Category Archives: Spelling

How Antonin Scalia Lost His ASSoL

George Mason University recently coined this embarrassing new acronym for its law school, no doubt in haste and out of gratitude for $30 million in donations that flowed in after Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died.

It may be another example of a simple failure to proofread.

When the new name, “Antonin Scalia School of Law,” leaked, people were quick to realize it could form the acronyms ASSoL or ASSLaw. Apt for those who consider the description fitting for Scalia and his profession, but probably not what the deep-pocketed donors had in mind.

I lay some of the blame on academia’s devotion to passive voice, with its ability to add wind to almost anything.

Take, for example, the University of Richmond School of Professional and Continuing Studies. Since it’s understood a university is a school, they could drop “School of” and lose no meaning.

Similarly, GMU couldn’t resist “School of Law.”

The quick fix was to eliminate the passive and create the abbreviation ASLS — Antonin Scalia Law School.

It’s common to call everything an acronym these days, but the subtle difference with abbreviations is that an acronym creates a word you can say, and an abbreviation doesn’t. For example, you must pronounce each letter of these abbreviations: FBI, IBM, CIA, and TSA.

But comedians could still make an acronym of ASLS. It would be pronounced “assless,” which isn’t much of an improvement.

In the end (pun intended), Scalia in death has managed to put George Mason between a $30 million rock and hard place.

 

Does Reese’s Want to be the Official Candy of the Vatican?

This is what you get when copywriters who don’t have a firm grip on spelling and phonetics write your ads:

Popable-Reeses

When I first saw this Reese’s® Minis print ad several months ago, I did a double-take at “popable,” which pinged in my mind’s ear as “pope-able.”

Using this spelling, the past tense would be “poped.” Have you ever seen popcorn poped? Or a balloon poped?

Soon after, I came across another ad with similar wording, for Starburst® candy.

Poppable-Starburst

I don’t think the double “p” detracted from the message. Do you?

Then the other night, Reese’s took it to the next level with a TV commercial:

[2015 Update: There was a YouTube video here, but it no longer exists. The ad also used “popable.” I’m thinking Reese’s repented over their misspelling ways.]

Now I wonder if they’re hoping Pope Francis will notice and perhaps cut an endorsement deal.

Words get made up in advertising all the time. But they work only when they’re clever and not spelled so that literate potential customers will be inclined to mispronounce them and miss the point.

Maybe Reese’s thinks dropping letters appeals to the texting set, who don’t put a high premium on spelling. They’ve obviously spent a fortune spreading this error far and wide. And people wonder why Johnny can’t spell.

Call me old-fashioned, but I think Reese’s would have done better to stick with their previous description for Minis, which was “perfectly tiny.”

Now they just look perfectly ignorant.

Wild and Wacky AP Style

I’m developing a new course for the University of Richmond (Va.) School of Continuing Studies I’m calling AP Style for Business Writers because I’ve met many clients who claim to use it as their in-house writing style — except when they don’t.

I’ve never understood why corporate America glommed on to AP. It’s for news journalists. How many office workers need to know proper capitalization of Osama bin Laden (who, by the way, dropped out of the Stylebook somewhere between 2011 and 2013)?

The Stylebook devotes only 10 pages to all punctuation matters, whereas my old 6th edition of The Gregg Reference Manual (my preferred writing guide, back in the day) devoted 26 pages to commas alone.

The Stylebook is in alphabetical order, which means you must look up every stinking prefix (non-, dis-, un-) to find out which ones need hyphens.

So, preparing this class, I’ve had to read 300+ pages of the current Stylebook and compare them to the 2011 edition (I skipped 2012 — life’s too short) to ferret out any updates because AP willfully REFUSES to flag them.

Here’s one change for you: They dropped the hyphen from moped.

In the process, I have compiled and usefully organized the material that’s pertinent to business writers, and it fits in to 22 pages of handouts. Yup, that fat Stylebook is 99.8% irrelevant.

Here are a few points I uncovered that you might find interesting:

  • Never, under any circumstances, abbreviate department as dept.
  • Never use abbreviations for state names with five or fewer letters EXCEPT Alaska Hawaii (because they’re unattached to the U.S.) or the District of Columbia.
  • Never use italics. For anything. Ever.
  • Ditto for asterisks * and brackets [ ].
  • Lists of items should begin with dashes, never with any of Word’s bullet characters.
  • Every item in a list should end with a period, even if it’s a single word.
  • Parentheses used within a sentence are a sign the sentence has a problem. (Do mine?)
  • It’s not “Merry Christmas,” but “merry Christmas.”

I’m eager to have my first class because it’s bound to attract AP pros who want a refresher — and are possibly hoping for spirited debate.

I think everyone’s soon going to realize that the denizens of corporate America don’t embrace AP style with the fervor they think they do.

OK, I can’t resist. One more:

You’re not supposed to write, The meeting is on Tuesday, but, The meeting is Tuesday.

Well, two more:

And don’t write, We met last Wednesday. Make it, We met Wednesday.

The past-tense verb is supposed to clue the reader in to which Wednesday you mean.

The same goes for next Wednesday. If you write, We will meet Wednesday, you clearly mean next week (if it’s already Thursday).

I uncovered those relatively obscure nuggets for expressing dates under the entry for “on.”

Oh, this is going to be a fun class.

Why Proofreading Should Never be Optional

I was recently looking for a new healthcare provider and responded to a well-written, slickly produced brochure I received in the mail. The practice sent me an impressive “Welcome” package that contained two paperback books, which both appeared to be self-published.

One was a thoughtful, substantial work by the physician about his specialty. As self-publishing goes, it was impressive, but there were a few typos. Not a big deal.

The other book was a collection of first-person patient testimonials, accompanied by their full names and, in some cases, photos.

Oh. My. Goodness.

I found typos, usage errors, spelling, and punctuation problems on virtually EVERY PAGE.

The question it raised was, “How can a doctor take such pride in helping his patients feel better, and then leave them swinging like semi-literates in the breeze in PRINT?”

When I met the physician, he was bright and articulate, and I think flummoxed when I told him those testimonials don’t project the image of his practice that he undoubtedly had in mind.

He said, almost apologetically, “Well, they made all those mistakes.”

Obviously.

Since these weren’t professional writers, they probably assumed that this highly educated man would fix their mechanical errors and present their stories in the best light.

I’m guessing he saw it as a matter of honor to publish their words verbatim. But, unless there’s some legal consideration, it’s NEVER a good idea to leave in mistakes that make the writer look careless, inept, or downright ignorant. It makes you look just as bad — maybe even worse if you spent a small fortune having those errors preserved in a book.

ALWAYS proofread and clean up the wording. Every mistake you let stand detracts from your own credibility.