Rantings of a sub-editor

January 17, 2011

Chinese bananas

Filed under: bad things — substuff @ 10:11 am
Tags: ,

Gotta love the Daily Mail. Which other publication would run a picture with this caption?

“Making London their home: Financier Andy Wong (right) with his wife Patti who is chairman of Southeby’s. They have been jovially nick-named ‘bananas’ – yellow on the outside, white on the inside.”

I love the addition of the word “jovially” to cancel out any potential, teensy weensy shade of a suggestion of racism. Sorted.

(Oh yes, and I think they mean Sotheby’s and nicknamed. I might even have snuck in a comma somewhere, too. But that’s just being picky.)

For more news on those cheeky yellow folks, see the story here.


January 13, 2011

Perverted vacuum cleaners

Filed under: funny typos — substuff @ 10:58 am

There is really nothing I can add to the beauty of this typo. Enjoy.

This vacuum cleaner did a fantastic job of cleaning traditional wood flooring, sucking up dust and dirt from cervices with ease.  It comes with a separate hard-floor nozzle, but we found the standard one to be the most effective.

Oh. My. God. This made me spit tea. But the thing is, once you’ve been exposed to dusty cervices, your mind gets into a certain groove – a dark, dark groove. It continues:

It didn’t quite mange to match this outstanding performance on carpet and laminate, but it still did a great job. [Mmm, mange.]

The nozzle is designed well for reaching dust and dirt alongside walls and in corners so you won’t find a dirty rim around the edge of the room after you’ve finished vacuuming.

Pshhhht! Well I may as well just pour my tea directly on the keyboard, seeing as that’s where it’s going anyway.

So, here goes. Three pages of vacuum cleaners down, 33 to go. Who knows what icky delights they may hold.

January 4, 2011

Who reaped what, eh?

Filed under: reap,word choice — substuff @ 4:14 pm

The mark of a truly bad headline is not that you burst into laughter or shake your head in disgust, but that you are left scratching your head in incomprehension. That’s where I was left by this particular piece of Which?ery.

Excess costs reap benefits for insurers

At times like this, a Japanese expression unearths itself in my brain. “Imi wa?” (literally “the meaning is?”) And this headline, on one of our own press releases, had me wondering what the imi wa for quite some time. It’s all back to front, innit.

It is, literally (yes, I say, literally) awful.

1. This is a horrible abuse of the word “reap”. People can reap, but costs cannot. And you can’t reap by proxy – ie, if costs could reap, they would be doing it for themselves, not for insurers. Insurers can, however, reap the benefits of excess costs. Yes.

2. Even if you can get beyond reap, there’s a string of three verbs or potential verbs in the middle (costs, reap, benefits). And if words that can be read as both nouns and verbs don’t confuse a reader, I don’t know what does. Put three together and you’re damned.

From the OED:

Receive as the consequence of one’s own or others’ actions.

So you reap what you sow. And you can also reap what others sow. But the sowing does not reap for you, oh no.

December 23, 2010

Me, me, me (and a book)

Filed under: Substuff says... — substuff @ 3:24 pm

Firstly, merry Christmas!

Secondly, and, hehe, more importantly, let’s talk about me. I need a little advice.

A few people have suggested that I “get the blog published as a book”. I’m very flattered by this, and more than willing. However, I have no bloody idea how to go about it, or even what exactly I have to offer. So if anyone has any suggestions, advice or information, I’d be grateful to hear it.

I think the main things I need to consider are:

What would it be?

A grammar guide? A style guide? A how-to-write guide? Or not a guide at all – a series of rantings (similar to some of what I have written on the blog, but more polished)? An illustrated gift book with humorous tips? I’ve tried to do a bit of all of these on my blog, but I’m not really sure where to focus. Or what length I should be looking at. Or how deep to go.

Who is it for?

I have some quite strong opinions on this point. What I don’t like about some existing books on good writing is the haughty tone that they take, and the inaccessibility. If I were to write a book, I would like it to be one that most people could understand. That means no Latin, no assumptions of cultural knowledge or level of education, no long and unfathomable quotations.

I’ve read plenty of books on writing, and some of them make me feel stupid. I’m not stupid, and neither is anyone else with enough love for language to spend their time finding out more about it, I must assume. So I don’t want to write anything that makes anyone feel stupid. Ever.

Getting more specific, would it be for journalists? Sub-editors? Students? General interest? A stocking-filler gift?

Erm… how to do it?

Yeah… that’s the biggest question of all. I could make the time, by writing during my commute. That’s fifteen usable hours per week. But where do you start? Do you contact a publisher first and pitch them an idea? Or write first and then pitch? Or…?

As you can see, it’s an idea that really is in its earliest infancy. I don’t have any contacts in the world of publishing, or know anyone who has successfully had a book published. For all my ranting, at the end of the day I am just a lass from Bognor Regis (aww) and it’s all very well telling me to publish a book, but… how? So, if anyone fancies giving me their tuppence worth, I’d be glad to hear it! Here’s your chance to help mould my new year’s resolutions.

While I’m on the subject, last year I resolved to:

  • Give up alcohol and sugar for January (achieved, with a few wobbles)
  • Get a new job (I left The Grocer for Which? in June: achieved)
  • Do some national newspaper shifts (yep, I’ve done quite a few at The Sunday Times and the Guardian, and a couple on The Times supplements: achieved)
  • Become a lean, mean yoga goddess (erm, well… there’s always next year)

So, overall, woop!

For bonus woops, the Guardian’s Mind Your Language folks have listed Rantingsubs as a “site we like” (down there on the right-hand side), Wordsworks put it at number three on its 12 links of Christmas and Emphasis has asked me to write some (paid, yeah!) guest blog posts.

I’ve been writing the blog for more than a year now, and am shocked and delighted to say that it’s had more than 25,000 hits. Thank you to everyone who has read my ramblings, commented on posts, corrected me (usually gently, sometimes brutally), argued with me/one another, sent me material (Andy, Mum, Vince) and generally participated in the geekiness. Thanks too to the excellent guest writers who joined in the fun – and if anyone else would like to have a rant, get in touch. Thank you specifically to Kit and Pete, without whose prompting and poking I would certainly not be considering writing a book, and who have gone out of their respective ways to open doors for me. Even if one of them spells petfood as a single word and the other plays fast and loose with his whiches and thats.

Write a book? Sure, I’m game. So, er, what do I do again?

December 21, 2010

Brighton subbed to Brighten

Filed under: Brighton/Brighten,oops! — substuff @ 12:33 pm
Tags: , ,

Here’s one in the eye for all those nasty newspapers who have got rid of their in-house subs and switched to (cheaper) subbing hubs. If it had been subbed locally or on-site, “Brighton” would have been in the dictionary and therefore wouldn’t have been flagged up when some silly sod used a spellchecker. For shame!

The story is here, on Journalism.co.uk.

December 15, 2010

Collectable collectibles

Filed under: collectible/collectable,spelling — substuff @ 1:04 pm
Tags: , ,

Sometimes the smallest things can cause surprising amounts of controversy.

Last week, I replied by text message to an offer of a lift with “I’m quite collectible.” And so it began. “Shouldn’t it be -able?” asked the collector. No, said I, absolutely not. And may I advise you that it is unwise to argue with me on the topic of spelling because I have an annoying habit of being correct. I am entirely sure, one hundred per cent, that it is spelt with an i.

Admittedly, I should have learnt by now that it’s a long way down from such lofty claims.

The conversation reared its head again in the pub, leading one lady, who shall remain nameless, to call me a dunce, finger-draw a capital D on my forehead and suggest that I should stand in the corner. Everyone except me thought it was “-able”. Hmph. Strangely enough, this pub yielded two Collins dictionaries of different sizes – but to my great annoyance, neither collectible nor collectable was listed in either.

And so, the next day, to the trusty OED I went – and it slapped me in the face. Both spellings are listed, but collectable comes first and collectible is a variant, with no distinction made for nouns and adjectives. (I had been considering that perhaps the noun was collectible and the adjective was collectable.) Hmph once more.

So I tried the old Google trick (meaningless, but satisfying nevertheless): collectible gets 24,900,000 results; collectable gets 6,060,000. Ooh, ooh, ooh, so maybe it’s not just me… And then I checked it in the Guardian and The Times style guides. Success!

The Guardian entry merely says “collectible”. The Times says: collectibles (not -ables), items sought by collectors.

My next port of call was Twitter. Considering that my twitterings usually get one or two responses maximum (and usually deafening silence), the reaction was huge. Every bugger has an opinion on this one, it seems.

jastilley @substuff Both are valid and mean the same thing. But IHMO collectable is better.

MorningBrighton @substuff I think collectable was the adjective and collectible the noun, but everybody seems to say collectable in both contexts now.

baddit @substuff Collectible is preferred for English English. Collectable if writing for Americans.

Wordwatch @substuff: Both are correct, says the Oxford Dictionary of English, with ‘collectible’ commonly used to refer to a ‘collectible item’.

jamesrbuk @substuff collectable. The alternative is a crime against humanity.

Xurumei @substuff I’d go for ‘collectable’. ‘Collectible’ looks wrong to me.

jamesrbuk @substuff Something it is possible to collect = collectable. Collectible is meaningless guff. Rargh.

baddit @substuff Also, while Wikipedia is hardly the most trustworthy reference, it says collectible  is the US spelling. http://j.mp/gOQ9rd%0A

And in response to my “the Guardian and The Times do it” defence…

MorningBrighton @substuff Well what do they know. The Guardian doesn’t even use capital letters! Collectable looks much better and is phonetically correct.

Any more for any more? Cast your votes now! I’d be interested to know whether it is indeed a US/UK thing, and also whether there’s a distinction between the noun and the adjective. And if the OED prefers collectable, how come our most respected newspapers use collectible? Anyone?

December 13, 2010

Ladies in Pigs

Filed under: nice carcass,wish you hadn't — substuff @ 1:33 pm
Tags: ,

hunky industry carcasses

You think I made up that headline, don’t you. Well, I didn’t. In the course of my sausage-taste-test editing, I have come across an organisation called just that: Ladies in Pigs. Or LIPs, for short. What? My face is straight – I don’t know what you’re laughing at.

No, I’m not joking – see for yourselves: www.ladiesinpigs.co.uk.

What do they do? “Ladies in Pigs supports the pig industry by working to increase the awareness and hence consumption and value of Quality Standard pork, bacon, ham and sausages. If you have a ‘passion for pork’ and a desire to support pig farming, then help us to be even more successful by JOINING our group.”

So, now you know. If you have a passion for pork, or even a “passion for pork”, that’s the place to go.

But this is the bit I love… they’ve made a calendar. Ohhh yes. Here it is. Countless are the times I’ve longed for a nice picture of a butcher covering his modesty with the carcass of a pig, and here are my dreams delivered. Mm mm mmm.

Oh no, hang on, THIS is the bit I love. The “about” copy on the link to the calendar. Hover over the picture and it says… “Click here for more information on how to get a calendar showcasing some of the hunkiest industry carcases ever seen.”

Hunky industry carcasses? Oh yes! “Carcass” is going to be the hot compliment in 2011. Get practising. “Nice carcass, honey.” “If I told you you had a nice carcass, would you hold it against me?” I’m seeing the Valentine’s cards already.

And in case anyone is bridling at me mixing two spellings of carcase/carcass, I’m already there. Me, I prefer carcass (not something I say too often in company). But carcase is also an accepted (and for some publications preferred) spelling.

By the bye, I have just been enlightened about several pork-related delicacies along the lines of pigs in blankets. Apparently:

  • devils on horseback are prunes in bacon
  • angels on horseback are oysters in bacon
  • farts on horseback are jerusalem artichokes in bacon

Clearly this poses the question: what on earth are ladies in pigs?

December 9, 2010

Hacks hit by plea to say it like it is

Filed under: hit by,word choice — substuff @ 4:57 pm
Tags: ,

pylon hit by car

Any sub-editor worth their salt will have had this rant at some point, so I doubt I will pick up any points for originality here. But I’m going to rant anyway (well heck, it’s the name of the blog, after all).

Say what you mean. That’s it. Not much of a rant, I admit (it’s coming, it’s coming). There is great value in saying exactly what you mean. (In life, too, she muses.) That means not fancying it up with convoluted metaphors in the hope that you’ll sound more intelligent, not lazily lobbing in any old verb, and never repeating something that you yourself don’t understand. Teachers of journalism often tell you to speak as if you’re telling a friend at the pub. It’s good advice. But do it as if you’re on your first pint of the evening, not your last.

Here’s one that’s been upsetting me: “hit by”. One day last week, at a horrible pre-dawn hour, I picked up a copy of the Metro. “Hit by” was in the headline on the front cover, then the headline, standfirst and copy on page three. But what does it actually mean? Well… pretty much anything negative: “affected by”, “delayed by”, “crashed into by (ew)”, “damaged by”, etc. I’m being a little hypocritical here, as I’m sure I’ve used it myself in many a headline – after all, it’s so pleasingly short and easy to fit in. But I shouldn’t, if I can possibly avoid it, and neither should you. And while it may occasionally be excusable in headlines, there’s rarely a good reason for using it in copy.

Here’s a quick look at today’s hit-by headlines:

Financial Times: HMV hit by sharp decline in sales What does the “hit by” add here that couldn’t be communicated with “HMV sales decline sharply”? (Or, personal favourite, “plummet”.)

Sky News: Petrol bomber hit by own firebomb YES! This is the right way to use it! (The expression, not the firebomb.)

Heatworld: Coronation Street Live hit by terrorist fears Not really… they’ve just hired some extra security.

Marie Claire: Christina Aguilera hit by nude photo scandal (Hmm, I wonder which of these links you’ll all be clicking on.)

Belfast Telegraph: SMEs hit hardest by drop in exports What does this even mean? Ah, never mind – as a reader, I’ve already turned the page.

None of these, however, match up to the daftness of this standfirst in the Metro last week. “More than half of all rail operators will be hit by engineering work over the festive period.” But they won’t, will they? It was the rail operators, after all, that arranged the engineering work. If anyone will be “hit by” anything, it’ll be the commuters (in the ballroom with the resulting delays).

I have three main complaints about “hit by”:

  1. It’s lazy. Think of a word that actually means something, and use that instead.
  2. It’s passive, which makes for dull copy. Go active! “Engineering works will cause xxx xxx xxx over the festive period” [xxxs indicates where the news (yes, news!) should go, not kisses].
  3. It has a plausible literal meaning. Your reader sees the words “rail”, “hit”, and “by” and expects to read about a train crash. Don’t mess with their minds.

In other please-write-what-you-mean news, here’s an example from a car review that I edited yesterday: “The car is fairly pedestrian-friendly as there aren’t any hard surfaces directly beneath the bonnet.”

Personally, I’m not a big fan of the -friendly construction at the best of times. If it’s user-friendly, is it going to hug me? Friendliness should be reserved for sentient beings, in my humble opinion. But it’s hard to escape on a consumer magazine, and I don’t usually make a fuss. But “pedestrian-friendly”? You must be kidding! Crashing into pedestrians is not a friendly thing to do, however few hard surfaces you have under your bonnet.

I said as much on Twitter, and received the following reply from @AndrewNoakes “Know what you mean, but how else do you say it in a few words? ‘Less pedestrian unfriendly’ is more accurate, but clumsy.”

Well, how about: “There are no hard surfaces directly below the bonnet, minimising danger to pedestrians in the event of a crash.” It ain’t beautiful, but it does say what it means. If anyone can sum it up with both beauty and sense (possibly in haiku format, for extra kudos), I’d be interested to hear it.

Incidentally, considering my comment on sentience (although, strictly speaking, I suppose having skin does not necessarily imply it – discuss), the same report also contained the sentence: “It has an interior that can be a little daunting to get used to, such is the number of gadgets the car has under its skin.” Yeuch.

Finally, and as if to prove my point about this rant being far from original, the Guardian’s excellent Mind Your Language blog today featured a post on early style manuals, specifically A Plea for the Queen’s English, written by Henry Alford, dean of Canterbury, in 1863. It includes the following sage advice:

Call a spade a spade, not a well-known oblong instrument of manual industry; let a home be a home, not a residence … The only way to shine, even in this false world, is to be modest and unassuming. Elegance of language may not be in the power of all of us; but simplicity and straightforwardness are.

Damn straight.

December 8, 2010

Toilet sign – yuk!

Filed under: bad things — substuff @ 1:01 pm

Eww… thanks to Andy for this! The comments are worth a read, too.

November 24, 2010

Irish politicians are…

Filed under: great headlines,Useless gobshites — substuff @ 11:59 am
Tags: ,

Profound stuff from the Irish Daily Star. (Thanks to Andy for this).

Incidentally, I was going to headline this “Profound or profane?”, but then some sixth sense (habit, probably) made me check the dictionary. Profane means unreligious, or blasphemous – so I would have been wrong to use it to mean rude and sweary. Yeah yeah, you already knew that, I know.

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