’t count.**

      **There’s nothing I can reverse your belief that I am a total dork, is there? I mean, it is waaaay too late for that.

  • Marylin Warner

    When I was teaching high school English, Eric, you would have been a very popular guest speaker. Your style is very effective.
    Now, I’m waiting for post on embarrassingly bad metaphors!

  • Richard Leonard

    I remember someone ranting about “New and Improved”. Was that you? If something is new it couldn’t have existed before in order to improve. If it’s improved it can’t be new.
    As far as I know, no self-respecting Australian plays Jai Alai. Not even back in 1948. It’s either AFL Football, Rugby or Cricket. Anything else and you’re considered a foreigner. The closest acceptable sport would be squash and even that could raise eyebrows! 😉

    • ericjbaker

      Not me, but the marketing and advertising world surely offers plenty of material for grammar posts.

      Don’t deny your cultural heritage in jai alai! Even if I invented it. 😉

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