Sometimes wordplay is just not appropriate

Wordplay can be a great tool for the clever writer. A nifty play on words makes your writing more memorable, and can bring your readers a laugh. But sometimes it’s just not appropriate, as in this headline from Global BC, a local news outlet in Vancouver:

Convicted killer convicted of killing killer wife in Surrey

The gist of the story is that two people who had both served jail terms for murder were married, and the husband has just been convicted of killing the wife. But come on. That headline is too cutesy, too playful to be used in a murder case. It’s disrespectful to the woman who was killed, who, regardless of what she may have done in the past, was a human being, and was apparently murdered by her husband. The headline implies that the whole thing is kind of funny. Global, murder ain’t funny. Badly done.

Further, a headline’s main job is to tell a reader what the story they’re about to read is all about. Headlines should be digestible at a glance. This head-scratcher fails on that count, too.

Proofread, please, please, please!

I admit it: I go on and on about how important proofreading is. I generally focus on the importance of avoiding errors in business communications. But proofreading is important in your personal communications, too — especially for those times when we still invest the money to put ink to paper and actually send something in the mail. I can only imagine the anguish of the bride who received her wedding invitation set with these spelling errors.

You can click through to see larger images, but the first card says “Celebrtation” instead of “Celebration,” and the RSVP card says “celbrating” instead of “celebrating.” Remember that many online forms, such as the one the bride would have used to create these invitations online, do not have a built-in spell-checker function. You must carefully check your work before hitting the submit button!

Safety walk in bathtubs?

Let me start by saying that I don’t know why Gmail is showing me ads for walk-in tubs (maybe it can tell how hobbled I still am from the major hike I did on the weekend?), but good heavens, this ad has a lot of errors crammed in to one small space:

Safety Walk in Bathtubs – www.PremierBathrooms.ca – Easy Entry, Low Door, Comfortable Schedule a In-Home Assessment

Questions this raises:
1. Why would I want to take a safety walk among bathtubs?
2. How does a bathtub give me a comfortable schedule?

Here’s the corrected version:

Safety Walk-In Bathtubs – www.PremierBathrooms.ca – Easy Entry, Low Door, Comfortable. Schedule an In-Home Assessment

I’d take out most of the capital letters, too, but some people like them.

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 – www.ImmigrationDirect.com – 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:

HealthCastle.com: Flex Your Diet Options with Non-Meat Protein

HealthCastle.com: Tapas Time! Add Some Sunshine to Winter Meals With Spanish Cooking

HealthCastle.com: Top 4 Meatless Dishes Where You Won’t Miss the Meat

iloho.com: 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.

A freelance travel & lifestyle writer/editor in Vancouver, B.C.