Mistakes in the News

You might assume that respected publications employ battalions of skilled editors who work assiduously to ensure that no errors appear in their pages. Maybe so, but the mistakes don’t always get caught. Here are four that I recently found in major newspapers:

  • “When Mr. Biden indulges in his rhetorical overkill of repeating the same phrase three times – the proud men and women of Scranton, he said… ‘wanted the government to understand their problem, to understand their problem, be cognizant of the problem’….”Did you catch it? He didn’t repeat the phrase three times. He repeated it twice.
  • “We create elaborate Excel spreadsheets in our head sorting what we would buy….”In our one collective head? Try the plural heads.
  • “Indeed, the banjos owned by Mr. Scruggs were nearly priceless.”As the MasterCard ads suggest, the word priceless has some validity when it’s applied to a sunset or time with one’s family. But a rare collectible surely has a price. What’s more, “nearly priceless” is nonsensical.
  • “I have known him for nearly two years, and have seen him in a variety of situations… over a glass of wine in his boyish loft in Manhattan’s Tribeca….”The word boyish means “like a boy” or “youthful and innocent.” The word may legitimately be used to characterize an adult male, but can it describe his apartment? Nope. In place of this clunky phrasing, the writer should have told us something about the resident’s furnishings or toys. That would have conveyed a vivid and concrete image.

These examples demonstrate once again that it’s a good idea to express oneself carefully. Sloppy writing and unprofessional editing tend to stop readers in their tracks and distract from the message.

[Ed Note: For more than three decades, Don Hauptman was an award-winning independent direct-response copywriter and creative consultant. He is author of The Versatile Freelancer, an e-book recently published by AWAI that shows writers and other creative professionals how to diversify their careers into speaking, consulting, training, and critiquing.]

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Don Hauptman was an award-winning independent direct-response copywriter and creative consultant for more than 30 years. He may be best known for his headline “Speak Spanish [French, German, etc.] Like a Diplomat!” This familiar series of ads sold spectacular numbers of recorded foreign language lessons for Audio-Forum, generating revenues that total in the tens of millions of dollars. In the process, the ad achieved the status of an industry classic. Don’s work is mentioned in three major college advertising textbooks, and examples of his promotions are cited in the books Million Dollar Mailings (1992) and World's Greatest Direct Mail Sales Letters (1996). In a column in Advertising Age, his name was included in a short list of direct-marketing “superstars.” He has a parallel career as a writer on language and wordplay. His celebration of spoonerisms, Cruel and Unusual Puns (Dell, 1991), received rave reviews and quickly went into a second printing. His second book was Acronymania (Dell, 1993). Recently, Don retired from full-time copywriting in order to focus on other interests, including his passion for “recreational linguistics.” He is at work on a new book in that genre. He is a regular contributor to the magazine Word Ways and writes “The Language Perfectionist,” a weekly column on grammar and usage, for Early to Rise. Don is author of The Versatile Freelancer,an e-book from American Writers and Artists, Inc. (AWAI) that shows copywriters – and almost anyone – how to diversify their careers into consulting, training, critiquing, and speaking.