Subbing the world

Righting copywriting wrongs, one word at a time

What next? The Licensed Catering Outlet Quiz?

Harvester pub

Thanks to Twitter, and specifically fellow copywriter Andrew Arnold, I’ve found this admirably cross article in The Publican, by 2009 Beer Writer of the Year Pete Brown. (What a terrific job to have, by the way.)

Pete has been driven to distraction (and, presumably, to drink) by the trend for pub chain companies to avoid the name ‘pub’ in favour of some hideous euphemistic banality like licensed catering outlet or kitchen & eating rooms.

In the article, he resists ‘a sentimental, pub-loving position [to explain] why this campaign to erase pubs is a Bad Thing.’ Which is kind of a shame: I’d like to hear that position expressed.

Instead, he opts, pragmatically, for an argument ‘corporate types’ will understand, about the competitive advantage a ‘pub’ has over every other ‘licensed catering outlet’ in the world. And of course he’s absolutely right.

I suppose there’s a wider question about whether those anonymous, brightly lit monstrosities, gaudily badged with names like Harvester or Chef & Brewer, actually deserve the name of ‘pub’. These chains seem expressly intent on excising any atom of charm, warmth or individuality that might give them the right to that hallowed name. Licensed catering outlet often seems about as much as they deserve.

But then maybe if the companies involved could understand (or, in Whitbread‘s case, just remember) what makes the British pub such a beloved element of our culture, they might stand half a chance of creating environments that don’t induce a dizzying impulse towards violent suicide immediately upon entry.


Filed under: Downright ugly, Good words, Tone of voice

Good words from the New York Times

After Deadline logo

I only just realised that I hadn’t added the New York Times‘ splendid After Deadline blog to my blogroll. Slapped wrists all round. The mistake has been rectified.

The latest entry tackled split infinitives (yes, you can) and The Great And Question – which so incensed me, I created a little booklet about it that some of you may have seen.

Author Philip B Corbett (middle initials are a legal requirement for American males) also addresses the question of using ‘they’ as a singular pronoun (no, you can’t).

The whole blog is done with wit, good humour and common sense. In fact it’s much better than mine, dammit.

Filed under: Good words, Grammar, Useful

A poetic plea for human communication

One of my aims in this blog is to highlight the obtuse, jargonistic, obfuscatory language so often used by business and Government.

This sort of language is annoying and off-putting in commercial writing. When you’re a public authority, and your audience is one trying to deal with complex and sensitive issues, it verges on the unethical.

Thanks to the wonder of Twitter (specifically writer @davidbdale), I came across this lovely poem by poet Elspeth Murray, about communications aimed at those dealing with mental health.

I couldn’t have said it better (or even anything like as well) myself.

Filed under: General chat, Good words

Let's start with this blog. The name's just not right, is it? It's much wider than sub-editing. It's just as often about words that are technically correct, but tonally all over the place. Oh well. Anyway, please feel free to send me your own examples of horrible copy (but please, no more erroneous apostrophes): mike[at]


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