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When I am Copyeditor General ...: June 2007


Professionals will deserve the title

I'm signed up for a bunch of industry newsletters on email strategy, web usability, SEO, online marketing. Every day I spend a good chunk of time reading subject lines and buh-leating those that seem irrelevant (yes, the research is correct; that is how people make their email-opening decisions). That still leaves a hearty handful that get my complete attention.

And I guess, statistically speaking, some proportion of all commercial messages are bound to contain typos and grammatical errors.

So why is it especially noticeable--or at least more likely to get me riled up--when the mistakes come from communications professionals?

From MediaPost's Search Insider newsletter of June 22:
"At more then 44.3 million, the Hispanic population is the largest of the minority groups ..."

From Sean D'Souza's Psychotactics newsletter of June 26:
"So when someone is speaking, you need to listen to what they're saying in it's entirety. "

I must point out that both of the above titles are great resources (I invariably find a useful nugget in Sean's pieces). But when fundamental goofs like these catch my eye, I lose a little trust in the overall message.

How can I accept the credibility of the views of these experts if they haven't mastered the basics?

Copyeditor General's ruling: Professional communicators should take a look through their grammar books. Or at least have a diligent proofreader read their copy before hitting the "send" button.


Daycare centers will have dictionaries

I'm on the mailing list for a local caterer/personal chef. While her emails are often informative--noting neighborhood farmers' markets, tasting nights, etc.--today's communication was promoting a fundraiser at her daughter's preschool.

The email marketing ethics (no, really, there are such things) of sending an non-business-related request for donations aside, what particularly struck me was the note about the raffle on the daycare center's website:

Copyeditor General's ruling: At birth, every child will be presented with a mandatory copy of the American Heritage Dictionary. If grown-ups can't get the hang of accurate spelling, what chance do children have?


Inaugural Deputy of the Week!

Someone signing himself "The last bastion," but with an email address suspiciously similar to that of my parents, submitted the following rant:

Basically, I'm actually really, really fed up.

I know the use of words like the above are not errors in the grammatical sense but their constant overuse makes me shout at the radio or tv so I miss the point of the discussion. Repeating words like lovely (that is a lovely, lovely dress) is the habit of gushing celebrity commentators and as such can be forgiven. What gets my goat is when hard-news readers and the like fall into the same lazy patterns or refer to children as "kids".

Do you yourself personally agree?

Yours in agreement,
The last bastion

How can I disagree with my dad? Okay, I've spent the last 30-ahem years doing so, but here he has a point. I'm sure CNN had higher grammatical standards back when it was a real news channel, but now there are typos on the ticker and high-school-level linguistic lapses.

At least now I know where I inherited the "shouting at the TV" gene.

Plus he's right about "I, personally ..."--that drives me nuts. As does "very unique," which crops up much more than it should.

Copyeditor General's ruling: People should think before they speak. Especially if they have news-anchor hair.

And yay to my dad for being the inaugural Deputy of the Week! Send me your personal goat-getters and I'll give you ranting space, too!

I should come up with some kind of shiny badge, shouldn't I?


Libraries will stay above the belt

I have a theory that cities attempting to reinvent themselves follow an almost formulaic pattern of investment in tourism. It begins with an aquarium (on the reinvigorated waterfront where applicable). Then there's a modern art museum, done in steel and glass if they can't get Gehry. And then, to illustrate liberalism and openness, a museum of erotic history appears.

There's one in Amsterdam, natch. And also in Paris, New York, Frankfurt, Berlin, Barcelona and London.

(I'm not giving you links. This is a respectable blog, mostly. Go find them yourself.)

Anyway, my point is that these new tourist attractions are largely unnecessary, because there are hundreds--nay, thousands--of libraries throughout the world already offering similar services.

At least that's how it appears, according to my research.

Copyeditor General's ruling: Librarians really need to proof their websites more carefully.


Sheep will be bold

I know sheep are, by their nature, timid beasts. But it's sad that, according to the Massachusetts Agricultural Fairs 2007 schedule, this trait is now being exploited for the benefit of onlookers.

Copyeditor General's ruling: Sheep should learn to stand up for themselves.


Signage will have universal meaning

Apologies if you already read this on LimeyG Bends Yer Lughole.

This is the warning in the parking lot at Stone Zoo:

"No live parking? What's that?" I asked The Boy.

"Dunno," he said. "Maybe it means no tailgating."

I had to search around online before I discovered it meant "no sitting in the parking lot with the engine running."

In other words, no idling.

Why couldn't they just say that? It's a much more common phrase. A Google search shows 93,000 results for "no idling," but only 30 for "no live parking." And they were almost all in Massachusetts, so it's obviously a regionalism (and therefore the logical wording to post at a location that may attract out-of-state visitors).

Copyeditor General's ruling: make sure your audience understands what you're trying to tell them.


On the other hand, I did get this fabulous shot of the jaguar:

Hey, I have one of those at home:

Cliché will always be a noun

You know that scene at the end of The Usual Suspects, where Agent Kujan pieces together fragments of Verbal Kint's story and realizes he's Keyser Söze? (No spoiler alert; if you haven't seen it yet, you deserve to have the twist revealed to you.)

Back in the early '90s, I found an incorrect use of the word cliché in Entertainment Weekly. And suddenly I realized I'd been seeing this over and over in print. It was beyond editorial understanding.

Examples? How about the 13,000 that appear in a Google search for "it was cliche"?

Or the 99,000 that show up for "so cliche"--one of which, on the first SERP, appears to have been written by a university librarian?

Compare these to the paltry 42,000 results for "such a cliche" and the 10,000 for "what a cliche" and it becomes clear that the majority of people writing online don't understand the simple fact that cliché is a frickin' noun.

The adjective is clichéd. With a frickin' d at the end.

Maybe part of the problem is that cliché itself has become something of a cliché.

Copyeditor General's ruling: If you can't use platitude, truism, bromide, stereotype, chestnut, or buzzword, and if you don't want to describe something as hackneyed, inane, vapid or trite, please don't say anything at all.

When I am Copyeditor General

I'm not trying to set myself up as the world authority on grammar here. There are many career copyeditors and lifelong language experts, people who know The Elements of Style by heart and can cite chapter and verse from the Chicago Manual and spend their leisure time debating the finer points of the subjunctive on discussion boards.

I don't claim to be at their level.

I have, however, spent years observing the decline of basic language proficiency, pervasive at every level of learning and communication.

I've known elementary-school teachers who couldn't spell. I've heard students in college journalism courses giggle that they "never really got the hang of punctuation." I've seen a rise in the repeated misuse of words in reputable publications.

I have no illusions. I know this blog isn't going to change anything. It's really just somewhere for me to get it off my chest.

You may encounter typos here. You'll probably find fault with some of my grammar. Feel free to complain.

And if you encounter any worthy additions to this space, please send them along. I'll make you my Deputy of the Week!
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