Hall of Shame

Hall of Shame: Rare is more than uncommon

Today’s Hall of Shame entry is brought to you by a local news agency.

“…reports on this rare, but not uncommon surgery.”

In cases where we are talking about frequency of occurrence, the scale tends to run from common -> uncommon -> rare -> extremely rare.

It makes me wonder if they actually meant “unheard of” or “unknown” surgery instead.

Know the Lingo

I’ve had a bit of time for pleasure reading recently and, being as I’m a huge football fan and it’s that time of year, I’ve read a few romances featuring football players. Great reading for the bus since I pick them up and put them down easily.

But my experiences with two of these books made me grind my teeth because of errors. In one case, I don’t think the author knows much about football, so the lingo was just wrong. In the other, I believe there was an uncaught autocorrect issue that snuck through and it was so obvious, I was more annoyed than usual.

If you are writing or editing anything where there is the expectation of a lingo or specialized language being used then you really NEED to get it correct. True, in some cases only a small subset of your readers would know the difference if the focus is on a small or esoteric area. However, as with these football-based stories, there are areas where many many audience members may have a good knowledge of what should be in use.

Errors drive the audience nuts and you immediately lose a lot of credibility.
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Hall of Shame: Definition of Zenith

Today’s Hall of Shame entry is brought to you by a book published by one of the Big Six New York publishers.

…the sun was high in the sky, well past its zenith.

Finding errors like this pulls me out of a book. This book’s editor should have caught both this error and the one that shortly followed, all leaving the reader with no real idea of what the heck time of day the author is talking about.

If you look up the definition of “zenith”, you will find the following in the online version of the Miriam-Webster Dictionary:

the highest point reached in the heavens by a celestial body

So if the sun was high in the sky, it could not have been well past its zenith. If it was high in the sky, it would have been near its zenith.

Hall of Shame: Missing prepositions

Today’s Hall of Shame is brought to you by another online newspaper headline.

Rare tumor robs young woman’s voice

My first thought was wondering how the young woman’s voice was robbed? Was it at gunpoint? Maybe it was robbed of a register of vocal range.

No – what really happened was that a tumor caused surgeons to remove the young woman’s larynx. Her voice was not robbed. Instead she was robbed OF her voice. The author of the headline should have used a preposition (“of”) to show the correct relationship between “young woman” and “voice”.

Hall of Shame: Check your modifiers

Today’s “Hall of Shame” headline is a variation of a mistake that I have been enduring for years and every time I see it or hear it, I cringe.

Amanda Knox’s former Italian boyfriend engaged?

We’ll ignore the fact that it’s rather silly to pose this as a question to readers and the fact the presentation smacks of tabloidism. (It’s actually from an online news site, by the way.)

When many people read this sentence, I’m sure they understand that this refers to Italian citizen Rafaelle Sollecito who was the boyfriend of Amanda Knox at the time of her arrest for murder. They are no longer boyfriend/girlfriend, so he’s now her former boyfriend.

But if you look at the quote carefully, that’s not what it actually says.

Adjectives modify the noun closest to them, as a rule This quote instead says that Rafaelle is a formerly Italian but he is still Amanda Knox’s boyfriend. Unless Rafaelle was expelled from Italy and his citizenship revoked, this headline is an error. And it’s an error that seems to run like wildfire through the press for some reason I have yet to figure out. Laziness? Reliance on a single press service and accepting their errors?

This should actually read:

Amanda Knox’s Italian former boyfriend engaged?

Check your modifiers to make sure they are in the correct place.