"A noun's a special kind of word.
It's any name you've ever heard.
I find it quite interesting --
A noun's a person, place, or thing."
-- Schoolhouse Rock, sometime in the '70s

As the old fogey among the full-timers here on the Fool's online copy desk, I remember hearing those infectious Schoolhouse Rock ditties in between Saturday morning cartoons as I was growing up. Since I now make my living by working with words, I guess all that time I spent listening to the likes of "Conjunction Junction" and "Lolly, Lolly, Lolly, Get Your Adverbs Here" must have had an effect on me.

Apparently, the folks at Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX) weren't listening quite as intently back in the day.

Here's the deal. I walked into my local Starbucks a few days ago to order my daily fix. As I was waiting for the barista to make my brew, I glanced at the merchandise on the shelves. Most of it I'd either seen before or had already bought. Yes, Starbucks takes a lot of my paycheck -- I'm such a sucker for slick marketing. Still, I was able to pass up a CD compilation celebrating the company's 35th anniversary, despite the cool retro mermaid design on the cover, the groovy typefaces, and the even groovier music that lay within.

But then a cute little coffee mug caught my eye, and I almost snatched it up. Almost. I thought it would be a great addition to my desk at Fool HQ. It was emblazoned with a winning word from a past Scripps (NYSE:SSP) National Spelling Bee.

Remember back a few months ago, when Starbucks was wrapping your grande soy vanilla no-whip half-pipe triple-salchow latte in a funky green cardboard holder? Every sleeve had one of those winning words printed on it. The company was doing this to promote the feel-good family flick Akeelah and the Bee, the story of a disadvantaged girl who makes it to the Big Bee.

The movie didn't do so well. But the merchandise promoting it -- in particular, this adorable little mug, which is apparently making its appearance in tandem with the Akeelah DVD release -- would be enough to make Noah Webster cry.

Oh, the word on the mug was spelled correctly. But the word was meticulosity. And printed below it was this inscription:

adj: extreme attention to detail.

The delicious irony is that those of us who pay extreme attention to detail can tell you that meticulosity isn't an adjective. Meticulous is an adjective. Meticulosity is a noun.

So is Starbucks trying to mess with grammarians' heads, or did the makers of the mugs just goof up? I'm guessing the latter.

After I got over my initial attack of the vapors, I began to appreciate the humor inherent in this blunder by a company that so often gets caught up in its own hubris. I mean, let's face it: Starbucks makes a mean cuppa joe, but it also comes off as comically self-important at times. We all know that Starbucks loves to pat itself on the back for catering to the self-styled highbrows among us, right? Knowing it would be in big trouble without the DINKs and yuppies and dudes with gray ponytails who populate its ubiquitous stores, Starbucks goes out of its way to sustain a certain do-gooder atmosphere. Its company bigshots go on about things like social responsibility, even though they've plowed headlong into Communist China, where human rights are far from guaranteed and political liberties are abstractions at best. As for the pretentiousness at Starbucks, let's just say I was only half-joking about the name of that drink a few sentences back. And why the heck is a tall a small, anyway?

All this, yet the company can't distinguish an adjective from a noun.

I tease because I love, of course. Starbucks does indeed do a lot of good for impoverished coffee growers, for the environment, and for local communities. And I'm all about SRI. But sometimes, you need to get your bubble burst so that you don't get too full of yourself. That just happened, quite unwittingly, to Starbucks.

Note to mug designers: Knowledge is power!

Starbucks is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation. Take a sip of Tom and David Gardner's market-beating newsletter service -- it's on the house for the first 30 days.

Fool online editor and DINK hubby Adrian Rush was founded in 1971, just like Starbucks. He can quit drinking quad venti mochas anytime. Really. He's also a Starbucks and Scripps shareholder, and he eventually bought the CD. The Fool's disclosure policy is as satisfying as a sweet ristretto shot.