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The Language Perfectionist: More Bloopers and Snappy Comebacks

Here’s another batch of amusing mistakes gleaned from the media, each followed by a mischievous retort. If you’ve ever committed an embarrassing linguistic error, it may be comforting to know that even professional journalists and their editors can be guilty of blunders and howlers.

Warning: In some instances, you may have to read the passage carefully to spot the error or problem being ridiculed.

  • Headline: “Closing Ceremonies Bring Olympics to an End”

(And in belated news, the games began with the opening ceremonies.)

  • Letter to Editor: “But none of these other artists created as rich a mixture of love story and hilarious comedy that we find in Annie Hal….”

(Wasn’t that Woody’s sequel to 2001: A Space Odyssey?)

  • Article in trade magazine: “If we all packed up the asterisk, the bracket, the carrot and put [them] in a time machine, we’d be better off.”

(Eh, what’s up, Doc?)

  • Art section of major newspaper: “Death is always a good thing for auction houses, and this season Christie’s was able to secure two major estates….”

(I knew we shouldn’t have fired the Tact Editor.)

  • Local news report: “A whopping 97 percent of New York’s elementary and middle schools [earned] an A or B on the city’s annual report card. Yet [School] Chancellor Joel I. Klein was tempered in his praise…. ‘If you’re asking whether I would rather see less A’s, the answer is no.'”

(Joel, stay after school and write 100 times on the blackboard: “fewer A’s.”)

[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.