Once again, it’s time for a selective roundup and analysis of mistakes in the news:

  • “It is ironical that the author of the book that accurately depicted the lives of China’s rural poor… was rejected by the revolutionaries themselves.”

The standard form of the word is ironic, not ironical. In a previous column, I discussed “needless variants”; ironical is a prime example.

  • “The use of diapers in particular is so engrained in Western culture that it’s almost impossible to imagine life without them.”

The word engrained isn’t wrong, but it’s obsolescent. The standard spelling is ingrained. It means firmly established, deep-seated, fixed.

  • Photo caption: “Sadly, Edith Wharton was born here but never lived to see it become a Starbucks.”

This is a quintessential misplaced modifier. The momentarily puzzled reader will eventually conclude that the sad event was not Wharton’s birth but rather that she didn’t survive long enough to order a Mocha Venti Chocolate-Chip Frappuccino. Rewrite: “Edith Wharton was born here but, sadly, never lived to see it become a Starbucks.”

  • In a profile of a woman who experienced a spiritual conversion: “Her story struck me as increasingly normative rather than anomalous.”

The word normative refers to a norm, a standard of correctness. But the writer quoted above uses it as a pretentious substitute for normal or common.

By the way, if you’re wondering about the word congeries in the title of this column, it means collection, aggregation, or assemblage. It’s pronounced either “KON-juh-reez” or “kon-JEER-eez.”

[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 that shows writers and other creative professionals how to diversify their careers into speaking, consulting, training, and critiquing.]

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.