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When I am Copyeditor General ...: July 2007


"World's best" will not be a regional distinction

In the market for a sparkly something to wear to our Texas wedding, I wandered into So Good, a magpie's dream of a costume jewelry store in Boston. Oh, they have everything: oversized Lisa Simpson-style bead necklaces, diamante anklets, lucite bangles, pendants with skulls and kitties and crosses and guitars and hearts and stars ...

Perhaps, then, they're justified in claiming to be the best in the world. Or the best in Boston. Or is it the best in the world, Boston division?


Socio-political criticism will be proofread first

On the back of a truck in the parking lot of the Christmas Tree Store, Salem, New Hampshire:

Hilarious, no?

But here's the thing: I had a conversation a few weeks ago with a friend who's studying linguistics. He suggested that another word for grammatical stickler was "snob."

Yes, he was playing devil's avocado a little, but his point stands: is it fair to highlight the educational failings of others, to hold them up to the light and laugh? Haven't we all sent work with egregious typos out into the world, sometimes not noticing our mistakes until eagle-eyed friends (yeah, thanks, Kyle) have brought them joyfully to our attention?

So no more mockery of individual, personal grammatical goofs.

However, anything produced by professional organizations for public consumption is still fair game. Such as this sign at Canobie Lake Park in New Hampshire:


Texas websites will be messed with

Tomorrow we fly down to Texas for some family wedding-style fun, so recently I've been site-hopping, looking for event schedules, restaurant reviews and visitor information. As a result, I've encountered sites at all levels of usefulness and professionalism.

At the "nicely executed" end of the scale is, a lively, detailed collection of info, including a fun interactive map of Austin that lets you flag relevant attractions and leap from one location to another like a giant virtual kangaroo.

At the "please tell me this is some kid's homework" end of the scale is, the homepage intro of which begins thus:

"Welcome to the San Antonio River Walk Guide. Your guide to everything along the River Walk and the Downtown San Anotnio area. "

So we start with a sentence fragment and a typo? Fabulous! I would be generous and assume the latter is intended to pick up search results from a mis-typed keyword were it not for the fact that the site has more errors, grammatical inaccuracies and flat-out oversights than should be legal for a promotional communication.

Fiesta survival tips: "From what to wear, where to park, its al its all here."

The River Walk Planner: "Create your very own River Walk Plan. Browse the San Antonio River Walk and nver lose track of where you plan to stay, places to see, and much more Get Stared Now!"

In an attempt at personalization, the site includes functionality to allow visitors to create an itinerary. However, the developers' coding and database skills only go so far, as is evident from this warning at registration:

"DO NOT FORGET YOUR PASSWORD - You can not retrieve your password and we can not recover it for you. Sorry, just please don't forget."

Best page on the site, though, is "Top 10 things to bring to San Antonio." Extra kudos for the warning to bring antacid ("this is so you can enjoy San Antonio’s spicy Tex-Mex food and tangy margaritas without grief") and the caveat that cash machines may try to rip you off ("Save money by not having to use the ATM’s").

The final tip on this page:

"10) Sun Block because if your not use to the South Texas Sun"

Oh, but I'm not use! What will happen to me?

Copyeditor General's ruling: Someone desperately needs to mess with Texas. Or at least San Antonio. Or at least

Oh, style guide bonus: the editors should figure out whether they're promoting the River Walk or the Riverwalk or the RiverWalk.


Websites will not be (d'oh!) under construction

Forgive me for turning this into "When I am Usability-Guy General" for a while, but I just saw the website for The Simpsons Movie.

Given that the film opens in 15 days, and that the publicity machine is already cranking at full speed, is it crazy to expect that the promotional website would be ready? *

The site has a very cute tool for creating your own avatar: how you would look if you lived in the Simpson's universe. And then you can explore Springfield, visiting the town hall, the Kwik-E-Mart and the Simpsons' home.

Here I am at Moe's Tavern. I think Homer likes me.

But hold on a moment: I should say you will be able to explore Springfield one day. For now, you can only get as far as the bar (oh, just like real life!). Everything else is unfinished.

The same is true for the "About the film" section: the only info currently available is a two-sentence synopsis that doesn't tell us anything we don't already know (Homer is stupid! The movie is animated! It's based on a TV show!). The "cast and crew" and "production notes" sections are either not written or, more likely, are still going through the legal/approval process.

Mobile and partnership info? Also coming soon.

Now, I'm sure that most of the audience for this movie won't notice or care about such things. There are trailers and games and downloads enough that a few non-functioning pages can be forgiven.

Not by me, though. And not, I'm sure, by usability guru Jakob Nielsen, whose 1994 Web Usability Study found this:

Users distinctly disliked seeing "under construction" markers. As one user put it, "either the information is there or it is not; don't waste my time with information you are not giving me." Users were particularly aggravated when they had linked to a page only to find that it was under construction. One user said "At least give me something for going to the page; don't put it out there if it is not working."

And that was written way back in the Internet's Dark Ages--you know, when The Simpsons was funny.

Copyeditor General's ruling: is a high-profile marketing tool, produced for a major corporation to promote a globally recognized brand. The least they could do is show a little professionalism.

Mmm ... professionalism ...

*And yes, I do assume that this is a temporary issue, and that this post will be redundant within a few days. At least I hope so.

Edit: The movie has now been released, and the previously unavailable areas are now all working. Except one.


Apostrophe on the stand again

Evidence against the accused comes from a Craigslist posting.

Yes, your honor, I'm aware the source means it may be inadmissable in court.

Craigslist is an oversized community bulletin board where anyone can post anything (case in point, my favorite listing ever, from the 18+ Casual Encounters section: "Man with duck fetish seeks lady with duck costume").

But one would still expect a more careful eye to detail, given the listing's origin:

The Christian Science Monitor is re-launching it's web site, We have an exciting opporutnity for a Web Designer!

(Note the bonus typo.)

Now, I know the Monitor, and it's rare to see a glitch in the copy. The newspaper has a reputation for striving for excellence as well as for editorial neutrality.

Could they be taking a Jeffersonian position on the matter?

In Made in America, Bill Bryson writes: "Jefferson always wrote it's for the possessive form of it, a practice that now looks decidedly illiterate. In fact, there was some logic to it. As a possessive form, the argument went, its required an apostrophe in exactly the same way as did words like children's or men's. Others contended, however, that on certain common words like ours or yours it was customary to dispense with the apostrophe, and that its belonged in this camp. By about 1815, the non-apostrophists had their way almost everywhere, but in 1776, it was a fine point, and one to which Jefferson clearly did not subscribe" (p. 43).

Is this the case here? Only the Monitor knows for sure.

Anyway, I've been rethinking my stand on the banishment of the apostrophe, especially as there are loyal lovers of punctuation struggling to keep it alive. The Apostrophe Protection Society, under the stewardship of retired journalist John Richards, collects examples of its misuse for all the world to see.

And over at Flickr, there's a whole pool of apostrophic crimes in which to wade.

So while flagrant misuse of this punctuation perturbes me, I'll consider rescinding my previous ruling. As long as there are bands of guerrilla grammaticians out there, working to promote the apostrophe's correct use, I shall allow myself to dream of a world in which even national newspapers can get it right.


The apostrophe will not exist

Heretical, no? But here's the thing: it has become quite clear to me that most people have no idea when to use it--not with the letters i-t-s, not with plurals, not with possession. So I think it will just be easier if we do away with the pesky thing altogether. Much easier than trying to educate people in its correct use.

For instance:

The next example was on display at a Pawtucket Red Sox concession window--right out in view of families and young children and everything.

It kills me that they knew to add a tilde to jalapeƱos, but not to treat a plural noun ending in a vowel in the same way as any other noun (peanuts they got right; fries is irregular anyway). Actually, there can't have been even that level of logic, otherwise it would be jalapeƱo's.

I suspect that my argument for dispensing with the apostrophe will find favor in the halls of government. There are people in power already proudly promoting its irrelevance. Like Michael McGlynn, Mayor of the City of Medford, Mass:

Ruling of the Copyeditor General: It is time to bid farewell to the apostrophe. Because if you people cannot play nicely with it, you should not be allowed to use it at all.
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