website stats
When I am Copyeditor General ...


Wait - do we already have a Copyeditor General?

My new hero is Annetta Cheek of the Center for Plain Language. She has helped push through the Federal Plain Writing Act (PDF), which mandates that government agencies should write plainly — that is, clearly and in a style that the target audience will understand — in all documents intended for the public.

The CPL website has some nice examples of government language before and after a good old-fashioned plaining.

My favorite:
This rule proposes the Spring/Summer subsistence harvest regulations in Alaska for migratory birds that expire on August 31, 2003.

This rule proposes the Spring/Summer subsistence harvest regulations for migratory birds in Alaska. The regulations will expire on August 31, 2003.
The Plain Language Action and Information Network, a group of federal language nerds I would like to hug, has created a fabulous document (PDF) to help government agencies tighten their texts.

It covers everything from how to organize themes to avoiding passive voice to (let's get seriously basic here) how to write a topic sentence. Oh, and there's a whole section on writing for the web (yay!).

Frankly, I think every organization in the country, from hospitals (I'm looking at you, nice surgeon who advised that I take a pill sublingually) to banks to schools to businesses, needs to print it out, hang it on the wall, memorize it.

The Act goes into effect in October. Prepare yourselves, Feds!

Copyeditor General's ruling: Perhaps the first focus of the Act should be the Act itself, which begins:
To enhance citizen access to Government information and services by establishing that Government documents issued to the public must be written clearly, and for other purposes.
"...should be written clearly, and for other purposes"? What other purposes should it be written for?


Politicians will respect homophones

I know, I abandoned this blog for a long while. This was partly due to time constraints, but also because ... I got a little tired. Bored. Jaded.

I mean, how many times can one comment on poor grammar and egregious typos before one becomes weary? Especially in this heat?

(Sighs, picks up fan, listlessly waves it in general direction of face.)

But then someone gave me a reason to come back.

Guy Glodis.

I'll be honest, I really hadn't given much thought to Guy Glodis. I was aware he was running for political office because some of my neighbors have big GLODIS signs in their yards, but otherwise I knew nothing of the man.

Today, this came in the mail.


I may not know much about politics, but I do know a thing or two about homophones. What Guy Glodis meant to say was that he would do this to financial improvidence:

What his brochure suggests, however, is a little more like this:

Guy Glodis Reigns in Govt Spending

But wait; there's more.

On the back page of the brochure is a quote from Guy Glodis himself:

Popular opinion differs as to the correct use of the apostrophe to denote the possessive in words ending in "s"; however, the court of the Copyeditor General does not listen to popular opinion.

AP style says to "use only an apostrophe" and gives "Kansas' schools" as an example. More specific to Guy Glodis' (see what I did there?) employment goals is this helpful hint from the Style Guide:
The possessive form for Massachusetts is Massachusetts'.
Copyeditor General's ruling: If Guy Glodis really wants to bring an end to governmental profligacy, he might want to start by asking someone to proof his glossy, four-color campaign materials before he sends them to the printer.

And meanwhile, he should listen to the Apostrophe Song.


The president will solve nothing with bathroom tissue

Today in Salon:

Copyeditor General's ruling: There are many ways to approach controversial political issues. However, I don't think we can collect enough Charmin to TP an entire island ...


Johnny Depp will not work the Frialator

More signs of the crumbling economy: celebrities are being forced to take side jobs in restaurants.

(Frogs' legs is a dish with which the actor is apparently familiar ...)

Copyeditor General's ruling: I'm sure the versatile Mr. Depp would have no problems keeping up in the kitchen. But shouldn't he concentrate on his movie career?


There will be no "there" there

Copyeditor General's ruling: You know, Grauniad, I sometimes dream of a day when I won't find a typo somewhere in your content.


Temptation will be permanent

Many companies are looking for ways to cut costs these days; one common solution is to replace full-time employees with workers hired through staffing agencies. With no benefits or (albeit worthless) retirement plans to worry about, businesses can see significant savings.

But just because temping is useful in the business world, there's no reason to try to apply it to all areas of life.

And my favorite, because it's from a site called Taking Children Seriously:

Copyeditor General's ruling: I see no good reason to hire out your dinner service, your children's palate or yourself—not even if the devil is running the company.


Cupid will trade his bow for a red pen

Happy Valentine's Day! Please accept these tokens of my esteem.

First, of course, a card with a heartfelt message:

And then some thoughtful gifts:

Copyeditor General's ruling: Nothing says "I love you" like a long, slow, passionate session of heavy proofreading.

Good grammar will make bath time lots of fun

Allow me to translate:

Ducky Is by the Dozen
Rubber Ducky You Are in Possession of The One

Who doesn't love rubber ducky is? They've been around since the created of the 1800 ...

It's even rumored that Queen Elizabeth owned a rubber ducky (which, being in the past tense, implies either Liz or her bath toy are no longer with us)!

It (Her Majesty's duck, apparently) became hugely popular ... and since then has achieved iconic status in the USA (which explains why Liz no longer has the duck; it's headlining at Caesar's Palace next month).

Now days (who needs extra vowels anywy?) ... it's one of our most popular theme baby gifts (any thoughts on this one? Popular theme-baby? No?).

Copyeditor General's ruling: This apparent ignorance of basic grammar makes me so tense. I need a tubby filled with water and nice fluffy suds.


A dictionary will be as vital as a compass

Imagine you're out on the Appalachian Trail, running low on gorp, trying to figure out whether you can make it to the next shelter before nightfall.

Do you rely on your equipment to guide you to safety? Do you have a whistle with a clear tone, a reliable compass, a strong light to illuminate your path?

Or do you have this?

Oh, you think that's going to help you through the woods, do you? (Wait—was that an owl or a coyote? Are there bears in these parts?)

Perhaps you should have paid closer attention to the packaging. The manufacturer certainly didn't.

Copyeditor General's ruling: Now how safe do you feel?


In politics, dog years will not count

Friday's Guardian included an op-ed piece on the new Democratic senator for New York that began like this:

Copyeditor General's ruling: Dog years are long, and donkey's years are longer; still, I don't think the country is ready for animal politicians, regardless of their political longevity. For now, let's stick to measuring experience in man—or, for that matter, woman— years.


Hans will be banned from the kitchen

I was excited to discover that Boston University offers a variety of food and wine sessions, including an intensive 14-week culinary arts program that includes some of the area's top chefs (Jaques Pepin! Ana Sortun! Barbara Lynch! Jody Adams!) on the faculty.

And then I realized why it might not be such a fun experience:

I'm not exactly sure what it means, but it doesn't sound particularly appetizing, does it?

And as we're already perusing the page, let's note the inconsistency in class size. First it's this:

And then it's this:

Copyeditor General's ruling: Good cooking is about attention to detail. I hope that's more important to the culinary instructors than it is to the BU website's editor.


Retrospectives will be pretty

It's customary to end the year (or begin the next) with a summary of previous events; my Year in Review comes courtesy of Wordle, a fun site that transforms text into word clouds.

Here's to another year of finding typos, grammatical errors and proofreading failures; let's hope there's not too much to do!

Parking will be thorough and careful

This sign is doubtless familiar to anyone who passes the Changsho restaurant on Mass Ave in Cambridge, and it's certainly worth sharing with the rest of the world:

And in case you're wondering what that means:

Copyeditor General's ruling: If you feel the need to visit Changsho, I suggest you walk.

Spas will get the deep-cleansing treatment

For Christmas/birthday this year, the Copyeditor General is going to New York, to include a visit to a Spa To Be Named Later. Wisely, location and treatment decisions have been left in her hands. And so to Google.

What does one look for in a spa website? Treatment descriptions, prices, photos, of course. And also cleanliness, professionalism, attention to detail. You want assurance that the service will be perfect.

All right, perhaps it's enough to feel safe; when you're on a table, encased in mud and Saran wrap, unable to move, you at least want to know a creepy admirer isn't lurking outside.

Uh-oh. Okay, so how's this: at the very least, you want to be treated as an individual, not given some cookie-cutter experience. You want reassurance that the spa is not just half-heartedly following a template.

Copyeditor General's ruling: Reading an imperfect spa website is like discovering discarded flip-flops in your locker or getting a facial from an esthetician with a cold. In the above cases, extensive deep-tissue massage is required.

Christmas will not be so commercial

The economy is in freefall, and 40% of Americans plan to spend less on Christmas this year.

So how is a retailer supposed to encourage people to buy its products? By advertising them in every possible place. Seen in the Christmas Tree Store:

Copyeditor Generals' ruling: Is there any more insidious way for the True Meaning of Christmas (TMOC) to be overwhelmed by crass commercialism? These tree skirts have 24 pockets, presumably so a new promo can be unveiled every day leading up to December 25.

Anyway, that's not how you do Christmas advertising;
this is how you do Christmas advertising:


Facebook advertisers will be forced to proofread

I've already said plenty about the grammar on Facebook. The users don't drive me nuts; it's the advertisers.

Now that it's a simple (if not cheap) process to promote an online business, it appears the hard work of writing pleasing ad copy is being taken out of the hands of marketing communications professionals and dropped in the laps of either interns or monkeys.

Copyeditor General's ruling: I think we all know who the idiot is in this situation.


The English will not be afraid of snow

Doutbless this will have been corrected by the time you see it, but I couldn't let this howler from the December 2 Guardian homepage pass unnoticed:

Copyeditor General's ruling: I've seen cars in the UK spin out on a light dusting of snow, so I know it makes people nervous. But is such a dramatic reaction really necessary?


Not even the President will be off-limits (Sir)

Dear President-elect Obama,

I see you're currently choosing your Cabinet. That's great. It's important to make the right decisions and bring in the right people. There's a lot of cleaning up to be done, and you're going to need help.

May I present, for your consideration, the possibility of a new, nominated position under the Department of Education?

I see this role as being responsible for maintaining standards of grammatical competence in all communications from commercial, non-profit and government organzations to the public: signage, posters, ads, websites — you name it. Heaven knows there are plenty of examples to justify the need.

It's time for the Copyeditor General.

I should warn you that this role should have a free hand to stamp out typos, punctuation errors and usability issues wherever they occur. And that goes right to the top, sir.

Let me explain.

It's great that your people have created to keep us up to date with the transition toward January 20. But I need to draw your attention to a few areas.

There's the serial comma issue, for instance. Are you for it or against it?

Here's the best one, sadly too large to embed here in a readable size: a paragraph that gives it to you both ways.

There are other hiccups on the site, both small and easily overlooked:

And large and frankly shocking, like the dropdown menu that (at least through yesterday) linked from this:

to this:

Thankfully, this last has now been fixed. But how long did it take?

Copyeditor General's ruling: Drop me an email, sir. I'll be waiting.

Oh, also, could you find a post for Melinda? She brought the serial comma issue to my attention, which means she's Deputy of the Week. Thanks.


Fruit baskets won't contain metadata

I haven't had much time do begin holiday shopping (or to do anything else for that matter), so this morning I tried to kick-start the process online. Unfortunately, I got derailed pretty quickly.

During a search for organic fruit-of-the-month clubs in the UK (of which there are none, it seems--there's a niche waiting to be filled), I came across the site for Pomona Fruit Baskets.

It certainly looked inviting enough.

There was a page describing the health benefits of their fruit selection:

So far, so good.

But when I went to check out the "Buy a fruit basket" page, the menu that dropped down showed this:

And the pages underneath had things like:

Copyeditor General's ruling: There's certainly nothing wrong with buying an off-the-shelf template for your company website, Pomona. But you should pick over the code and harvest out the pages that detract from the site's overall quality and visual appeal.

I mean, you wouldn't leave wrinkled grapes on a bunch, or keep moldy apples next to fresh ones, or pack over-ripe bananas underneath pineapples, would you?

Or would you?


Detail-oriented brands will check the details

I'm staying at a golf resort in Orlando, one of those frighteningly new places that seem to have risen, fully stocked with fresh towels and $25 breakfasts, out of the Florida swamp.

Everything is neat and clean and bright and climate-controlled; on a stroll through the grounds early this morning, I didn't encounter a single fellow-guest, but I did see a dozen different people whose job seemed to be preventing the grass from becoming disorderly.

So you can imagine my complete and utter delight at discovering this offering on the dessert wine list:

Copyeditor General's ruling: If your brand is centered around "superior service" and "four-diamond luxury accommodations," it's a good bet that your clientele knows its way around a wine list—or at least around an atlas. Typos like this make me wonder where else you're cutting corners.


Lewis Black won't change a thing

You've probably heard of Lewis Black, the angry truth-teller who rants about politics and culture.

Aggressive, visceral, supremely confident in his opinions. Seems like a masculine individual, right?

So I was very surprised to find this in my Twitter feed earlier this week:

Oh, Lewis! Is your message what I think it is?

Copyeditor General's ruling: Turns out that no, Lewis is not becoming Louise. The message is just a rant that "doctors" should hurry up and "cure cancer," because, as everyone knows, cancer is a single disease that can be fixed with one simple magic bullet. But that's an angry rant for another day.


Hallowe'en will not scare me

There are only eight more days to Hallowe'en (and yes, it has an apostrophe, dammit!) and I still don't know what to wear. I could go with something topical, such as:

Well, that must be an anomaly, because—

Oh, come on! The guy has only been front-page news for the last two years; it's not as though you've had no chance to see his name written down.

But I understand; his name is unusual. At least that (other) one has a more common name:

Okay, maybe we should move away from politics. How about dressing as a pop star?

Hm ... some sort of Spears/Spongebob hybrid, perhaps?

Apparently it's just too much trouble for some companies to spellcheck the names of extremely famous people.

How about a historical costume?

Perhaps we should look to more traditional Hallowe'en disguises: ghosts and witches and so on. And then what?

All right, that's it. No costumes at all this year. I'll just decorate the house. Does anyone have any tips?

Copyeditor General's ruling: I'm considering spending October 31 in an abandoned hospital next to a cemetery where bats roost. After seeing the frightening amount of poorly proofed Hallowe'en copy, it won't be scary at all.
Add to Technorati Favorites