Subbing the world

Righting copywriting wrongs, one word at a time

Sleeping comfortably? Then I’ll begin.

Coleman sleeping bag label

Not content with upsetting celebrity food writers via this blog, reader Stephen Green (of Greenfisher) has sent me this label from the Coleman sleeping bag his wife bought recently.

If you can’t read the notes on the label, Stephen’s kindly supplied a transcript:

The temperature ratings of our sleeping bags are based on tests which comply to the temperature rating protocols of the European Standard (EN 13537-4.3.3 Manikin* Methodology only).

The definitions, provided according to the European Standard, are:

Comfort: Lower limit of comfort range down to which a sleeping bag used with a relaxed posture, such as lying on the back, is globally in thermal equilibrium and just not feeling cold. Related to a standard woman and in standard conditions of use.

Limit: Lower limit at which a sleeping bag user with a rolled-up body posture is globally in thermal equilibrium and just not feeling cold. Related to a standard man and in standard conditions of use.

Extreme: Lower extreme temperature where the risks of health damage by hypothermia occurs. Related to a standard woman and in standard conditions of use.

Coleman® suggests to follow the “Comfort” temperature.

*Note: during the tests, the manikin is dressed with jacket, trousers and long socks, lying on an insulating mattress – sleeping bag fully closed.

So that’s all clear then. As long as you’re a ‘standard man’ or a ‘standard woman’, of course. Or possibly a ‘manikin.’


Filed under: Confusing, Contributions, Jargon, microcopy, Verbiage

Assume the position

Virgin Media Spotify ad

This tiny bit of microcopy on a Virgin Media ad in Spotify made me smile.

The caption says, Rollover for legals.

I guess at some point in our lives we’re all asked to do that, in one way or another.

Filed under: Amusing tangents, microcopy

So that’s where all the money comes from

Natwest ATM message

Spotted at a NatWest cash machine on my way in to London this morning.

Filed under: Confusing, microcopy

Organic, free-range tautology

Tesco: recommended for use in recipe dishes

Spotted this at the weekend. Can anyone explain what a ‘recipe dish’ is? How many dishes are recipe-free, exactly?

More to the point, why bother even printing something so utterly vapid and pointless? How does this line help me in any way at all? (Apart from giving me something to blog about, of course.)

As ever, I’m conscious that numerous people wrote, designed, managed, approved and printed this label before it fell beneath my cynical eye. What did any of them think was being said here?

Sidebar: why capitalise ‘pork’? Capitalise ‘pork’ and ‘mince’, or neither. But not one or the other.

That’s serious nit-picking, I know. But if you don’t go for serious nit-picking I can’t imagine why you’re reading this blog.

Filed under: Confusing, microcopy, Verbiage

D&AD: Devil & A Detail

It’s such a tiny, tiny thing. But you know what they say about the Devil and details.

D&AD email header

Instead of:

If you are unable to to see the D&AD email below, please view online at…

why didn’t this D&AD email just say:

If you can’t see this email, go to…?

It just sounds nicer and more human. Shorter too.

All these tiny things. They all matter.

Well, all right. They matter to me.

Filed under: microcopy, Tone of voice

At last: an alternative to imaginary crisps!

Richard has sent me a note about Walkers Sensations (with this image nicked from The Dieline):

Sensations packs

Quite rightly, he highlights that line on the pack, ‘Made with real ingredients‘, as deserving of our scorn.

It would be tricky, after all, to create crisps from unreal ingredients. What would you do, mix the dream of a potato with a painting of some chilli, and a memory of salt?

Yes, all right, of course we know what they mean. They mean they’ve used actual produce to achieve the flavour, rather than artifical flavouring number E4506/B. Which is a nice thing to know.

(Although if you look the ingredients up, you find that in amongst the ‘real ingredients’ is the somewhat vague ‘Flavouring’.)

Nobody really thinks Walkers are offering us an alternative to imaginary crisps. I understand that. But it’s nice to know someone other than me looks at language like this and does a little roll of the eyes. Thanks, Richard.

Filed under: Confusing, Contributions, microcopy

Saying nothing, twice.

Facebook clip

Sarah Porretta of Cadbury has found time in the midst of being eaten alive to send me this message she got from Facebook.

In case you can’t read it, the message says:

Could not post to Wall The message could not be posted to this Wall.

It annoyed Sarah not, she says, ‘just because of the copy itself, but because Facebook are unable to explain to me either why I could not post to wall, or why the message could not be posted to this wall.’

Refusing a request without any explanation is bad enough. In this case, Facebook has decided to do it twice. Which does seem unnecessarily rude.

Filed under: Confusing, Contributions, microcopy, Tone of voice

A Fawlty tone of voice

I turned 40 recently, and my wife secretly arranged a very special celebration: a weekend trip to Whatley Manor, a fantastic hotel in the Wiltshire Cotswolds.

We got back yesterday, and let me tell you, it was absolutely stunning. Not a fault to be found, from the sumptuous spa to the heavenly, diet-nuking eight-course dinner, by two-Michelin-star chef Martin Burge.


I did notice this incongruous bit of microcopy adorning one of the books on the coffee table in our room:

Whatley bookWhatley book detail

I always wonder if, when people write stuff like this, they ever read it back to themselves. Considering what a friendly, attentive place the hotel was, the tone of this label stuck out like a sore thumb. (To me, anyway.)

First, there’s the instruction to ‘Enjoy reading this copy in your hotel bedroom.’

For one thing, this is redundant. What else would you do with it?

But more importantly, the tone is so officious. It’s the tone of a seaside B&B, run by a crabby old spinster who pins up lists of all the things guests are not allowed to do.

Then: ‘Your own copy may be purchased at reception’. The passive voice doesn’t help (being done to, rather than doing). It sounds stiff, snooty and overly formal – none of which qualities were in evidence anywhere else.

All the label had to say was, ‘You can buy your own copy of this book at Reception,’ or something similar. Friendly, personal, and helpful – and therefore in keeping with the brand as a whole. Not some anonymous directive, delivered in a tone so sharp you feel guilty even lifting the book off the table.

I find this is often the way with hotels. Even nice ones. They often seem to feel they have to manage their guests, as if herding unruly schoolchildren. It’s Basil Fawlty Syndrome. And it often emerges, as here, in the margins of things: little signs, or instructions in the room service booklets.

‘Evening meals must be ordered before 10.00pm,’ you might read. Or, ‘In the interests of health and safety, guests are requested not to walk barefoot through the common areas.’

Let’s be clear: Whatley Manor was fabulous. About as far from Fawlty Towers as it’s possible for a hotel to get. But that just highlights how peculiar it is that such a warm, generous brand should suddenly slip into this somewhat Basil-esque (Basilian? Basilerian?) tone.

Can you imagine the torment of going through life worrying about stuff like this? It’s not easy being me.

Filed under: Downright ugly, microcopy, Tone of voice

A microcopy disaster zone

Pizza Express receipt

Sorry, I haven’t got it in for Pizza Express. In fact, I love it there. I’ve always liked it, but now I’ve discovered the effect it has on children (‘If you behave, we’ll go to Pizza Express’), I positively adore it.

But personal prejudice must count for nought in the clear-eyed pursuit of horrible copy.

Look at this recent receipt. (I know it’s bleary, sorry. iPhone shot. Ah. How do you begin a sentence with ‘iPhone’? ‘IPhone’? Surely not. Okay, let’s file that.)

Pointless quotation marks, or inverted commas, are the subject of at least one other blog. But they’re worth noting again here. “Service Charge not included.” The quote marks suggest this is unconfirmed, or perhaps disputed – as when a newspaper headline reads, GORDON BROWN “EATS SMALL BIRDS”.

Alternatively, the quotes might mean this is an actual quotation. Well, it’s certainly something I’ve heard before. But I’m pretty sure it’s not Churchill, or Wordsworth. In fact, we’d probably have a hard time pinning down the originator of that deathless phrase.

But I’m being silly, right? We all know there’s no dispute about the service charge line. And we know it’s not from Milton’s Thoughts Upon The Remuneration for a Sloppy Guiseppe. Okay, but that’s not the point. The point is, the quote marks are pointless. So why are they there? If you’re going to go to the trouble of making a keystroke (or two), shouldn’t there be a reason?

Then we get: ‘How did we do. we’ll reward you for your feedback on your experience today.’

Deep breath, gang.

The obvious: no question mark at the end of the first sentence. And no capital at the beginning of the second.

Okay. But also: ‘We’ll reward you for your feedback on your experience today.’ Horrible. ‘We’ll reward you’ just sounds vague, dry and dull. I’m thinking of a £1 voucher download, valid until tomorrow, to be used between 3pm and 4.30pm.

And ‘feedback’. We all get feedback these days, don’t we? People used to laugh at phrases like, ‘I’d value your input’. Now they say, ‘I look forward to your feedback,’ without a trace of irony.

And ‘your experience’. Ugh. Why is everything an experience these days? You can’t have a pizza, you have to have an Italian dining experience. (Probably an authentic one.) You can’t go to a shop, you have to have a retail experience. If I kiss my wife, it’s probably a marital bond reaffirmation experience.

How about this:

‘How did we do? Let us know and we’ll give you a special treat.’ Or reveal the treat: ‘Let us know and we’ll give you some free doughballs.’

Isn’t that nicer? More personal? Warmer? More inviting? These are all good qualities when you want someone to visit your website, as Pizza Express do.

Oh, and ‘Thank You’ doesn’t need that cap Y, does it?


(Think I’ll send this link to and see what happens.)

UPDATE: Thanks to copywriter John Fountain for correcting me: PizzaExpress is apparently a single word. That seems very silly to me, but a glance at their website proves John correct. (See the comments.)

Filed under: Confusing, microcopy, Punctuation, Tone of voice, ,

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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