Subbing the world

Righting copywriting wrongs, one word at a time

I’d like some fresh punctuation, if that’s not too much trouble.

Dominos header

(Click to see it bigger if it’s a bit weeny.)

I shan’t insult your intelligence by explaining what’s missing.

I mean, honestly.


Filed under: Punctuation

Twelfth Night, Section 4, Paragraph 3a

Music be the food of love Southwark

Some time ago, I put this horrible sign on my Flickr. I should have remembered it for this blog, but I didn’t.

Now fellow copywriter Tim Rich has used it for his blog. And said all the right things. So you might as well just read him.

Filed under: Downright ugly, Tone of voice, Verbiage

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

Don’t try to pretend this is an accident

Reuters 'Gay/Dix' headline

Credit for spotting this one from Reuters goes to Doug Bebb, Web Editor at the NSPCC. Thanks Doug.

‘Nuff said, really, except that I find it difficult to believe this wasn’t written with a knowing titter.

As Doug says in his email, it’s reminiscent of that famous (if disputed) bit of Brian Johnston commentary, when he apparently announced during a 1976 Test match that, ‘The batsman’s Holding, the bowler’s Willey.’ The things words will do to you if you don’t keep an eye on them. Shocking.

Well, anyway, it’s lunchtime now, so I’m off for a hot roll with the wife. Cheerio!

Filed under: Contributions, Double meanings

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

A rubbish tone of voice

Hammersmith & Fulham recycling poster

As I walked along Wood Lane this morning, this truck rumbled past and shouted at me.

Suddenly I’m picturing ranks of blank-eyed Hammersmith & Fulham schoolchildren lined up at their desks, pledging their commitment to a sustainable lifestyle. Black-visored Recycling Enforcement Units frogmarching down the Talgarth Road, barking savagely at any citizens who forget themselves sufficiently to drop their copies of Metro into the normal street bins.

And somewhere, a dank, windowless room (101, perhaps?) where serial non-recyclers are beaten with bulging ring-binders labelled Council Environment and Waste Policy Initiatives Working Group Priority Management Programme (Q3).

Is this the way to encourage positive behaviour? Does this sort of tone have any effect on people whatsoever – except perhaps to ignite a reflexive desire to kick back, and deliberately drop a prohibited Yellow Pages in the green wheeliebin? I suspect not.

Complete crap.

Filed under: Downright ugly, Tone of voice

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

Censuring the BBC

BBC typo

So, class: what’s wrong with this paragraph (another contribution from eagle-eyed copywriter Jim Davies)?

It’s from today’s BBC Sport website (scroll down to ‘Other Gossip’).

Well, yes, I probably would hyphenate ‘mid-flow’, but that’s not what we’re looking for.

A comma after ‘press conference?’ Do you know, I think you’re right. But again, not the target today.

Yes? You at the back, with the chewing gum in your hair? Yes, well done. Quite right:

BBC typo corrected

Censure means to strongly disapprove of something, or even to issue an official reprimand. You can almost see how someone might think that was what Fifa was doing, in a way.

But it seems obvious that whoever scrambled this paragraph out meant censor, as in to suppress certain material on behalf of some regime or other. Oops.

Bizarrely enough, when I was collecting my links I found that is featuring censor as one of its ‘commonly confused’ words today: confused words

Even so, I don’t think we can let the BBC off the hook, can we? Otherwise we’d be censoring our own right to censure. Which would be a shame indeed.


UPDATE (about three hours later):

The page has now been corrected:

BBC typo changed

Is this because of its appearance here? I wouldn’t wish to claim credit unduly, but who knows…?

Filed under: Contributions, Typos

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

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

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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