Thursday, September 30, 2010

Say What You Mean

Our world contains billions upon billions of typos.  (All right, I haven't actually counted them, but I'll bet it's a close estimate.)  We (or most of us, anyway) know that leaving the second 'a' out of "manager" on your resume turns you into a "manger," which is a trough to hold hay and feed for livestock.  (Not quite the experience you wish to highlight.)  Accidentally changing a 'u' to an 'r' leaves you renovating your horse instead of your house.  And leaving that all-important 'l' out of "public" can lead to all sorts of unintended consequences.

But there's more to communication than just spelling words correctly.  You have to be clear in conveying your message.  Whatever you're trying to say will be lost on the reader (or listener) if you muddle the message with extraneous words or awkward syntax.

Here's an example from the web site of a local television station:

     "Police bust a man for making counterfeit cash late Wednesday evening"

It's a pretty simple statement, right?  Take another look.  A literal-minded reader can read this sentence two ways:

     a)  A counterfeiter was arrested Wednesday night.  

     b)  A counterfeiter was making fake money late one Wednesday night and the cops caught him in the act.

This particular story goes on to say the police arrested a man who had counterfeit cash in his possession, not while he was in the process of making the phony bills.  Which interpretation makes more sense now – a or b?

A more accurate, but still slightly awkward, blurb might be:

     "Police bust a man late Wednesday evening for making counterfeit cash"

Better yet is this headline from a competing news outlet:

     "Man arrested with shoebox full of counterfeit bills"

Admittedly, there are better examples of unclear writing out there – this happens to be the one I found today.  But it does illustrate my point:  Muddled writing leads to muddled readers.

And if a reader winds up too often confused about what he or she is reading, that reader will probably go somewhere else for news.

That is the point.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

First Impressions

It's the 21st century.  We live in a world of text-speak and tweets, screen crawls and captions.  So what does it matter if a typo slips in now and then?

Oh, believe me.  It does matter.  In the business world, professionalism is the norm, the standard.  Much as I'd like to unleash a tirade about the lack of overall professionalism exhibited by some employers in the current job market, this blog is not about that.  It's about things like unprofessional spelling errors and bad grammar that make a person look like an amateur.  

Your resume is often the first thing a potential employer sees.  The adage "You only have one chance to make a good first impression" certainly applies here, but it's amazing how many people blow it.

The following resume bloopers come from:

“Career break in 1999 to renovate my horse” (Resume Hell)

Hobbies: “enjoy cooking Chinese and Italians” (Resume Hell)

“I’m intrested to here more about that. I’m working today in a furniture factory as a drawer” (Resume Hell)

Objective: “career on the Information Supper Highway” (Ask Annie)

Experience: “Stalking, shipping & receiving” (Ask Annie)

“I am great with the pubic.” (Ask Annie)

“bi-lingual in three languages” (Ask Annie’s)

“Consistently tanked as top sales producer for new accounts.” (

“Seeking a party-time position with potential for advancement.” (

“Reason for leaving last job: maturity leave.” (Fortune Magazine)

“Am a perfectionist and rarely if if ever forget details.” (Fortune Magazine)

Languages: “Speak English and Spinach.” (Resumania)

Experience: “Demonstrated ability in multi-tasting.” (Resumania)

Additional skills: “I am a Notary Republic.” (Resumania)

"I have no patience for sloppywork, carelessmistakes and theft of companytime.” (Resumania)

Is it any wonder some people don't get hired?

Friday, September 24, 2010

You Think You're Having a Bad Day?

Everyone makes mistakes.  The trick is to catch your mistake before anyone else sees it -- or before it appears on a billboard. 

And before some eagle-eyed speller takes a picture of it and posts it on Facebook.

And before the photo hits the national media circuit, landing your finger-fumble a forever spot on the World's Funniest Typos list.

(Photo by Lee MacMillan via

This billboard touting the greatness of schools in South Bend, Indiana caught national attention earlier this week after Lee MacMillan posted a photo of it on Facebook.  The Blue Water Group, a company that works for South Bend's redevelopment commission, claimed full responsibility (and embarrassment) for the typo.  Fortunately it was an easy fix -- this is one of those new digital billboards.  No paper or paste required.

Speaking of corrections…

The newspaper responsible for the cooper wire gaffe corrected the headline -- five and a half hours after it was posted -- and deleted comments relating to the typo.

The cooper wire thief apparently is still at large.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Making Headlines

Every now and then, I wonder just how many people even notice the spelling snafus and grammar gaffes that I see on a daily basis. 

Occasionally I get an answer to that mostly rhetorical question.  

This morning, while skimming the online home page of a local newspaper, I stumbled upon this beauty of a story link:

"Weld Co. thief hauls off 600 feet of cooper wire"

Now, it’s not uncommon for story lead-ins and links to contain typos that don't appear in the actual story, and I really expected that to be the case in this instance.

Nope.  The bold, large-font headline said exactly the same thing:  cooper wire.

Usually I don't bother to read the comments sections of online stories.  Half the time they're written by attention-starved people who don't have anything useful to contribute; the other half are spammers hawking everything from escort services to home business opportunities (oh, wait -- those might be the same thing).  

But I had a hunch about this story's commenters, so after I finished giggling I scrolled down.

 "Yessir, that cooper wire. That's good wire."



Interestingly, it appears that no one read the actual story -- or if they did, they simply didn't bother to comment on this less conspicuous typo in the second paragraph:

"…The theft happened Frida between 6:30 and 7:40 p.m."

That would be Friday -- you know, ending in 'y' like the rest of the days of the week.

Is anyone reviewing these things before they're posted for all the world to see and laugh at?  Anyone?

Sunday, September 19, 2010

People Get Paid for This

This comes from a local furniture outlet ad I spotted this summer. 

Yep - people get paid for doing this kind of work.

Friday, September 17, 2010

They're Everywhere!

Roses are red
Copy editors are blue
If you saw this many typos
Wouldn't you be blue, too?

Typos – they're everywhere!  I've noticed them for years, but now that I'm actively looking for them – wow!  It's like a grammatical pandemic out there. Grab a dictionary or your favorite style book and settle in for this week's highlights.

From online articles about freelance writing written by freelance writers:

"…give credit where it's do…"  [That should be "its" and "due".]

"…Now it has me racking my brain…"  ["Wracking", not racking.]

A teaser for an online story about the economy and real estate:

"…had to take loan hopping to fix up house to sell it.  [The abbreviated wording of this teaser doesn't excuse "hopping" in place of "hoping".]

From an online story about the recent wildfire in Boulder, Colorado:

"…the roads leading up to where they live is still closed.  [Bad verb/noun agreement.  To the writer's credit, this was corrected in a later version of the story.]

From an online story about suicides in the armed forces:

"The U.S Marines, like other branches…  [How about a period after that 'S'?]

Do you see the common thread?  Each of these was found online.  An insightful reader could infer one of two things: 

a. The online world really, really needs proofreaders.
b. I need to spend less time on the computer.

The insightful reader would be correct on both accounts.  

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Burning Clichés

First, let me say that my heart goes out to those who have recently lost their homes in the Colorado wildfires.  Today's post is no way intended to trivialize the loss of one's home, or in the case of the California gas line explosion, the loss of homes and lives. As with any disaster, many people will be affected by these events for years to come.

However, I must say that in the wake of the recent Colorado fires, the use of the cliché "burned to the ground" has reached epidemic proportions among news reporters.  I've lost count of the number of times I have heard or seen this phrase in the past two weeks alone.  Radio, television, print, Internet – it's insidious.

I understand why:  News reporters need to engage and hold their viewers'/listeners'/readers' attention, and so they employ a little dramatic flair.  "Burned to the ground" describes total devastation using only four economical words.  Anyone who reads or hears these words knows exactly what the reporter is seeing:  Nothing left.  Leveled.  Flattened.  On the ground.

But it's also become a very overused, very tired cliché.

I propose that "burned to the ground" be sent to the cliché crematorium.  Let's challenge ourselves – and all reporters – to find new and creative (or even not-so-creative) ways to say the same thing.

Let's not fall into the habit of relying on those four words to describe every fire scene, like a hapless television reporter I saw several years ago.  In trying to dramatize the coverage of a plain old grass fire that didn't involve any structures, she looked into the camera with a most serious expression and summed up the damage:

     "Five acres of grass burned to the ground."

True story.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

It's So...Memorizing!

Back in August, there were spectacular aurora borealis displays across the northern regions of our planet.  Thanks to the wonders of the Internet, those of us who live too far south were able to see some amazing photos of the northern lights.

Or, as one commenter called them:


It's "mesmerizing," folks.  Mesmerizing.

The Internet is a truly wonderful and scary thing...

Saturday, September 11, 2010

How Seriously Can You Take a Writer...

…when he/she makes mistakes like these?

Here are a couple of excerpts from comments left by aspiring writers on the blogs of two different literary agents:

      …hoping with baited breath…

      …sales certainly don't bare out that fact…

According to my handy dandy Webster's New World College Dictionary (4th Edition), the proper terms are:

      "with bated breath" – with the breath held in because of fear, excitement, etc.

      "bear out" – to show to be true; support or confirm

Go ahead – argue that blog comments, like texts, Tweets and Facebook posts, are informal and people like me should just loosen that twist in their knickers and get a life.

It will be a very short and one-sided argument, because I won't participate.  If I had that mindset, I wouldn't be writing this blog...

Writers should always make the attempt to write correctly, no matter what medium they're using. A writer's art is the written word, so why not use every available opportunity to hone those precious word skills? If nothing else, good writing should be a matter of personal pride.

Now, I don't know the writers behind these two examples of word choices gone bad. They could well be skilled grammarians who know the correct words and had a momentary brain cramp. Or perhaps they think they know the correct spellings of these idioms, but they really don't. The end result is the same: Readers get an unintended giggle out of the writer's error, and the writers – anonymous though they may be – lose credibility.

And when a writer loses credibility, so does the message that he or she is trying to convey.

Write true, write well – and always keep a dictionary close at hand.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Through, Threw - Does It Matter?

If you can write while you have a headache that makes your head feel like it's the size of a Volkswagen, more super-powers to you! I don't get headaches often, but it's been a crazy past few days (a lot of that going around), the cranium is in full revolt, and right now writing is about as pleasant as doing a headstand on a cactus.

Here, then, is a gem from my little nest egg of goofs and gaffes.

From an August online article about a cooling glitch on the International Space Station:

     "… two space walks might be needed this week to replace a pump module that sends  ammonia threw the station's two cooling systems…"

Last time I checked, ammonia should go through a cooling system. (You didn't know that? Good thing I keep a set of ISS schematics handy…)

Obviously this is yet another instance of sound-alike substitution. It is also another argument for keeping copy editors on staff.

And yes - using the correct word does matter.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Say What?

"We have so much time and so little to see. Wait. Strike that. Reverse it." – Willy Wonka (portrayed by Gene Wilder), Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

Verbal flubs happen to even the most magically gifted people. Now, we've all had momentary outbreaks of brain-outpacing-mouth disease, or grasped for an elusive word and spouted something completely wrong (or possibly inappropriate). But you would think that news reporters and anchors, whose daily job is to speak on camera, would outgrow some of that.

Well, perhaps that's the case at the national level where viewers rarely see an egregious verbal faux pas. Locally? Eh, not so much.

Last night's coverage of the wildfire near Boulder, Colorado included this voice-over lead-in:

     "The fire is wrecking havoc…"


I see two possibilities here. 1) The script correctly said "wreaking" and the reporter mispronounced it as "wrecking", or 2) The script was wrong and the reporter read it that way.

Either way, "wreaking havoc" is not an uncommon cliché, and someone should have caught that before it went on air.

Moments later in the same broadcast, in a segment about local firefighters' "Fill the Boot" campaign to raise money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association, the same reporter said:

     "Law enforcement officers have been asking motorists to donate money…"

The video even showed firefighters (not police officers) standing on street corners and collecting money in firefighter boots.

Um…wow.   I'm thinking this reporter needs to go back to school if she doesn't even know the difference between law enforcement and firefighting. See, police officers carry guns, and firefighters...oh, never mind.

Friday, September 3, 2010

A Blast from the Past

A good friend read my blog posts this week and told me she thought I was being a little harsh, perhaps even overly critical.  She also wondered if I was setting myself up for dissection of my own errors by readers.

Oh, believe me -- I'm dreading the inevitable moment when someone gleefully points out a mistake I made in a post!  At the same time, all is fair in love, war and wordplay.  Whatever I dish out, I must be prepared to take in return.

And I will take my lumps like the mature, responsible adult that I am -- after I crawl out from my hiding place under the bed, dust bunnies clinging to my pajamas...

My friends know that I do not profess to be an expert in anything, mostly because I believe we are all on a journey of constant learning.  I've learned a lot of things in my life (most of it useless in any venue except, perhaps, Jeopardy!); I certainly don't know everything.  Just so you know that I, too, make mistakes, here is an honest-to-goodness true story from my early corporate years.

I was updating the sign-in procedures for a classified area.  The sentence should have read something like, "Upon entering the Closed Area, all visitors must sign in with the secretary."

Due to a cut-and-paste error, I omitted all of the words between "entering" and "the secretary," so the sentence read, "Upon entering the secretary..."

Embarrassing with a capital 'E'.

Fortunately, my bosses had a sense of humor and found this hilarious. Unfortunately, they also had long memories and never let me live it down.

This, Grasshopper, is how I learned about the hazards of cut-and-paste.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Those Annoying Apostrophes

Thank you to a certain local television station (that shall remain unidentified - for now) and its online stories for giving me not one, but four typos to share this morning!  Two involve those pesky apostrophes, one is a letter missed in haste, and one is just downright confusing.

From a story about a robbery:

     "The suspects the ran..."

How about, "...then ran..."?  Missing a letter is a common error, and usually caused by haste or sticky keys.  Not that I would know...

Another robbery (sheesh, what was up in the Big City yesterday?) involved a shooting.  The reporter writes:

     "The suspects decision to shoot..."

Here we have an apostrophe missing in action.  The suspect possesses the decision (for the sake of grammatical argument), so the sentence should read, "The suspect's decision..."

Then there's a story about how hackers are embedding computer bugs in links within bogus e-mails.  This writer says:

     "Once inside your computer, virus' can scan documents..."

There are instances in which apostrophes are used to denote a plural, but this is not one of them.  "Viruses."  Plural, not possessive.  End of discussion.

Later in the article, the writer offers this advice:

     "Experts also recommend emailing your entire address book to know you've been hacked."


This was probably an error caused by editing on the fly, or maybe a cut-and-paste gone wrong.  (Not that I would know anything about those, either.)  I'm thinking the writer intended to say something like, " let your contacts know you've been hacked."

Just a guess...

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Loose Versus Lose

How ironic.  Now that I'm actively seeking out new typos as fodder for my blog, the world seems to have hired a stable of copy editors.  Have no fear -- I assure you this is a temporary situation.  The Blunder Brigade is still happily working away in the background.  I just have to dig a little deeper...

Today I'll tackle my latest irritant:  people who use "loose" when they mean "lose."

I see this error mostly in discussion group posts where formality isn't a concern.  What really disturbs me, though, is how many writers make this blunder.  In the cases of "eek" instead of "eke" or "shoot" rather than "chute", the words are pronounced the same and can get scrambled in the brain-hand-keyboard connection. (Not long ago, I went through a phase where every instance of their/there/they're I typed was the wrong one!)

But "loose" (with a hard 's') and "lose" (with an 's' that sounds like a 'z')?  Not buying this one -- especially from writers who should know better!

For the record, you lose your keys (or your mind).  You do not loose them.  (Well, technically you could, but in that context "loose" is more of an archaic term meaning to set something free.  Example:  "Loose the hounds!")

So if you're one of the many who use "loose" when you mean "lose" -- please stop it.