Saturday, June 1, 2013

More Than Grammar

There is no law that prohibits dating a friend’s ex.  You won’t go to jail if you drink your roommate’s last Diet Coke. There is no commandment that states that men shalt not wear mock turtlenecks.

However, just because these practices are technically permissible, it doesn’t mean that we should do them. 

The same rule applies to our writing. Just because something we write is technically grammatically correct, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s the best way to express it. Here are a couple of examples:

(The apostrophe is inserted correctly.)



 (The comma is correct and Nike is appropriately capitalized.)

The writers of these headlines were trying to convey messages about politics and golf, but here I am wondering if Obama's package is big enough to raise the debt ceiling on its own.

When we proofread our work, we have to do the best we can to see our writing through our readers' eyes. This is challenging because we know what message we are trying to convey. Therefore, even if proofread our work, we might not notice that we've inserted male genitalia references into our writing. 

Have you ever made a similar error?
 
What are your most successful proofreading techniques?

14 comments:

Andrew Leon said...

Reading it out loud. It changes the way I see what I've written and helps me find things that may need to be reworded.

DiscConnected said...

First, let me say that there SHOULD be a law against drinking that last diet coke.

The Tiger headline made me think of George Carlin's old "Seven Words You Can't Say On Television" routine...'balls' was one of those words that could sometimes get you into trouble....like with this headline!

LC

James Garcia Jr. said...

Hello, stranger! *waves*
You know, my least favorite proofreading method is also the last step before finishing. It's the reading aloud stage. I can't stand it because it takes so damn long! Lol! However, it really works to make sure everything sounds just right.
I hope life has been treating you well, Jenny. Enjoy your weekend!

-Jimmy

Mark said...

I want to tell myself that they just don't see the entendre because they see themselves as high class because they run a newspaper. Then I read other headlines and I see that they're really bad puns. If you ask me this was entirely deliberate and proofreading would just result in the writers snickering more.

Shelly said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Shelly said...

I like to start from the last sentence of a piece and work my way up through to the first sentence when proofreading so I can remove myself from the meaning and focus where I should.

Jemi Fraser said...

Those are awesome! I love Jay Leno's headlines segments where he showcases these kinds of mistakes - fun! :)

DWei said...

Read your entire work backwards and aloud.

Does wonders for me.

Jo Antareau said...

I agree with Mark, the gaffs in the headlines were probably deliberate. Any publicity is good for the paper, so the occasional double entendre that draws attention to the publication is a good thing.

That, and the fact that copy editing can a boring job, so the sub editor might occasionally sex-up a journalist's copy for a giggle. And if it makes the journalist look like a turkey ...all the better! (editor 1, reporter 0).

It makes me wonder about the rare medieval bible that includes the commandment Thou Shalt Commit Adultery.

the late phoenix said...

I got arrested for drinking Coke Zero. I'm grateful, that arresting officer saved my life...that stuff tastes like dishwater.

Theresa Milstein said...

I think they make mistakes with Tiger Woods headlines on purpose. He kind of brought it on himself.

Beta readers have caught a few multiple meanings I didn't intend. Nothing about packages though.

The Sisterhood said...

Those are great examples! Headlines are particularly prone to such problems: I noticed this when I worked for a newspaper. We spent more time trying to come up with unfunny headlines than we did writing the actual story. And even with our best effort, we'd still accidentally write something like that "Obama's package" headline, which we'd hear ALL about next day from readers.

My technique involves stepping away from my work periodically and doing something else: just a few minutes' break allows me to see something with fresh eyes. That, and having someone else proofread my proofreading! Yay for those minions known as "family members."

-S

anthony stemke said...

Re the use of commas -
A panda walks into a restaurant and orders a sandwich. After eating it, he pulls out a gun and fires a couple of shots into the ceiling. The frightened waiter/server/provider asks why did you do that? as the panda is on his way out. "I'm a panda," he says and produces a badly punctuated wildlife manual. The panda says "Look it up."

The waiter turns to the entry on PANDA and finds the explanation.

"PANDA. Large black and white bear-like mammal, native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves."

anthony stemke said...

Re the use of commas -
A panda walks into a restaurant and orders a sandwich. After eating it, he pulls out a gun and fires a couple of shots into the ceiling. The frightened waiter/server/provider asks why did you do that? as the panda is on his way out. "I'm a panda," he says and produces a badly punctuated wildlife manual. The panda says "Look it up."

The waiter turns to the entry on PANDA and finds the explanation.

"PANDA. Large black and white bear-like mammal, native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves."