or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Thursday, June 17, 2010


Beloved Canadian mezzo Maureen Forrester has died of complications from Alzheimer's, a sad and miserable way to go--worse even for her kids than for her, I think--and her obituary in The Toronto Star shows every sign of having been hastily written and never copy-edited, containing as it does a repeated paragraph of three sentences (always the sign of cut-and-paste rewriting, easily missed by the writer, who's too close to the material), a missing word ("as") in the second paragraph, and a singular where a plural was intended ("She’d have children and three day later she’d be on stage"), all undetectable to a spellchecker but immediately evident to an editor.

She deserved better.

Friday, June 11, 2010


This is a bottle cap from a standard 2-litre bottle of Diet Coke as currently available in Canada:

Just for comparison: nothing to see here. Well, sort of something: there's a word missing from it, a word which is present in the French version--"jeton", which is to say "token", and what probably ought to be "code" or "points" in English.

Anyway. This is a bottle cap from a standard 500-mL* bottle of Diet Coke as it is currently available in England:

Do you see that at the bottom? "Open by hand."

What can it possibly mean? Do not open with any part of your body except your hand, such as your teeth or the crook of your elbow? Do not use any mechanical device to untwist the cap? Don't use a church-key can opener to pierce the top?

I am utterly baffled. Unless there's something I don't know about English Diet Coke drinkers, such as their propensity to bypass the cap altogether and jam a metal straw through the bottle, or their unfamiliarity with the way a twist-off cap works, that legend on the cap seems like the most pointless instruction in packaging history.

* By the way, a single-serving bottle of Diet Coke in North America is 591 mL, or 20 ounces, whereas the British version is 500 mL, or half a litre, in addition to which the British version is basically a tall slender tube where the N.A. version is the iconically curvaceous Coke-bottle shape and slightly shorter into the bargain, meaning that when you come back from the UK and drink a Diet Coke in Canada, you can hardly believe how ungainly and lumpen the thing is. Luckily, you get used to it again pretty quickly.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

On Giving Up

The English language has a luscious collection of words for us to employ when we have strong feelings against something: we can take umbrage at it, we can fly into a dudgeon, we can ladle contumely upon it. And unfortunately, I find I no longer have any use for these words when it comes to the misuse of the language itself, something that used to cause me to passionately excoriate the abuser.

I can even pinpoint the exact moment at which I lost my sense of fury at the stupid, pointless, and avoidable errors that our daily lives are rife with. Jim and I holidayed in the UK for a few weeks, and a fair portion of that was naturally spent in hotel rooms, or aboard trains travelling to those rooms, so I bought and read a lot of newspapers.*

British newspapers, it turns out, are no better than their North American counterparts at cleaning up typographical and grammatical errors. And this in the country that invented the goddamned language. I kept track of a few of the usual errors to write about in the usual way, but my heart wasn't it. And on the last day we were there, I had two newspapers with me in the hotel, and in one of them I read the phrase "reign in", and in the other I read the phrase "flaunt the law" (even though in another section of the paper the word "flout" was correctly used in a similar context), and it was then that I knew that I just didn't care any more. Let them be lazy, the writers and editors and publishers, the newspapers and books and magazines. Let them be cheap, trying to save money by firing all the copy-editors and the proofreaders and trusting mechanical spellcheckers, if they even bother to use those. Let them corrode and besmirch and contaminate and bastardize and wreck. I can't stop them, and complaining about it won't fix what they have wrought.

*The three big stories while we were there: politician David Laws quit the new government when it was discovered that he had been renting an apartment from his boyfriend on the taxpayers' dime; some cab driver in Cumbria went on a shooting rampage and killed like a dozen people; and the World Cup** is set to take place in South Africa in July. Did any of these stories make even the tiniest splash in North America? Because they're pretty much all you read about for a few weeks. Oh, and the British Petroleum oil disaster, of course, but only because it's a British company; since it was happening in North America, the story wasn't a huge presence in the media.

**The World Cup? Seriously. It's everywhere in the UK. They're completely fucking obsessed with soccer. What is the deal with that? They make American football fans look like a passel of shawl-draped tea-drinking nanas.