Here’s a great article about the language used in the New York Times. The Times has to strike a tricky balance between satisfying its readers urge for high-brow language and using words that means no one understands what the writers are trying to say. Sometimes, they go a bit too far.
Here’s a link to a travel piece I wrote that was recently published in the Globe and Mail, one of Canada’s national newspapers.
I used to manage a staff of writers and editors. One of my least favourite parts of the job was scanning through the hundreds of resumes I’d receive in response to a job posting. (Really, hundreds. And that was before the economy tanked. Just imagine how many people are competing for new jobs these days.) It didn’t take much for me to eliminate a candidate. A spelling error in a cover letter, a misused semi-colon, or (worst of all, and surprisingly common) the misspelling of my name or the company’s name might get an otherwise decent candidate overlooked. Hiring managers simply don’t have the time to give you a chance if you don’t put in the time to send in a perfect cover letter and resume — especially for writing or editing jobs.
A recent article from the Telegraph offers some tragically funny examples of how poor punctuation and grammar can send your resume straight into the “no” pile. Here are some of the worst blunders:
– My interests include cooking dogs and interesting people.
– I am a pubic relations officer
– I was responsible for dissatisfied customers
– I have excellent editing and poof-reading skills
– I am a prooficient typist
– I was responsible for fraudulent claims
– While working in this role, I had intercourse with a variety of people
You can see more resume errors in the full article, available here.
I saw this Google Ad in Gmail today:
Business Writing Courses – ContinuingStudies.UBC.ca – Abstracts, Proposals, Reports & Corresondence. Enrol now!
I’m not sure I’d want to take Business Writing courses from a place that can’t spell “correspondence”…
I was passing by a funeral home today when I noticed a sign in the window that said:
“No cost pre-planning available.”
I read this to mean that cost pre-planning was not available. (This is, after all, what the sign says.) I thought this was an odd thing to put in the front window, since people probably want to have the ability to pre-plan the cost of their funeral.
Of course, after looking at it for another moment, I realized what they meant was:
“No-cost pre-planning available.”
Ah, yes. That one little hyphen would make it a much less confusing sign.
I’ve posted before about the terrible grammar, spelling, and punctuation I’ve seen on signs. The problem does not seem to be going away.
Exhibit 1: The bizarrely specific
On the door of a fast-food joint, a sign read:
“No live animals allowed”
I’m not sure why they felt the need to specify that only “live” animals are banned. Perhaps dead ones are okay?
Exhibit 2: The wrong conjunction
My father spotted this on the garage door of his condo complex:
“Please ensure the door is closed when you enter”
If the authors of this sign have figured out a way to walk (or drive) through closed doors, the sign makes sense — and they should be marketing their discovery! I suspect, however, that they want residents to make sure they door is closed after they enter.
Exhibit 3: Just plain bad English
My boyfriend caught this one at our local drug store, next to a bottle of hand sanitizer:
“For customers use. It is recommended to sanitize your hands.”
This has three problems. One: a pretty nasty use of passive voice (“it is recommended”). Two: even if passive voice was appropriate here, it would still be wrong. The correct passive construction would be “it is recommended that you sanitize your hands” (rather than “to”). Three: “For customers use.” That should be “For customers’ use.” But why use three words when one will do? This sign should be rewritten as:
“Customers: Please sanitize your hands” or “Customers: Management recommends that you sanitize your hands”
Have you seen a particularly awful sign? Post your thoughts about it in the comments.
If, like me, you appreciate a good English usage guide almost as much as a good novel, you’ll like this article from Harper’s Magazine.
The author recommends H.W. Fowler’s Modern English Usage. I’ve also enjoyed Bill Bryson’s Dictionary of Troublesome Words and The Mother Tongue, as well as Bill Walsh’s excellent Lapsing Into a Comma and The Elephants of Style.
For some reason, none of these books captured the public attention that was given to Lynne Truss’ Eats, Shoots & Leaves, though I think they’re all more technically accurate and satisfying for a real language curmudgeon.
What I mean, of course, is not that I’m confused by President Obama’s speeches, but that he has a tendency to choose the wrong pronoun when referring to himself. Like many people, he seems to have had the “Suzy, Sally, Billy, and I” pattern drilled into his head as a child to the extent that he finds it difficult ever to say “Michelle and me,” even when that’s the correct choice (as in, “Thank you for inviting Michelle and me to this event”).
Here’s a great article from the New York Times that explains why Obama’s preferred pronoun construction in incorrect, and how past presidents stack up in their pronoun performance.
Like this subject line, which arrived in my inbox today:
Yak is bringing more jobs ot Canada!
Ot Canada, eh?
For small businesses — in fact, even for large ones — free publicity can be a golden ticket to name recognition, increased web site traffic, and more sales. But to get it, you have to make nice with journalists.
Take a look at this article from Jakob Nielsen that’s packed with really great tips on how to make the most of your web sites’s PR area. Don’t have a PR area? Read the article to find out why you should.