All posts by Christina

Commas matter. Really.

I saw a headline on a facebook ad today that made me do a double-take. It said “Stop Renting Girlfriend!” I wondered what kind of service this could possibly be for, then quickly realized that what the ad meant to say was “Stop Renting, Girlfriend!” It was an ad for a condo development. I’m sure they have nothing to do with the girlfriend-renting (or -buying) business.

Even short texts need to be edited

In short blocks of text, like Google or Facebook ads (or, in the offline world, billboards and tag lines), every word counts. That’s why I’m shocked by how often these ads are full of spelling or grammatical errors, or are so mangled as to be beyond comprehension. Here are a few recent examples:

1. A Google ad:
Immigration Fee Increases – – U.S.C.I.S will be increasing fees November 23, 2010. Appy Today.

I suspect they mean “apply today,” as appies have very little to do with immigration.

2. A facebook ad:
Fear of eating makes you fat? If there is a solution, why should be afraid? Easy, cheap and delicious, peep here.

I think it’s unlikely that a fear of eating would make anyone fat, but this ad is such a disaster that it seems unworthy of any further analysis.

3. Another facebook ad:
beware: these 4 supposedly “healthy” foods can actually increasing stomach fat . the diet solution.

The writer of this ad should have been beware of bad verb conjugation and wonky spacing, never mind a fear of capital letters!

4. A bus ad:
Beauty is only skin deep. Melanoma goes much deeper.
BC cancer survivor, Hope Courtright, knows. At 21 she was diagnosed.

This short ad has two problems:

First, those commas should not be there. It would be correct to write “Hope Courtright, a BC cancer survivor, knows,” but not the other way around. Why? Here’s the test. Try removing the information between the commas. Does the sentence still make sense? If not, you shouldn’t be using them. Here’s another way to think of it. Would you say U.S. President, Barrack Obama, knows? Nope. The commas don’t belong there either, and for the same reason.

Second: “At 21 she was diagnosed.” Ideally, this should be rewritten to “She was diagnosed at 21.”

So, keep in mind that even short texts need to be edited. In fact, when you have few words to work with, it’s even more important to make sure you get the maximum impact from every one.

Four new articles: Food on the Brain

I’ve had several new articles published recently (and they all seem to be about food!), so here they all are in one post: Flex Your Diet Options with Non-Meat Protein Tapas Time! Add Some Sunshine to Winter Meals With Spanish Cooking Top 4 Meatless Dishes Where You Won’t Miss the Meat Great Food, Local Style – Who Knows What Treasures You’ll Find?

Why “inconsistent” hyphens really aren’t

This post was brought on by a headline in this weekend’s Globe and Mail, which read:

Scotland from coast-to-coast

I could see this headline in my peripheral vision as I drank my morning coffee, and it started to make me antsy. You see, those hyphens shouldn’t be there.

A coast-to-coast adventure, sure. But not simply coast-to-coast.

This is an issue I deal with all the time, and it’s often difficult to convince non-language-nerds that there’s any rhyme or reason dictating when hyphens are used and when they are not. Often, people flag the sometimes-use of hyphens as “inconsistent.”

But it isn’t. Here’s why: When used as an adjective that precedes a noun, descriptive phrases like “coast-to-coast” are hyphenated. That’s what’s happening in the example “coast-to-coast adventure” I used above. Otherwise, hyphens are a no-no — which is one reason why “Scotland from coast-to-coast” is wrong. (The “from” makes it even *more* wrong, because once hyphenated, coast-to-coast essentially becomes one word, and therefore does not have the necessary “from” and “to” for this phrase to work — it makes about as much linguistic sense as simply saying “Scotland from coast” — but that’s a whole other problem.)

I edit a lot of accounting educational material, in which the ugliest example of this is the lower-of-cost-or-market-value rule, which dictates that companies must disclose the value of their inventory at the lower of cost or market value. When these two uses appear often in one document, it can be difficult to convince non-editors that they hyphens are really there (or not) on purpose. But it’s true!

So feel free to go on a coast-to-coast adventure, but afterward, please write about how wonderful it was to see a country from coast to coast.

And now for something completely different

Today, one of my photos of Spiral Island in Isla Mujeres, Mexico appeared in a feature on Popular

The World’s Strangest Man-Made Islands

I’m not exactly a professional photographer, but I enjoy travel photography, especially to complement my travel writing. You can find an article I wrote about Spiral Island here.

I do have a few stock photography images available through You can find them here.

Editing for understandability

I recently went into a Ricky’s restaurant for breakfast. This was the menu description for their Double Egger plate:

Two eggs with shredded hash browns and toast or pancakes

I ordered the Double Egger with pancakes. When it arrived at my table, the plate had just eggs and pancakes, so I asked about my hash browns. The waitress explained to me that if one ordered pancakes, one did not get hash browns.

Do you see the problem? This is not what the menu says. The way the menu description is phrased, the only option is between toast and pancakes. The hash browns are not linguistically tied to the toast in any way.

Later, I checked the online Ricky’s menu to see if the description was any better there. It reads:

2 eggs, with shredded hash browns and toast OR 3 of our famous buttermilk pancakes

So, it seems this pancakes/hashbrowns issue must have come up before, and the comma and that big, capitalized OR are their attempts to make the description more clear. But it’s still not right. That comma after eggs is there to try to indicate that the eggs are the only constant, and that the hashbrowns and toast are a unit. But (a) that comma is wrong, and (b) it still doesn’t quite make the message clear. And putting OR in all caps still doesn’t tie the hash browns and toast together (though this description would probably make me ask to confirm). It would be such a simple fix. All they need to say is:

Two eggs with either toast and hashbrowns or pancakes.

Either! That’s what the word is for — to indicate a choice between two things!

The moral of the story is that what you show to your customers (or potential customers) is only worth printing if it’s easy to understand. I would have been perfectly happy to order toast and hashbrowns, if I’d know it was that or pancakes. Instead, Ricky’s got a cranky customer. A good editor can save you from this kind of mistake — which could turn out to be a lifesaver, especially if the part that’s unclear is worth a lot more than hash browns!

P.S. In the end, after explaining to the manager why the menu was wrong, I got my hash browns. 😉

Raising money for women’s cancers

When I’m not obsessing about grammar and punctuation, I’m passionate about raising money to fight breast cancer. The statistics on this disease are staggering — 1 in 9 women is expected to develop breast cancer in her lifetime. When I look around at my mother, my sisters, my friends, I can only think one thing. We have to do something about it.

I’ve been raising money for breast cancer for five years, and I’ve raised over $7,500 (not counting the money raised so far this year). This year I’m walking in the Weekend to End Women’s Cancers to fight not only breast cancer, but gynecologic cancers as well.

Please join me in my fight. Click on the box below to donate to my fundraising efforts. Thanks so much.