Some very silly copywriting

Some very silly copywriting

A few things to prorogue

Continuing The Edit, our fortnightly examination of good English in modern communications

The English language is flexible. It allows puns and double entendres. Words that are one part of speech can be pressed into service as another: nouns can be verbed, for instance.

Less easy on our eyes and ears, however, is the habit by copywriters of using adjectives as nouns without a definite article: “Leave ordinary at the door”, “Spread happy around”, “Embrace fabulous” and so on. It's an adjective-noun, or adjoun. Someone decided it sounded good, now everyone’s doing it.

The Tube ad above, for Tinder, is more cryptic crossword clue than snappy slogan. “Savours” could be a noun as well as a verb, making “single” ambiguously either noun or adjective. End irritating now.

Headline of the month

From the London Metro (above). Perfect for vacuum magnate James Dyson departing the country for a fancy pad in Singapore.

Not likely

If you are British it is likely (adjective) that the American use of that word as an adverb meaning “probably” hurts your delicate sensibilities.

In his recent book Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style, Benjamin Dreyer, the chief copy editor at the publisher Random House, defends the American usage, which likely shows that utter correctness and clarity always lie in the eye of the beholder. All style guides reflect the character of their authors or parent publications.

The Guardian is big on navigating gender politics: “Actor: Use for both male and female actors; do not use actress except when in name of award, e.g. Oscar for best actress. The Guardian’s view is that actress comes into the same category as authoress, comedienne, manageress, lady doctor, male nurse and similar obsolete terms that date from a time when professions were largely the preserve of one sex (usually men).”

The Daily Telegraph, on the other hand, likes to ban words. Its list states: “Aceis acceptable when describing a card, it is not to be used to describe someone who excels at something; bid (when we mean attempt); bubbly (both for champagne and young women); chairperson, chair (chairman is correct English) ...” And so on, right the way from a to zzz.



Images of the month

These two images prove that no job involving words, however small, will fail to benefit from a second pair of eyes.

Thanks to Paul Richards, on LinkedIn, for the first. Aside from the copywriter’s note to the designer making it into print, we wonder if vegan fish actually have fingers? And aside from poor spelling in the second, has the creator never heard of colons or full stops?

Manors maketh man

Fleetwood Mac played in London recently, prompting the Telegraph’s Neil McCormick to observe that new guitarist Mike Campbell “looked to the manor born, swaggering about in sunglasses, peeling off fluid solos”.

The phrase “to the manor born” caught our eye. It’s a variation on “to the manner born”, which means “to fit in with a manner that is natural or requires no effort” and in its original form first occurs in Hamlet (1602). “But to my mind, though I am native here/And to the manner born, it is a custom/More honour'd in the breach than the observance.”

The use of “manor” rather than “manner” was first noted in the mid-19th century, either in error or to add a sense of highborn entitlement, but the “manner” variant remained prevalent well into the twentieth century.

In 1979 the BBC first broadcast the series To the Manor Born, a punningly titled sitcom starring Penelope Keith as the aristocratic widow who is forced to sell the family estate to the owner of a supermarket chain. Since then “manor” has taken off: searching “to the manner born” on Google News brings up 1,030 hits. The “manor” alternative scores 193,000. The pun has eclipsed the original.

Word of the month


The process of leaving the European Union has spawned much jargon. There’s “Brexit” itself, not to mention “backstop”, “people’s vote” (who else would take part? Turkeys?). Now there is “prorogue”, the formal word for ending a parliamentary session.

The UK Parliament website explains:
“Prorogation marks the end of a parliamentary session. It is the formal name given to the period between the end of a session of Parliament and the State Opening of Parliament that begins the next session.” 

Leaving aside any gleeful punning on “rogue”, there is an etymological irony for those who wish to use this process to curtail debate on no deal. The word, from Latin, pro- “in front of, publicly” and rogare “ask”, originally had the meaning of “to prolong” or “extend”. Just saying.

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