The Language Perfectionist: Dogging the Wag

As readers of this column know, I have a habit of searching for errors and anomalies in the media, adding my own puckish retorts, and preserving the results for posterity.

Below is a fresh collection of recent bloopers and mischievous rejoinders. This set originally appeared in Word Ways, “The Journal of Recreational Linguistics,” a venerable print magazine to which I contribute regularly. For more information, see

  • “‘Titian must have been close to 70 when he painted this,’ said Alexander Bell, head of Sotheby’s old master painting department in London. ‘It’s a very grand, very monumental painting, yet at the same time it’s quite tender. The Madonna has a very material expression.'”

Aren’t you thinking of the other Madonna?

  • Letter to Editor: “We don’t need think-tank ideas to better our schools, We need to return to our roots success in successful the past.”

On the other hand, let’s take all the help we can get.

  • Correction: “An article last Saturday about a Census Bureau report that for the first time measured the percentage of unmarried mothers who were not living alone misstated, in some copies, the name of a university in Baltimore where Andrew Cherlin is a demographer. He is at Johns Hopkins, not John Hopkins.”

But it’s still proud of its reputation as a singular university.

  • “Billionaire David H. Koch is planning a ‘spectacular’ remake of the fountains at the entrance to the Metropolitan Museum of Art…. Mr. Koch said he was inspired to spearhead the effort to renovate the outdoor space after seeing the new Lincoln Center fountain, which opened in October and features ‘choreographed’ water effects. ‘They had water shooting 50 feet in the air, flooding the plaza,’ he said, recalling that fountain’s unveiling. ‘I was mesmerized.'”

Also wet.

And here’s one more…

Last fall, a publishing industry e-zine noted that novelist Ford Madox Ford once devised a way to judge the quality of a book before reading it. The announcement continued: “He’s now putting his idea to the test by launching [a website].”

Clearly, older people are not reluctant to embrace new technology. If Mr. Ford (1873-1939) were still around, he would be 138.

[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.