Bad Copy: Is This the End of the World As We Know It?

You might want to stand back, or at least put earplugs in, because I’m about to have a full-on get-off-of-my-lawn-what’s-the-matter-with-kids-these-days moment.

Two years ago, I came across this captioned photo in my Weather Channel phone app. In the interest of full disclosure, I have mocked this photo more than once on Twitter and Facebook, and even included The Weather Channel folks with an @. And, yet, it remains.

Notice anything?

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Two years ago! This abomination has shown up on my phone through two entire years of daily weather events: sunshine, fog, rain, clouds, sleet, hail, ice, and thunder snow (which is a also a thing, according to the app). The weather events are described with pleasantly short, declarative sentences, i.e., “Partly to mostly cloudy. High 34F. Winds NNW at 5 to 10mph.”

I won’t bother to dig deeply into what’s wrong with the grammar of this non-sentence, because we are all adults. Agreement is a problem, of course, and “distinguish the flames” makes me spew tea all over my keyboard every time I read it. When I read the hot, flaming mess that is, “Hear these firefighters amazing story,” I suspect that the single issue the writer considered for any length of time is whether or not the phrase should have an apostrophe hanging about somewhere. That he or she made the bold decision just to leave it out is characteristic, I think, of the incredible, sans-serif confidence of the whole bizarre caption.

I have so many questions about this:

Who wrote the caption?

What were they thinking?

Who okayed it for use online?

Is The Weather Channel requiring meteorologists to write app copy? (I don’t think so. My guess is that the meteorologists write the tidy forecast copy.)

Am I overreacting?

Does The Weather Channel not know/care that they are putting out copy that is, for want of a better word, illiterate? Despite the fact that millions may have seen it?

Does this make anyone else question the quality of The Weather Channel’s work in other areas, like forecasting?

Did the same person write the caption for the image below? Or was it a different person, one obsessed with Initial Caps? (See what I did there? I can play this game, too.)

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Captions like these make me worry. The grammar illiteracy I see in both print and online newspapers also makes me worry. Though our local university paper is always good for laughs when it comes to homophones and word choices that make me grit my teeth, national and international newspapers are almost as bad. While there are still plenty of writers and editors out there who do their best to be correct, the vast majority of words we read now–especially online–are not necessarily written by people who are concerned about communicating clearly. They’re more concerned with clicks than content.

As a child, I didn’t receive much of a formal education in the finer points of grammar. Studying Spanish and French helped me a lot. But I learned nearly everything I know about how language works through reading. If I needed to punctuate something like the phrase, “children’s stories,” or was confused about whether to use “lie” or “lay,” I would search through the books–usually fiction–on my own shelves. Shelves which held a few classics, but also a lot of Nancy Drew. These days, I always find myself in tussles with (often quite young) copyeditors. (See, I told you this was going to be a kids-these-days rant.)

I’m all about the growth of language. English is so dynamic and fun, absorbing new words and concepts with lightning speed. But what happens if it softens into a constant refrain of “oh, they’ll know what I mean” excuses?

Do you have any egregious, public examples of grammar misdeeds? Do you think we are headed for grammar chaos–and is that a bad thing?

 

Laura Benedict is the author of the Bliss House Trilogy and several other books of dark suspense. Sign up for her newsletter and get to know her better at www.laurabenedict.com.

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About Laura Benedict

Laura Benedict is the Edgar- and ITW Thriller Award- nominated author of eight novels of suspense, including The Stranger Inside (Publishers Weekly starred review). Her Bliss House gothic trilogy includes The Abandoned Heart, Charlotte’s Story (Booklist starred review), and Bliss House. Her short fiction has appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, and in numerous anthologies like Thrillers: 100 Must-Reads, The Lineup: 20 Provocative Women Writers, and St. Louis Noir. A native of Cincinnati, she lives in Southern Illinois with her family. Visit her at www.laurabenedict.com.

33 thoughts on “Bad Copy: Is This the End of the World As We Know It?

    • I can only imagine the provenance of such a terrible idea, Terry. Maybe, “Hey, I don’t know if the apostrophe should come before or after the S, so I’ll just leave off the S! That will fool them.”

    • That drives me crazy, too. I read somewhere that these days all an apostrophe means is, “Look out, an ‘S’ is coming!”

  1. Read this not long ago on a newspaper site:

    He has been more prolific in his career than either Troy Aikman and Roget Staubach.

    Blame:
    1. Lower standards in schools
    2. No more places for training good copy editors (like the bustling newspaper office where a young editor could get chewed out by an older editor)
    3. The “need for speed” in digital publishing

    • What a deadly cocktail those three make, Jim. I hadn’t thought about the paucity of places to train good copy editors. And as poorly taught students become teachers themselves, the problem is only compounded. It’s a sad state of affairs.

    • I always admired Roget Staubach. He could throw, propel, pitch, fling, cast, launch, lob, hurl, toss, catapult and project a pigskin with force through the air with the best of them.

    • Roget Staubach is my favourite sportsball painter of all time. He was able to deliver all of the nuances of the game, bring out the green of the pitch, and simply make the game came alive whether in oils, water colour, or crayon. He put it on the canvas so well, even though he only had one ear, and spent so much time making that theosaurus book too.

  2. I’ve seen many mistakes on Yahoo! especially. The crazy thing is that I have dyslexia and pick up on it. It’s becoming a sad reality and what you’re venting, is very true.

    • What is it with Yahoo, Melanie? I think they’re stuffing the site with so much content that they just aren’t paying attention. Or they are all twelve years old. Maybe both, lol.

  3. I share your ire, Laura. But I also get upset by people who wear pajamas and flipflops on airplanes. I can’t think of any public transgressions but I will confess to one of my own that almost made it into print:

    Buchanan didn’t want his boss see him balling like a girl.

    Bawling…I meant to say bawling. Sigh.

  4. When I see 1980’s, 1990’s, 1920’s etc. in reference to the entire decade I go freaking nuts. I even see this (abominable error) on major networks now. The people that write and allow this should be beaten with over the head with a copy of CMOS. There is no apostrophe here. It’s 1980s, 1990s, 1920s when referring to the decade. The failure of people to understand the use of an apostrophe for a possessive and not a plural is something I just don’t get. It’s not that hard.

    I think the problem will get worse. Not only do I agree with JSB, but as shorthand in emails, tweets, etc. becomes more common along with the rise of voice dictation on phones and computers IMO spelling and grammar skills will continue to slump. I can see a future in which illiteracy becomes more common and less stigmatized because people won’t see a need to read and write because of increasing use of said devices.

    • That drives me crazy, too. I’ve read a couple pieces that have tried to make the excuse that the “‘s” is a special case when it comes to dates, but I don’t buy it.

      There’s a winery in our area, not far from the Mississippi River, that should properly be called The Bluffs. But from its inception, the signage has read, The Bluff’s. I can’t even.

  5. As a writer and editor in the tech industry, I can tell you that no one in tech cares about grammar, hence the errors in apps and other software. As long as customers understand what you meant, who needs those expensive editors?

    That said, have you noticed how many indie authors receive comments (good and bad) about the quality of the editing of their work? It gives me hope when I see that there are still readers out there who know where those pesky commas ought to go.

    Kathy

    • Kathy, that’s an excellent point about indie writers–indeed, all writers–getting complaints in reviews about typos, etc. I think many people do care. When problems show up in fiction, it takes us right out of the story. I suspect that even those readers who aren’t particularly good at grammar in their own writing know the difference when they read it.

      Please, keep up the good fight in the technical world. We are counting on you!

  6. I asked in an online reading group once if these kinds of errors in book reviews made a difference to them. A surprising (and gratifying, to we who care) number said it made them tend to disregard both the review and rating from that grammar/punctuation challenged person.

    Justine, who will defend the Oxford comma (and semicolons) to the death

  7. Despite repeated confirmation requests, we installed an illuminated sign reading:

    Women and Infant’s Health Center.

    I had to tell the VP who signed off (after correcting our original to the above):

    “I am so disappointment with your grammar…”

    He didn’t get THAT either ~ 🙂

  8. I can’t tell you how many ebooks I’ve abandoned after they’ve exceeded their allotment of spelling or grammatical errors (it’s two, by the way). It’s distracting and disrespectful to the reader.

    I do have a soft heart for anyone who speaks or writes poorly. I’m sorry their education is so incomplete – in such a “public” way. However, my compassion is misplaced and unnecessary in some instances. I can tell you after a lifetime in the corporate world, our newest recruits are oblivious to grammatical rules at best and their necessity at worst.

    I lay this at the feet of the nameless council who decided to exclude sentence diagramming from American English curricula. I’m not sure what tool replaced this graphic test for word usage, spelling, tense, and punctuation, but I can tell you, without equivocation, it has not been effective.

    • You are one tough customer, Ms Lyzz. Now I’ll feel even more worried when I have a book come out–I surely don’t want to disappoint you!

      I don’t know that there *has* been a tool to replace sentence diagramming. At this point, I would even settle for daily posts from Grammar Girl in our schools. Anything clever to catch kids’ attention. Why do I suddenly feel a chorus of, “Conjunction Junction, What’s Your Function,” coming on? 😋

  9. I understand those that are undereducated or have trouble with grammar and English. What I can’t excuse is for an author to not know or care! When I first started my blog, I decided it would be a review blog for indie authors with 3 or less published novels. This was 4 years ago. One of the first books I reviewed was riddled with errors, but the worst was this sentence: “That backpack must way a ton!” This was when I gave up on the entire book, and it was one of the lowest ranked reviews on my blog. I’ve found that if you try to help anyone on Facebook, they get very defensive. They seem to be proud of their illiteracy and do not want to be corrected. Our youth is getting laxer, and like some of the commenters have noted, many of the teachers and others that should know better, don’t!

  10. In some schools in the U.S.–perhaps all of the by now–sight reading is taught. This means the vowels and consonants are “not” taught to beginning readers. Now there is a discussion whether or not cursive writing should be taught. The education system is dumbing down and shoving all children through. It seems the very rules of English are not taught now. I’m not surprised many people choose to home teach if they’re able to. I think it’s great that children who are mentally challenged are given a chance. That’s not what I’m referring to. I learned to read by sight reading and reached the 3rd grade without knowing what a paragraph was. It’s pitiful. I became a primary teacher and finally learned what vowels and consonants were when I taught. —- Suzanne

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