Obscure Box

Thoughts from inside the obscure box

April 22, 2009

The hunt for language blunders in journalism

Posted by : Michael Lund
Filed under : Language, Media, Online, Print, Style

I will begin with a confession.

My early years in journalism included working for one weekly newspaper where as a poorly-paid and overworked junior hack I would also have to file the odd piece for the advertising department.

These advertorials usually began with a phone call to whoever was paying for the advertorial, where I would introduce myself and say: "What nice things would you like me to say about your business?"

I'd then write nice things about them, and then read my copy to them over the phone so they could correct any mistakes, or change anything they didn't like.

E-mail didn't exist in newsrooms then and not every business had a fax. Occasionally the ad rep would take them a hard copy to read but often deadlines got in the way of that practise.

One place I had to write about was a furniture business on the outskirts of Leeds, in the UK.

I wrote the copy, I read the copy to them over the phone, the ad rep read the copy, the subs read the copy and so on until it was eventually printed in the newspaper where hopefully some readers would read the copy, visit the shop and spend some money to help fund more advertising in the newspaper.

The following week the ad rep paid the store a visit to get some feedback which he then relayed to me.

"They liked it," I think I remember him saying. "But they'd just like to point out they sell three-piece suites, not three-piece suits."

A simple mistake but one I still cringe about to this day. (Like one of my early police par stories where I described a crashed car as a "right off" instead of a "write off".)

Journalists are not immune to such language blunders. Given the amount of words we produce each day it's hardly surprising.

So I'm on the look out for some new language blunders in journalism.

This is not a witch-hunt or an attempt to ridicule anyone, it's just a bit of fun and I'm more than happy to fess up to my own blunders along the way.

The Sun

The Sun

I'll get things started with an article from The Sun newspaper in the UK called "Is Sun man a record bra-ker" (Monday 20 April 2009).

NEVER undie-estimate a man with a mssion.

New TV show Guinness World Records Smashed invites Brits to try and break world records.

Included in the bizarre record attempts on the Sunday night programme is an 'eco water-ski' - where a rowing boat tries to gather enough speed to tow someone behind on ski's.

Two blunders in one story.

What's a "mssion"? And on ski's what? It should be either "a ski" singular or "skis" plural.

Over to you. Please send your contributions via the comments box below, including any link to any online version of a story.

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All thoughts and comments here are the honestly held personal opinion of Michael Lund and are based on the information available at the time of publication.