Sunday, October 30, 2011

Don't fear the hyphen

So we got a dog recently. And along with dog comes the obligatory trip to Petco, the animal equivalent to the Baby SuperStore: a warehouse full of everything for the new dog owner. Many dollars later, we walked out with collars, leashes, and treats, treats and more treats.

Several days later, we returned to the store for our first training session, where we learned that we need four levels of treats, ranging from everyday kibble to such prime people-food as leftover steak, in order to get our dogs to perform certain tricks and commands. Based on this information, I went home armed with even more new treats, including this bag:

Now, when I first looked at this, I sighed as I recognized another example of the apparently hyphen-phobic marketers out there -- the same ones who sell Tall Kitchen Garbage Bags. My husband and I have joked about this for years: Are they bags for tall kitchen garbage? Or garbage bags for tall kitchens? Or tall bags for kitchen garbage? As written, it's ambiguous and could mean any of those things -- except, of course, that none of those make sense.

But in the case of Small Dog Training Treats, without a hyphen there is true ambiguity about what exactly is contained inside. I thought about this briefly as I picked it off the shelf. "Well, it must be dog-training treats that are small," I thought (and, yes, I include hyphens when I think). "But aren't all dog-training treats small? It couldn't mean dog-training treats for small dogs -- unless they're smaller for their smaller mouths?" I decided it was just another case of redundancy and tossed them in the basket.

When I got home, I opened the package, and in doing so noticed that on the back of the bag was a picture and text indicating that these treats were indeed made for small dogs. We have a large dog, so I was not intending to buy small-dog training treats but rather small dog-training treats. 

So I reached into the bag to see how these treats were different, and the kicker is, they're exactly the same size as all of our other training treats, which don't indicate what size dog they're for. Color me confused.

Anyway, our large dog eats the small-dog treats just as eagerly as she does the others, so it's not a big deal. But please do your part and use the hyphen to eliminate any confusion for your readers. Or, if you yourself are confused by this entire post, just use this as your take-away: Don't try marketing anything tall or small.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Rock 'n' roll rules

(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction
Lay, Lady, Lay
Can't Hardly Wait
You Ain't Goin' Nowhere
You Better, You Bet
Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard

What's wrong with these song titles? They're grammatically incorrect.

What's right about them? They're rock 'n' roll.

In other words, they get a pass on grammar. "I cannot get any satisfaction"? "Lie, lady, lie"? I think not. I mean, rock 'n' roll is all about breaking the rules, right?

Rock on.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Read my FabuBlog!

Along the lines of crispety, crunchety-type advertising nonsense, I give you one of my biggest peeves: taking two words and combining them to make a new, supposedly "WOW" marketing word.

Now, this isn't always a bad thing. If you're a radio station and want to celebrate the month of October by playing commercial-free rock 'n' roll, you could call it Rocktober. That works, right? It still sounds like October, but it gets across what's special about this October.

Or, to use my 8-year-old's example (I love that he gets this stuff), if you owned a car-repair shop and wanted to give your customers a deal on towing during the tenth month of the year, you could call it Oc-TOW-ber. Cute, right?

Know what's not cute? Anytober. It's not only not cute, it's somewhat embarrassing. Talk about lazy creativity.

Another example:

That's right: fruitabulous (don't forget the all-important trademark symbol -- don't want anyone stealing this gem). Because it sounds so close to fabulous? No, it doesn't. It sounds ridiculous.

Other offenders:
JumpTastic -- A place that rents out large inflatable structures for kids to jump in.

Snowmageddon -- Heard and seen often last winter during the several severe snowstorms. (Carmageddon, on the other hand, to describe what was supposed to be the end of the world due to road closings in L.A. last summer, totally works.)

Carbtastic -- I don't remember what product this was used to describe, but it was during the carb-avoiding era, so I guess it doesn't make sense on two levels. Carbs were supposed to be bad, weren't they?

Pugoween -- Can you guess this one? A Halloween party for pugs in costume. Yeah, I know.

There has to be a name for these. Awf-non-puns? RidicuNonRhymes? Welcoming your suggestions ...

Monday, October 10, 2011

Copy editors are nauseous

So why are all copy editors feeling sick to their stomach? They're not; that's not what I'm saying.

If copy editors are nauseous, that means they cause nausea, something with which I'm sure most writers agree. This is the original meaning of nauseous, anyway.

If I wanted to say copy editors feel like throwing up (like, for example, when they see the following typo), I would say they are nauseated. It's the typo that's nauseous.

But, again, these are only the original meanings of the words. They have been misused for so long now that they have swapped definitions. Just another example of our changing language ...

But I love being a purist and a prescriptivist, so I still say it and write it the original way. So, what makes you nauseated? (Besides purist, prescriptivist, nauseous copy editors, that is ...)