How did Princeton Review get its Taylor Swift lyrics so wrong?

Taylor Swift, you may have heard, is indignant after learning that test prep outfit Princeton Review misquoted one of her lyrics:

Taylor Swift grammar

I couldn’t fit the whole post in one screenshot, but Swift went on to comment, “Not the right lyrics at all pssshhhh. You had one job, test people. One job.” And Swift is right — to a point. The correct lyrics, as she so helpfully points out in the accompanying hashtag, is in fact, “Somebody tells you they love you, you’re gonna believe them.”

But Swift is also wrong. Princeton Review does have, as she says, one job — but not the one she had in mind. The SAT tests grammar, and that’s all Princeton Review was trying to teach. Unless the College Board has drastically reformulated its test in the decade since I took it, there’s no section testing high schoolers on their knowledge of Taylor Swift lyrics. And when it comes to the actual grammar, Princeton Review actually got this one right.

But you wouldn’t know that from the headlines. The story, of course, has become all about the fact that Taylor Swift — she who never actually took the SAT, to the obvious detriment of her career — “schooled” the SAT prep book on grammar. Vanity Fair headlined its story, “Grammar Queen Taylor Swift Delivers Sick Burn to Princeton Review”. And The Independent ran with “Taylor Swift corrects Princeton (sic) after their (sic) SAT grammar correction”.

It’s easy to see how lazy slash illiterate journalists might have come away with the impression that Taylor Swift’s correction had anything to do with Princeton Review’s mastery of grammar: they listened to Swift. Her Tumblr post includes the defiant semi-hashtag, “#ACCUSE ME OF ANYTHING BUT DO NOT ATTACK MY GRAMMAR”, which would be a fair protest on Swift’s part if the grammar #FAIL in question was produced as part of the misquoted lyric. Swift certainly thinks it was, having helpfully applied a hashtag to the word #YOU’RE in order to direct her fans to what she believes earned her a wrongful place in the Princeton Review.

Just one problem: the mistake Princeton Review was looking for had nothing to do with her “You”. And if you don’t believe me, just take one look at the section’s header: “Pronouns”. Certainly, “You’re” includes a pronoun, but the other three examples in this section are about incorrect pronouns (that-who, I-me, me-I), not pronouns that happen to be missing a contraction (you-you‘re). Princeton Review wanted its clients to notice that the last word of both Taylor Swift’s actual lyric and the misquoted version is “them”, plural, which doesn’t match the singular “somebody”. In other words, Princeton Review may have gotten the lyric wrong, but not the grammar — and so was fully within its rights in attacking Tay Tay on this point. (For the record, it’s debatable whether Princeton Review’s correction is actually correct; that said, Swift clearly missed the boat.)

Of course, all this leaves an important question unresolved: How in the world did Princeton Review mess up the lyrics so badly? Vanity Fair, for its part, is thoroughly mystified:

What do we think happened here? Do we think someone deliberately changed the lyrics so they could introduce a grammatical error (beyond a deliberate one like “gonna”) that would fit the question? Did someone at the Princeton Review just remember their Taylor Swift incorrectly? It’s a mystery. But I’m so happy that Swift caught the error and schooled the schoolers. Turns out she was paying attention in high school, not just writing dreamy songs about it.

Turns out, I think the question actually has an easy answer. I googled “taylor swift bad grammar -princeton -sat” (including the last two terms so I wouldn’t get articles about the story making headlines today), and the very first hit was for the “Bad grammar in song lyrics” section of amiright.com, a website “Making fun of music, one song at a time. Since the year 2000.” The site devotes a whole page to a single Taylor Swift correction, which just so happens to introduce the precise incorrect lyric that appears in Princeton Review. The page also bolsters my suspicion of which error the grammar Nazis were really after:

amiright swift

Just to confirm, I performed a little additional investigation, and discovered that the site also picks on the exact Katy Perry and Lady Gaga lyrics cited by Princeton Review, but not the Whitney Houston ones. And if you search google for the more generic “bad grammar song lyrics”, amiright.com turns up as the second hit. Taken together, I think, strong circumstantial evidence that we’ve found our culprit, am I right?

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