Here’s another collection of errors I encountered recently in major publications:
- “[The scandal at Hewlett-Packard] has stunted a long search by HP’s employees for stability and pride at the patriarch of Silicon Valley companies.”
A patriarch is defined literally as “a man who rules a family, clan, or tribe,” and, by extension, “the founder or original head of an enterprise.” Using the word to characterize an organization rather than a person, as is done here, is something of a stretch. It also creates opportunities for confusion. The reader might wonder: Is the reference to the just-dismissed CEO?
- “He was dispatched to the Stork Club to pick up a few gallons of the boite’s signature perfume; it was to be poured into the blowers of the theater as an aural accompaniment to the first act’s eye-popping curtain-closer: a bubble bath for the showgirls.”
The audience in 1950 must have been impressed. But the word aural relates to the sense of hearing. The adjective that applies to the sense of smell, and which was surely intended here, is olfactory. Or, if the writer wanted to preserve the alliteration, he could have written “aromatic accompaniment.”
- “Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstein may have some competition in the children’s book department…. But unlike Mr. Seuss and Mr. Silverstein….”
Mr. Seuss? The pseudonym of Theodor Seuss Geisel was Dr. Seuss, correctly rendered in the first mention. Perhaps this writer’s tinkering with the honorific was intended as a joke, but if so, the humor is rather lame.
- “A New York Times reporter pressed the Republican presidential nominee on the draft. Nixon had remained ambiguous about the issue up to this point….”
The word ambiguous (“open to multiple interpretations”) more naturally applies to a statement than to the individual making it. The preferable word here is ambivalent (“uncertain, indecisive”).[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.]