Friday, October 19, 2012


Following my recent string of posts on senseless marketing terms, I've decided it's time to quit driving myself crazy and return to carping about real language (seeing the terms "Couponable" and "IncreDQable" was the last straw).

So on to the business world, where apparently everyone's so busy they can't take the time to utter an adjective AND the noun it's modifying -- so they just stop at the adjective. It's not "creative marketing" or "creative design"; it's just "creative." As in, "I work in creative."

I once signed on with an agency called Freelance Creative. I kept calling it Creative Freelance because either way it didn't make sense to me. It was just two adjectives. Freelance Creative what? Creative Freelance what?

I also worked for a company called XXX Legal & Regulatory. Legal and regulatory WHAT, dammit?!

And the list is growing. I'm told "interactive" is also a victim of this crime. And yesterday I saw twice the mention of just "social" for social media. "How businesses are achieving success with social." Grrr ...

I fear that the abbreviated world of texting and Twittering is to blame. A related trend has some hipster colleagues of mine using "sitch" for situation and "obvy" for obviously. Ugh. And don't get me started on "totes."

What was that I said about driving myself crazy?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Stop the insanity

Remember Anytober? And Fruitabulous, and those other ridiculous non-rhyming, non-punning marketing terms? Well, unfortunately, there are more where those came from ...

(I'm including photos where possible, so you know I'm not making these up. As if I could.)

In a slightly different category, we have:

Technically, these don't violate the non-rhyming rule — "frydrate" sounds like hydrate, and "YOURgage" sounds like mortgage. But. They're still stupid. (How's that for objective criticism?)

Please let the insanity stop.

(Hat tip to Patrick Donnelly for the YOURgage contribution. Thanks a lot, Pat.)

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Victory for the Copy Curmudgeon! (Well, sort of ...)

A new sign has gone up at a local restaurant, and it makes me happy:

Why? Because the Copy Curmudgeon complained about this very establishment in an earlier blog post, and it appears that the powers-that-be listened! Or read. OK, likely neither. 

But somebody at Bakers Square got somebody's memo about parallelism and changed its tagline (or whatever it's called) from Restaurant & Pies to Restaurant & Bakery, which makes much more sense.

I'm still waiting for that free slice of French silk pie, though.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Would you like a discount on language with that?

I really do read things other than newspaper circulars, ads on the Web and retailers' coupons -- I promise. I read my share of fiction and nonfiction books, as well as several weekly and monthly magazines. But they typically aren't the source of such material as below, on which my blog largely depends.

To say "Save 15% off your next purchase" is wrong. I can't tell you why, exactly; it just is. Here are some guesses at what this particular store means:

  • TAKE 15% off your next purchase.
  • GET 15% off your next purchase.
  • WE'LL GIVE YOU 15% off your next purchase.
  • Save 15% ON your next purchase.

So many correct options and yet the incorrect one chosen. [Sigh] Oh, well. It's not enough to stop me from using the coupon. Now, please excuse me while I commence some online shopping ...

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Be good. Write well.

What's wrong with this picture? 

Nothing, really. In fact, I rather like the idea of fudge-covered caramel popcorn. 

And the boots? Well, maybe when I was 20 years younger. Nah. Even back then, I would've rather gone barefoot and eaten fudge-covered caramel popcorn than risk breaking my neck wearing stilettos on cobblestone.

What's wrong is not the picture, but the slogan: "Be bad. Snack well." 

OK, I get that the name of the product is Snackwell's and so someone thought it was a clever play on words. Maybe. 

But when you combine "Snack well" with "Be bad," it doesn't work. At least, not for me.

Why? Because "well" is an adverb, describing how an action (snacking, in this case) is being done. The ad is telling you to buy this product in order to "snack well."

The problem? "Be bad." "Bad" is an adjective, not an adverb, and therefore not the opposite of "well." It's the opposite of "good." But we all know that to say "Snack good" is wrong, right? (Right?) Well, with the exception of the Applebee's people, that is.

So if these aren't opposites, doesn't that kind of ruin the word play? And logically (granted, maybe logic shouldn't even enter a conversation about marketing), they're telling you to be bad, presumably by indulging in their product, which is supposed to make you "snack well." Wouldn't that be being good?

I think I'm reading way too much into this. But it makes me think of another topic that should be addressed: when to use "bad/badly/good/well." Hint: You are NOT feeling badly about the Minnesota Twins' pathetic season so far. Stay tuned ...

Monday, April 16, 2012

Copy editor, Anne Kelley Conklin, has a new post

Hot on the heels of my last post, Lonely Onlys, here is another example of a misplaced "only" along with an example of another peeve of mine: 

The American Psychiatric Association defines addiction to include three stages: bingeing, withdrawal and craving. Until recently, the rats had only met two of the elements of addiction, bingeing and withdrawal. But recent experiments by Princeton University scientist, Professor Bart Hoebel and his team showed craving and relapse as well. (Bold mine.)

The rats had not "only met two of the elements" -- the rats had met ONLY TWO of the elements. 'Nuff said.

Now. "Princeton University scientist, Professor Bart Hoebel and his team." Where do I begin?

First, no comma after scientist. Unless he's the only Princeton University scientist in existence, in which case you would also need to add the to the beginning. AND you would need another comma after his name: "The Princeton University scientist, Bart Hoebel, and his team." 

(If you're the New York Times, you add the and delete the commas -- even when referring to someone who is not the only Princeton scientist in existence -- a practice I've never understood. Don't be the New York Times. At least not in this sense. And only because it bugs me, which I know is very important to you.)*

Second, no Professor. "Princeton University scientist and professor," maybe. And professor is usually not capitalized, even before a name, as it's generally considered a description rather than a formal title. Same as scientist, which they somehow got right.

So, here's how it should read:

But recent experiments by Princeton University scientist and professor Bart Hoebel and his team showed craving and relapse as well.


But recent experiments by Princeton University's [or by the Princeton Universityscientist and professor, Bart Hoebel, and his team showed craving and relapse as well. (This is, of course, if he is the university's ONLY scientist and professor -- which I guess wouldn't bode so well for Princeton ...)

See, you set the name off with commas only when you're clarifying whom you're talking about. If you say the sentence while omitting the name within commas, it should still make sense:

U.S. President Barack Obama is running for re-election this year.

The U.S. president, Barack Obama, is running for re-election this year -OR- America's president, Barack Obama, is running for re-election this year.

Copy editor Anne Kelley Conklin has finished writing this post. (Compare with the cleverly incorrect style of this post's title.)

Get it? Got it? Good.

* The New York Times uses the before every description of a person, which has always rattled me. "The singer Lady Gaga" -- as if there's another Lady Gaga with whom we might confuse her?? "Singer Lady Gaga" does just fine. Now, if there were another Lady Gaga who was, say, an astronaut, then you could say "the singer Lady Gaga," as opposed to "the astronaut Lady Gaga" to differentiate them. I doubt that will ever be necessary.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Lonely onlys

Only is a word that often appears in the wrong place -- so often that this condition should have its own name. You've read about (and, I hope, avoid) misplaced modifiers. What about misplaced onlys?

Don't make your onlys lonely -- lonely for the word or words they're really modifying.

Case in point (taken from a Facebook post):
Anyone is welcome to the Fitz for the line-up announcement, but tickets only go on sale to members of MPR and The Walker first. (Bold mine.)

"Tickets only go on sale" -- OK, you know what they mean, but is this really what they mean? "Only" here is modifying "go on sale." 

What they really want to say is that tickets go on sale only to members ... first. This is their point: Only if you're a member do you get this special chance to buy tickets before everyone else can.

Again, you know what they mean. But it's not careful writing. And we all want to be careful writers, don't we?

Sunday, March 11, 2012

I appreciate your reading my blog -- yes, "your"

I recently joined an online group for writers and editors. As I was reading the group rules, I came across this sentence:

"Your post should allow discussion and debate among members without them needing to visit an external site."

You may think this reads perfectly fine. But it's not fine. Especially for a site by and for writers/editors.

The correct way to cast the sentence is like this:

"Your post should allow discussion and debate among members without their needing to visit an external site."

Sound weird? Too bad. It's correct. In this sentence, the word needing is being used as a noun, aka a gerund, rather than a verb. Therefore, the pronoun preceding it needs to be possessive, hence their instead of them.

Besides, if needing were being used as a verb, the subject would not be them; it would by they (and, of course, would require the helping verb are: they are needing). But obviously that messes up the whole sentence.

So, now that that's crystal-clear, I look forward to your never making this mistake.

When being right isn't enough

Have you ever had someone yell at you for doing something wrong, when in fact that person was the one in the wrong? Is there anything more maddening?

For example: Years ago, my husband was driving down the street he lived on -- which was a one-way street -- when he encountered a car coming toward him. As he did his best to move to the side of the road to let the wrong-way driver past, the driver opened his window and yelled angrily, "It's a one-way street, buddy!"

Argh! This makes me crazy, and I wasn't even there.

A much calmer, though no less maddening, instance occurred the other day at a coffee shop where my husband went to do some writing. He asked the barista for the password to the wi-fi account and was told it was "hamster."

When he entered the password, he could see that he needed eight letters instead of seven. He approached the barista again with this information and was told: "It is eight letters: h-a-m-p-s-t-e-r. People always forget the 'p.'" This was served with a dollop of smugness.

My husband walked away thinking, "Oh, yeah, the 'p' ... wait -- THERE'S NO 'P' IN HAMSTER!"

But what are you gonna do?

My "favorite" example of this actually happened to me (indirectly). I was working part-time as the copy editor in a communications department of a large corporation but was absent the day a C-level executive (apparently with nothing better to do to justify his six-figure salary) came rampaging through the department, shaking a news release over his head and bellowing that we had been "sending out grammatically incorrect communications."

Why? Because we had been putting one space, rather than two, after a period. Seriously. Never mind that this has nothing to do with grammar -- or even punctuation. It has to do with updated technology and the fact that a computer's not a typewriter, so typewriter rules don't apply in this day and age.

But, again, what are you gonna do? This was someone who was not going to admit he was wrong. I'm just glad I wasn't the one who had to stand up to him (although to the credit of whoever did, we continued with our one-space policy).

This topic is only loosely related to typical Copy Curmudgeon material, but I think we need a name for this phenomenon. Co-wrong-tion (instead of correction)? Wrongteousness? Meh. Please submit your neologisms below, as well as your ideas for how to overcome the madness, rather than silently fuming for the rest of our lives ...

P.S. Don't even think about yelling at me for my "incorrect" use of whoever above. It is not incorrect.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Want to be smarter than Mensa? Read on ...

Living with a highly gifted child can be exhausting. Especially for someone like me, who is not gifted in any way -- except maybe at putting away large amounts of dark chocolate. (And by "putting away" I do not mean "putting away, back in the cupboard" -- ooh no.)

Keeping our little guy's very active mind busy is difficult, but if we get lax in providing mental stimulation, he often gets the opposite of lax -- in sassy brattiness born out of boredom.

So, recently I checked out the Mensa for Kids website for some new ideas. Under "Games and Activities" I found a quiz on country capitals that I thought would be perfect for our little geography whiz.

Well, it wasn't perfect. For one thing, it was way too easy. And repetitive -- the same questions kept appearing on each supposedly higher level.

But the biggest imperfection was the misspelling of the South American country Colombia. That's right: it was spelled Columbia. Multiple times. So it can't be excused as a typo.

Now, I would give the average person some leeway on this since Columbia is such a common name, especially here in the U.S., where we see it all the time, along with Columbus, as a city name. Both derive from Christopher Columbus' name -- also with the "u" spelling.

But guess what? The country Colombia is also named after Columbus, but being that its name is Spanish, it happens to have a different spelling. It's one of those things that copy editors need to know and always look out for. I would expect a geography quiz on a Mensa site to have the same high standards.

Be careful not to go too far with correcting Columbia to Colombia, though. I've seen this mistake by people who have learned the difference but then applied their knowledge erroneously to another term: pre-Columbian -- referring to the period before Christopher Columbus' voyage to the "New World" --  by writing it pre-Colombian. Although, as we learned above, since the country also was named after ol' Chris, this may not be as inaccurate as it may seem. But still. Don't do it.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Back-to-back gripes

My father-in-law, a copy curmudgeon of a higher order than I, and a sports fan of a higher or-- ... wait, I need only say "a sports fan" because I'm not a sports fan of any order -- requested that I address an apparently common phrase among sportswriters: "back-to-back-to-back" (as in "back-to-back-to-back games" or "back-to-back-to-back victories").

I correctly guessed that this means "three consecutive," but you don't need to be a word nerd to realize that the phrase does not make sense, if you really think about it. If the first two things are back to back, there's no back for the third thing to back up to. As my father-in-law says, "There's no figure in that figure of speech."

Another remark -- this one from a sportscaster my husband heard on the radio -- that smacks of too many knocks to the head on the gridiron: "one-game winning streak." I'm without words.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Party at the Conklins'!

No, we're not really having a party. Not anytime soon, anyway. But I got your attention, right?

I promised a post on using both the plural and the possessive with surnames. And you've waited with bated breath. So here it is. Now, why does the title of this post have s' at the end?

First of all, it's plural. Hence the "s." There are three of us Conklins (four if you include the dog). One Conklin; four Conklins. (Please see my previous post for more on this.)

Second, it's possessive. Hence the apostrophe. "How is it possessive?" you might ask. "There's nothing after Conklins' to show what they possess." True. But what is implied is that the party is at the Conklins' house, which they in fact possess (or possess in part, anyway -- the bank that owns the majority of it rarely holds parties there. Having too much fun crunching numbers, I guess. Or counting their (our) money.).

So, are we clear? The only time you need an apostrophe with your surname is to show possession, as above. Although, come to think of it, you could also use an apostrophe to make a surname a contraction: That Conklin's a genius. In which case the apostrophe comes before the "s" because you're talking about only one of the Conklins (the dog, of course). Let's just not use that one too often, OK?

Monday, January 2, 2012

Happy holidays from the Jones'? Jone's? Joneses?

I realize I'm a little late in having this be a timely post, but I was reminded several times during the season that the plural form of family names is still a sticking point for most people (even if they don't know it).

Much like the grocer's apostrophe (seen in signs like "Apple's on sale!"), the plural-surname apostrophe often makes an appearance when it should not. Since we're simply talking plural here (not possessive or contraction), there's no need for an apostrophe.

If you have a name like Conklin, it's easy: you simply add an "s" to make it plural, just as you would with apple, chair or dog. Happy holidays from the Conklins. No apostrophe needed.

But what if your name is Morris or Jones? These already end in "s." Well, what would you do with the word glass to make it plural? Add "es," right? Same here. Happy holidays* from the Morrises and Joneses. Look funny? You'll get used to it.

Of course, you could avoid this issue altogether by printing "... from the Jones family." There's always a way out.

Up next: What to do if you want to make it plural and possessive.

* I have intentionally left "holidays" lowercase. Unless the second word is a proper noun (as in "Merry Christmas"), I don't see a reason for capping it. Same with "Happy birthday." Just my two cents.