website stats
When I am Copyeditor General ...: August 2007


Frozen yogurt will be served

Some of the best (or worst) examples of poor language skills appear when unexpected circumstances arise and a change in policy, service or process needs to be communicated.

Yesterday I found two lovely examples at the Wrentham outlet mall (where I also found a cool olive green-zebra print jacket, reduced from a ton to a score).

The first was in the food court:

Almost poetic, isn't it?

What I love most, though, is that it doesn't explain why there's a problem.

"So, is your refrigerator broken?"

"No, it's working fine."

"Did you run out of yogurt? I've been here when the coffee stall ran out of milk, and when the sandwich stall ran out of bread, so I thought maybe ..."

"No, no, we have plenty of yogurt."

"So can I have some?"

"Ah, um, no."

"Well, that's inconvenient."

"Yeah, sorry."

Down at the other end of the mall, outside the Village Cafe, was another apology:

Due to the increase in the economy?

It can't mean "due to economic growth" if they need to reduce the discount. Does it mean "due to the need to be economical"?

I asked senior economic correspondent The Boy for his analysis. He had no clue what they were trying to say.

I'm not suggesting businesses need to explain their decisions in excruciating detail; merely that if something has changed--and especially when an apology is necessary--it makes for better customer relations, reducing uncertainty and increasing user confidence, when communication is clear.

Copyeditor General's ruling: When outlet shopping, it's always a good idea to bring your own snack.


The British will not be considered superior

Last week I was in England, where I discovered that poor signage is a universal blight. And whether a symptom of stereotypical British politeness or just lack of editing skills, there's a tendency to throw more words on a sign than necessary.

The best examples of this were in the local city council offices. However, the prevalence of security cameras made me reluctant to take photos, so I'll have to tell, rather than showing:




Let's put aside the fact that they really shouldn't be using other customers at all, and focus instead on the overall message.

What they really want to say is "hang up your damn phone," but obviously that's much too brusque. But adding the pleases and kindlies and thankyous--and printing THE WHOLE THING IN CAPS--just means more words to wade through to find the useful part. By which time your phone has started playing the Crazy Frog and you're next in line.

And for those who like to believe the British education system is substantially better than that in the US, here's more evidence to suggest otherwise.

Left luggage office at Heathrow Airport (Terminal 3, Arrivals):

Photo caption at the Museum of Hartlepool:

(My mum found that one, so she gets to be Deputy of the Week!)

In a store window, also in Hartlepool:

Apparently it's not enough to mangle the use of "everyday" ...

Finally, a twofer--too many words and poorly punctuated:

Does "dog fouling" refer to making sliding tackles on terriers?

Copyeditor General's ruling: Evidently the problem is greater than I thought. We need to install a CG at the EU.


Insurance will be reassuring

CGHQ received a letter recently:

You can see a larger version here, but it's so poorly written that I wanted to break it down into sections for easier analysis.

Paragraph one:

Sounds like a warning, doesn't it? "Targeting" is usually associated with fraudulent crime when not used in a marketing sense (which, some may argue, is the same thing).

So should I be concerned about impending victimhood?

Perhaps not; it appears the nameless underwriting company is reducing prices. Or is reducing the prices of other (various) companies. I wonder whether they know about this?

And it's not clear which prices are reduced. Or reduced off. One assumes it's house insurance, but it could be anything, given the apparent variety of other companies involved.

Let's move along.

I always thought it was "avail oneself of" something. At least, that's what the dictionary says. Few things are more irksome than the misuse of highfalutin' phraseology.

And this isn't great from a usability standpoint, either; they're making the reader (the customer) do the work of finding the number himself. Not as much of a gaffe on a printed letter as it would be online, where the trigger finger is always ready to click away if things become complicated, but the problem is the same. The reader has to look for the number (written in a much smaller type size) at the top of the page.

Would it have been so hard to repeat it in the sentence? Or to include the contact name here, instead of two lines later?

But perhaps everything will be okay. They kinda sorta guarantee it. Maybe.

Would have been a great pun if they were offering legal help with inheritance distribution. But they're not. So it's either an attempt at sarcasm or a not-so-subtle Sopranosesque threat.

And then, to close: nothing. No "Thank you for your time," no "With best wishes"--not even a "Yours, etc." It's a letter from no-one, pulled from the printer and whacked into an envelope with as little effort as possible. Three out of four paragraphs start with the same word--"please"--but that's as close as this company comes to trying to make nice with their prospective client.

On the positive side, at least there are no typos.


Dinner will be tasty and typo-free

Typos in menus: could there be a better way to combine my favorite pastimes? Here's a roundup of some of the best.

Would you prefer to order from the ala cart menu (as offered at the St. Louis Hyatt) or the prefix menu (as offered at Ricardo Steakhouse in NYC)?

Which begs the question: is there such a thing as a suffix menu? Would that be dessert only?

Tempo in Alexandria, Virginia, takes a different approach with their "price-fix" menu, which I assume is an attempt to sell all dishes at the same price as competing restaurants.

Let's begin ...

Mescaline salad--theoretically, this has been illegal since 1970. Yet it keeps cropping up on menus everywhere. Shouldn't the DEA do something about this?

Not in the mood for salad? How about a nice piece of beef? Or possibly jungle cat?

Perhaps something from the sea?

(Will also bring your car around after the meal.)

And now would you like to see the desert menu?

Oh, but you know I'm not the only one who obsesses over this stuff. There are so many eagle-eyed diners out there ...
Add to Technorati Favorites