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When I am Copyeditor General ...: May 2008


The keepers of words will know how to use them

I've already written about the shameless manner in which libraries promote themselves.

Blame, of course, lies not with librarians themselves, but with those responsible for creating their websites.

At least that's what I tell myself when I find things like this, from Simmons College's Beatley Library site:

Too small? Allow me to enhance (read the small print):

Copyeditor General's ruling: Having worked in a university library, I know the daily challenges librarians face: biblioclasm, psychotic co-workers, ghosts. So I'm not going to add to their misery by demanding they also take time to proof their websites. But in the interests of maintaining credibility, don't you think someone should?

Responses will be sought legitimately

Looky looky: another example of a misheard phrase, the perpetrators evidently never having seen the correct form in writing.

From the District of Columbia's Office of Planning:

From a workshop handout for "experienced educators":

From a junior high school newsletter (!):

From the bio of a college professor (!!):

From (oh, you'll love this) the site of a professional copywriter:

And finally, my favorite, if only because the woman looks as though she has an illicit response in mind:

Copyeditor General's ruling: Homophones can be tricky beasts, it's true. But at the same time, shouldn't context be a clue? The above examples suggest not only that the writers aren't aware of the correct word but also that they don't understand the meaning of "illicit." Or perhaps they do know what it means, but somehow assume it takes on an entirely different meaning in this situation. Either way, they're wrong.

Wrong wrong wrong.

Could I possibly be more explicit?


Sentences will end

As previously noted, I have nothing against The Guardian, even if I do seem to spend a lot of time pointing out their failings. And I don't go searching for errors; I don't have time to proof every word on their site (though I had assumed someone took responsibility for that task).

Which means either the typos only occur in the few stories I read, or they're everwhere and I'm not seeing all of them.

Today's example is a lovely story about the re-emergence of supper clubs, which ends abruptly in the middle of a quote:

Copyeditor General's ruling: If I'm seeing this at 9am, it means it's 2pm in the UK. Someone needs to lay off the liquid lunches, I think.


The basics will be covered

I've written before about discovering grammatical errors I didn't even know existed; it's a little like being an archaeologist, except it's less dusty and involves fewer bones. And while archaeologists look for fossils, I find living, breathing, evolving examples of incorrect language use.

Example: this week I received a work-related email newsletter that included the phrase "covered off on the basics." In context, in passing, it sounded reasonable, sort of. But it was also a new phrase to me. Why had I never encountered it before?

And so to Google, to see how many other sites featured the same phrase. None, it turned out, but a number used a similar one:

Copyeditor General's ruling: I suspect this oddity is the result of people mishearing a more common and correct idiom. Can you tell what it is?


Music moguls will control ingenues, not time

Dragon-boat goddess Ashley, who is seriously in the running to be my full-time deputy, alerted me to the fact that high-powered music industry executives are attempting to control time.

I'm not sure whether this is a scheme to increase the number of weeks a record stays in the Billboard Top 100 (does the Top 100 still exist? Do "records" still exist?) or whether they're trying to prevent the otherwise unstoppable, inexorable progress of mortality. Either way, it seems that, if you're rich and powerful enough, you can make one year last for five.

At least, that's what the BBC News website would lead us to believe, in a story about Mariah Carey's recent nuptials:

Copyeditor General's ruling: In fairness to Mr. Mottola, it's possible he doesn't actually control time; I'm sure one year being married to crazy Mariah Carey just feels five times as long.


Mothers will hang their heads in shame

Mother's Day is a time to remember all the wonderful things moms teach us: respect, generosity, responsibility; how to tie shoelaces and bake cookies; how to play Blackjack (though maybe that was just my mom).

And what better way to say thank you than with a pretty, heartfelt message?

Or perhaps a lovely gift basket?

There are, of course, other ways to send

Such as, for instance, this doubtless very nice plaque:

Sorry, did I say plaque? I guess the broken image shows something different:

If you want something really special, how about this?

But then again, maybe you don't want to put too much thought into it:

(Suggesting not only that you can get any old crap for Mom, but also that no more thought needs to go into the gift than into writing about the gift.)

Don't forget to include a card to let Mom know how you feel.

Copyeditor General's ruling: I blame the parents.


Websites will be utopian

Today I'm being Usability-meister General again, though that cabinet position really belongs to someone else.

Imagine this scenario: You go to the zoo and discover that all the enclosures have six-foot walls. And you're five-three (a perfectly lovely height, I might add). You find a zookeeper and ask what's going on.

"Well," she says, "this zoo requires visitors to be tall. If you're not tall, you can use stilts to see the animals. Or, if you'd prefer not to use the stilts, we have a couple of pigeons and a three-legged dog in the parking lot."

Of course, that would never happen; a business that segregated and alienated its customers in such a way would have a terrible reputation.

Online, however, we find things like this:

Non-Flash people need not apply.

It's essentially the same attitude. Sure, most computers today handle Flash, and it's no great challenge to download the player. But as an introduction, this page sends an unwelcoming message: we're only making ourselves available to certain people.

And it's not as though the entire Battery Wharf site requires Flash; much of it consists of simple lists of features, short paragraphs of description, a handful of PDFs, links to videos and photo galleries. Nothing, in other words, that couldn't be handled just as easily in HTML, with Flash for the multimedia content.

I understand the philosophy that qualified visitors to this site—those who have a genuine interest in buying a luxury waterfront condo—are more likely to have Flash-ready computers.

But aren't those prospective customers also looking for flawless service? For a company that anticipates their needs? For, let's say, a company whose site checks whether you have Flash and seamlessly serves up the appropriate content (and doesn't make you wait through eight-second loading times)?

Copyeditor General's ruling: If this site is really a reflection of the company's goal of "engineering Utopia," the experience should be a little closer to paradise. And if this project is really Utopia, why does it consist of multi-million-dollar condos on a spit of dockland in Boston?


Promises, not things, will be kept

More fun with fortune cookies:

Copyeditor General's ruling: I hereby promise everyone five bucks and nice piece of chocolate cake.
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