Tuesday, December 10, 2013


I think this travel brochure meant to offer a quiet getaway... I'm not sure what a "get-a-way" is.

And, while we're at it!

My students know I have a prejudice against exclamation marks in all but the rarest of cases. The Excessive Exclamation!! blog (in my blogroll at right) provides an excellent explanation:

The exclamation point is a punctuation mark usually used after an interjection or exclamation to indicate strong feelings or high volume (shouting), and often marks the end of a sentence. Example, "Watch Out!" A sentence ending in an exclamation mark is an actual exclamation ("Wow!", "Boo!"), the imperative mood ("Stop!"), or intended to be astonishing or show astonishment ("They were the footprints of a gigantic hound!). Overly frequent use of the exclamation mark is generally considered poor writing, for it distracts the reader and reduces the mark's meaning. And, as F. Scott Fitzgerald once said, "An exclamation point is like laughing at your own jokes."

The content of your writing should generate excitement, not your punctuation; writing that attempts to generate excitement through exclamation points seems unpolished (and less credible than it might otherwise be).

Whenever you're tempted to use an exclamation point in professional writing, challenge yourself to use the message to excite the reader. That'll have more impact.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Is it washed or isn't it?

This note on a bag of romaine lettuce advises English speakers to wash the lettuce before eating it -- but tells French speakers it's already been washed (though phrased awkwardly).

Bilingual packaging requirements in Canada open the door to a wide range of errors: you need good proofreaders for the English, good proofreaders for the French... and in some cases, good proofreaders who are adept in both languages.

The PR Major had a great discussion this week, led by Erika Miller, about Coca-Cola's vitaminwater promotion-gone-wrong, in which the company inadvertently printed offensive statements on its bottle caps because of unanticipated pairings of English and French words.

Translation isn't just about getting out your French-English dictionary or using Google Translate. Over the years I've heard people say "I speak French so I can do the translations." Mistake.

Would you have anyone who speaks English write your corporate materials? Of course you wouldn't. You'd hire a writing specialist, if you wanted them to be good.

Unless you are a professional translator, hire a professional translator.

Friday, November 8, 2013

"Cheating... are becoming"

My brother sent this headline from an Ottawa daily newspaper last week:

This headline contains an error in subject-verb agreement. In any sentence, the number of a verb has to match the number of its subject.

To determine the correct form of the verb, we would ask ourselves, "what is/are becoming more creative?"

The answer is "cheating," which is singular. For correct subject-verb agreement, the sentence should read, "Cheating at Ottawa schools is becoming more creative each day," since "is becoming" is the singular form of the verb.

If we re-worded the sentence slightly, and "cheaters" became the subject of the verb "becoming," it would be a different story (and likely, a more accurate statement, since cheating can't really be creative -- only cheaters can). In that case, we would say "Cheaters at Ottawa schools are becoming more creative each day." The plural subject ("cheaters") would call for a plural verb ("are becoming").

Thanks for the tip, Chris!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

"Aunt killer"

Oh no!  Poor aunties.

Thank you to Lise Lafontaine for submitting this photo, taken at her local hardware store. Let's hope they are actually selling ant killer.

Friday, October 25, 2013


This photo was submitted by reader Kaitlin Vitt, who spotted the sign this past summer. 

As she put it in her email: "I'm sure they were quite proud of the pun they came up with. If only they knew how to spell the word!"

The bad news for this car dealer: whether you mean "a lot" as in "many," or "a lot" as in "an area designated for parked cars," it's two words.

Thanks for sharing, Kaitlin!

Friday, October 4, 2013


This is a misspelling, pure and simple. There is no such thing as "caramal," nor is there "caramalization." These onions are caramelized (at least, according to the claim in French).

I often notice discrepancies between the French and the English on packaging in Canada (more on that to follow in a future post) -- but it's rare to find the error in the English.

Proofreaders! Worth the investment!

Saturday, September 21, 2013


This week's error comes from a brochure I received promoting a seminar to help me become a better communicator. The brochure and seminar come from a well-regarded, usually highly-credible organization.

"Principals" are people who are in charge of an organization or responsible for something. Your elementary school, for example, had a principal -- and your consulting firm may, too. There are numerous other meanings of "principal" (check your dictionary) but none of them is appropriate in this context.

"Principles" are basic truths or laws that help us organize or make sense of things. For example, in Public Relations we study the principles of persuasion -- a set of fundamental truths that help us understand how people tend to respond to things.

This seminar, I'm fairly certain, discusses the fundamentals of crowdsourcing -- not the people in charge.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013


Yesterday in my first-year Public Relations classes, we discussed some common grammatical errors. One such error is the use of the pronoun "myself" when the writer really means "me."

This morning, not 24 hours later, I received an email that closed with the following invitation:
"Myself" is properly used in a few ways, including:
  1. self-reflexively (when you are talking about carrying out an action on yourself) - e.g. "I dressed myself before leaving the house."
  2. for emphasis - e.g. "I heard him say it myself."
  3. to describe your normal state of being - e.g. "I apologize - I'm not myself today."
If you'd like a more detailed explanation, the Grammar Girl blog provides a great overview of how to use "me" and "myself" properly.

In the example from my email this morning, the writer is telling the reader to follow up with the writer -- the writer him/herself isn't going to be doing the following up.  Since the action is going to be taken by a person who isn't the writer of the sentence, the self-reflexive pronoun is incorrect.

The sentence should read "Please follow up with me, Gail or Tim for your reservation" (or, even better, "Please follow up with Gail, Tim or me for your reservation").

Thursday, September 5, 2013


I noticed this on the window of a nice restaurant here in Winnipeg.

"Complimentary" means "provided at no cost," which I assume is what the proprietors of this restaurant mean.

"Complementary" means "goes together with, or completes, something else."

While you may feel wireless Internet service completes your pleasant dinner experience, this sign doesn't tell you the wireless Internet service is provided at no additional cost to you. To do that, it would need to say the restaurant offers complimentary wireless Internet service.

Think spelling errors don't matter to customers? Read this Shel Holtz article from PR Daily, "Spelling and grammar do matter, according to consumers," that suggests differently.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013


Think spelling is a concern of the past? Think again.

Despite what you may have heard about spelling not really mattering in the texting/Tweeting world, accuracy in spelling and grammar still affect how your stakeholders see you. 

The occasional error is one thing (though you want to avoid even that, if you can help it), but chronic and high-profile spelling and grammatical errors can lead people to think you (or your employer or client) don't have your act together. 

Clients rely on their professional communicators to ensure their written materials are letter-perfect before those messages go out the door. We have to be vigilant proofreaders, which requires us to be excellent with spelling and grammar. 

If you're looking forward to a professional career in communications and your spelling and grammar need work, now's the time. Become a compulsive proofreader... it'll help!

This week's error: "everyday"

"Everyday" is an adjective, which means it's used to modify or describe a noun (for example, my "everyday dress" as opposed to my "formal dress").

In the case of "every day," "every" is the adjective describing the noun "day;" the two words don't work together to describe a separate thing.

Grammarist.com offers a great trick to help you:
When you’re not sure which one to use, try replacing everyday/every day with each day. If each day would make sense in its place, then you want the two-word form. Everyday, meanwhile, is synonymous with daily or ordinary, depending on its sense.